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Marseille – a magical tour of France’s second city

Make France’s oldest city your destination this summer. With more than 300 days of sunshine, there is always something to explore in Marseille.

When the seafaring Greeks first arrived in Μασσαλία  (Massalia) in 600 BC, they were attracted by its natural harbor, surrounded by limestone hills and thick forests that made it defensible. Massalia has since become Marseille (or Marseilles), France’s oldest and second-largest city, with the country’s second largest football stadium.  It hosts a unique park, the Parc national des Calanques, the only one in France encompassing land, sea, and semi-urban areas. Marseille is also the country’s largest port, ranking as one of the top five ports in the Mediterranean, and the oldest Chamber of Commerce in France was founded here in 1599.  Over the centuries, Marseille has developed a unique cosmopolitan culture too often overlooked by tourists.  

A visitor here is immersed in an everchanging amalgamation of French, Spanish, Italian, and Arabic influences in architecture, cuisine, music, and traditions, warmed by Mediterranean sunshine more than 300 days a year and cooled by the mistral. To sip pastis or spoon bouillabaisse at one of the many cafes on the Old Port as locals stroll, pigeons swoop, and fishermen tout their catch is to capture the life of Fanny or Marius in a Pagnol novel. C’est ci bon. 

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The Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée, or MuCEM, opened its doors in June 2013. In less than a year, it became one of the 50 most visited museums in the world, in part for its unique focus on Mediterranean history and culture, for the richness of its offering (more than a million items) and for its striking architecture by Rudy Riciotti.


7 promenade Robert Laffont, Marseille

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Open daily except Tuesdays, December 25 and May 1

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Bouillabaisse needs no introduction, provided it is prepared in the traditional way. Restaurants that adhere to the Charter de la Bouillabaisse serve the soup classically in two dishes (for the broth and for the fish) and make sure that rascasse is always a component. Miramar is a founding member of the Charter so diners are ensured an authentic experience in a port setting. It opens its kitchen to outsiders on the third Thursday of every month, when up to eight guests can learn to make bouillabaisse - and eat it too - starting at 10:30 am.


12, quai du Port 13002 Marseille

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Open daily for lunch and dinner except Mondays Reserve in advance at: http://resa.marseille-tourisme.com/fr/evenements/a628590/cours-de-bouillabaisse/afficher-les-details


The Musée d’Histoire de Marseille (Marseille History Museum) was built in the area of the city’s Old Port. It consists of the museum proper tracing the history of the city and the myths of its founding more than 2,600 years ago, the archeological site of the ancient port, an historical route linking this museum to MuCEM (available on phone or tablet), a documentation centre, and a recently-added special tour tracing the origins of France’s quasi-mythical national anthem, "La Marseillaise."

Musée d’Histoire de Marseille

2 Rue Henri-Barbusse, Marseille

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Open daily except Mondays and holidays


The cultural diversity of Marseille is reflected in its music, ranging from rock, pop, and electronica to Afrobeat, kuduro reggae, and folk. Music lovers may gravitate to La Friche de la Belle de Mai, a cultural complex carved out from a former tobacco factory with two concert halls, restaurants, galleries, temporary displays, and shops.

La Friche

41 rue Jobin or 12 rue François Simon, 13003 Marseille

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Notre-Dame de la Garde may be the most visited site in Marseille, for the view as much as for the 19th century interior. The crypt is Romanesque, the church is neo-Byzantine, and the view is splendid, given its commanding position 150 metres above the city. No surprise that a fort occupied the site from the 16th to 18th centuries. The actual structure was completed in 1897, and includes lush mosaics, bronze arches, marble altars, and columns of lapis lazuli.

Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

Rue Fort du Sanctuaire, 13006 Marseille

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Mary Major

The Cathedral of Saint Mary Major (Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille) is a national monument and one of the largest cathedrals in France, able to accommodate 3,000 people. Its origins date from the 12th century, but the actual structure was built in the late 19th century.

Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille

Place de la Major, Marseille

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