The Best Things to Do in Marseille, France
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Here are some of the best things to see and do in Marseille, especially on a first trip!
One of the largest urban centers in France, the Mediterranean city of Marseille is as far from Paris as you can imagine, both geographically and culturally. It is an old port that has long been a center of commerce; "les Marseillais" (the locals) are proud of their distinctive culture and centuries-old history. He is known for his beauty, but also for being a bit "rough", and that's part of the appeal.
Relaxed and vibrant at the same time, Marseille has it all: magnificent beaches and coastlines; varied and fascinating neighborhoods; inspiring historical monuments; and delicious local dishes and drinks that are definitely worth trying. Throw in the opportunity to take day trips to nearby national parks and postcard-perfect Provencal villages, and you'll soon see why the city is an ideal hub in the south of France.
1. Explore the old port
There is something timeless, even mythical, about the Vieux Port (Old Port) of Marseille, the seafront that has witnessed some 26 centuries of trade and cultural exchange. The Phoenicians founded a colony here called Massalia around 600 BC. C., and became an important commercial center of the Mediterranean, incorporated into the Roman Empire before being Christianized during the 5th century. During the medieval period and the religious wars known as the Crusades, the port was guarded by the forts of Saint -Nicolas and Saint-Jean; both continue to dramatically flank the harbor and can be visited.
The Vieux Port may have a lot of history, but it is still a vibrant hub of present-day life in Marseille. Take a stroll along the promenade and admire the many boats and ships moored in the harbor. Sit on a terrace overlooking the harbor and enjoy a glass of wine or pastis, a typical Marseille liqueur flavored with fennel and vegetables. Take a tour of the two forts and/or a boat cruise to the Friouil archipelago and the islands beyond.
2. Visit Chateau d'If, an old fortress, and prison
One of the most spectacular monuments in Marseille, Chateau d'If rises off the coast of the old town, on the smallest island in the Frioul archipelago. Built by King Francis I and completed in 1571, the formidable complex served as a defensive fortress designed to protect Marseille from a military invasion, as well as a state prison. Protestants and antimonographic figures were the most frequent prisoners between 1580 and 1871.
In 1844, the French writer Alexandre Dumas made the Chateau d'If world-famous by placing it at the center of his novel "The Count of Monte Cristo." Today it is an essential tourist destination and offers fantastic views over the sea and Porto Velho.
How to get there: From Porto Antigo, you can take a boat bus operated by Frouil If Express; boats leave several times a day.
3. Go to the beaches
During long summer days, planting a large umbrella in the sand and spending the entire day swimming, sunbathing or boating can be an idyllic prospect. And even if you're visiting in winter, when cold winds and mild temperatures reign, you'll likely want to visit the beaches around Marseille for activities like coastal walks and sea views.
Where to find the best beaches in and around Marseille depends on your style and preferences. If you want to take a dip close to the city center, Catalanes Beach is just a 15-minute walk from the Vieux Port. It is not the most beautiful beach in the region, but it is ideal for a spontaneous swim.
To swim with a lifeguard during high season, head to Plage du Prado or Plage du Prophète, two wide sandy beaches ideal for families, bathers, and sports enthusiasts. If wild beaches with stunning natural landscapes or snorkeling opportunities appeal to you, head to Calanques National Park and its remarkable coves.
4. Try the best bouillabaisse in town.
Not everyone will find Marseille's most famous dish, bouillabaisse, attractive. But unless you're a vegetarian or vegan, we recommend you try a large, steaming bowl of this centuries-old fish stew that originated in ancient Greece and was imported by the Phoenicians who colonized the area. Usually made from the fresh catch of the day or a variety of local seafood specialties, the stew consists of a broth rich in herbs and saffron, olive oil, and seasonal vegetables. Traditionally, he enjoyed it with a slice of toasted baguette and a spicy, garlic-rich paste called rouille.
The stew is so popular, you'll find it all over the city year-round. But some of the best (and most picturesque) places to enjoy it are in the Vieux Port; these include Le Miramar and Restaurant Michel.
5. See the city's iconic basilica and enjoy panoramic views
Passing over one of the highest points in the city, Notre Dame de la Garde is widely seen as the symbol and figurative guardian of Marseille. The basilica is known locally as "La Bonne Mère", which means "The Good Mother", and a bronze and gold leaf statue of the Virgin Mary emerges from the bell tower.
Consecrated in 1864 on the site of several ancient chapels, the basilica was built in the Roman-Byzantine style. Come not only to admire its opulent façade and interior, rich in gold leaf, mosaics, elaborate vaulted structures, and stone in various shades but also enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the city, the Old Port and the waters beyond.
How to get there: We recommend taking the Petit Train de Marseille tourist train from Porto Antigo to the Basilica; This is also a great way to get an overview of some of the other major landmarks in the city.
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