A Bit of Background on Marseille, France
Headed to the South of France? I’m going to tell you why you shouldn’t skip Marseille. It’s a complex and beautiful place that I feel has somewhat of an unfair reputation. Not as shiny or neatly manicured as Nice or other places on the Riviera, it can be gritty. But it would definitely be a mistake to look it over! It has cool culture and sense of pride in it’s residents and it seems to me to be more real vs. the touristy Nice & Cannes.
Firstly, The location is amazing, right on the sea but surrounded by mountains. It’s absolutely full of great little pockets if you know where to look. Marseille is a huge port, and the population is a beautifully diverse mix of French and North African cultures. The more I spend time there, the more I love it and I am going to tell you why you’ll love it too. In addition, I would recommend watching the Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown Episode on Marseille if you can before you go. It’s a great little preview and commentary on the city!
Where to Stay
Apartment in Endoume | Rue des Flots Bleus, Marseille France
We are extremely lucky in that we always have a place to stay in Marseille with family. However, last fall we took a trip with my grandfather and rented a place that was in a better location for sightseeing and had a good experience. This apartment, while a bit dated in decor, was perfect for a stay with 2 couples or a family. The view & terrace alone would alone would make me book it again. The location was right on the Corniche JFK near the Michelin starred restaurant Le Petit Nice.
This neighborhood is one of my favorites in the city, and would be a great place to stay and explore. For a New York reference: It’s like the east village of Marseille – lots of fun bars and restaurants, cute boutiques, graffiti, hipster/boho vibe. I love to walk around here and browse the shops – there are also plenty of good restaurants & bars here. If you book an AirBnB in this area it would be easy to walk to plenty of places. There is also a metro stop here so you can access other sites and areas easily through public transport (see below under TRANSPORT).
Where to Eat
Chez Ze | 402 Chemin de Morgiou, 13009 Marseille, France
Chez Ze is our absolute favorite restaurant in Marseille, a big part of it being the lovely terrace with a large tree growing out of it, providing shade. Even if you can’t sit on the terrace, the food is really good- I usually get a Salade Niçoise but they also have excellent pizza and pasta. It’s also at the foothill of a mountain where you can hike to the Calqanque Sormiou (see below under DO).
UMMAGUMMA | rue des Trois Rois, 13006 Marseille, France
Cute place in the Cours Julien, delicious food & romantic/cozy atmosphere. As I recall, they give you a sample of house liquor with your meal.
Chez Jeannot | Vallon des Auffes, 13007 Marseille, France
The food here is fine but you really go for the location – right on the Vallon des Auffes which is a small port with ships where you can watch the sunset while enjoying your food. They have a little but of everything here – seafood, pizza (of course), traditional French, etc.
La Grotte | 1 Avenue des Pebrons, 13008 Marseille, France
This place is on the outskirts of Marseille in a small village called Callelongue. The restaurant is run by a family that has owned it for years, and the decor is regal. It’s in a great location right on the water and the food is pretty good. They have pizza (sensing a theme here) but also lots of local specialties and fresh seafood. If you go during the day, you can do a hike to the Calanque Marseilleveyre, enjoy the beach, and then finish your day with apéro and dinner at La Grotte.
Where to Go Out
The drink of Marseille is Pastis – a liquor with a slight licorice flavor that is mixed with water and served over ice. It’s not for everyone but you should try it once. I prefer it mixed with almond syrup, which is called a “Mauresque”. It’s usually only 1 or 2 euros at the bar! Also wine is generally very cheap, so even picking up a bottle at the store and drinking it on your terrace is really nice!
Fun areas to go out are the Cours Julien & the Vieux Port, Cours Julien has lots of little bars and pubs that you can walk to. The place below is a spot called Au Petit Nice where we’ve gotten a drink on occasion – they also have a big terrace that may or may not be open Also the Vieux Port has a lot of bars and restaurants, O’Malleys is one we’ve gone to a lot to watch games and get drinks
20000 Lieues | 12 boulevard Alexandre Delabre , 13008 Marseille, France
Another really neat bar that is a bit off the beaten path is in a cute little old fisherman’s village on the outskirts of Marseille called Les Goudes. It’s right on the water and feels like you’re in an old ship! Definitely a local spot – they serve food during the day, have outdoor seating and I think live music sometimes.
What to Do : Beaches & Calanques
The calanques are a series of inlets that run along the Mediterranean coast from Marseille to Cassis. If you like hiking, nature, and beautiful beaches, this is a must for any trip to the Marseille area. Most of them are only accessible by foot or boat. There are a few calanques that you can access around Marseille, which you will find more information on from the link above.
From Cassis (approx half hour drive from Marseille), you can take a Calanque Cruise, which will show you all the different Calanques from the boat. That option won’t allow you to swim in the Calanques, but is a good option if you want to see them all in a shorter amount of time. The tours are usually in French only :). Port Pin is my favorite Calanque in Cassis, and Sormiou is a great option in Marseille. Sormiou can also be accessed by car during peak season if you have reservations at the local restaurant there, or from October-Spring.
Marseille city has a few of it’s own beaches – Plage de la Pointe Rouge & Plage du Prophete are the main ones. However, these beaches are not as clean and have more of a “city beach” feel. For a more pleasant beach experience I would recommend hiking to a calanque in Marseille or Cassis.
What to Do : In Marseille
The “Old Port” of Marseille, lots of shops, restaurants, sometimes markets. Fun to walk around and take in all the sights and sounds
Mediterranean Culture Museum near Vieux Port, cool architecture – great to even just walk around if you don’t feel like going in
Notre Dame de la Garde
Large church of Marseille, France that sits on a hill – there’s a cute little touristy train you can take up the hill which is fun – I don’t think it’s too far from the Cours Julien to walk to the base of the hill.
Island off the coast of Marseille – it’s an old prison and the site of Monte Cristo! There is a museum and tour. You can take a ferry from the Vieux port. In addition, the The ferry also goes to the Frioul which is another island with a nice beach.
Where to Shop
Mostly boutiques and fun vintage/antique stores. One of my favorites is Fifty Balloons, I’ve bought a few things there over the years.
Le Pleine Market
Large open air market where you can find everyone from produce, to shoes to beauty products! Every Tuesday and Thursday in the Cours Julien. Just really watch yourself there- I’ve always felt safe but it is very crowded so bring only a small purse (if any) and keep it very close to you just in case. There is a Pizza truck there called Pizza Claude and his pizza is AMAZING fyi.
Vieux Port Rue Saint Ferreol
Large shopping street near Vieux Port. Has lots of European chains. There are also lots of little shops and markets selling souvenirs.
Like any big city, Marseille has it’s share of crime. In general, I feel very safe in Marseille and I would just follow the common sense rules of going out in a city. Stay in well lit and well populated areas & keep your belongings close to your body. You might also see armed guards at places like tourist spots & train stations – they carry machine guns which can look intimidating, but that’s just how they all are and there are more of them because of the European attacks in the past few years. Avoid the Quartier Nord.
Marseille’s Metro system is really simple. There are only 2 lines: Red and Blue. The metro tickets are 1 or 2 Euros each and you can purchase them on the machines in the station (which you can set to English). For example, if you stayed in the Cours Julien, you would be near stop Notre Dame du Mont Which is only 2 stops from the main train station. At that stops you could switch to the blue line which would bring you to the Vieux Port. I’ve ridden it by myself many times – like anywhere just be alert and mind your belongings.
Want to read about my favorite spots in Provence? Click here!
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