Is Marseille Worth Visiting?

Founded in 600 BC by Greek settlers, Marseille is the oldest city in France and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Europe. But if you are considering visiting France, you might wonder, is Marseille worth visiting

Located west of the French Riviera, Marseille is one of the major ports of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a city filled with history and colorful culture, home to beautiful museums and stunning art galleries.

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The city is famous for its nightlife, beautiful weather, and gastronomical pleasures. 

But if you are looking to book a trip to France, you are probably wondering what are some things to know before going to Marseille. Here is why visiting Marseille should be (or shouldn’t be) on your France bucket list

So is Marseille worth visiting? Let’s start with the pros. 

Marseilles

Reasons To Visit Marseille: The Pros

Marseille is a melting pot of European and African cultures that come together to form a unique city filled with many things to explore and enjoy.

Weather

Marseille has a typical Mediterranean climate. Whether you come in the summer, spring, autumn, or winter, the French Riviera is a beautiful region.

The area is home to over 300 days of sunshine. However, rain showers are expected in the shoulder months of March and April and October and November. 

Be mindful that although Marseille is a year-long vacation spot, many restaurants and shops do not open in the wintertime, and some are even closed during August when locals tend to close-up-shop to enjoy their own vacations. 

The Beaches

When you think about Marseille, you probably don’t think about beaches. But this city is filled with many different beaches that you can enjoy.

The main beach, which is also family-friendly, is Plage de Prado. Make sure to also stroll along Corniche Kennedy, a 1.9 mi (3km) boulevard along the Mediterranean Sea that connects the beaches of Catalan and Prado. 

This expansive walkway offers beautiful views and several places to explore, including the historic Vallon des Auffes, a traditional fishing spot home to several restaurants. 

Another tip is to visit one of the oldest beaches in Marseille, Prophet’s Beach. If you are looking for a beautiful sunset spot, this is the place for you. 

Is Marseille worth visiting for just the beaches? We would argue yes! 

Food

Did you know that one of the reasons to visit Marseille is to eat bouillabaisse? Once known as the poor man’s soup, this dish was created by sailors who worked on fishing boats. 

This particular dish is steeped in lore, myths, and legends. One legend states that the dish was invented by the Roman goddess of love, Venus, as a way to put her husband, Vulcan, to sleep so that she could be with her lover, Mars.  

Whatever the origin you believe, the real trick is finding an authentic bouillabaisse in Marseille. 

To do that, avoid restaurants in the tourist areas pushing their multilingual menus and swearing that they have the most authentic bouillabaisse in Marseille. 

The trick is to wander off the beaten path, forgo the restaurants in the Old Port, and avoid the Michelin-Starred restaurants with their own versions. Instead, head on over to neighborhoods or quartiers-villages. 

Make sure to order ahead of time as the dish was never meant to be served in restaurants on demand as it is too expensive and labor-intensive to leave up to whether it will be ordered. And when in doubt, always ask a local. 

Other dishes you should try include aioli with vegetables and fish, la soupe au pistou, fougasse bread, anchovy paste, and some marseille-style donuts, also known as chichi frégi. 

Lastly, make sure to wash it all down with a pastis de Marseille, an anise-flavored liqueur from the city. 

Marseille ferris wheel

Shopping

As a metropolis, it should be no surprise that shopping in Marseille is a delight. The Terrasses du Port, a three-story mall, is filled with all types of shops. 

If you are not interested in visiting a mall on your vacation, then head over to the Old Port area, specifical the rue Saint-Ferréol, which also boasts a wide arrange of shops, including high-end and luxury stores. 

Nightlife

So what is Marseille like at nighttime? Marseille has it all, whether you are looking to sip cocktails while enjoying the view or dancing the night away at the hottest club.

Marseille is a city filled with bars, nightclubs, live music venues, and even an opera. 

The Sights

Marseille has some very unique landmarks and sights to see. It is home to the biggest port in France, which is also the 7th largest port in Europe.

Then there are Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica and the Cathédrale La Major—two stunning churches worth visiting. Finally, if you love the book the Count of Monte Cristo, you can also visit the Chateau d’If.

In the book, the main protagonist Edmonde Dantès spends his time in prison—this is that prison. Although the character is fictional, the prison was based on the Chateau d’If.  

You can admire the prison from afar or even grab a ferry from the main port and visit the island for a fantastic half-day excursion. 

The Famous Marseille Soap

Is Marseille worth visiting just to buy soap? Probably not. 

However, this popular soap has been in production for over six centuries and is the perfect souvenir to pick up when visiting Marseille. 

marseille soap

Connections

As mentioned previously, Marseille is located west of the French Riviera. Therefore, the city is a great jumping-off point to explore everything the South of France offers.

Also known as Le Midi, the South of France is spectacular. From Provence to the Mediterranean coast, Le Midi is filled with beauty, history, cuisine, and culture.

It is home to the famous Cannes Film Festival, the playground of the rich and famous, and the location of numerous Michelin-Starred restaurants, medieval towns, and even secluded spots and islands for those who wish to escape it all. 

The best part? Marseille has a well-connected transportation system that can take you wherever you want to go.

The city’s bus, tram, and metro networks are well connected. Uber does work if you need a late-night or early-morning lift.

Reasons To Visit Marseille: The Cons

Although the pros may seem to outweigh the cons, there are a couple of things to know when traveling to Marseille, as these particular cons may heavily influence your France travel plans.

It Isn’t As Safe As Other European Cities

Marseille is the second-largest city in France. So is Marseille safe?

Yes and no. As with all major cities like Paris, London, or New York, travelers should be vigilant when visiting Marseille. 

What does this mean? Avoid wandering around town alone at night, and use common sense on the streets and public transportation.

Marseille is also known for its petty crime, so be extra cautious of pickpockets, especially in the crowded tourist spots and on buses, the metro, and the airport shuttle.

Last but not least, never leave your items unattended, especially if you are going to Prado beaches; instead, make sure to leave your stuff at your accommodation or lock them away in a locker. 

Also, avoid specific neighborhoods, including the Northern districts of Marseille and the 3rd, 11th, and 9th arrondissements. 

Bad Reputation

The city of Marseille doesn’t have the best reputation online. But as they say, take everything with a grain of salt.

One of the things that it is infamous for is that it is a dirty city. Words used to describe it include dirty, grungy, seedy, filthy—we can go on, but we think you get the point. 

One of the reasons it is seen as dirty is because it has trash problems. In the past decade, the city has experienced garbage collectors’ strikes almost every year—which hasn’t helped its image. 

The Final Verdict: So Is Marseille Worth Visiting?  

So is Marseille nice, and is Marseille worth visiting? It depends. 

Marseille is one of those cities that you either love or hate. It is a city that has divided many travelers and tourists. 

On the one hand, it is a metropolis with many of the same problems that a larger city would have.

If you think of any big city, you’ll probably have a lot of pros and cons to list off—Paris, for example, is beautiful, but with it comes issues with crime, tourist scams, dirty streets, etc. But that doesn’t mean that you would necessarily cross Paris off your travel bucket list. 

Yes, Marseille is not the same as Paris. However, it suffers from a lot of big city problems.

The city is a joy to visit if you can look past those problems. But only for a short while. 

Marseille is the perfect spot for a 2-3 day vacation before heading to other locations in the South of France. However, if you only have limited time in the region, maybe it’s best to skip it altogether and save it for another day. 

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