Marseille Attractions and Tourist
Attractions in Marseille
Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
The foremost symbol of Marseille is located at an altitude of 154 meters above sea level with a magnificent view of the Mediterranean and Marseille on all sides. This Roman-Byzantine church was built in the 1880s, and at the top is an 11-meter-high golden statue of the Virgin Mary and the Child of Jesus. But the place had been a destination for pilgrims and a sort of beacon for seafarers for centuries before the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde was built. If you are in good shape, you can go here from Quai du Rive Neuve, or hop on bus 60. Free admission, open until 10pm. 1830 every day.
Just below Notre Dame de la Garde is Marseilles and France’s oldest Christian church, Abbaye Saint-Victor. The church was built for Marseille’s first martyrs and can be traced back to the late 5th century. The altar dates from the year 1040, and the crypt is presumably the 4th-century martyr Saint-Victor. Free admission, but if you want to enter the crypt it costs 17 kroner.
Outside the harbor of Marseilles lies the old fortress Chateau d’If on the small island of If. This fortress was known worldwide as the prison where the Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned in Alexandre Dumas’ novel from 1844. The fortress was actually used as a prison until the end of the 19th century, and has been open to the public since 1890. Boats leave here from Vieux Port (NOK 65 return) and you can visit the prison cells and enjoy the panoramic view from the chapel terrace. Entry 40 kroner. Open daily from 2 pm 0930 to 1830 during the peak season May – August, but closes at. 1730, and completely closed Mondays, the rest of the year.
Musée d’Histoire de Marseille
In the heart of the city center, at the city’s largest shopping center Center Bourse, is Marseille’s historic museum. And with a 2600 year long history to cover, it is enough to embark. Here you will find artifacts dating back to the early beginnings of the city, and you can see a 1700 year old Roman merchant ship, almost intact. In the garden outside are the ruins of Roman buildings.
Entrance approx. NOK 17, open Monday to Saturday at. 1200 to 1900.
Vieux Port Fish Market
Marseille’s traditional fish market starts early in the morning as the boats come in from the sea and sell their sparkling fresh produce. Here, the town’s residents buy crabs, lobsters, fish, sea urchins and oysters. The market is well worth it for the smell and atmosphere, unless you are used to similar views in Bergen.
Musée des Docks Romains
In the old town of La Panier is this museum, where a Roman harbor warehouse was discovered after the war. Thousands of objects form a fascinating exhibition about daily life in Roman-fortified Marseille. Entry 17 kroner, open daily from 10 am 1000 to 1800. Read more on the museum’s website.
Far East in La Canabière is this 1888 neo-Gothic church, which was first completed in 1998 with four church bells in one tower, 70 meters above the ground.
Open daily from 2 pm 0900 to 1800, free admission.
East of Prado Beach lies the large, well-kept Parc Borély on 40 hectares. Here is the town’s Hippodrome racetrack, a 9-hole fitness golf course, botanical garden and a small lake with swans and ducks, where you can rent a rowing boat. To the south is also the magnificent 19th-century manor house Chateau Borély.
The Prado Beach
A few kilometers south of the center of Marseille are the beaches, which have a pleasant promenade all the way. Several bars and restaurants are located here, and volleyball courts and skating ramps for the active. The windsurfers and sailors have ideal conditions in the almost constant winds of the Mediterranean, and helpful guards make sure it happens in a safe environment.
Tourist in Marseille
Although Marseille is a very large city by far, most of the sights are within walking distance of each other, and getting around on foot will not be a problem for any reasonably fit person. However, Marseille is not specifically designed for wheelchair users or families with prams. The streets of the old town consist mostly of cobblestones, and the district has steep streets built on plateaus.
An easy way to see everything is to join a guided tour. We suggest one of the open sightseeing buses, with comments in optional language in earphones. These have a route with 16 fixed stops, where you can jump on and off at your convenience. The ticket costs approx. 140 kroner, or 165 kroner for a two-day ticket.
Day 1 in Marseille
Start your day with a hearty breakfast at the hotel before heading to Marseille’s natural center, Vieux Port. If you do not live in the city center, take the metro to Vieux Port station on the blue line, or to Noalilles on the red line, and then walk down La Canebière. Start by visiting the tourist information office in La Canebière 4 and get what you need from city maps and information leaflets.
From here, continue along the street on the north side of Vieux Port and turn up into France’s oldest neighborhood, Le Panier. You can easily spend half the day strolling around the narrow, cobbled streets. Le Panier is by no means a noble and fashionable district as old towns in other big cities often are. Most residents are immigrants, many of the buildings are dilapidated and screaming for a paint stain, and the garbage floats in the side streets while the laundry hangs to dry a few floors above. It is nevertheless a pleasant and atmospheric area to explore. Don’t miss the Musée des Docks Romains, an exhibit of the well-preserved artifacts found in an ancient Roman harbor store in this place after the war. Cathédrale la Major is also worth a visit, and from the terrace outside the church of St.-Laurent you have great views over the Vieux Port and towards Notre Dame de la Garde, which hovers over Marseille from the city’s highest point. You’ll also see across the street towards Fort Saint-Jean, one of the two fortresses guarding the port’s narrow entrance gate from each side.
Quai du Port harbor promenade offers plenty of eateries where you can sit down and have lunch, from affordable cafes to more upscale restaurants. With sun in your face, half a bottle of wine, a pasta dish and a view of one of Europe’s most historic areas, it is not difficult to enjoy life.
Just north of La Canebière is the large shopping center Center Bourse, where you can take a shopping round if you want. In the same quarter, you’ll find the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille, the city’s historic museum, which you should definitely not miss if you have a hint of interest in the past. In the garden behind the museum you can see ruins of Roman buildings.
If you continue south as you exit the museum, you will reach the Place du Général de Gaulle, with its old-fashioned carousel, its outdoor restaurants and the temporary fish market. Further south go the shopping streets of Rue Paradis and the lively pedestrian street of Rue Saint-Ferréol. The shops are located close by, while street artists, jugglers and musicians entertain passersby. If you are shopping in Marseille, these two streets are an obvious choice.
Now it’s time to head west and start on the slopes up towards Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde. The road is well marked, and as long as you go uphill, you are on the right path! On the city’s highest hill, 154 meters above sea level, stands the very symbol of Marseille: an 11-meter-high golden statue of the Virgin Mary with the Child of Jesus, on an equally high pedestal at the top of Notre Dame Church. The views from the terraces around this Roman-Byzantine-style church are breathtaking in every direction, and you can see all the way to Marseille’s drab towns. Make sure to take the minutes with you as the sun sets in the Mediterranean.
This point has always been used as a lookout post, and the first church here was built around 1240, followed by a fortress in 1524 to defend the harbor. Below today’s church that began in 1853 is also a crypt that houses, among other things, a colorful crucifix from the 16th century. The crypt closes around sunset, so visit this one as soon as you arrive.
After a trip back to the hotel, it’s time to think about dinner. Around the cozy square of Place Thiars on the south side of Vieux Port there are many small and nice restaurants, but if you want to try real traditional French cuisine, visit Chez Michel in Anse des Catalans 6. This restaurant has been one of the leading bouillabaisse places in Marseille since 1946, and they use only fresh goods. You even get presented the fish before it is cooked. It’s not cheap, but this is also one of the best restaurants in the French Riviera.
Day 2 in Marseille
Today we start all the way south in the city and work our way north towards the center. If the weather is as good as it usually is in Marseille, it is best to start the day with a few hours at the beach. Would you like to try windsurfing in the waves of the Mediterranean? Many of the rental shops also offer training to those who are willing to take on the challenge.
Directly above the beaches is the large Borély Park, which fits nicely for a relaxing stroll. To the south lies an elegant manor house from the 18th century, and along manicured gardens and footpaths you will find a small lake with swans and ends where you can rent a rowboat. Here is also a 9 hole golf course.
If you leave the park on the northern side, you will immediately find yourself on the long Avenue du Prado. Follow this east to the large roundabout Rond-Point du Prado, where Avenue du Prado turns north towards the city center. Close by is Olympique Marseille’s home ground Stade Vélodrome, where you can join an hour tour of the club’s VIP stand, in the players’ locker rooms, the press room and walk the player tunnel up to the grass mat. Here, World Cup matches were played in 1998, in front of 60,000 enthusiastic spectators.
If you feel ready to go more, you can follow Avenue du Prado right into the center. This wide street has footpaths between the files where the market is organized in the mornings: flower market, flea market, vegetable market, etc. After the Castellane traffic junction, the street changes its name to Rue de Rome, which is one of Marseille’s foremost shopping streets. You will eventually come out onto the main street of La Canebière.
Walk La Canebière east, and after a few hundred meters you will notice the neo-Gothic cathedral Les Reformes from 1888 on the right. The street now changes its name to Boulevard de la Liberation, and at the end of it again you will find a beautiful park with the magnificent Palais Longchamps building with its many fountains and statues. There is also the Natural History Museum, an art museum and a theater.
Here you can buy a ticket for 15 kroner and take the metro down to Vieux Port. Stroll along the harbor’s southern quays, overlooking thousands of boat masts and Le Panier on the right, and Irish pubs and Indian and Moroccan restaurants on the left. If you turn left into Rue Robert, you will come to Marseille’s oldest church, Abbaye St.-Victor, which is well worth a visit. If you want to visit the other harbor fortress, Bas Fort Saint-Nicolas, you have to go down to the harbor again and enter from the west side.
If you have actually followed this daily program to the fullest, you have now walked many miles and surely need to relax a bit at the hotel. If you ate French for dinner yesterday, maybe it’s time to test your taste buds at one of Marseille’s North African restaurants? In the middle of the Quai de Port on the north side of Vieux Port you will find the Moroccan restaurant Le Souk, considered the best in the city.
If you want to try Marseille’s nightlife afterwards, for example, we can suggest the Jazz / Blues club Jazz Club Venture in Rue Venture 19, located in an atmospheric room in a 17th-century house. If electronica and house are more your style, you have Le Metal Café in Rue Fortia not far away.