Marseille

Marseille Travel Guide

Marseilles position as the second largest city in France makes it a bustling metropolis, offering a number of activities and things to see. Make sure your Marseilles to do list includes a tour of the MuCEM, which was inaugurated in Summer 2013 and had quickly become the go-to place for the storied history of European and Mediterranean civilizations. And while visiting, stroll across the footbridge that connects MuCEM to the 17th-century stronghold Fort Saint-John and the walkways of the Esplanade de la Tourette in the Panier neighborhood. Later in the day, make a trip to the Noailles neighborhood’s many shops and markets to pick up treats from vendors specializing in North African, Arab and Indian goods.

Just southeast of the area, you can’t miss the Basilique de Notre-Dame de la Garde, a 19th-century basilica featuring a golden statue of Madonna and Child atop a carved dome and belfry. Visitors with the basilica on their Marseilles to do list will enjoy its eye-catching mosaics as well as its unparalleled views of the Mediterranean bay below. And be sure to eventually head down to the bay to catch a short boat ride to the Le Chateau d’If, a 16th century fortification described as the French Riviera’s version of Alcatraz, and made famous in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Later, head back to shore and take in the roundabout surrounding the Arc de Triomphe de Marseilles, which celebrates French participation in the American Revolution with various depictions of glory in battle.

Finally, plan for dinner on the waterfront followed by a show—an opera show that is. Those in Marseilles to visit will not want to miss a performance at the nearly 100-year-old Opéra de Marseilles. The fine arts space has become a home for not only Marseilles’ vibrant opera scene but also houses modern and classical dance company Ballet national de Marseilles, founded in 1972. Make sure to check the Opera schedule to see what might be on stage during your visit.

Never mind the fancy name, the "château" is actually a former prison—the Mediterranean equivalent of Alcatraz. Built in the 16th century, the island jail was the setting for Dumas's classic The Count of Monte Cristo. Today, the guards have been replaced with guides.

A luxe men's bathing-suit brand founded in nearby St. Tropez, Vilebrequin has been creating well-cut trunks for more than three decades. Its trademark floral and pastel designs are crafted from fast-drying canvas and come in both men's and boy's sizes.

The family-run shop produces handmade chocolates spiked with such unlikely ingredients as fennel, onion, and lavender, as well as pralines and traditional barres marseillaises (fruit-studded dark chocolate).

A high-octane dance club in a renovated bunker, Le Trolleybus's roster of musical genres ranges from techno to salsa over three dance floors.

Local designer Marianne Cat has created a gallery and boutique in an 18th-century town house. She stocks her own silky, ephemeral dresses and blouses, along with a well-edited collection of photography and art.

Take the quaint Petit Train de la Bonne Mère from the Old Port. You'll chug more than 500 feet above the harbor to the towering neo-Byzantine cathedral, where a 30-foot Madonna overlooks the city. Needless to say, the views are fantastic.

Never mind the fancy name, the "château" is actually a former prison—the Mediterranean equivalent of Alcatraz. Built in the 16th century, the island jail was the setting for Dumas's classic The Count of Monte Cristo. Today, the guards have been replaced with guides.

Join the fabulous people for a glass of bubbly or a plate of crepes on Manureva's terrace. Inside, a pale-wood bar gives the feel of the interior of one of those luxury yachts crowding the harbor.

Navettes are crisp, orange-flavored pastries shaped like boats (commemorating a party of seafaring saints). Le Four des Navettes—the oldest bakery in town—has been making the classic cookies of Marseilles since 1781 and will happily ship a box home for you.

You'll get a glimpse of Marseilles's ancient Greco-Roman past at this garden, where, during the 1967 construction of the Centre Bourse (the Stock Exchange), archeologists unearthed the remains of the city's original port, dating back to the ancient Romans.

The beachfront bar near the Plage du Prado is where young surfers and their admirers flirt over fruity cocktails.

Established by a pair of local fashion-industry refugees, this cult bath and body-care store elevates the basic Provençal soap to a supremely chic level. The soap bars, foams, and shower gels are stylishly packaged in simple beige cubes or crystal-clear bottles.