Marseille is the oldest city in France and the second largest city, behind Paris! The city was founded in 600 BC by the Greeks. This is one of the most stunning coastal cities I have ever visited! As a port city, Marseille has a bit of a seedy reputation but overall it is a great destination to visit.
Here is a list of the five can’t miss attractions in Marseille for first time visitors:
The old port is beautiful from all angles! The marina is very lively with waterfront restaurants, markets, and ferry boats offering rides to nearby destinations. The large surrounding street became limited to pedestrians starting in 2013. As you approach the port from the end of Canabière, you will find the sleek pavilion comprised of a large mirror.
Parc Émile Duclaux is just above the port and offers one of the best spots to watch the sunset over the port. It also boasts a great view of Fort Saint-Jean at the entrance of the port.
There are lots of ferries and boat rides offered to nearby Estaque, a village with a port. The boat ride there is full of stunning coastal views. This village was once home to Paul Cézanne as well as other painters. There is a “chemin des peintres” that boasts 12 places that were subjects of paintings, with reproductions of each painting and quotes from the artists.
What started as a canal dig for water access in the 1800s, is now a gorgeous monument celebrating water. The surrounding Parc Longchamp includes the Museum of Fine Arts, Natural History Museum, and the botanical garden. In 2013, Marseille was the European Capital of Culture and the former park zoo was filled with brightly colored fiberglass animals.
Some ferries offer a combination ticket to L’Estaque and around the Calanques. The Calanques are sharp, steep inlets with gorgeous foliage along the Mediterranean coast. They are located in the Parc National des Calanques, but also in the Friuli Islands beside Château d’If (from the Count of Monte Cristo!). We chose to take a boat around the islands to see the Calanques but I wish we had had the time to hike the national park as well! I recommend doing both if possible.
Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
This basilica sits atop the highest natural point in Marseille, offering an amazing panoramic view over the entire city and coastline. The Roman-Byzantine style basilica features two parts – a lower church with a crypt and a high church devoted to the Virgin Mary. Both the exterior and the interior are stunning, designed by architect Henry Espérandieu (the same architect as the Palais Longchamp). The basilica can be accessed using bus 60 or by riding the Petit Train.
Keep an eye out for my next blog post about Aix-en-Provence, a city just 30 minutes north of Marseille by car!