Marseille is both beachy and urban, French and Mediterranean, modern and historic. Go for the beach by all means, but with its diverse neighborhoods, street art and architectural tours, as well as cave paintings dating back 20,000 years in a new museum, there’s a lot to learn here too. 

Alexis Steinman lives in Marseille and offers this four-day itinerary to learn more about this city in the south of France. 

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I am a food and travel writer who has been hooked on Marseille since I moved here in 2016. With its multicultural makeup, staggering beauty and striking contrasts, the 2600-year-old port is an endless trove of stories and experiences. 
 

Marseille itinerary snapshot

Why you should visit Marseille

With its rich diversity, Marseille seduces. Here, visitors find breathtaking natural beauty alongside urban grit, cultural traditions from the Provence region meeting ones from around the world, boisterous energy and laid-back pleasures. Though France’s second-largest city, Marseille feels like a collection of the “111 villages” that merged over the centuries to form the neighborhoods of the modern metropolis. Each boasts its own personality and charm, ideal for curious travelers seeking diverse experiences. Think swimming turquoise coves, exploring Roman ruins, seeing contemporary art, hiking limestone cliffs and watching a breakdance battle. And, of course, tasting flavors from all over the globe via the city’s fantastic food scene. More Mediterranean than French and truly one-of-a-kind, Marseille is all you love about France – and so much more.  

Marseille itinerary overview day 1

 

Start off strong with Marseille must-dos 

Marseille’s most-visited sites give you a great lay of the land, showing you the city’s unique architecture, vast scale and rich history. To start, don good walking shoes or take the 60 bus to Notre Dame de la Garde. Nicknamed the “Bonne Mère” (“Good Mother”) this Roman-Byzantine-style basilica is topped with a golden Madonna-and-child statue that watches over the city. (Don’t miss the bullet holes from a WWII battle on the eastern facade.) Inside, you’ll find dazzling mosaics along with ex-votos, offerings of wooden boats and nautical paintings to protect fishermen at sea. As the city’s highest point, the Bonne Mère boasts 360° views of the skyline from its grounds. If you’re hungry, make a pit stop at Carlotta With in the hip Vauban quartier for the city’s most buttery croissants. 

Lunch at Vieux-Port

Head down the hill to the Vieux-Port, once lined with merchant ships from across the globe and today filled with pleasure boats. The perimeter is lovely for a leisurely promenade – or, if you’re in a hurry, cross the basin on the ferry, whose 300-yard route is rumored to be the shortest in the world. Along the port, Chez Madie les Galinettes serves up Provençal classics, fresh fish and Marseille’s mythical bouillabaisse fish stew. Perhaps surprisingly, however, the city’s most popular dish is pizza. Our favorite in town is at Chez Etienne, whose wood-fired pies have lured a loyal following since 1943. Pair one with an order of the addictively garlicky squid.

Afternoon at Grotte Cosquer

Work off lunch with a voyage beneath the sea and back in time at the Grotte Cosquer, whose realistic reproductions of 27,000-year-old cave paintings later submerged by water are the city’s newest attraction. Next door, the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean (Mucem) is also a must-see. Built in 2013, Rudy Riciotti’s webbed concrete cube is influenced by ancient Arabic design. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to explore the exhibits inside: the exterior walkways offer a dazzling display of light and shadows, while the rooftop has a restaurant-bar and seats for lounging. From there, take the footbridge to the Fort St-Jean, a 17th-century citadel with gardens, exhibits and videos that recount the city’s history. Notice how its canons point at rather than away from the city – a sign of Marseillais’ rebellious spirit then and now. 

Evening at bars à vins

Bars à vins (wine bars) are lovely for a light meal or dining solo. Les Buvards pairs natural and biodynamic wines with homey French classics like boudin noir (black blood sausage) and purée (whipped potatoes). For those with bigger appetites, Fioupelan dishes modern plates with Provençal flair, like daurade (sea bream) tartare on charcoal toasts. Grab dessert at Vanille Noire, whose black, salted vanilla ice cream is rumored to be colored using squid ink. End the night on a high note at Hôtel Hermès’ rooftop bar, one of the best in town. Though removed from the port’s bustle, the tiny bar fills up fast on summer nights. Craft-cocktail enthusiasts should chart their course for Bar Gaspard across the port. 
 

Marseille itinerary overview day 2

Multicultural eats, heritage shops, and artisanal goods 

Fuel up at Deep or Brulerie Moka, two local roasters that have perked up the city’s coffee scene. Next, explore a farmers market – always a wonderful way to experience Marseille like a local. Buy bread, cheese and locally grown produce at the Reformés market on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and the Wednesday organic market in Cours Julien. Or let local experts be your guide on a Culinary Backstreets food tour as you dive into the city’s history, culture, architecture and (of course) food. 

Lunch in Noailles

Noailles is nicknamed the “belly of Marseille” for its central location and abundance of things edible. Taste sweet or savory stuffed Senegalese pastries at Pastels World, Tunisian chickpea soup (leblebi) at Chez Yassine and market-driven Mediterranean plates at Épicerie Idéal. With its street eats and food shops, the bustling Rue Longue des Capucins feels like you’re strolling through an African souk. Don’t miss the colorful Saladin Épices du Monde spice shop and the open food stall next door, where street chefs cook up m’semen crepes, date-stuffed bradj and other Maghrebi delights before your eyes.  

Afternoon at Maison Empereur

Lively Noailles is also home to two of Marseille’s oldest heritage shops: Maison Empereur, the oldest hardware store in France, an Ali Baba’s cavern of some 50,000 goods; and Père Blaize, which has sold healing teas and tinctures since 1816. Also make sure to swing by Jiji Palme D’Or, where Tunisian ceramics and home decor spill across four storefronts. Want to learn more about Marseille’s artisanal goods? Watch how the iconic Savon de Marseille soap is made at Fer à Cheval, mix your own pastis at Distillerie de la Plaine or visit one of the city’s oldest distilleries, Cristal Limiñana, to watch the team fabricate anisette, pastis and rum.  

Evening dinner with a view at La Caravelle

Quench your thirst like a Marseillais during apéro, the nightly happy hour that is practically a religion across the city. The always-packed hipster Café de l’Abbaye offers views of the harbor’s forts and ancient Abbaye St-Victor from its outdoor tables. La Caravelle has a vintage, nautical-inspired interior and the best Vieux-Port perch from its sliver of a balcony. Since apéro can often stretch into the night, if you prefer a sit-down dinner, Marseille’s food scene is bursting with young chef-driven tables. Enjoy carnivorous plates at Femme du Boucher, seasonal fare (and stellar octopus) in a park at Sepia and Mediterranean flavors at Golda.  
 

Marseille itinerary overview day 3

Street art and vintage shops 

Inspired by Marseille’s hip-hop culture, street art has become an integral part of the city’s look, with murals and tags especially prolific in the neighborhoods of Cours Julien and Le Panier. (We recommend a street-art tour of the latter, where you can discover local graffeurs like Nimho.) Both neighborhoods also are great for shopping. The city’s oldest district, Le Panier has winding streets that are home to crafts like Coutellerie de Panier knives and Arterra santons (clay figurines). Vintage shops and indie designers abound in Cours Julien.

Lunch at Limmat

Take lunch on Cours Julien’s famous colorful staircase at Limmat, a locavore spot that specializes in vegetarian and fish dishes, or dive into the freshest catch at the nautically kitsch La Boîte à Sardine. Care for a picnic? Pick up sandwiches at Pain Pan or a Lebanese spread at Exosud. Then, stroll to the grassy lawn and shady trees of the Parc Longchamp. Marseille’s most central park sprawls behind the Palais Longchamp, a majestic while monument from the 19th century. Two museums flank a lavish colonnade: the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, a fantastic, 18th-century-style cabinet of curiosities; and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, famous for its paintings of the 1720 plague that wiped out half the city. Both are free to the public.

Visit Friche La Belle de Mai cultural center

Work off lunch at the nearby Friche La Belle de Mai, a tobacco factory–turned–cultural center that houses artist studios, exhibition spaces, a bookstore, skate park, restaurant and expansive rooftop. (Check their Facebook page for upcoming concerts, movie nights and other cultural happenings.) On the other side of town, the Unité d’Habitation at La Cité Radieuse – Le Corbusier’s utopian vision of mixed-use living that resembles a concrete cruise ship – is a must for architecture buffs. While the complex is free to visit, paid tours of apartments are offered at the tourist office by reservation.

Check out a football match or grab a Michelin star dinner

While some Marseillais don’t like football, everyone is a fan of OM. And the Olympique de Marseille home games are as legendary as the team, with firecrackers, giant banners and fervent fans filling the Orange Vélodrome. Get tickets online in advance or at the stadium on game day (the season runs from August until May). Prefer your stars on the plate rather than on the field? Splurge at the Michelin three-star AM par Alexandre Mazzia. Expect a 20+ course journey through smoked, spiced and roasted flavors paired with the farmed and fished bounty of the region – like raspberry harissa and a smoked-eel-and-dark-chocolate tart. The unpretentious vibe is also pure Marseille. 
 

Marseille itinerary overview day 4

A day in the Calanques and at the beach

A breathtaking mix of limestone cliffs and turquoise coves, this park is best explored by boat or by foot. Hit the high seas on a Bleu Evasion tour (for eight to 12 people), or book a private launch via rental platform Click&Boat (a splurge for a couple but more affordable for groups of four or more). Reach great heights at the Croix de Marseilleveyre (a three-hour hike via the 19 bus to Madrague de Montredon), or descend to the Calanque de Morgiou cove (two hours, plus a ride on the 22 bus to Les Baumettes). For the latter, you can pair your ramble with fresh fish at Bar Nautic or pizzas and Provençal fare at Chez Zé (be sure to reserve and bring cash at these secluded spots). Note: many trails are closed in July and August, prime forest-fire season.

Charming ports: Les Goudes or L’Estaque 

Marseille is bookended by two picturesque fishing villages. At the southern tip, Les Goudes is an Instagrammable mix of rocky ambles, swimming coves and cabanons (beachside cabins). Savor just-caught fish at a seaside table at Grand Bar des Goudes or Baie des Singes, a 15-minute walk away. Between July and October, the Friche de l’Escalette showcases contemporary art amid the beautiful ruins of a 19th-century lead factory. 

At the northern edge, L’Éstaque evokes Marseille’s industrial and artistic past: with its factories and Provençal light, the port once lured painters like Cézanne. Watch locals play pétanque beside the port’s traditional wooden barquettes (boats), then taste traditional fried snacks like chichis fregis (donuts) and panisses (chick-pea fritters) at Chez Magali. Hungry for a full meal? Hippocampe serves grilled fish in a secluded spot hidden from the main drag. From May to September, both villages are accessible by RTM Ferry Boat, the cheapest way to sail the Mediterranean. 

Hit the beach

With 26 miles of coastline, Marseille serves up a buffet of beaches within its city limits. The curved cove of Anse de la Maldormé has a pebbled beach with easy access for a dip. The flat boulders at Anse de la Fausse Monnaie are ideal for sunbathing and watching cliff divers plunge from the Corniche Kennedy. If you prefer sand, opt for the Plage des Prophètes or Plage des Catalans, the closest beach to the city center. The coast is easily accessible by the 83 bus or by pedaling along the revamped coastal bike path (which sometimes shares the road with cars). Just avoid swimming after heavy rains, when overflowing sewers pollute the sea. 

Sunset at Cabanon de Paulette

Technicolor sunsets deserve a front-row seat on the coast. Arrive early to nab a spot at the happening beach bar Cabanon de Paulette for moules marinère and frites. The Cabane des Amis pumps a mix of hip-hop, disco and techno into the early morning. Viaghijii di Fonfon serves charcuterie, cheese and spritzes in the charming Vallon des Auffes port. Or make like a local and bring a pizza to the beach: we’re fans of the pies at Eau à la Bouche near the Plage de Malmousque. 

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