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Marseille port guide: The best sights, best buys & best eats

Author: Melissa Moody

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A labyrinth of ancient streets, packed with charismatic cafes, superb seafood restaurants and historic architecture, Marseille is a must-visit on any Mediterranean cruise...

First settled by the ancient Greeks in 600BC, France’s oldest and second-largest city is a lively melting pot of nationalities, religions and cultures, with a cosmopolitan atmosphere that’s all its own.

There’s history on every corner and superb seafood restaurants on every street, alongside lively bars where tourists can rub shoulders with the locals. If Paris is your Gallic benchmark, you’ll find Marseille a more earthy experience – and none the worse for that.

Daytrippers should start their adventure with a trip to the lofty Notre Dame de la Garde basilica for a stunning overview of the city.

Then head over to the historic Canebière boulevard, which stretches from the Vieux Port to the Réformés quarter, leaving time to enjoy the waterfront with its many places to drink and dine.

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Best sights

Vieux Port

Known as the birthplace of Marseille, the Old Port has been a transport hub for two-and-a-half millennia.

- READ MORE: Jamaica Port Guide: What to see, do and eat -

Today it offers a lively yacht marina as well as boutique hotels, cosy bars and seafood restaurants serving bouillabaisse – the city’s famously flavourful seafood stew.

The waterfront streets are pedestrianised, too, so it’s great for exploring on foot (don’t miss the fabulously art deco Opéra de Marseille).

Love fresh fish? You’ve come to the right place. Credit: Shutterstock

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Le Panier

Situated on a hillside above the Old Port, this colourful neighbourhood is the cultural heart of Marseilles.

- READ MORE: Top tips on how to eat healthily on a cruise -

Very Insta-friendly with its steeply winding streets and pretty pastel buildings, it’s packed with boutiques, gourmet food shops and art galleries.

Enjoy lunch alfresco at a restaurant on the Place des Pistoles, then admire the Cathédrale La Major with its striking marble interior and Byzantine-style façade.

Marseille’s narrow streets are ideal for exploring on foot. Credit: Shutterstock

Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

Known locally as ‘la Bonne Mère’ this towering hilltop church is Marseille’s most famous landmark.

- READ MORE: 10 must-see ancient civilisation cruises -

Topped by a 37ft gilded statue of the Madonna and Child, it’s visible from every corner of the city.

Make the journey up there (there’s a tourist train if you don’t fancy the walk) and you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of the city and the twinkling Mediterranean below.

Banded marble decorates the interior of Notre Dame basilica. Credit: Shutterstock

Abbaye Saint-Victor

Founded during the late Roman period, the Abbey of St Victor is one of the oldest intact buildings in the city.

- READ MORE: Find your dream French cruise with our handy holiday finder -

Massive crenellated walls give it the feel of a medieval fortress, but inside this is a place of peace and tranquillity, with a crypt housing early Christian tombs as well as the 11th-century tombstone of Abbot Isarnus.

If the crowds and the hot southern sun get too much, a few hours here could be just what you need.

Abbaye Saint-Victor is a survivor from early Christian times. Credit: Shutterstock

Best restaurants & bars

Le Peron

Perched on the rocks, Le Peron offers fabulous sea views from its outdoor terrace, especially in the evening as the sun dips beneath the waves.

- READ MORE: Which Mediterranean cruise destination is best for you? -

The menu majors on fish dishes, including exemplary bouillabaisse, but there are great vegetarian choices and some fine desserts too.

It’s a favourite destination for locals and tourists alike, so book ahead and don’t forget to ask for an outside table.

restaurant-peron.com

Le Peron offers the best seafood and sea views in town. Credit: Shutterstock

La Caravelle

Serving thirsty local patrons since the 1930s, this atmospheric bar on the first floor of the Bellevue hotel is celebrated for its authentic pre-war interior.

- READ MORE: Best food and wine pairings at sea -

The menu is bang up to date, however, and you’ll enjoy sensational tapas dishes along with your drinks.

There’s also live jazz and a charming view over the Vieux Port from the bar’s tiny outdoor terrace.

lacaravelle-marseille.com

Watch the world go by from the terrace at La Caravelle. Credit: Shutterstock

La Bar de la Marine

Something familiar about this place? Maybe that’s because
it featured in Love Actually.

- READ MORE: Port guide for Guernsey - what to see and do -

As the name suggests, this historic bar is situated by the port, and its spacious terrace is just the place to sit with a cold beer or a classic pastis aperitif and watch the world go by.

The snacks are excellent, and the authentic old-school interior will lend your visit a pleasantly nostalgic air.

marvellous-provence.com

La Bar de la Marine is a trip back in time. Credit: Shutterstock

L’Aromat

Chef Sylvain Robert is considered one of Marseille’s brightest young talents.

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His small restaurant is decorated like a classroom, with old maps, blackboards and menus presented in an exercise book.

But the food is a world away from school dinners, with modern Mediterranean dishes such as cromesquis of veal, squid ravioli and Robert’s signature dish, the celebrated hamburger de bouillabaisse.

laromat.com

L’Aromat offers a modern take on Mediterranean cuisine. Credit: Shutterstock

Best buys

Savon de Marseille

Using olive oils and other plant-based ingredients of the Mediterranean, the locals craft some of the most delicate soaps in the world. You’ll find savon de Marseille everywhere, in a wide range of colours, fragrances and prices.

Savon de Marseille is delicately crafted by locals with various colours and fragrances for everyone. Credit: Shutterstock

L’Esperantine chocolate

Introduced to celebrate the city’s 2,600th anniversary, this special chocolate is a work of art, embossed in the shape of an olive branch and with a delicious almond, orange and mint filling.

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Pastis

Stroll around the Old Port and pick up a bottle of France’s famous aniseed-flavoured spirit. Usually enjoyed well diluted as an aperitif, it turns a milky pale yellow when you add water.

L’Esperantine chocolate is a delicious work of art. Credit: L’Esperantine

Trip planner

What to expect

Marseille has undergone quite a transformation in recent years, with several new museums and cultural attractions enticing visitors from all corners of the globe. Expect it to be busy, but worth every moment.

- READ MORE: Amazing adventures to try on 2022's new cruise ships -

When to go

There’s no bad time to visit Marseille, but the best is probably late spring, when air and sea temperatures are at their balmiest – perfect for swimming, boating and alfresco dining.

Marseille enjoys year-round southern sunshine. Credit: Shutterstock

Getting around

The best way to explore the city is on foot, since most neighbourhoods are pedestrian friendly and easy to navigate. However, the metro and tram lines are fast, affordable and efficient ways of getting around, too. Driving is not recommended – it can be a hair-raising experience, and parking options are very limited.

- READ MORE: Why you should book cruises through a travel agent -

Where to stay

Marseille has some amazing accommodation, from the listed 18th-century InterContinental Marseille hotel to the breathtaking Les Bords de Mer, which offers panoramic sea views from its privileged position between the Corniche coast road and the Mediterranean.

Marseille boasts stunning views at twilight. Credit: Shutterstock

Get on board

Oceania Cruises

10-night ‘Rome to Barcelona’ cruise aboard Riviera, from Rome to Barcelona via Naples, Sicily, Valletta, Florence, Monte Carlo, Saint-Tropez, Marseille and Palamos, departing 15 June 2022, from £3,019

oceaniacruises.com

P&O Cruises

14-night ‘Mediterranean’ cruise aboard Britannia, round trip from Southampton
via La Coruna, Valencia, Marseille, Barcelona and Cadiz, departing 4 September 2022, from £1,399

pocruises.com

The famous Chateau d'If castle is located in the bay of Marseille. Credit: Shutterstock

Best local tips

‘When it’s sunny, head to L’abricotier beach to enjoy a fresh glass of rosé and mussels with aioli while you sit with your feet in the water.’ in the water.’ - Agathe Hernandez, Local Blogger.

- READ MORE: How to book a cruise for the first time -

‘Don’t miss the magic of the Panier district – stroll around its pretty streets and don’t forget to buy a bar of soap to remind you of the city.’ - Corinne Semercyan, Tour Guide.

‘If you love crafts, check out the Sessun Alma space in the Saint Victor district. You’ll find lovely ceramics, and you might get to meet the artists too.’ - Emmanuelle Oddo, Artist.

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