Marseille's unique charms have turned it into a destination unlike anywhere else in L'hexagone – a kaleidoscope of jaunty street art, rugged scenery, busy cafes, and manic markets, from the glittering port to the colorful neighborhoods.

But where to base yourself in this engaging coastal city? Here's a look at some of Marseille's most interesting enclaves, and what to expect in each one. 

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A street scene in the old town La Panier in Marseille in France
Le Panier is an area to meander around and hop from bistro to bistro © Chrispictures / Shutterstock

Le Panier is best for historic charm

Marseille's oldest neighborhood looks just how you'd want the city's most historic neighborhood to look. Decorated with green hanging baskets and sky-blue shutters, Le Panier's narrow spidery streets rise and fall, while the Victorian-era streetlights give the district a romantic feel. Cozy corner cafes and quirky street art only add to the charm. 

Located just north of the Old Port, there's no one big attraction here – the impressive, striped Byzantine facade of Cathédrale de la Major is nearby, but really, this is an area to meander around and hop from bistro to bistro. 

Start with a coffee and warm buttery croissant from Les délices de l'évêché on Rue de l'évêché, then explore the neighborhood’s restaurants. The arched stone dining room at Place Lorette is a fabulous spot to sample Moroccan delights, such as chicken tagines, semolina bread and crunchy pastillas. Check out the revolving seasonal chalkboard menu at Douceur Piquante for a taste of chef Nadjat Bacar's native Comoros Islands.

The promenade of the Old Vieux Port in the city center of Marseilles, France
No trip to Marseille is complete with a stroll around the relentlessly vibrant Vieux Port © Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock

Vieux Port is best for seductive scenes and busy bars

No trip to the city is complete without a stroll around the relentlessly vibrant Vieux Port. The sight of hundreds of bobbing white boat masts against the shimmering blue Mediterranean is arguably Marseille's most iconic image. And the port is flanked on all sides by restaurants and bars spilling out on the street making it great for people watching.

A short walk from the fascinating Mucem, Les Artisanales du Vieux Port stretches along the harbor's north side, a craft market selling everything from handmade jewelry to locally brewed craft beer throughout the summer (until September). Emerging next to the quirky Norman Foster-designed upside-down mirror, L'Ombrière, the M1 metro line serves Vieux Port well. Just a few feet away are boats offering daily trips to the notorious Château d’If and Les Calanques

Get into the Marseille mood by sampling different varieties of pastis at stylish craft-cocktail bar CopperBay, located a few streets back from the main tourist drag. For dinner, walk a couple of streets over to low-key Ourea, where chef Matthieu Roche serves up sublime Provençal cuisine using the freshest local ingredients (something he struggled to find for his previous location in Paris). Afterward, head to Jasmin de Tunis, which offers some of the best Tunisian pastries in the city (don't miss their indulgent brik).

Nouilles is best for markets 

With the bustling Marché des Capucins at its heart, Nouilles is Marseille at its chaotic best. Parceled between Rue Saint-Ferreol and La Canabière, the neighborhood boasts a diverse array of cultures and languages. Stop for a coffee and croissant at family-run Cafe Prinder and watch everything unfold. 

One of Marseille's oldest districts, named after Jacques de Noailles, a lieutenant of the galleys, Nouilles was once home to the local aristocracy. These days its busy streets are an assault on the senses, with fresh floral aromas coming from colorful fruit and veg markets and rich, spicy smells emerging from sizzling North African bistros. 

Turkish cuisine is well represented here too, and Helin Kebab on Blvd Dugommier is a cheerful spot that won't break the bank. Epicerie L’Idéal on Rue d'Aubagne offers the finest and freshest French ingredients, and their generously filled sandwiches are perfect for lunch. Set in an old sewing shop on Cours Saint-Louis, La Mercerie Marseille offers a five-course "surprise" menu between Thursday and Monday if you're feeling adventurous.

Notre-Dame-du-Mont is best for nightlife

With its combination of bright, imaginative graffiti, funky corner cafes and alluring side streets, the area around Cours Julien is one of Marseille's jewels. You'll find this seductive corner of the city in the Notre-Dame-du-Mont neighborhood, and it's a delightful place to head when you're tired of the tourist-targeting restaurants of the Old Port. 

Cours Julien really comes into its own on warm summer evenings, and the distant views down Rue Estelle rival any Parisian neighborhood vista. As the name suggests, La Brasserie Communale is a wonderfully convivial spot to sink a few artisanal beers and get acquainted with Cours Julien's hedonistic spirit. 

Across the square sits the cozy L'Escalié, where beautifully presented French tapas, such as tuna carpaccio and beef in cajun sauce, go down easily on its relaxing terrace. Separated from L'Escalié by the jaunty street-art-splattered steps of the Escaliers des Cours Julien, colorful Boteco Brasil mixes up the tapas, offering Brazilian favorites – like chicken-filled coxinha, crispy risoles and salty cod bolinho de bacalhau – alongside refreshing caipirinha cocktails. 

Small fishing harbor Vallon des Auffes with traditional picturesque houses and boats
 Vallon des Auffes is a fishing village sandwiched between rocky cliffs, only accessible by descending narrow stairs ©Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock

Endoume is best for breezy coastal escapes

If the Old Port feels a little passé, the coastal neighborhood Endoume, a couple of kilometers south, is home to a charming miniature version. A fishing village sandwiched between rocky cliffs, only accessible by descending narrow stairs, Vallon des Auffes is flanked by traditional cabanons (seaside cabins) built by fishermen to store tackle and cook a traditional Sunday bouillabaisse fish stew. 

For one of Marseille's finest expressions of bouillabaisse, head to the north-eastern corner of the village, where Chez Fonfon's take on the classic Marseille dish features a broth of tomatoes and saffron and five kinds of fish, just like it has since 1952.

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