In contrast to the mish-mash of sleepy Provencal villages depicted in the paintings of Paul Cézanne, Marseille is the second largest city in France with a vibrant population of over 1.5 million. Situated on the southern coast as a major commercial port and capital of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, the city is known to this day as the gateway to the Mediterranean and has been the backdrop to many Hollywood films, including The French Connection.

Founded in 600 BC by Greek sailors under the name Massalia, the city quickly allied itself with the expanding Roman Republic which saw it thrive as a trading point for Roman food and wine. Although finally losing its independence courtesy of Julius Caesar, the city continued to grow as a port, inadvertently making it historically prone to immigration. Indeed, today most of the Marseillaise are descendents of Italian and Greek stock, with strong Jewish and North African communities visible and vital to the city's make-up.

Although not as immediately imposing as Paris, scratch the surface and you'll find plenty of interest in Marseille, be it culture, partying or relaxation.


The first port of call should be the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde cathedral. This neo-Byzantine basilica, which provides incredible panoramic views of the city, is situated on the signal hill of La Garde with an impressive statue of Virgin and Child on the belfry. Meanwhile, the interior is filled with murals, mosaics and ex-votos, even including shirts of the players from the local football team. Equally worth exploring in this vein is the Église des Réformés church, with its picturesque façade.

After exploring the great religious monuments, why not take a trip to the Château d'If located about a mile offshore in the Bay of Marseille? A former fortress and prison, it was made famous by Alexandre Dumas, who used the location for his The Count Of Monte Cristo. After spending the afternoon on the little island, you can then return to La Vieux Port and watch another of the great spectacles of Marseille, the fishermen auctioning their stock as the sun sets.

The city also has its fair share of museums, the most prominent of which being the Musee des Beaux Arts on the Palais Longchamp, which contains works by Rubens, Courbet and David among others. The Rue de la Charité is also worth exploring, being the home of the Musée d’Archéologie Mediterranéenne and the Musée d’Arts Africains, Océaniens et Amerindiens. Guided tours of Le Panier, the oldest area of the city, include visits to nearby museums and exhibitions.

Being a port, the beaches are a natural attraction and, with 23 of them, Marseille is well resourced. Sailing, fishing and water-sports are all available but, beware, some of the major areas can be dirtier and polluted. The best beaches generally are the small La Pointe Rouge harbour and La Madrague harbour. The Parc Borély is also an attractive park, being some 300m from the sea.

Being the home of former football stars Zinedine Zidane and Eric Cantona, the city enjoys its sport and Olympique des Marseille are one of the most successful sides in France, playing their matches at the Stade Velodrome. This stadium is also used by the French rugby union side.


Every one of the 100 or so quartier in Marseille has its collection of local shops which are worth checking out. However, for designer fashion and some of the better local brands, the Rue de la tour is recommended.

Marseille also has a tradition of frequent markets. The flea market on avenue du Cap-Pinède for antiques and the Plaine Market on La Plaine every Thursday and Saturday morning are extremely popular.

Nightlife and Eating Out

The premier hot-spots in the city are Le Cours Julien and La Plaine, filled with cafés and bars and close to the city's many clubs. More isolated but still popular is the Escale Borely near the sea, which is better known for its restaurants.

Local cuisine reflects the cosmopolitan makeup of the city, with plenty of foreign-themed restaurants and kebab shops in particular. However, the Four des Navettes on the Rue Sainte is a particular delight, specialising in the local Navette (dry biscuit) amongst other things.

For theatre and concerts, the Théâtre National de la Criée is recommended, situated on the Quai de Rive Neuve.

Tourist Information

Marseille Tourist Office4 La Canebière13001 MarseilleTel: 04 91 13 89


Marseille Provence Airport serves the city with two terminals for international and domestic flights respectively. Connecting flights are readily available daily and airlines include Ryanair from London Stansted, and British Airways and Easyjet both from London Gatwick. More information can be found at

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