Travel Spotlight: Marseille
Friends often ask if it’s possible to visit the South of France and Paris during the same trip. If you have at least 7 days, I’d say: absolutely! While Nice is a bit far (6+ hours by train), and the villages of Provence require a car to explore throughly, Marseille is usually the destination I recommend. It’s quick (3 hours from Paris by train), almost always sunny, and culturally-stimulating, with plenty to do during a 2-3 day trip.
You may be wondering: Marseille? Really? It has a mixed reputation and storied history in France — it's one of those polarizing places that people either really love, or really don't. But lately, it’s cleaned up and become a very hip destination for Frenchies and foreigners alike.
Marseille’s character is distinct, definitely not bland. It's a hodgepodge of cultures, and decidedly grittier and edgier than Paris. Watching this Anthony Bourdain episode on Marseille is what originally piqued my interest.
Aside from exploring Marseille’s urban landscape, you’ll want to plan an entire day to visit the famous Calanques (insanely picturesque sea cliffs for diving & swimming), which require either taking a boat or hiking to reach the best swim spots. I also recommend hopping over to the beachfront village of Cassis, about 30 mins by train or car from Marseille.
If you’re visiting Marseille for the first time, here’s an overview and sample weekend itinerary:
Getting to Marseille:
From Paris, you can take a train from the Gare de Lyon, and arrive in Marseille Gare Saint-Charles in about 3 hours. Once there, you can explore everything in Marseille on foot, or by bus/train to neighboring villages. The train station is right in town, just a 15 minute walk to the Vieux Port.
Where to Stay in Marseille:
Hotel La Residence du Vieux Port - Even though it’s in the most touristy part of town, overlooking le vieux port, the hotel itself is throughly charming and unique. Loved the retro Mondrian-themed decor and rooms with terraces looking out the cathedral and port.
Mama Shelter Marseille - Love this hotel brand, always quirky and pretty affordable. It’s decorated in bright colors, and has a pastis bar on the terrace. Prices are 69-199 euros.
Hotel C2 - This one is on my wishlist for next time. Super hip, high-end boutique hotel with private beach, indoor pool, and bar with DJ jams. Prices range based on the season, 199-899 euroes.
Marseille Activities and Must-See Sights:
Mucem — architecturally stunning museum, that’s essentially “floating” on the ocean.
Le Panier District — this is where you’ll find narrow streets lined with artisan workshops and and boutiques, with everything from bespoke clothing and accessories to fancy soap shops. Very artsy, and the best spot to get authentic gifts & souvenirs.
Vieux Port — the old port is the very center of the city, lined with stalls selling soap (Marseille’s claim to fame), candies, and of course, fish.
Cours Julien — this lively plaza is a hipster hub on the hill above the Vieux Port, and a great spot for people watching during lunch or happy hour. The “cours” (plaza) is lined with casual cafes and bars, fountains, and is brimming with youthful energy.
Catherdral Notre Dame de la Garde - this is the church you’ll see in the distance from practically anywhere in Marseille. You can drive or hike (about 30 mins from downtown) up to it to enjoy views of the entire city and Mediterranean coast (it’s free).
Les Calanques - If you want to do a day trip from Marseille, Les Calanques (cliffs) are a paradise for snorkeling, swimming and cliff diving (mostly just the locals do this though!). You can take a boat to Les Calanques from the Vieux Port, or get there by hiking. You’ll need good hiking shoes and a map to get there on foot!
Cassis - this picturesque seaside village just 20 minutes by train from Marseille, with beautiful beaches and a charming little downtown. Makes for a romantic day trip or dinner destination while in Marseille.
Where to Eat & Drink in Marseille:
Marseille is known for it’s fresh seafood, and bouillabaisse is the local dish you’ll see on most menus. But you can’t go wrong with anything from the sea: mussels, calamari, sardines, clams, etc… it’s all fresh & local here. Here’s some spots that we tried or bookmarked for next time:
Entre Terre & Mer - casual, authentic seafood bistro in Le Panier district
Toinou - this no frills seafood market is a Marseille institution.
Le Poulpe - although it’s on “tourist row” in the vieux port, Le Poulpe has a good reputation as a solid spot for seafood.
La Boite a Sardine - funky hipster spot for canned seafood (and fresh stuff too!)
Les Buvards - we loved this tucked-away wine bar, with cozy little nooks for enjoying some funky natural wines, plus cheese & meat plates.
Omer - a bright, cheery bistro in the Cours Julien with terrace seating and Italian-inspired menu.
La Cantinetta - another cute one in the Cours Julien with a pretty garden terrace and decadent Italian food.
L’Arôme - If you’re looking for something a bit fancy, this upscale modern bistro makes a romantic spot for dinner, and is nicely off the beaten tourist path.
Le Glacier du Rois - for irresistible ice cream near the vieux port
We still have lots more to explore in Marseille — would love to hear your tips or recommendations too! Feel free to comment below.