Port Review: Marseille, France

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Marseille is the gateway to ever popular Provence, but it’s also a working city in its own right, with real people and a genuine charm which surprises many visitors.


The city of Marseille was founded more than 2,000 years ago by the Greeks from the city of Phocea, and ever since it’s been a hub for a wide variety of immigrants from countries including Italy, Greece, Turkey and North Africa. Today, it’s a dynamic multicultural city of just under one million people and the Vieux Port (or Old Port) is the heart and soul of Marseille, as it has been for centuries. And if you haven’t visited before, it’s worth getting out on your feet and exploring its many charming nooks and crannies.

The Facts

Location: Southern France on the Mediterranean Sea.

Currency: Euro.

Docking/Anchoring: Ships dock in the commercial port area north of the Vieux Port (Old Port) area and you’ll need to take a shuttle or a taxi to get to the city. 

Transport: Most cruise ships will offer a shuttle service to the Vieux Port and there will be taxis outside the cruise terminal. You won’t be able to walk off the  cruise terminal. 

Don't Miss

Towering above the city is the immense Notre Dame de la Garde, a Byzantine monument erected between 1853 and 1864 on the city’s highest hill. The domed Basilica can be seen from pretty much everywhere in Marseille.

The Abbaye St-Victor is halfway up the same hill as the Notre Dame de la Garde and the 12th century Romanesque building houses the tombs of third and fourth century martyrs including those of St Cassien and St Victor.

The Marseille Ferry Boat chugs back and forth across the Vieux Port (Old Port) and for a few coins you can cross from one side to the other. 

Best Photo Op

From the Notre Dame de la Garde, you get a sweeping panoramic view of Marseille and the Vieux Port.


Marseille is not the sort of place that has a famous shopping street like the rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré in Paris. But in town you will find an ad hoc collection of designer boutiques right next door to funky clothes shops, cheap discount stores and traditional bakeries and markets. The ocean front between the Old Port and the Cruise Terminal has been developed with retail shopping firmly in mind and shopping malls are being built at a rapid pace. The good news for shoppers is that opening hours are generally Monday to Saturday from 10am to 7pm although smaller shops may close for lunch. And shops are increasingly opening up on Sundays as well. If you’re looking for crafts by local artisans, The rue de la Mode behind the Opera is inhabited by half a dozen interesting local designers. And the two best places in central Marseille to find New Age crafts, small art galleries, alternative retail outlets, and cutting-edge new designers are the Cours Julien district and the Panier district.

Food and Drink

When it comes to cuisine, the city is known for many unique local delicacies.  Top of the list of Marseille favourites is bouillabaisse, a rich and hearty fish soup containing assorted shellfish, fish and vegetables, served with toasted bread and grated cheese. Another favourite is bourride, a fish dish made with monkfish, mayonnaise and a vegetable brunoise, a garnish of diced vegetables which have been blanched briefly in salty boiling water, then dipped in ice for a few seconds to set their colour. And wine has been made in the Provence region for 2,600 years, making it the oldest producing wine region in France. 

Pick of the Excursions

A full day tour of Aix-en Provence and Notre-Dame de la Garde is the most popular tour from Marseille and this is a good mix of walking, sightseeing and shopping. The beautiful town of Aix-en-Provence is straight out of a postcard: it’s the former medieval capital of Provence and has elegant 18th and 19th century architecture, wide boulevards, charming sidewalk cafes, and wonderful shopping opportunities.

Another popular tour is to Avignon and Le Pont du Gard. Avignon is one of those classic French historic towns with cobbled streets within its 14th-century walls which has beautifully preserved ramparts and bell towers. Le Pont du Gard is a world famous ancient Roman aqueduct bridge built in 40AD and regarded as one of the most amazing ancient engineering structures from the period.


Joanna Hall