Located in southeastern France, Marseille is France’s second largest city. It dates back to around 600 BC when the city was founded by the Greeks as a port. Since then the city has been a maritime hub and one of the most diverse cities in all of France.
Modern Marseille is filled with nightlife, enticing restaurants, theaters, museums, and even an international soccer stadium. Marseille lacks the beauty of Paris but, while the city is a bit gritty, I think the beautiful waterfront and historic buildings mixed throughout give it a unique vibe. It’s definitely worth at least two nights here.
This travel guide to Marseille can help you figure out what to do and how to do that on a budget.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Marseille
1. Visit Le Vieux Port
2. See the Notre Dame de la Garde
3. See the Vieille Charite
4. Walk La Corniche
5. Visit Château d’If
Other Things to See and Do in Marseille
1. Roam around Le Cours Julien and La Plaine
This area is the trendy part of Marseille and is full of bookstores, cafes, fountains, tons of walking space, and an underground vibe. Every Thursday and Saturday morning, La Plaine market takes place here and offers the best opportunity to shop for everything from clothing and knick-knacks to shoes and delicious food. Treat yourself to dinner at Lacaille, or opt for tapas at Le Couz’in. For wine bars in the area, try Funiculaire. NOTE: This area is being renovated and should be completed by the end of 2020.
2. Relax in Borély Park
Borély Park is known as one of the most remarkable parks in France, and these captivating gardens are definitely a highlight. Located about 1,000 feet from the ocean, this park was created in the 17th century by French merchant, Joseph Borléy. Wander the flowing curvaceous English garden the perfectly manicured French garden, and the zen-filled Chinese garden. You can go there to have a nap, meditate, enjoy a picnic, play some sports, or venture down for an afternoon drink in any of the numerous restaurants or bars on the beach. Borély Park is also home to Borély Castle, a museum highlighting life of 18th & 19th-Century Provençal.
3. Visit Le Panier
This is the oldest area of Marseille, dating back to around 600 BC. In French, its name means “the basket” and was named for an inn that had a basket as a sign. In time, the neighborhood became known by the same name. Be sure to gaze at the Vieille Charité, a 17th-Century villa which has museums and exhibitions (as described above). Join a walking tour, relax in a charming café, participate in an artist’s workshop, or just wander and admire this picturesque neighbourhood.
4. Go to La Place Castellane
This historic roundabout in the 6th arrondissement was built in 1774 and contains a magnificent fountain representing the three Provençal rivers: Durance, Gardon, and Rhône.
5. See the Mazargues War Cemetery
Over 9,000 square meters in size, Mazargues War Cemetery is the final resting place of soldiers from WWI and WWII allied nations. The bodies of soldiers and laborers were buried in various cemeteries in Marseille during WWI, however, after the war and before Armistice, the grounds of Mazargues Cemetery was expended and the remains of hundreds of soldiers were moved from the smaller cemeteries and laid to rest here.
6. Visit the Palais de Longchamp
This monument opened in 1869 and celebrates the completion of the Durance canal into Marseille. The famous animal sculptor Antoine Louis Barye made the lions and tigers at the entrance while the monumental fountain in the middle of the colonnade is by Jules Cavelier. It also hosts the Musée des Beaux Arts, Marseille’s oldest museum, with a large collection of 16th-19th century Provencal and Italian artwork. Admission is €6 ($7 USD).
7. Eat in Noailles
This area of the city (around the Noailles subway station) is known for its Arab, Indian and Chinese influence. It’s filled with delicious places to eat food for €10 – €15 ($11 – $17 USD). Try places like Les Portes de Damas, Caffé Noir, and Le 5.5 karaoke bar.
8. Go diving
Diving may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of France, but Marseille is making a name for itself as the country’s diving capital. Explore tunnels, caves, and admire colorful sea sponges, anemones, and sea fans. You can also spot moray eels and octopus and tons of shipwrecks such as Le Liban (1882) and Le Chaouen (1961). June to October, when the water is a bit warmer, are the best months for diving in Marseille. Snorkeling and other dive activities start at €23 ($26 USD).
9. Go on a Food Tour
Explore the historic district of Marseille on a 3.5-hour walking food tour. Food tours can be a fun way to learn about the history and culture of the city, while sampling regional foods such as tuna and shrimp tartare, tapenade, panisses, and roasted Camembert. Tours start at €85 ($93 USD). Do Eat Better Tours does a pretty good one, and they use local guides.
10. Visit Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM)
Inaugurated in 2013, this museum is located next to Fort St. Jean towards the entrance of the harbor. Designed by architects Rudy Ricciotti and Roland Carta, the museum is a 15,000 square meter cube surrounded by a latticework of fiber and concrete. The museum features two levels of exhibits, as well as an underground auditorium, and bookshop. The restaurant on the top of the museum offers breathtaking views of Marseille, one of the best viewpoints in the city. Tickets for adults are €11 ($12 USD). The museum offers free tours, check their website for more details.
11. Go on a Wine Tour
When visiting Marseille, it is hard to pass up an opportunity to go on a wine tour. This is, after all, Provence. You can choose from half-day or full-day tours. Provence Wine Tours offers a full-day tour around Aix-en-Provence for €110 ($123 USD), lunch not included. They also offer half-day tours which start at €70 ($80 USD).
For more information on specific cities in France, check out these guides:
Marseille Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Hostel dorms with sixteen beds run from €30 ($33 USD) a night, a four, five, or six bed room costs from €33 ($37 USD) per night. Private rooms with ensuite start at €80 ($88 USD).
Budget hotel prices – Prices begin at about €50 ($55 USD) per night for a double room at a two-star hotel. From there, prices go up quite a bit. A budget-friendly two-star hotel will have basic amenities like free wifi and air-con.
On Airbnb, you can find shared rooms in apartments starting at €12 ($13.25 USD) per night. The average private room is €45 ($50 USD), while the average price for a full apartment starts at €85 ($94 USD) per night.
Average cost of food – Marseille has delicious food, with plenty of traditional French restaurants, as well as African, Corsican, and Mediterranean restaurants. Cheap sandwiches cost about €5 ($5.50 USD). Most lunch specials will cost you around €10 ($11 USD) for a meal.
In Le Panier, Marseilles’ oldest neighborhood, try Douceur Piquante for Comoros cuisine, the veal meatballs with spicy tomato sauce are superb, and they have vegan and vegetarian options too. In Vieux-Port, CopperBay Marseille is known for their cocktails, as well as pickled mussels, burrata cheese, and other savory snacks. Both restaurants offer dishes under €20 ($23 USD).
Neighborhoods such as Opéra and Noailles are also home to delicious restaurants, bars, and cafés. Deep on rue Giandeves, in Opéra, is probably one of the best coffee shops.
For dinner, you’re looking at spending around €15-35 ($17-38 USD) for a main dish and around €7 ($7.80 USD) for a glass of wine. Expect to pay €11-13 ($12–15 USD) for a cocktail.
Of course, cooking for yourself is always a good idea if you want to keep your food budget down. You can pick up local cheese (500g) for around €9 ($10 USD) and a bottle of decent red wine for about the same price. A pound of chicken breast will be around €6 ($6.50 USD), and a quart of milk is usually under €1 ($1.10 USD). Groceries for a week will cost around €50 ($55 USD).
Backpacking Marseille Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Marseille, my suggested budget is about €69 ($77 USD) per day. This budget will cover staying in a hostel dorm, cooking most of your meals, eating a prix-fixe lunch, visiting cheap attractions, and taking public transportation.
A mid-range budget of about €130 ($145 USD) will cover a room at a two-star budget hotel or a private Airbnb room, eating at cheap restaurants, a few glasses of wine each day, an occasional Uber, and a couple of paid attractions per day.
For a luxury budget of €285 ($315 USD) or more, you will stay in a four-star hotel, eat at gourmet restaurants for all your meals, and enjoy plenty of wine. The sky is your limit here!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Marseille Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Marseille is definitely built for the luxury traveler and there’s not a lot of cheap things to do here. It’s going to cost you to visit. However, if you want to lower your costs, here are some ways to save money in Marseille:
- Explore on foot – Marseille is small enough to walk around and it’s a reasonable way to experience the architecture and the vibes of the city.
- Get the set lunch menu – If you eat out, do so at lunch and get the prix fixe menu (two- or three-course set menu). Restaurants throughout town offer this set menu during lunch, and with prices between €10 and €20, it’s a way better deal than the regular dinner menu.
- Discount museum prices – Pick up a City Pass for free public transportation, free entry to museums and attractions, and discounts on tours. A one-day pass is €40 ($44 USD), while a two-day pass costs €55 ($60.75 USD) and a three-day pass costs €64 ($71 USD).
- Take a free walking tour – If you want to learn more about the city, a free walking tour is a great place to start. You’ll learn about the history and architecture while getting to see all the major sights. Marseille Free Walking Tour is the best one.
- Couchsurf – Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free. Couchsurfing connects you with locals who will give you not only a free place to stay, but also a local tour guide who can introduce you to all the great places to see.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. The Uber Pool option is where can you share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
Where To Stay in Marseille
There are a handful hostels in Marseille, as well as some budget hotel options. Here are my recommended places to stay in Marseille:
How to Get Around Marseille
Bus and Tram – Tickets for the bus and the metro can be bought in metro stations, at tourist offices, or anywhere displaying an RTM sign. It’s best to buy groups of tickets at €3/$3.30 USD (two trips) or €13.40/$14.70 USD (10 trips) to save a bit (prices on board the bus cost €1.90/$2.10 USD per trip). A 1-day pass costs €5.20 ($5.70 USD) and a 3-day pass costs €10.80 ($11.85 USD).
Most public transportation in the city centre stops running regularly around 9pm, so consider taking an Uber or a taxi if you’re in a hurry. There are, however, a couple of night buses which run through central Marseilles, 509 and 518 in particular. Consider downloading the RTM app for current public transportation schedules.
If you get a City Pass tourism card, you’ll be able to ride the public transit for free.
Ferry – RTM also operates a ferry service between Vieux-Port and Estaque or La Pointe Rouge. Ticket prices are €5 ($5.50 USD) one-way. You can also take a ferry across Vieux-Port for €0.50 ($0.55 USD), one-way.
Bicycle – Le Vélo is a public bike sharing system that lets you use bicycles around the city once you register online. It costs €1 ($1.10 USD) to register. This gives you a 7-day pass and you rent a bike for €1 ($1.10 USD) per hour after the first 30 minutes.
Taxi – Taxis are expensive in Marseille, with a base rate of €2 ($2.25 USD) plus about €1.72 ($1.90 USD) per kilometer. This rate may increase in the evenings.
Ride-Sharing – Uber is available in Marseille. You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
When to Go to Marseille
The months between June and August are the hottest time for visiting Marseille, with temperatures reaching an average of 86°F (30°C). Summer is peak season in Marseille, and the streets are filled with backpackers, and European vacationers who want to soak up the ambiance of the south of France in all of its hot glory.
September and October, however, when the average high temperature is 75°F (24°C), is an ideal time to visit Marseille. In autumn, the crowds have lessened considerably and the Mediterranean is still perfect for swimming. The days are usually warm, but the nights can be cooler.
The Christmas season, although chilly, is an excellent time to attend to explore the markets and festivities. The Santon Fair, one of the oldest fairs in Provence, takes place throughout the month of December and features hand painted terracotta nativity figurines created by local artisans. The average temperature in winter is 50ºF (10ºC).
In spring, Carnaval de Marseille takes place (April) in Bolély Park, with colourful costumed floats, live music, games, and family entertainment. The temperature in spring averages 65ºF (18ºC).
How to Stay Safe in Marseille
Marseille is very safe, and the risk of violent crime is very low. Like anywhere else, avoid walking through unfamiliar areas alone at night and beware of pick-pocketing and petty theft. Pick pocketing is most common around the train station and tourist areas.
That being said, as with most major cities, there are neighbourhoods to avoid. It’s a good idea to be extra cautious in neighbourhoods like Quartiers Nord, Malpassé, Felix Payat, and Le Caillols where crime is a higher risk.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
People are generally friendly and helpful, and you’re unlikely to get into trouble.
Always trust your gut instinct. Avoid isolated areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Marseille! Follow that rule, and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Marseille Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Marseille. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Rail Europe – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – German based Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low €5 ($6 USD)! Their buses include WiFi, electrical outlets, and up to three 3 free bags.
- Bla Bla Car – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Marseille Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Marseille Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo
This one is a classic you can’t pass up! Jean Valjean, a peasant imprisoned for stealing bread, is one of the most famous literary characters in history. Victor Hugo takes us through 19th century Parisian life, and the uprising of 1832. It follows the story of Valjean and his persecution by Inspector Javert, the struggles of prostitute Fantine, and the immoral behavior of miscreant Thénardier. It’s a clear criticism of the French political and legal systems.
A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
If there is one era I’d want to visit more than any other, it’s Paris in the 1920s. Hemingway’s memoir is the next best thing. It was published after Hemingway’s death, and recalls the time he spent living in Paris where he developed his writing career. Broke but happy, he spent his time writing in cafes along with other notorious authors like Zelda Fitzgerald and James Joyce.
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
First published in the 1840s, this classic French novel is about Edmond Dantes, a man thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He’s confined to the fortress of If, and it’s there that he learns about the treasure hidden under the Isle of Monte Cristo. He becomes obsessed with unearthing the treasure and seeking his revenge on the men responsible for his imprisonment. This book was actually inspired by real events.
A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle
I’d heard of this book before but never bothered to pick it up until multiple readers recommended it to me. I’m glad I finally read it — it was incredible. An autobiographical novel following the author Peter Mayle’s year living in Provence, it details the struggles and joys of adapting to a new culture. I loved the interesting characters he meets and his description of the slow pace of life in France (which was a clear departure from his previous life in England). As a Francophile, this book makes me want to move to France even more. Wonderfully and wistfully written, I can understand why it continues to be such a classic.
Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris, by Sarah Turnbull
Sarah Turnbull’s visit to the City of Light was supposed to last a week, but she ends up staying permanently with the guy she had traveled to Paris to visit (Paris has that effect on people). This book follows Turnbull’s life in the city as she navigates the highs and lows of trying to fit into a foreign culture while slowly falling more and more in love with it. Its a fish-out-of-water tale and clichéd at many times, but it offers lessons on embracing life in a foreign culture that will never really accept you as one of its own. Funny and witty, I found it to be a fun pager turner.
Marseille Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling France and continue planning your trip: