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Tourist Information Centre

Office du Tourisme et des Congrès
4 La Canebière Marseille

Tel:+33 (0) 491 13 89 00
Fax:+33 (0) 491 13 89 20

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Marseille tourist information

where to go - what to see - what to do

France's second largest city and most important seaport is Marseille. It was established over 2600 years ago and has prospered chiefly as a trading port through the ages.

In the past it has suffered a rough reputation linked with racial tensions and organised crime, but now this is image is becoming outdated. Thanks to the rapid TGV rail-link, many Parisians come to treat this cosmopolitan city as a weekend retreat. It is generally now regarded as "branché" (i.e. trendy) and a far cry from "The French Connection".

The spirit of Marseille has always been one of independence and a rejection of authority. It is not a coincidence then that the city embraced the Revolution in 1792. In that year a group of Marseillais marched north to support the revolutionaries in Paris, singing as they went. The song they sung was a popular army hymn which soon became the national anthem and since known as "La Marseillaise".

The initial settlement of Massilia was founded by the Greeks in what is now the Vieux Port (old port). This has been the heart of the city ever since. These days mostly pleasure yachts are moored here and cafés line the sides enticing you to sample the local speciality, bouillabaisse. This is a highly seasoned fish stew made with several kinds of fish and shellfish.

During WWII, the north side of the old port was systemically dynamited by the Germans in an attempt to stem the flow of refugees passing through. The area was rebuilt after the war. An unlikely outcome of the blasting was that some of the remains of the Roman port were uncovered and are now housed in the Musée des Docks Romains. Some buildings in the area were spared the dynamite, one of them being the Maison Diamatée which contains the Musée du Vieux Marseille.

On the southern side of the old port is a pedestrian zone with a lively mix of bars, cafés and restaurants. Also in this area is the Opéra, Marseilles oldest cultural institution built in 1924, and the national theatre, La Criée. Further south is a hill, the top of which is the highest point in the city. It offers fantastic panoramic views all around and can be easily reached from the old port by taking the No.60 bus. Also at this point is the 19th century Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, an enormous Romano-Byzantine basilica, on top of which a large gilded statue of the Virgin Mary looks over the city. On the northern side of the cathedral, bullet marks can be seen from the Battle of Liberation which took place on 15th-25th August 1944.

Eastwards from the old port extends the city's main thoroughfare known as La Canebiere, a name linked with its roots in rope-making. In it's heyday it had a lively café culture but these days it is not very satisfying to walk along. Just off this street however, the area towards the Prefecture building that includes Rue Saint Ferréol, a pedestrianised shopping street, is worth a stroll. 

A short boat ride from the old port can take you to a couple of small offshore islands southwest about a mile away. On one of them stands the Château d'If, a 16th century fortress used as a prison. This is the where Alexander Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned although in reality there is no record of anyone escaping. Many of the inmates either died there or went mad or both, lending this place a rather sinister reputation.

West of the old port is Parc du Pharo with its imposing château and just beyond is the start of Corniche Kennedy, a dramatic coast road lined with beaches, bars and restaurants. There are numerous little coves that can be reached from this road that have a relatively untouched quality and are quite picturesque. Also worthy of mention is Les Calanques, a stretch of coastline of outstanding beauty lying east of Marseille.

Although it is the capital of the local departement, Marseille cannot be seen as representative of the area. It is a city that stands out as an anomaly and whose frenetic pulse guarantees it to be loved by some and loathed by others.

What to See - Marseille Attractions

Musée d'Histoire de Marseille Location Map
Square Belsunce, Centre Bourse Marseille 13001
ideal for Roman history buffs, includes the wreck of a 3rd century merchant vessel
| Admission charge | Opening Times: 12h-19h | Tel: +33 (0) 491 90 42 22

Musée des Docks Romains Location Map
Place Vivaux, Marseille 13002
showing an in-situ stretch of 1st century Roman docks
| Admission charge | Opening Times: Oct-May:10h-17h; Jun-Sep:11h-18h | Tel: +33 (0) 491 91 24 62

Musée du Vieux Marseille Location Map
Rue de la Prison, Marseille 13002
containing mementos of old Marseille
| Admission charge | Opening Times: 10h-12h, 14h-18h, closed Tue and Wed am | Tel: +33 (0) 491 55 28 68

Musée de la Mode Location Map
11 La Canebière, Marseille 13001
a museum of fashion showing glitz and glamour through the ages
| Admission charge | Opening Times: 12h-19h, closed Mon | Tel: +33 (0) 491 56 59 57

Musée d'Archéologie Méditerranéen Location Map
Centre de la Vieille Charité 2 Rue de la Charité, Marseille 13002
featuring a collection of ancient Mediterranean artifacts
| Admission charge | Opening Times: Oct-May:10h-17h; Jun-Sep:11h-18h | Tel: +33 (0) 491 14 58 80

Abbaye St-Victor Location Map
Place St-Victor, Marseille
probably Marseille's oldest church
| Tel: +33 (0) 496 11 22 60

Anse des Catalans Location Map
Corniche Kennedy, Marseille
Marseille's most popular beach

Les Corniches Location Map
beautiful coastline east of Marseille

Musée des Arts Africains, Océaniens & Amérindiens Location Map
Centre de la Vieille Charité 2 Rue de la Charité, Marseille 13002
housing a fascinating collection of ritual artifacts
| Admission charge | Opening Times: Oct-May:10h-17h; Jun-Sep:11h-18h | Tel: +33 (0) 491 14 58 38

Musée des Beaux-Arts Location Map
Palais Longchamp, Marseille 13004
Marseille's oldest museum, showing 15th to 19th century paintings
| Admission charge | Opening Times: Oct-May:10h-17h; Jun-Sep:11h-18h | Tel: +33 (0) 491 14 59 30

Notre-Dame de la Garde Location Map
Rue Fort-du-Sanctuaire, Marseille
a Neo-Byzantine/Romanesque basilica overlooking the city
| Tel: +33 (0) 491 13 40 80

Cathédrale de la Major Location Map
Place de la Major, Marseille
one of the largest cathedrals built in Europe during the 19th century
| Tel: +33 (0) 491 90 53 57

Château d'If Location Map
Île d'If, Marseille 13001
a 16th century fortress that became a feared prison for political and religious detainees
| Admission charge | Opening Times: 9h30h-18h30 | Tel: +33 (0) 491 59 02 30

Unité d'Habitation Location Map
280 Boulevard Michelet, Marseille 13008
Swiss architect, Le Corbusier's vision of modern living in the 50's, a tower block
| Opening Times: by appointment | Tel: +33 (0) 491 77 81 74

Cassis Services Plongee
3 rue Michel Arnaud, Cassis 13714
scuba dive your way to heaven in the azure blue waters around Cassis
| Admission charge | Opening Times: Daily | Tel: +33 (0)4 42 01 89 16