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Things to do in Marseille, France in one day
The opportunity to spend even just one day in Marseille whilst enjoying a relaxing holiday on the French Riviera is most definitely one that must not be missed. The options of so many things to do in Marseille in one day, makes it an exciting destination in France.
Marseille, the second largest city in France is also its oldest. Founded in 600 BC by the ancient Greeks Marseille has for centuries boasted a dominant trading status linking the civilisations of north west Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa.
This rich cultural heritage is evident throughout the city and continues to make one day in Marseille a truly stand out experience. A world away from glamorous neighbours such as Cannes and Monaco Marseille is undoubtedly a fabulous day trip from Nice.There are so many interesting things to do in Marseille.
One day in Marseille – Best Time to Visit
Situated on the Mediterranean coast in the south of France some 775 km from Paris Marseille benefits from a warm climate of hot, dry summers and mild winter months.
The summer months of July and August often see temperatures in excess of 30˚C making a one day in Marseille at this time of year a humid and uncomfortable experience.
Instead consider timing your visit for the cooler but still very pleasant months of May and September.
Just watch out for the daily Mistral wind that can often reach 90 km per hour!
Getting to Marseille
Those people considering one day in Marseille are most likely to be those holidaying in the surrounding Provence or French Riviera regions.
From these France’s excellent road and rail links make a day trip to this cosmopolitan city hugely attractive.
Driving to Marseille
To reach Marseille by road most visitors will use either the A8 or A9 toll roads. The A8 runs as far as the Italian border 240 km to the east and the A9 to Perpignan and the Spanish border 320 km west.
From Provence tourist destinations of Aix en Provence and Avignon Marseille lies 35 km and 100 km south and reached via the A7.
As an indication of likely road tolls the 200 km journey west from Nice will cost in the region of €15.00.
Marseille is France’s second largest city so do expect to encounter busy roads as you approach its city centre. The motorways and tunnel sections can be a little confusing so if you are not a confident driver do instead consider letting the train take the strain.
Trains to Marseille
France boasts an excellent and efficient rail network and this south of France region is no exception.
The Marseille to Ventimiglia rail service offers regular departures and arrivals with scheduled stops across the French Riviera.
Enjoying one day in Marseille from a base in or near Nice the journey will take around 2 1/2 hours with departures every 30 minutes. Tickets purchased in advance are available from around €25.00.
Marseille Train Station
The hugely impressive Marseille Saint Charles Station built in 1848 is situated north east of the city centre. From there it is just one mile and a 20 minute walk to Le Panier and the Vieux Port.
What to See in Marseille
There is no dearth of worthy things to do in Marseille. As the end of the 20th century approached Marseille suffered from rather an unsavoury reception.
However, over the last couple of decades significant investment in the city has witnessed urban improvements such as the opening up of the port area and cultural awakening with new museums and a focus on the promotion of projects celebrating its diversity.
One fine example is the Mucem opened in 2013 to coincide with Marseille’s year as the European City of Culture.
Just a selection of the following highlights will quickly fill the itinerary for your one day in Marseille.
The starting point for any visit to Marseille has to be its central Vieux Port district. The birthplace of Marseille over 1,500 years ago remains the city’s vibrant centre boasting a famous marina and daily fish market as well as the chic hotels, elegant seafood restaurants and numerous harbour front cafes and bars.
The Vieux Port is a fascinating mix of Marseille locals, labourers and daily influx of tourists. This is where the intense smells and sounds of the fish traders and salty sea air hammer home Marseille’s history of trade.
From here a short walk in any direction will lead you to the many attractions of the city.
A world away from the hustle and bustle of Vieux Port below Le Panier is one of the most surprising and charismatic regions you’ll find across the whole of the south of France.
Meaning basket in French Le Panier is the oldest area of Marseille and home to narrow streets, cobbled alleyways and hidden away squares. Now home to artisans and crafters its combination of centuries old, dilapidated dwellings and colourful street art produces a unique village charm within the modernity of a 21st century city.
To make the most of your one day in Le Panier is the perfect basis for an organised walking tour. It sure is one of the top things to do in Marseille.
Place des Moulins
Le Panier’s most famous destination is the Place des Moulins named after the presence of 15 windmills here during the 17th century. Located at the top of a hill these were ideal for a place of retreat as well as the production of flour for the people of Marseille.
Place des Moulins remains a peaceful oasis ideal for a moment or two of contemplation on one of the benches as you look around searching for the traces of three of the original fifteen that remain. To help you two are in the south section of the square now enclosed by homes and the third in the north east corner at number 28.
La Veille Charité
Are you looking for more thingsto do in Marseille?Another of Le Panier’s significant landmarks is La Veille Charité located 250 metres north of the Place des Moulins.
Constructed and designed in the late 17th century by Le Panier’s very own architect Pierre Puget this grandiose neoclassical chapel and arcaded courtyard was originally an almshouse for the poor of the surrounding district.
Following a programme of renovation during the 1980s the stunning La Veille Charité now houses multi-cultural programmes to celebrate the local community as well as numerous museums.
Le Panier Street Art
As you stroll through the character filled streets of Le Panier look out for the many fabulous examples of vibrant street art.
Their vivacity and modern political themes an interesting conflict to the pastel coloured dwellings and dilapidated walls on which these murals are based.
Cathedral de la Major
Exiting the Le Panier district from its western elevation heading toward the Mediterranean coast you’ll next come across one of Marseille’s principal landmarks, the imposing Cathedral de la Major.
Constructed during the 19th century in the Byzantine style this hugely striking Cathedral can house up to 3,000 people. Even if you are not religious minded a visit to the Cathedral’s interior is a must as you will not fail to be impressed by the extensive mosaics, arches and grand doorways.
The Cathedral de la Major has been a huge beneficiary of the city’s large scale investment in its port region as the adjacent esplanade has enabled access between the Cathedral and the city.
Diagonally opposite the Cathedral de la Major and accessed via an elevated footbridge over the busy road below is the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean – or Mucem.
This architecturally impressive building constructed on reclaimed land continues Marseille’s recent transition celebrating its origins and importance as a major Mediterranean city. All permanent collections are devoted to the history of the region.
In addition to the two floors of exhibits the top floor terrace is home to a restaurant with panoramic views over the bay of Marseille.
More stunning views over the bay and Port Vieux can be obtained by a visit to the adjacent Fort Saint-Jean.
Constructed in the 14th century with a square tower added one hundred years later the sand coloured domineering walls of this defensive fortification provide a visually stunning comparison with the dark cube box of the adjacent Mucem.
A tour of the grounds and ramparts provides a fascinating insight in to many centuries of Marseille history. It sure is one of the best things to do in Marseille.
For an even more historical look in to the origins of Marseille head to the Jardin des Vestiges or Garden of Ruins.
Situated just a few hundred metres in land from Vieux Port fish market and metro station these are the remains of the original Greek port. Discovered as recently as the 1960s the ruins are currently subject to a much needed protection programme.
A number of the culturally significant remains unearthed on this site are exhibited in the adjacent Marseille History Museum.
Hôtel de Cabre
Located on the corner of the Grand Rue and Rue de la Bonneterie the Hôtel de Cabre is both one of Marseille’s oldest remaining buildings and interesting tales.
Constructed in 1535 with an imposing Gothic facade the Hôtel de Cabre somehow avoided the wide scale destruction of this area of Marseille by Nazi soldiers during World War II.
However, this escape is not the end of its incredible story.
Following the end of World War II a decision was made to reconstruct the district requiring the Hôtel de Cabre be relocated! Yes, over 400 years after its construction the building was moved one block and in order to align with the Grand Rue rotated 90˚.
The full story complete with photographs is very helpfully told on an information board in front of the building.
Constructed in 1666 on the orders of King Louis XIV La Canebière runs a kilometre from Port Vieux to Église des Réformés and is often referred to as the Champs-Élysées of Marseille.
As well as many shopping opportunities and cafe stops La Canebière boasts elegant architecture. Unmissable examples include the former Hôtel du Louvre et de la Paix and neo-classical Opera House both dating back to the end of the 18th century.
For sports lovers the modern 67,000 capacity Stade Vélodrome in the south of the city and home to Olympique Marseille makes for a raucous and exciting end to your one day in Marseille.
Olympique Marseille are one of France’s premier football teams and traditionally play Ligue 1 fixtures on weekend evenings.
One Day in Marseille – Souvenirs
Wherever you go during your one day in Marseille you’ll be unable to miss the many shop fronts filled with colourful displays of hard soaps and enticing aromas.
Marseille’s most famous product and favourite souvenir is this Savon de Marseille produced using olive oil in the region for in excess of 600 years.
Should you want to take some home to the family or even try its lather for yourself try La Savonnerie Marseillaise in Le Panier.
Conclusion – One Day in Marseille
Despite the hundreds of thousands of tourists that flock to the French Riviera during the summer months few experience the many attractions of Marseille.
However, with such rich history and diverse culture this is clearly a huge mistake. Spending just one day in Marseille is sure to enhance any trip and create many memorable moments. The best part is that you can enjoy the best of things to do in Marseille in one day.
Paul Rought from thetwothatdo.com
Paul was born and raised in Solihull, just outside Birmingham in the centre of England.
After university he moved to London in the mid 1990s to become a Chartered Surveyor and has lived there ever since.
Paul’s initial travel experiences were family holidays to the Mediterranean although a school cruise to Greece, Egypt, Turkey and Israel was a childhood highlight.
Concentrating on his move to London his next travel adventure wasn’t until 1999 and a backpack trip to Thailand and Hong Kong. It was love at first sight. He was immediately enthralled by Hong Kong, the skyscrapers, the city buzz, the food and the language.
His love for Asia continues to this day although Japan has overtaken Hong Kong in his affections.
Paul is definitely a city person and ideally would visit New York, Tokyo, Sydney and London every year. Just don’t push him to pick a favourite!
He loves all things sport and still follows Birmingham City despite 40 years of mostly pain.
On autumn and winter Sunday evenings you’ll find him somewhere in front of a TV with his favourite bottle of red enjoying NFL.
The Two That Do
The Two That Do blog, founded by husband and wife Paul & Nicki Rought aims to share experiences of their world wide travels. An active couple constantly seeking new experiences and always learning The Two That Do includes city and country guides, Van Life tips and blogs on their various adventures. Highlights include paragliding over Cape Town, pasta making in Italy and sand-boarding in Namibia.