Marseille: love it or hate it, there is no doubt the city certainly has a lot of character and some beautiful and quirky photo ops.
While I have visited Marseille many times (my father-in-law is from here), there are spots that I continue to go back to for amazing views and photo ops. Here are some of my favorites:
Le Panier is Instagram gold. Tiny streets with colorful facades and shutters, endless street art…it’s a visual wonderland for photographers. Getting here from the Vieux Port is an easy walk and you can spend a morning or afternoon exploring it’s charm.
This is my other favorite neighborhood in Marseille due to it’s fun shops, bars and restaurants. It’s also a mecca for street art and if you come during a weekday you’ll have the tiny alleyways practically to yourself to photograph.
A classic, but a good one. This is the iconic spot in Marseille to get shots of the harbor with the Notre Dame church perched on the hill. You can also walk along the path to the Mucem where you’ll find this really sweet wall that would make the perfect backdrop to your photo.
VALLON DES AUFFES
This adorable little port with colorful boats is a great place to come for photos. I love seeing the sunset from here and if you come in the evening you can try the famous Marseille Bouillabaisse at Chez Fon Fon. If you’re looking for a more budget friendly option, you can have pizza and rosé at Chez Jeannote.
ÎLE DE FRIOUL
Just a quick and inexpensive ferry ride from the Vieux Port, we found this amazing clear water on the Frioul Island on Esteve Beach. Once the boat docks, turn right and follow the map path for a 20 minute walk to this beautiful beach (there are maps and signs). On the way you will also catch scenic vistas of the Marseille skyline. Other great spots by the water include Callelongue, Les Goudes & the Calanque Sorimiou (see my other post on Marseille for more information about the wonderful Calanques!)
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One of the reasons I love Marseille is it’s proximity to so many amazing towns & natural wonders! While I wouldn’t have enough info to write a detailed guide for each place, I thought I would do a little list for anyone traveling to the area that highlights towns I would recommend checking out..
We always have a car when we are there which makes traveling to the villages much easier, although some are accessible by train from Marseille. There are sooo many quaint little villages so I may expand this post eventually or write longer posts for specific villages. For my detailed Marseille city guide, please click here. ♥
The Camargue is a really interesting region in Provence, known for it’s marshy land, birdwatching & wildlife, salt flats & quaint villages. We spent a day in the village of Aigue-Mortes which is an old medieval walled city with towers, lots of shops & restaurants. It is at the edge of a large pink body of water known as an Etang, or Lagoon that gets it’s color from the high concentration of salt in it. You can take a guided tour of the salt flats on a little train – cost is around 10 Euros. It was a neat and unique experience! You can also find wild pink flamingos as well as over 400 species of birds. Wild horses and cattle roam the rolling landscape, which looks a bit like a Monet painting. While in the area, you can also visit the village of Arles, made famous in part by Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “Cafe at Night” (you can actually visit the cafe where he based his painting off of – I’ve read that the food is not great so you can go for the picture only!). We ate at this very cozy Spanish tapas place in Arles called Bodeguita.
Avignon is a must see – about an hour and a half from Marseille on the Autoroute. It’s larger than the other villages I’ve recommended (more of a city) and has quite a rich history as well as nice shopping & restaurants. The city center is walled so when you arrive there are large parking lots between the city and the river that is priced very reasonably and you are able to leave your car and walk in. Once inside the city, it’s easy to spend hours walking around exploring. Place de l’Horloge is great for strolling or people watching from a cafe. Rue de la Republic has a lot of French stores & international Boutiques – you can also find many shops selling local products and souvenirs. Les Halles d’Avignon in Place Pie is a large vine covered market with 40 stalls selling local and regional food & wine.
Avignon was briefly home to the Catholic church, and you can see evidence of that in the form of the grand Papal Palace that sits in the center of the city. The palace is colossal and you can simply walk inside or you can pay an entrance fee to tour the museum, which I would recommend. Avignon is situated on the Rhone river, and you can take a boat tour around the city which is a nice way to spend an hour or so. There is also the famous Pont Saint-Bénézet, the inspiration for the song Sur la Pont’Avignon. You pay a small fee to walk on the bridge, but you get a headset which tells you all about the history as you walk on it.
AIX EN PROVENCE/PUYRICARD
Every time I’m in Marseille I make at least a few trips to Aix, about a half an hour away on the autoroute. A large University town in the middle of gorgeous countryside with charming pedestrian streets, Aix is what I would picture/describe as a classic Provence experience and it is absolutely lovely in my opinion. Since we usually just drive in for the day or the afternoon from Marseille we haven’t needed to stay overnight much. There have been a few occasions though where we have needed to book accommodations, including a week stay with our friends in a luxury villa outside of Aix (that was AMAZING but unfortunately got sold and I’m not sure if the new owner rents it out!) and an AirBnB for my Grandfather right in the heart of the city that he thought was great.
Like most French and European villages, one of the best things to do in Aix is wander the streets. There are so many great shops (from luxury, to bargain, to local artistsans & souvenir shops) and great places to stop and eat or drink. A tradition for us is getting a slice of Pizza at Pizza Capri on Rue Fabrot- with takeaway slices as big as your head – you will not regret it! Walk by the Place d’Albertas – an old brothel but now a nice little fountain square where people hang out and there is sometimes live music. Rue de la Verrerie has a lot of bars and a good Kebab shop. There is a large market on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays that is not to be missed.
One experience I highly recommend it Chateau LaCoste – a beautiful winery/restaurant/museum outside of Aix in Puyricard. I’ve been here several times and the grounds are beautiful, the wine is great and they have a lovely terrace restaurant where it’s nice to get lunch or aperitif. There are also beautiful sculptures throughout the grounds and an art and architecture museum. During the summer they have movie showings on a large screen outside. It’s truly a wonderful place!
About a half an hour from Marseille along the beautiful (and winding!) Mediterranean coast. Cassis is a special place to me because I got engaged there, on the top of the Cap Canaille, which I highly recommend you visit for sunset. Cassis has more of a Riviera vibe being right on the sea and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants on the harbor where the people watching is excellent. Also there’s plenty of great boutique shopping in the village and there is usually a market in the Place Baragnon with art or different items depending on the day and time of year. There is a beach in the village, but if you feel like an easy hike you can visit my favorite calanque (see the Marseille post re: Calanques), Port Pin! There is a car park and a snack bar before the hike and it’s really not bad. The water there is gorgeous, just make sure you watch for jelly fish and you can because the water is CRYSTAL clear. You can also take a Calanque cruise if you prefer to see the Calanques by boat. If you decide to spend the night in the area, we stayed at a lovely B&B right after our engagement right outside the city center called Le Clos De Cigales.
About 40 minutes from Marseille, this charming little village is easy to visit for an afternoon. Do not get confused, as there are apparently 2 places in France called Le Castellet, but I am recommending this one! Perched and walled, you park your car at the foot of the village in a car park and walk up and into the pedestrian streets. There are plenty of little gift and artisan shops and nice cafes, and the view is amazing. If you want to make a day of this area, there are tons of vinyards around as it is in the Bandol wine region. Also – there is a feral (?) cat colony there so you will see plenty of them roaming around, sleeping on your car, and some may let you pet them!
One of France’s most picturesque perched villages, the breathtaking part of visiting Gordes will be your approach. Make sure to stop at the foot of the climb to the village and take photos! Once in the village it is mostly pedestrian and you will have your typical shops, cafes, restaurants, etc. It is very close to the famous Abbaye de Sénanque which you will most likely recognize as the church among the lavender fields in countless Provence posters, stock photos, etc.
ÎLE DE PORQUEROLLES
Lovely day trip from Marseille, drive to Hyères and you can take the ferry to this beautiful and virtually vehicle free island with a gorgeous beach. There are also dolphin watching excursions you can book from here, as well as biking, windsurfing, paddle boarding, etc.
LAC ST. CROIX/VERDON
The Gorges du Verdon are known as the Grand Canyon of France and are within 2 hours of Marseille. We rented kayaks with our friends during our summer group trip to Provence and had a great time paddling our way through the river running through the gorge. The water is a beautiful light green and there are plenty of caves and mini waterfalls to explore. It was pleasant and also a pretty good workout! There is also Lac St. Croix nearby which is a beautiful crystal lake with a beach where you can swim, camp and canoe. After our day of adventures we went to Sainte Croix du Verdon and had a magnificent dinner with a view overlooking the lake at Le Comptoir. I still think about the lavender honey & goat cheese bruschetta I ate there, and the view was truly unbeatable.
If you’ve ever dreamed of running through the never ending lavender fields of provence like you see in all of the posters/stock photos, this is the place to go! Lavender is in season June-August so if you are visiting in the summer be sure to check it out. You can find sprawling acres of fields around the village of Valensole, where you will also pass numerous farms/shops selling lavender honey and various other deliciously scented goodies. You can pull off the road to take pictures in the fields, and trust me you WILL have company! There are also many bees flying around the fields but they seem to be really focused on the lavender blossoms vs. stinging unsuspecting tourists. We made the mistake of having our windows down the first time we drove through and had a few bees fly into our car, so maybe only crack your windows or put on the AC :). After some photo ops we drove to the village of Puimoisson and had dinner on the lovely terrace of Cote Soleil, a simple and lovely pizza/french food place there.
The Var is a department that is included in the Provence Region and borders Bouche-de-Rhone (where Marseille is located). It is home to some beautiful countryside and quaint towns, including the towns of Tourtour and Correns which we spent a few days exploring. We stayed with friends in Correns (fun fact: this is where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got married at their winery Chateau Miraval) which was small & simple but was a great base for exploring the region. During our stay we visited Le Cascade de Sillons – an easy walk to a lush (and freezing) water hole where we had a lovely picnic. There is a gorgeous waterfall where brave travelers take the plunge and jump into the deep waters below. We went to Tourtour one day for lunch and it was such a charming village with amazing views of the valley below, shops , restaurants & a sprawling antique market.
It is a big port, and the population is very diverse. The location is amazing, right on the sea but surrounded by mountains, and it’s full of great little pockets if you know where to look. The more I spend time there, the more I love it. 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!
We are extremely lucky in that we always have a place to stay in Marseille with family. Last fall though, 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 (one room did have 2 bunk beds though) 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).
Marseille is famous for seafood (specifically Bouillabaisse) but our favorite thing to eat there is PIZZA – the pizza in the south of France is SOOOO good! Also if you see Nougat de Montelimar in any shops, be sure to try it. Even just browsing through a grocery store is fun and you can get lots of great goodies to eat while you are there and to take home (did someone say French chocolate?!).
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.
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.
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.
Calanques & Beaches
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. These beaches are okay but not as clean and have more of a “city beach” feel if that makes sense. For a more pleasant beach experience I would recommend hiking to a calanque in Marseille or Cassis.
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 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. The ferry also goes to the Frioul which is another island with a nice beach where you can bring a picnic and hang out.
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). If you stayed in the Cours Julien for example, 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.
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