A guide to Marseille France, including where to find the best shopping, a look into the top tourist attractions, and a short introduction to Olympique de Marseille, the city’s famous football club.
Marseille is the second biggest city in France, with a metropolitan population of over 1.6 million. The city is, in fact, also the oldest in France, as it was founded as early as 600 BC.
The city, European capital of culture 2013, is located within Southern, Mediterranean France.
Marseilles is the country’s largest commercial port, as well as the capital for the province of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
PHOTO: A panoramic view to Marseille France from Gare Saint-Charlestrain station, which has been build on top of a hill.
The main street in Marseille France, “Canebière“, stretches from the old city harbor (Vieux Port) to the district of Réformés. The vieux port harbor is guarded by two major fortresses:
- Fort Saint-Nicolas (on the southern side) and
- Fort Saint-Jean (on the northern side).
The Bay of Marseilles and its Frioul archipelago is one of the highlights of the area.
Frioul contains a total of four islands, including island of Château d’If, famous from Dumas’ novel “Count of Monte Cristo” .
Marseille France is an excellent destination for shopping, with the main shopping areas located surrounding rue St Ferréol (a cross-street from Canbièren) and Centre Bourse (shopping center), in central Marseilles.
The city center contains several pedestrian streets, most notably…
- rue St Ferréol,
- Cours Julien,
- Cours Honoré-d’Estienne-d’Orves, and
- areas around Hôtel de Ville (city hall).
You can get to the city several ways, using cheap flights from Paris, for example, or taking one of the fast train connections to the main train station, “Gare de Marseille Saint-Charles“, located a short walk (north) from central Marseille.
From Gare de Marseille Saint-Charles, you can take fast, direct train connections to many major French destinations, including:
- Bordeaux, and
Marseille also has TGV bullet-train connections to Lille, Brussels, as well as Nantes, Genève and Strasbourg.
Marseille Provence Airport, the city’s main airport in Marignane, is the fourth biggest in France.
There are two terminals at the airport, of which terminal 1 is used for domestic and international flights.
The second terminal, MP2, on the other hand, handles budget airlines’ traffic, and you can use it to get to destinations in different parts of Europe and Northern Africa.
Marseilles also has a major cruiseline/ferry terminal, Gare Maritime, which you can use to get to:
- Algeria, and
For urban public traffic, Marseille has a subway system, consisting of two lines.
Line 1 (blue line) operates between Castellane and La Rose/La Timone, while Line 2 (red line) operates between Sainte-Marguerite-Dromel and Bougainville.
Both lines have a stop at Gare Saint-Charles train station.
In addition to the subway, you can also take advantage of the wide bus network, or use the Marseille trams, which travel from east of harbor, towards St Barnabé.
As for climate, Marseille France has a Mediterranean climate, characterized by mild, wet winters, and hot, dry summers.
On a monthly level, the coldest months in Marseilles are January and February, when the average temperature descends to around 8-9 degrees Celsius, while the months of July and August are the warmest months.
During the summer months, the average temperatures are around 23-24 °C (73F-75F), with July temperatures sometimes climbing over 30 °C (86F).
Based on archeological excavations, the region has been inhabited by humans for around 30,000 years.
The city of Marseille, on the other hand, was officially founded (by ancient Greek civilization) around 600 BC…
…initially, however, under the name “Massalia”, as a commercial port.
The city was added to ancient Roman empire’s possessions in 49 BC, and during the period under Roman control, it was known as “Massilia”.
During the city’s history, the area has also been part of Visigoths’, Franks’, and Carolingian dynasty empires.
Marseille was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the French revolution, with 500 volunteers making the trip to Paris in 1792, to defend the revolutionary government.
The morale elevating song sang by this group of volunteers on their way to Paris became known as “La Marseillaise“, and it later became the country’s national anthem.
One of the city’s ‘golden ages’ took place during the 19th century, when it was one of the most important industrial and manufacturing growth centers in France.
As the French empire expanded from 1830, especially to Algeria, the resulting new maritime commerce also increased Marseille’s wealth.
This period also resulted in many monuments built to the city, including…
- Napoleonic obelisk in Mazargues and
- royal triumphal arch within Place Jules Guesde.
The city is also known as one of the most important immigrant centers in France, a role which is has had especially from the 1950s.
As a result of this, Marseille has, for example, a characteristic district of immigrants with mostly Algerian / African origins.
Modern Marseilles’ economy is dominated by its new harbor, located north of the idyllic old harbor (vieux port).
The modern port is the third busiest in Europe, especially important for oil trade. Related to these oil imports, Marseille has also become the most important oil refining region in France.
For tourists, Marseille offers a unique French experience due to its history, with things to do ranging from cultural events to museums, theater, art galleries, movie theater complexes, and to nightclubs and restaurants.
Many artists, such as…
- Auguste Renoir,
- Paul Cézanne, and
- Georges Braque…
…have taken inspiration from the region, and immortalized Marseille’s beauty on their works of art.
In terms of culture, Marseille is well-known for its sports, highlighted by football club ‘Olympique de Marseille’, 1993 European UEFA Champion’s League winner.
The team plays its home matches at Stade Vélodrome, which has seating for about 60,000 spectators.
In addition to football, other popular local sports include rugby, sailing, and golf — with three high-class golf courses nearby.
Marseille France Table of Contents
Discover Marseille cathedral (Sainte-Marie-Majeure), a beautiful Romanesque-Byzantine church that was constructed from 1852-1893.
Vieux Port Marseille is the city’s most significant tourist attraction, and it has been Marseille’s harbor from the city’s foundation.
Find out about Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille, a basilica built on the highest naturally occurring point in the city, atop a 162 meter (531 feet) tall hill.
Read about Palais Longchamp Marseille, a palace (with one of the best fountains in Europe) and its gardens, containing the Art Museum and Natural History Museum of Marseille.
Château d’If is a fortress within island of If, in Marseille, which gained fame especially for its role in the Alexadre Dumas story of “The Count of Monte Cristo”.
Best tourist attractions in Marseille include Vieux-Port harbor, Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica, Longchamp palace, Rue St Ferreol, and Frioul islands cruise.
Find out the best in Marseille shopping, including the famous shopping street and shopping center’s in the area.
Olympique de Marseille is the city’s most important sports club, playing its home games at the ‘Stade Vélodrome’ stadium, a short drive from the city center.
Learn about Marseille train station Gare de Saint-Charles, the main railway hub in the region.
Porte d’Aix Marseille, which is also known as Porte Royale, is a triumphal arch from 1839, built to commemorate French military victories.
Learn about Saint Laurent church Marseille, a 13th century building next to the Fort Saint-Jean fortress, as part of the historical Vieux Port harbor.
Read about Saint Vincent de Paul church, a Gothic Revival style church from 1886, located at one end of the main street in Marseille, Canebière.
Marseille Hôtel de Ville is a city hall from 1656, located adjacent to the idyllic Vieux Port harbor.
Saint Ferréol les Augustins church, from 1588, is located within the city’s famous old harbor, Vieux Port.
Palais de Justice Marseille is the city’s court house from 1862, built in a dramatic Neoclassical architecture style.
Monument aux Mobilisés in Marseille is a historical war memorial, located opposite the Saint Vincent de Paul church.