Travel

A Weekend in Marseille

by Lily Heise
A colourful street block on Marseille's La Plaine.
Top: Coralie / Seb, Above: La Plaine – Lily Heise

Sitting on a natural harbor on France’s Mediterranean coast, Marseille has attracted travelers since ancient times. In fact, the seafaring Greeks gave the city its name, “Massalia.” Being a port brought advantages and disadvantages to what would become France’s second largest city. A bad reputation for crime and grubbiness are two of the latter. However, since it was designated as the European Capital of Culture in 2013, the city has been spruced up, while keeping its cool, cosmopolitan edge. Here’s how to spend a weekend in Marseille.

Left: a wall inside Marseille's Trois Fenêtres restaurant, decorated with six small framed watercolours of various vegetables. Underneath is a wooden table with dried flower and a bowl of fruit. Right: The outside of the MUCEM in Marseille.
Trois Fenêtres / MUCEM

Start your discovery of Marseille at the historic, recently refurbished Vieux Port. Its bobbing sailboats and morning fish market set the tone for the maritime city. Along the the port’s right promenade you’ll come to MUCEM, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, inaugurated in 2013. Even if you don’t go inside, it’s worth admiring the building’s marvelous latticework. Also, its terrace offers great views.

Left: A crowded port in Marseille 
Right: The crystal blue Mediterranean Sea near Marseille on a sunny day.
La Corniche – Lily Heise

From here, you can swing by Marseille’s cathedral, Sainte-Marie-Majeure. The large, stripped Neo-Byzantine building was constructed at the end of the 19th century to replace the former 12th century church, parts of which still exist. 

Left: Marseille residents stand at that their window sills people watching the scenes below
Right: Buildings in a village in the South of France
Cours Julien – Emoi et Moi / Le Panier – Aurélie

The cathedral is next to Le Panier, a hilly village-like neighborhood similar to Paris’ Montmartre. Wandering the area’s narrow lanes, you’ll find examples of Marseille’s famous street art. There are also some great boutiques like Pollen, a collaborative shop run by local designers, Trois Fenêtres, an eclectic concept store, and Comme Avant, where you can buy modern “savon de Marseille” and other organic, zero-waste soap and cosmetics.

Left: a narrow village street in Marseille with residential buildings on either side
Right: The Malmousque bay, with a vew of the colourful Mediterranean buildings on either side and small boats in the water.
Le Panier / Malmousque – Lily Heise

When you feel peckish, pick up light lunch fare at Maison Geney, a contemporary tea salon. For more typical marseillais dishes, savor a meal at Le Clan des Cigales, which has a lovely terrace. If you’re looking for a cool treat, you’ll find inventive ice cream flavors at Vanille Noire, or more traditional flavors at Le Glacier du Roi, located on the pretty-yet-touristy Place de Lenche.

On the left an artfully placed metal cocktail tumbler with ice, a spoon and green garnish. On the right an extravagant cocktail glass with green leaves and red and purple flowers decorating it.
Carry Nation

Once you are finished in Le Panier, drift down towards La Canebière, Marseille’s main street. The street leads you to the cosmopolitan Noailles area. In Noailles, you can meander through the Marché des Capucins, a colorful market showcasing Provence’s bounty, as well as the exotic foods of the city’s multicultural population.

The stylish interior of the Marseille concept store Pollen.
Pollen – Lily Heise

Keep strolling north and soon you’ll reach the alternative Cours Julien and La Plaine area, where you can spend the rest of your afternoon, and possibly evening. The area has a high concentration of street art (Europe’s greatest!), second hand shops, concept stores (look for Oogie, Marseille’s first concept shop which also has a café and Coco & Nuts, an ethical and vegan shop and café), local craft beer venues (like MALT, Bière De La Plaine or Fietje) and other cool haunts.

Left: a meal of artfully plated green vegetables.
Right: small bowls of crudites including radishes, carrots, as well as cheese and nuts, all next to a small vase of flowers and a bottle + two glasses of white wine.
Above: La Mercerie

For dinner, try Court Circuit, serving modern cuisine made with local ingredients. Or, for a more stylish dinner, sample Marseille’s best contemporary bistronomie at La Mercerie, L’Orphéon or Cédrat. Enjoy cocktails and small plates in an attractive modern setting at Maison Bohème. For chic drinks in a speakeasy-style bar, try Carry Nation.

Left: a close up view of merchandise in Coco and Nuts Marseille shop, including a tote bag, t-shirts and a plant.
Right: Another view of the shop's interior but from further away.
Coco & Nuts

There are a number of options for your Sunday in or around Marseille. One of the great things about the city is that there are lovely beaches and beautiful nature right at its doorstep. The eastern part of the harbor is home to La Corniche, a stunning promenade along the coast. Along this is the Endoume neighborhood, with tiny lanes and old fishing village bays. One of these bays, Malmousque, is where you can also relax or swim off the rocks. For an easy access beach there’s the sandy (and popular) Plage des Catalans.

Le Glacier du RoiJessica June / Les Calanques de Marseille – Jamie Rolston

Right at the edge of Marseille is one of France’s most exceptional natural wonders: Les Calanques, craggy coves lined with turquoise waters. There are various hikes you can do to discover these, lasting from an hour to all day (starting points reachable by local bus). You can also see the Calanques by boat either from Marseille or Cassis, a picturesque seaside town on the other side of the Calanques, which merits a visit.

A photo through a passage way of the Vieux-Port in Marseille, peering onto apartment buildings overlooking the sea with a hilltop church in the distance.
Vieux-Port de Marseille – Lily Heise

There are other boat trips you can take from Marseille, too. The most popular is to the Château d’If, a former prison notoriously described in Alexandre Dumas’ novel “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Boats depart from the Vieux Port. 

A fancy plated dish of gastronomy at La Mercerie: some sort of fish tarter with orange segments sat atop and sprigs of herbs. On the right is a colourful mural  of abstract figures which seem to represent persons and how they interact in the community.
La Mercerie / la Friche la Belle de MaiRomano Garagerocker

Staying in Marseille, you could spend your morning at the Mega Vide Greniers, a vast yard sale held by the Hippodrome every Sunday. Or you may prefer perusing the stands of the Marché Centre Commercial les Puces, Marseille’s flea market. In the afternoon venture out to see one of France’s most famous modern buildings: Le Cobusier’s Unité d’Habitation also known as “la Cité Radieuse” (the 3rd and 4th  floors and terrace can be visited).

Right: The industrial rooftop of Cité Radieuse looking out over the city of Marseille.
Left: The outside of Le Corbusier's white and multi coloured "Unité d'Habitation"
Cité Radieuse – Lily Heise

Then finish your day with a drink and wander through la Friche la Belle de Mai, repurposed buildings similar to Paris’ Ground Control. These buildings house outdoor cafés, art exhibitions, a theater, and more.

Left: a table full of soaps at Comme Avant along with deodorants and hand towels, sat in baskets on a wooden table
Right Another wooden table this time with a crate, and t-shirts on display.
Comme Avant – Lily Heise

If you’d like to learn more about the city and its history, try Context Travel’s Introduction to Marseille tour. They also arrange excursions to Les Calanques and Cassis.

A narrow passageway between Mediteranean, sun kissed buildings in Marseille.
Le Panier – Lily Heise

Related Links

A rocky bay near in the South of France, crowded with small boats and dozens of parked cars next to it.
Above: Adam Dore

Written by Lily Heise for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates. 

Written By

Lily Heise

Lily Heise has been living in Paris for more than 10 years. When she's not getting into romantic mischief, she writes on dating, travel, and culture. Her writing has been featured in Frommer’s Guides, the Huffington Post, Conde Nast Traveler, City Secrets, DK Eyewitness Guides, and other local and international publications. She is the author of Je T'Aime, Me Neither, and Je T'Aime... Maybe? lively novelized memoirs on her romantic misadventures, and continues to share dating tips, stories and travel features on her blog www.jetaimemeneither.com. View Lily Heise's Website

4 comments on “A Weekend in Marseille

The name in English is Marseilles

In French Marseille

A great edition, colourful and enticing

Love to know where to stay is these hip areas. More fun than commercial choices. Don’t know Marseille so this would be a help.thanks. Maybe an article about hotels.
harriet Love Berkeley

Just lovely pictures. By any chance do you happen to know what the micro green salad is comprised of and the dressing? I would love to try and replicate for a dinner gathering. Great blog, always so very enticing. Makes me want to travel back to France.

Thank you for this wonderful overview – with the world shutdown it is a joy to experience the true adventures which have been put on hold. A superb capture of the moments of the (previous) freedom we all had to explore for ourselves. Keep the happiness and good times rolling and thanks from a “down under” Australian who visited France every year (for the past 12 years) ……Susannah

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