Is Marseille Worth Visiting? 10 Reasons That’s a Yes

So, you’re wondering whether Marseille is worth visiting. You’ve probably heard some very mixed opinions and statements about the city, especially from French people themselves. Marseille is definitely a strong talking point for many in the country.

Marseilles. Notre Dame de la Garde Cathedral on a sunny day.

France’s second-biggest city has a lot to offer, but also carries a weighty reputation and is far less visited than some other cities such as Paris and Nice. Some people will say they adore the city, while some will certainly speak badly of it (even more so than other cities in the country).

This article should hopefully give you some ideas for why Marseille is indeed worth the visit, and why those who say otherwise are (respectfully) just wrong!

Why some travelers avoid Marseille

For some, it has a bad reputation

Marseille,France

It is true that in France and abroad, Marseille can have a rather negative reputation amongst some people. It is said to be dangerous, corrupt and have high crime rates. As a port, it has sadly adopted the reputation for where illegal substances also enter the country.

For this reason, many travelers decide to stay away from Marseille and travel to more traditional southern locations such as Nice.

It’s not Paris

Small fishing harbor Vallon des Auffes with traditional picturesque houses and boats, Marseilles, France

For some, Marseille could never compare to Paris. Paris is known worldwide for its beauty, luxury and food. And, sadly, Marseille is not as known for similar things. Some travelers will return again and again to Paris, without ever stepping foot in the country’s southern cities such as Marseille.

It is also very far from Paris, on the very southern coast. Often it is not possible for travelers on a tight budget or timeframe to visit Paris and Marseille in one trip, and most will likely prioritize Paris if they haven’t been before.

It’s not known for being a beach city like others

Sunny day on the beach in Marseille, Plage des catalans, France
Editorial credit: Vlasyuk Inna / Shutterstock.com

And for those who come to the south of France for its beaches, Marseille may not be top of the list. Nice and the Côte d’Azur receive a lot more attention nationally and internationally than Marseille.

This certainly affects Marseille’s standing and tourism levels, being known more as a port city than a seaside destination.

Why Marseille is worth visiting

1. To see what Marseille is really like

Aerial panoramic view on basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde and old port in Marseille, France

Despite Marseille’s poor reputation among some people, I think that this is in fact far from the truth. And you’re going to have to visit to find out for yourself.

Marseille has so much more to offer than simply its poor reputation. It’s a city of culture, sun, sea, food and wonderful people.

It’s rapidly developing as France’s second city, meaning it has some great spaces and a very cool atmosphere. Political changes are beginning to shake off the corruption that continues to plague its reputation.

Like most cities, there are certainly places you should avoid as a tourist, just to make sure you’re completely safe. And, of course, do continue to be aware of your surroundings and your pockets.

But, this is no different than if you were to visit Paris, or London, or anywhere else. Research shows Marseille is not significantly more dangerous than other large European cities.

2. To avoid the tourist path

Chateau d'If castle on an island in Marseilles, France, famous through Dumas novel "The Count of Monte Cristo"

While some avoid Marseille for the fact that it’s not Paris, this in many ways makes it a great place to visit. It’s less touristy, which means that you can avoid the crowds and see more of what an authentic France has to offer. It’s wonderful for seeing the France that exists outside of its famous capital.

And Marseille gives you a great chance to explore off the beaten path, while still having a wonder of attractions and things to do, from la Bonne-Mère to the Château d’If.

I also think people from Marseille are a bit more appreciative of tourism, as they’re not as overwhelmed with tourists as Parisians may be. All in all, this makes for an authentic and interesting visit to France’s second city.

3. To try Marseille’s great food

traditional bouillabaise soup

Marseille may not be as famous as Paris for its food scene, but this is an unfair claim. In fact, Marseille’s food is wonderful and should be a top reason for visiting this city.

Due to its location on the Mediterranean coast, Marseille has a strong tradition of seafood. When you visit the city, you must try the signature dish of Bouillabaisse, which is its most traditional and popular dish. It is a fish stew, made from the rockfish that traditional fishermen were unable to sell at the local markets that day.

Head to the Vieux Port (Old Port) for the best places to try seafood, with a great view over the harbor.

Drink is also important to the city. Make sure to try pastis, which is made from aniseed and licorice root. 130 million liters are sold in France each year, especially in the south.

4. To visit Marseille’s beaches

Scenic view of Prado beach on beautiful sunny day in Marseille France

As I said before, many people don’t head to Marseille specifically for its beaches, and often head elsewhere on the southern coast. But, Marseille’s beaches are in fact well worth the visit, and could save you a lot of money compared to a beach holiday in Nice.

The value of Marseille’s beaches is not in their grandeur or infrastructure for tourism. Instead, Marseille has a large number of smaller beaches known to the locals, which can provide some wonderful visits if you know where to go. It’s also a great location for water sports, such as kayaking, windsurfing and scuba diving.

You can of course do your own research but some great examples of beaches popular with locals include the beaches of Prado, Pointe Rouge and Plage des Catalans.

Larger and better known beaches include the area of the Calanques, and the famous town of Cassis.

5. To learn about Greek and Roman history (outside of Greece and Italy)

Funerary inscription belonging to man from Massalia, now Marseille. Catalan Museum of Archaeology, Barcelona, Spain
Editorial credit: WH_Pics / Shutterstock.com

Marseille is one of the best (if not the best) cities to learn about Greek and Roman history outside of Greece and Italy. In fact, Marseille is the oldest city in France. It was founded as the city of Massalia by the Greeks in 600BC.

Much architecture and many interesting sights remain from the period. You can visit the Jardin des Vestiges (Garden of Vestiges), which is the remains of the old Greek port. Alternatively, the Musée des Docks Romains (Museum of the Roman Docks) holds a large collection of ceramic jugs and other Roman artefacts discovered in the city.

6. To explore the rest of the Provence region

Sun is setting over a beautiful purple lavender filed in Valensole. Provence, France

It’s worth a trip to Marseille to not just explore the city itself, but also the surrounding Provence region, where there’s so much to do and see.

You can easily visit the Calanques National Park or some vibrant Provence beaches in no time at all from Marseille. You could even go as far as Nice or Monaco. The region has some wonderful natural areas, and is well known for its beautiful lavender fields.

Marseille is a perfect place to explore the region as it’s cheaper than other local towns and also has much more going on!

7. To enjoy football

The Stade Velodrome, known as the Orange Velodrome in Marseille, France. It is home to the Olympique de Marseille football club of Ligue 1
Editorial credit: PhotoLondonUK / Shutterstock.com

Olympique Marseille are one of the biggest and best football teams in France, and also share an intense rivalry with Paris Saint-Germain. Being able to watch this amazing team at their home ground is a great reason to visit Marseille.

And if you want to sample other southern French sports, you of course can. People in the south of France love pétanques, and you’ll be sure to find many a match going on in the city. Maybe you could even give it a go yourself.

Every year, Marseille hosts the international pétanque tournament, known as the Mondial la Marseillaise de pétanque.

8. To see the street art

Street arts on the wall of Belle de Mai district playground. Marseilles is the 3rd-largest city in France, and largest on the Mediterranean coast
Editorial credit: Pierre Jean Durieu / Shutterstock.com

If you like street art, you’ll find plenty of interesting sights in the city of Marseille. Due to its up-and-coming nature and burgeoning culture, the city has a number of street art initiatives in addition to less organized forms of art.

The area of Le Panier in particular is a great to experience the magnificence of Marseille’s street art. Especially impressive is the way that this art form co-exists and opposes the district’s ancient and medieval architecture. You can really appreciate the interaction between past and present.

9. To party

Neon light feature on the roof terrace of La Friche La Belle de Mai cultural centre in Marseille
Editorial credit: Mary Doggett / Shutterstock.com

When it comes to parties in France, Marseille is the place to be. Over the past few years, the number of underground, and also more official places, to party in the city has exploded. Arguably, it is now the center of party culture in the country.

There are a wide variety of parties and raves in cool, unused locations. Examples include La Friche (an old tobacco factory) and Marseille’s speakeasy (which is a “secret” bar). And like many things in Marseille, it will be much more affordable than Paris.

In particular, the country has a strong hip-hop scene, in part influenced by the large number of immigrants from Africa and elsewhere.

10. To experience the melting pot culture

A store selling spices and Arab food at Noailles neighborhood. Marseille, France
Editorial credit: Francesco Bonino / Shutterstock.com

As France’s largest port, and being a gateway to Africa for its southern location, Marseille has always received a significant level of immigration. Large populations include Algerians, Moroccans, and Tunisians.

This has made Marseille home to a very particular and exciting melting pot culture, combining many aspects of Arab, African and French culture. To experience this melting pot culture (and its importance to daily life, food, culture etc.), it really is worth a special visit to the city of Marseille.

Conclusion

Typical view of the old quarter "Panier" of Marseille in South France

So, I guess you won’t be surprised to hear that I think Marseille is definitely worth visiting.

If any of these reasons for visiting Marseille take your fancy, be sure to pay a visit soon. I hope you’ll discover an exciting city that exists beyond the newspaper headlines, and one where the city’s beauty well outweighs its history and issues.

You’ll hopefully see that the stereotypes aren’t all true. And the people who judge can stay away, leaving Marseille for those of us who can truly appreciate its uniqueness.

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