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Things To Do In Marseille
There was a time when the second-largest city in France, Marseille, was considered the black sheep among the exotic cities that make up the Mediterranean coastline. This was back when this southern French city located at the mouth of the river Rhone was primarily known for its scruffy background buried in crime and dinginess. But in 2013, the title of the European Capital of Culture was bestowed upon Marseille, which gave it a new lease of life in terms of cultural identity and self-assured optimism.
A rise in the establishment of new attractions like museums and promotions of the local neighbourhoods help propel the city’s popularity even more amongst European tourists. Marseille’s fame as a port city thriving with a wealth of cultures and communities continues to grow in the world as a top French destination to holiday in. Read on to know more about what your best options are among the top things to do when in Marseille.
Enjoy Fresh Seafood at Vieux Port
Marseille’s old port was first used by the Greeks sometime in 600 BC. It went on to become an integral part of Marseille’s economy and was the main docking port for all commercial trade ships. In the current scenario, Vieux Port mainly serves as a reminder of the port’s historical significance and is mostly used as a harbour for fishing boats and tourist boats. Every morning, the Quai des Belges on the east side of the harbour hosts a fish market where the latest catch from the fishing boats is brought for sale.
If you’re looking to try your hand at some fresh seafood, this is the place to do so. The highly pedestrianised port has numerous cafes and restaurants that serve delicious seafood preparations also made from the fresh catch of the day. It is widely believed that this area is the best place to try some mouth-watering authentic bouillabaisse, the local seafood stew.
Hiking and Boating in Calanques National Park
Calanques, translating to coves, are a unique feature found in nature that are developed in dolomite or limestone, usually found in the Mediterranean Coast. Around 15 km from Marseille near the fishing village Cassis, Calanques National Park is a distinct landscape formed by rocky cliffs made of limestone that surround serene pools of seawater, which flows to and from the sea. The water has exquisite turquoise colour and is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species. Port Miou, En Vau and Port Pin are the largest Calanques near Marseille, which can be explored through a number of exciting ways.
For those looking for a little more adventure and are of sound fitness, hiking will prove to be a thrilling option. One of the most difficult routes between Marseille and Cassis takes around 11 hours with passage through some tough territory. Other easier trails allow trekkers to make the most of their hike in a spectacular environment with impressive coastal views. Alternatively, try a scenic boat ride – guided or private – through the idyllic surroundings, a guided kayaking tour or a cycling tour around the landscape to explore the region yourself.
Shop in the Markets of La Plaine and Noailles
Noailles is a neighbourhood situated east of Vieux Port and is an area primarily occupied by generations of African immigrants who settled here, especially after Algeria became a French territory in the year 1830. Busy markets held from Monday to Saturday are the most distinct feature of the neighbourhood, with unique sights and smells that will transport you to a Middle Eastern souk. A few streets away, the neighbourhood of La Plaine is a trendier version of Noailles with boutiques and bars, and street markets held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday mornings. Shoppers can amuse themselves with a variety of options in these markets that sell everything from clothing to spices, Algerian food to interesting homeware; even if you’re not a shopper, just the lively buzz felt in these markets makes it worthy of a visit.
Explore the Street Art in Cours Julien
Known to be France’s biggest quarter dedicated to street art and definitely Marseille’s liveliest one, Cours Julien is a true work of art in every aspect. Graffiti, frescos and murals cover almost every building, boutique and shop in the area and impart a pleasant and trendy atmosphere to the neighbourhood. One particular project called Le M.U.R. Marseille celebrates the philosophy of ‘Here today, gone tomorrow’ that is known to be the nature of street art. A graffiti artist is invited to create his work on a 5X3 metre space on a wall of the bar located at the corner of rue Crudere. This piece of art remains for just a month and is then replaced by a new piece of art by a new artist.
Apart from great street art, this neighbourhood also features some really cool bars and restaurants, along with live music and street markets that are sure to keep you entertained for a good while.
Boat Tour to Islands Nearby
A number of small islands near Marseille make for great little excursions after you’ve exhausted the city’s local attractions. The famous island Chateau d’lf is a short boat ride away and usually where tourists begin their tour. Best known for being the location of Alexander Dumas’ central character in the book ‘Count of Monte Cristo’, the island features spectacular beaches and surroundings and attracts numerous visitors on a daily basis.
Le Frioul is another island located in the vicinity of Chateau d’If and is a great place to enjoy some alone time surrounded by scenic beauty. There are small apartments available for rent here, along with restaurants situated along the coastline for those who wish to enjoy an extended stay. On the other side of Marseille, Cote Bleu features a series of small picturesque villages along a picturesque coastline, which can be reached by both boat and train as well.
Relax on the Beaches
Despite being a coastal city, it’s not often that Marseille is associated with being a beach destination. While there are a number of natural beaches here, man-made ones like the Plages du Prado and Plages de Corbiere offer exquisite views of the Calanques and also allow visitors to engage in some fun organised sports and activities. Kayaking, snorkelling to even boxing and hip-hop dancing are some of the interesting activities to pursue here during the summers.
Take a Stroll on Boulevard Longchamp
One of the most enriching experiences in Marseille can be had through a stroll along Boulevard Longchamp among its rows of palm trees and 19th-century houses. The main attraction of this place is the majestic Palais Longchamp, which is also the location of two museums; Musée des Beaux-Arts and Musée d’Histoire Naturelle. Palais Longchamp was constructed in celebration of the completion of Canal de Marseille, which brought water to Marseille from the river Durance and became a source of major water supply to the city.
Built in 1869, the palatial structure creates an impressive scene, especially when it is lit up at night. Parc Longchamp, one of France’s notable parks, is also part of this complex; there was once a zoo here as well and its buildings can be visited even today.
Tour of Stade Vélodrome
France’s largest football club stadium, the Velodrome is an icon in Marseille and can be explored best through the hour-long tour of the stadium offered here, which also includes the terraces and the dressing rooms. Built in 1938 for the football World Cup event, the structure was grandly refurbished before the hosting of UEFA Europe 2016. While football fans will undoubtedly admire everything about the stadium, even visitors who are not into the sport won’t be able to help themselves from falling in love with the structure’s magnificence.
Enjoy the Local Cuisine
Bouillabaisse is a dish native to Marseille that is famously cooked all over the world. It is a seafood stew that was traditionally made with cheap seafood and leftover fish bits and was mainly considered a poor man’s meal. Today, there are numerous variants of this dish and it is no longer considered a cheap delicacy. Served with rustic bread and rouille, a good bouillabaisse can be enjoyed in any part of the city. Pastis is a local favourite among drinks in Marseille; an anise-flavoured aperitif that makes for a refreshing drink on a sunny afternoon.
Tapenade is an exotic spread made from pureed anchovies, capers, garlic, black olives and olive oil. Locals usually enjoy it with bread, croutons or crostini. Since they’re easily available in grocery stores, it not only makes for a great snack item but also a fantastic souvenir. Do check out other local favourites like pissaladiere (tart made with anchovies, onions and olives), panisse (a type of flatbread) and moules mariniere (mussels tossed with garlic, onions and herbs).