Travel guide - Marseille

Marseille, France’s oldest city, has found a new lease of life in the last five years, becoming a city with immense cultural influence. The capital of Provence has reinvented itself since being nominated European Capital of Culture in 2013. It is a multicultural port city that is home to a rich diversity and culture. This gives the city its unique charm: it is both a commercial crossroads for southern France, and a newly important cultural centre. Marseille continues to elevate the Mediterranean spirit to new heights, 2,600 years after the city was first established.

The Phoenician city: a blend of civilisations

Marseille has an illustrious past. For more than two millennia, its roads have been filled with people from a range of rich cultures and civilisations. The city, established by the Phoenicians under the name of Massalia in the year 600 B.C., has written its history in the sands of its Mediterranean beaches. From the Vieux-Port to the Panier quarter, many remnants of antiquity are still visible today. La Place de Lenche still echoes with the conversations, exchanges and haggling of local residents, and you can almost picture the ancient Greek agora that once stood here. Marseille, a “crossroads city” thanks to its port and geographic location, is a cosmopolitan place whose varied origins can be seen as you walk down the street. After the first waves of Italian and Armenian immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries, more recent waves have included a large number of North Africans and people from Comoros. All these nationalities and cultures are intermingled here, working together to enrich the heritage of this city in constant motion. Moving from one neighbourhood to the next feels like a trip around the world, with the city’s spirit constantly inviting you to experience new and different things.

European Capital of Culture

Marseille is a cultivated, eclectic place. Its 2013 nomination propelled the city to the front of the international stage. The city took the world by surprise after the nomination, initiating a period of renaissance for its cultural heritage, the pride of locals. The Mediterranean spirit reverberates in this city, whose newfound radiance shines far beyond France’s borders. Proud of its new features, the city gives top billing to the MuCEM, while the historic Fort Saint-Jean continues to turn heads. A new bastion of Mediterranean culture, Marseille’s energy is felt throughout the city, as seen in the cultural centre known as Friche la Belle de Mai, which has been renovated as part of the renewal. Expositions, performances and contemporary artistic disciplines take advantage of exceptional settings like this old Marseille tobacco factory, whose rooftop terrace has been transformed into a performance space.

A unique, majestic natural heritage

Marseille is naturally beautiful. With its 3,000 hours of sun per year, the city enjoys a unique setting on the intensely blue Mediterranean Sea. While the city and its Vieux-Port hug the coastline, the surrounding area also offers little pieces of paradise. There are many rich, magnificently preserved natural spaces for visitors to enjoy. Thanks to the Parc National des Calanques, many of Marseille’s natural treasures can be found less than an hour from the city centre. The park is a unique site, recognised as exceptional by the scientific community and the French government. Nature is protected here, and the well-cared-for spaces give visitors a glimpse of the region’s luxurious flora and fauna, from hatpin urchins to Posidonia oceanica seagrass. And if that weren’t enough, Marseille also offers fine sand on the Plage des Catalans and along coastal paths. The Corniche Kennedy serves the Mediterranean up on a silver platter, while the city’s many parks, from Longchamp to Borély, add a touch of greenery to Marseille’s already varied colour palette.

Cuisine inspired by the sun and the sea

Marseille has plenty of good food to offer. With its direct access to the Marché du Vieux-Port, the city naturally honours seafood. As a port city, Marseille serves many dishes inspired by the Mediterranean. The city shows off through its food, in particular its bouillabaisse, a dish that exemplifies the culinary heritage of this city of fishermen. This popular soup, a mix of fish, regional vegetables and a special sauce, is a unique dish with inspiring flavours, and also a fascinating ceremonial experience. By sampling the soup at Chez Fonfon or Miramar, you can discover the secrets of a recipe that’s almost as old as the city itself. Marseille offers a blend of flavours from Spain, Italy and North Africa. Dishes inspired by multiple cultures, finished off with Provençal touches such as olive oil and other local products, are warmed by the Mediterranean sun.
Sit comfortably in the heights of the city on Cours Julien and enjoy the warmth and friendliness of the Marseille locals who gather here, on the terraces by day and in the streets by night, for a taste of one of Marseille’s liveliest, most colourful neighbourhoods: la Plaine.

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