With groundbreaking museums and world-class restaurants, Marseille offers plenty of opportunities to splash out. Yet it’s also a city that can be felt and experienced for very little.
From exploring the glittering Vieux Port to cheap eats in the historic Le Panier district, many of the best things to do in this famous Mediterranean metropolis don’t have to break the bank. They might even be free. Here’s how to see Marseille on a budget.
Explore this atmospheric city on foot
Marseille is one France’s largest cities, yet it’s also very walkable. St Charles train station is just 10 minutes by foot from the Vieux Port, while a stroll from Le Panier up to the colorful cafes of Notre-Dame du Mont takes less than 30 minutes.
Walking allows you to take in all the sights, sounds and smells of this endlessly vibrant town. Keep in mind, though, that since the steep walk up to Notre-Dame de la Garde is challenging, a taxi there is never a bad idea.
Get your bearings with an epic view from above
Notre-Dame de la Garde looks over Marseille from a 149m(489 ft)-high limestone outcrop on the south side of the Vieux Port – and offers spectacular panoramic views. From this vantage point, the port, city roofs and glittering coast unfurl in the foreground, while hazy hills and mountains rise in the distance. Not only is this breathtaking vista free of charge, entry into the beautiful basilica is gratis as well.
Don’t splash out on breakfast
In Europe, do as the Europeans do. Bistros and boulangeries are everywhere in Marseille, so choose an alfresco seat in the sun, order a coffee and croissant and watch the world go by. It shouldn’t cost more than €5 (US$5.25) – and you’ll have plenty of time and energy to spend the morning exploring.
Buy a City Pass
Sometimes investing early on will save you in the long run – and that’s certainly true with Marseille’s City Pass. At €27 ($28.40) for 24 hours or €37 ($38.90) for 48 hours, the pass allows unlimited travel on public transport (one single trip on the Marseille Metro is €1.50/$1.60), entry to the superb Mucem Museum, discounts at several shops and cafes, and many other handy savings that add up fast.
Reach Marseille with budget airlines...
Marseille Provence Airport (MRS) is a medium-sized airport that is well-served by budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet. These carriers offer fares significantly cheaper than legacy carriers like Air France. Budget flights to Marseille are an especially appealing from the UK, with round-trip flights for as little as £20 ($25), going up to a shocking £40 ($50) from London Stansted.
...then take the train to the city from the airport...
At €5.10 ($5.35), the TER train from Marseille Provence Airport Vitrolles train station is the cheapest ride to the city center – although to reach the station you’ll need to jump on the number 13 shuttle bus located just outside the Terminal 2. Trips between the airport and train station take just five minutes.
...or don’t fly at all
Marseille can be reached by train from Paris and beyond fairly easily – a relief to travelers wishing to mitigate their carbon footprints. In fact, you can speed south to Marseille-Saint-Charles from Paris for around €20 ($21) in under 3.5 hours. Book well in advance for the best-priced tickets – and expect higher fares for the most convenient departure times.
Take a free walking tour
Few travel experiences are more exhilarating than exploring a new city for the first time. But if you want a little guidance as you get to know a city, then a walking tour is always a great place to start. Running every day at 11am for two hours, Marseille Free Walking Tour is the best introduction to this famous old port city.
Look for the light blue umbrella when you exit the Vieux Port station of the Metro. At the end of the tour, you’ll decide how much you want to tip the guide.
Home-stay sites might have better, cheaper accommodations than hotels
While Marseille hotel rooms aren’t particularly expensive, it’s always worth checking on Airbnb first for low-priced lodging, especially if there’s a larger group of you traveling. With Marseille’s warm climate, there’s a strong likelihood of finding a good-value apartment in the city center with a pleasant outdoor balcony – an amenity that would command a premium at a hotel.
Take advantage of neighborhood restaurants
Like all European cities, Marseille has its share of Michelin-starred restaurants as well as overpriced yet mediocre spots catering to hungry tourists wandering around the Vieux Port. Yet it’s easy to eat very well, very reasonably in Marseille if you stray off the beaten path a little.
Hearty mains for under €15 ($15.75) can be found at Chinese restaurant La Maison des Raviolis on rue d’Italie, Turkish restaurant Helin Kebab in Noailles, and Tunisian restaurant Chez Yassine on rue d’Aubagne.
Carry a water bottle
Marseille is a walkable city (if hilly in certain areas such as Le Panier and Cours Julien). In summer, it can get hot, which means you’ll want to stay hydrated. Carrying a reusable water bottle throughout the day will save you money on buying disposable bottles, while not contributing to plastic waste. The tap water is safe to drink in Marseille and you can always ask cafes for a refill when you stop for lunch.
Visit in the shoulder seasons
High season (June to August) brings the highest prices, so plan a trip here in either spring or fall for a better-value experience. April, May, September and October are periods when the weather will be nice enough to sit outside, with accommodations at more reasonable prices. Flights and train tickets should also be cheaper during the shoulder seasons.
Spend a rainy day in Marseille’s free museums
Marseille offers free admission to the permanent collections at a number of local museums, including the Musée des Beaux Arts, Musée Cantini and Musée d’Histoire de Marseille. If you’re visiting in May, keep an eye out for La Nuit des Musées, when 11 museums open their doors to visitors for free.
See the city on two wheels
The pleasant climate of Marseille lends itself to cycling, and exploring the city on two wheels can be time-efficient as well as cost-effective. Le Vélo is the local bike-share system, with easy-to-use docks dotted around the city. (Again, bear in mind that Marseille can get hilly in places.)
A week-long membership with unlimited rides costs all of €1. Each time you hire a bike, the first 30 minutes are free, with each hour thereafter costing an additional €1. Change bikes frequently to avoid any fees at all – and zip around town all day for less than the cost of a bus ticket.
Spend an afternoon in a grandiose 17th-century park
With its symphony of scooters, car horns, markets and music, Marseille is a city that’s loud and proud. There aren’t too many spots for quiet reflection in this bustling town, but the 17-hectare (42-acre) Parc Borély is a lovely oasis of calm.
Free to enter, the park features a serene lake, a plant-covered miniature replica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, a botanical garden and the elegant 18th-century Château Borély. It takes just 20 minutes to get there by bike from the Vieux Port; cycling is a great way to explore the park itself, too.
Daily costs in Marseille
- Hostel room: €20–25 ($25–30) per night
- Basic room for two: from €60 ($65) per night
- Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): €70 ($75) for a private room (depending on location), up to €175 ($188) for the whole place.
- Public transport ticket: €1.50 ($1.60) for a single trip (valid for one hour)
- Coffee: €1.50 ($1.60) for a small café
- Sandwich: €4 ($4.30) for a handmade sandwich, though sandwiches in supermarket fridges (like Utile) can be picked up for under €2 ($2.15)
- Dinner for two: From €20–25 each ($25–30) including a glass of wine around the Vieux Port. Cheaper alternatives can be found around Noailles.
- Beer/pint at the bar: Around €5 ($5.45) for a pint of beer. Famous local spirit pastis can be found for around €3.30 ($3.60).