How to Spend 36 hours in Marseilles and Wish You Could Stay Longer – Marseilles, France

How to Spend 36 hours in Marseilles and Wish You Could Stay Longer!

Marseilles, France

View of basilique Notre Dame de la garde
View of basilique Notre Dame de la garde
I started my visit with a walk from the Veux Port (old port) up to Musee d’Histoire de Marseille and the jardin des vestiges. I ate lunch in the jardin (pre purchased from a boulangerie) and then headed into the museum. Access to the jardin is through the museum (which itself is on the bottom floor of the centre Bourse – a big shopping mall) and you have to pay for entrance – 1 or 2 €. The musee d’histoire covers the port’s history from Neolithic people through to the ‘golden age’ of Marseille with an impressive collection of coats of arms from buildings and homes. There is a boat from 3AD which is pretty incredible, although only the shallow hull still remains, so don’t expect masts and rigging. A word of warning – all the explanatory signs are in French, so you may find this museum a bit static, but there are plenty of pictures and 3D displays, so it is worth a try. I spent two hours in the museum after lunch, which included time to try and decipher many of the signs (well worth the effort!).

From there I roughly followed a walking tour suggested by the tourist office through Le Panier. This is the oldest district of Marseilles – along the way you can see many of Marseilles icons, including the spectacular Hotel Dieu, and you will walk past several places worth visiting – La Major Cathedral (spectacular!) Fort Jean (and the memorial/Musee des Camp de la Mort if you are feeling emotionally strong) and the Vielle Charity (which contains more museums). I was content meandering and enjoying the small shops selling everything from groceries and bread to tourist soap and artwork. For more information on the museums try visiting

I caught a ferry from one side of the port to the other and worked my way back around to the Vieux port metro to head home. The view from the ferry was spectacular as Marseilles harbour is filled with sailing boats of all sizes in various stages of coming and going. The calm relaxed atmosphere on the water contrasts to the hustle and bustle of the streets. It was a lovely end to the day as I walked down the Place du General de Gaulle and people were out in the cafes, street buskers were playing (a trio of old men with suspenders, striped shirts and boat hats) and kids were playing soccer among the dwindling tourists and growing restaurant goers.

For dinner we snuck down to the beach front restaurants near the Auberge de jeunesse, for a not-so cheap but very delicious dinner.

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Looking towards The vieux Port from the ferry
Day 2 – The challenge, as always, was that I had a plane to catch at 5 and didn’t know how much I could see and do before heading to the airport. Despite plans for an early start, I had spent the first half of the night learning a new French card game rather than sleeping – so didn’t leave the youth hostel until 9ish.

I went straight for the Notre Dame de la Garde which opens at 8.30 in the morning (most museums don’t open till 10 or 11). Notre Dame is incredible, and the view is amazing. From here, you can see all of Marseille and out to sea, Chateau d’if and the start of the Calanques. There are fantastic boards on the viewing platforms that name landmarks and buildings for you. Well worth a visit. Go early to avoid crowds.

After the Basilica I walked down to Jardin Pierre Puget ,which is beautiful. The garden café looked good, and prices were reasonable. From here I continued down to the Abbaye St Victor ,which was built in 4 BC. This is a dark austere church that is a good comparison to the more modern churches and cathedrals. It revealed to me the amzing advances that were made in engineering knowledge to make the more modern churches seem light and airy. Then there was some more meandering through typically French streets (seems to be a theme of my trip…) to the port again.

I only had a short amount of time left of my visit, so jumped on the metro up to Palais de Longchamp. It is a stunning building set in a beautiful garden. The palais has a huge central water feature which was a surprise gem for me and the whole area had a slightly grand and mysterious, lost world, feel to it. The Palais contains the Musee des Beaux Arts (closed indefinitely) and the Musee d’Histoire Naturelle. A good plan would be to have lunch in the garden here. The park has exciting looking childrens play areas and Theatre de la Giraffe – a marionette puppet theatre.

The water fountain at palais de Longchamp
The water fountain at palais de Longchamp
Unfortunately, there was still things I wanted to do, and if I had a more flexible transport arrangement (i.e. not a cheap as chips flight from Marseilles to london) then I would have been tempted to stay!

I will return (one day) to explore more of Marseilles and the area around it – it is easy to catch buses and trains to the calanques, Aix-en-provence and Cassis. It is possible to catch a half hour boat to the “Lles de Frioul” and the Chateau d’If (legendry haunt of the Count of Monte Cristo), or if you’re keen, you can kayak. There are seemingly hundreds of theatres and, I’ve heard, a great nightlife. Go forth and explore!

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