Marseille weekend: things to see in 48 hours
Marseille is a city of 2 sides — traditional and gritty, and seeing both in a weekend is possible. Charming neighborhoods like Panier in Marseille co-exist alongside historic attractions like Château d’If near the city’s coast. There are plenty of things to do in Marseille in 1 day or 2; and this post tells you how.
If there’s one rule to follow to discover the best of Marseille in a weekend, it’s to just keep walking.
A weekend in Marseille – how do I reach Marseille?
The second largest city in France is located on the south coast of the country in the province of Provence. Its main international airport is Marseille Provence Airport, which is approximately 27km (17m) from the city.
There’s public transportation available to the city centre, but it’s not a straightforward journey and includes several changes. Still, if you have time and want to experience Marseille metro and bus, go for it. If not, you can follow our footsteps and take an Uber.
We found Uber to be pricier in Marseille than other places where we’ve used the service. To give you an idea, a 22-minute drive to our hotel in the city cost €42 ($47/£36)*. For budget travelers, I recommend taking the bus and metro and saving your money for the city.
Marseille weekend itinerary for first-time travelers
First place to see on your Marseille weekend – the old port
Without a shadow of a doubt, the first place to head to in Marseille is the old port (Vieux Port). It may be the most touristic part of the city, but it’s a good place to get your bearings. Walk the entire route of the promenade, taking a moment to browse any market stalls, or watch live street performances. Vieux Port reminds me of the Rambla in Barcelona or Piccadilly Circus in London. It’s the place where everyone goes.
The boats in the harbor take centre stage of the old port. It’s particularly striking when the sun’s shining, and you can see the light bouncing off the water. From here, it’s possible to take a day trip to nearby Calanques National Park.
Truthfully, I can’t say much about the buildings immediately around the port. There are many outdated buildings, and not in the flattering way. Still, you can find several hotels here along with restaurants that attract coach loads of tourists.
Marseille weekend – Head to the old port
Notre-Dame de la Garde
There’s one noticeable landmark that stands out above them all in Marseille, and that’s the Notre-Dame de la Garde. Situated at the highest peak in the city, you get a clear view of the basilica once you enter Vieux Port.
Inside Notre-Dame de la Garde
There are 2 churches inside Notre-Dame de la Garde – lower and upper. The lower church, also known as the crypt has been carved from the rock in Romanesque architectural style. It’s much smaller in size and simpler than its upstairs counterpart.
The upper church in neo-byzantine style is bursting with color and mosaics from every angle. Take a seat on one of the pews to admire the entirety of the church. It’s the most visited site in Marseille so don’t be surprised by the number of people that’ll be there. Even so, you can still enjoy the ambience and detail among the shuffling people around you.
A weekend in Marseille – watching the views from Notre Dame de la Garde
“Vieux Port reminds me of the Rambla in Barcelona or Piccadilly Circus in London. It’s the place where everyone goes.”
The best view of Marseille
The upper church of the basilica is on the sixth floor (you can take the elevator or stairs). It’s the last floor and also the highest point in the city. As you exit the doors to the outdoor terrace, you’re greeted with some of the best views of Marseille.
Even with plenty visitors around, it’s possible to find your spot and take unspoiled photos. I also recommend going to the terrace on the fifth floor, and even walking around the ground floor. There are several good photo and Instagram worthy opportunities here.
Best way to reach Notre-Dame de la Garde?
The best way to reach the basilica in the sky is on four wheels. It’s a long way up and also a steep one too. If you don’t have your own car, there are plenty of other options. From Vieux Port, you can hop on board the cute but touristy petit train. It costs €8 per person for a return trip and is also a novel way to see the city. It’s open-ended on the right side however, so not so pleasant if it rains!
Another way to reach the basilica is by bus. The no. 60 bus also takes you from the old port directly to the steps of the church. It costs €2 per person each way and you can pay on the bus.
Notre Dame de la Garde outside
Marseille Cathedral – things to see in a weekend in Marseille
From one basilica in the sky to another on ground level. Marseille Cathedral, or Cathédrale de la Major in French, is one attraction you can’t miss on your Marseille weekend break. By this, I mean, its size is so grand you cannot miss seeing it.
This Catholic church is a national monument of France, reflecting neo byzantine-romanesque style. It’s just as impressive inside as it is out, with dozens of murals, marble and mosaics to tantalize the senses.
Marseille Cathedral’s also in a location of the city that’s near the waterfront, Quai de la Tourette. And it’s here where you’ll find another of the city’s top attractions.
Outside Marseille Cathedral
Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations
For those rainy days in Marseille — and when it rains, it really pours — this museum saves the day. As its name suggests, the museum curates the history and culture in the Mediterranean basin throughout the ages.
The exterior of the Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée is also just as impressive. This cube-shaped building measures 160,000 sq ft, housing exhibits on 2 levels.
It’s open every day except Tuesdays, and there’s an entrance fee to access the museum. Check the website for the most up-to-date prices and exhibitions.
Visit the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations and Fort Saint-Jean on your Marseille weekend trip
Weekend in Marseille – Fort-Saint Jean
Connected by bridge to the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations is the Fort-Saint Jean. It was built in 1660 by Louis XIV at the entrance to the old port. The fortification became part of the museum in 2013.
Parts of the buildings are now exhibition spaces and a documentation centre.
Marseille in 48 hours – Abbey of St Victor
This imposing, yet striking, Roman structure is one of Marseille’s oldest buildings. Named after Saint Victor of Marseille, the abbey dates back to the 5th century.
As well as a church inside, the crypts are also a museum in itself. There are relics, paintings and even skulls dating to the 3rd century. The interior’s quiet, archaic and mysterious. Entry to the abbey is also free, leaving no excuse not to add this to your Marseille weekend itinerary.
A weekend in Marseille: The Abbey of St Victor outside…
Things to see in Marseille in a weekend – Panier
We lost count of how many times we walked around the Panier neighbourhood in Marseille. The first time was just by chance, as we were finding the way back to our hotel in La Joliette.
Panier neighborhood in Marseille is a series of small winding roads, showing local life at its best. Colorful front doors and window panels beckon you and your lens around every corner. It’s rustic, away from the crowds and very Mediterranean.
There are a few independent cafes, restaurants and also stores in the area. I urge you to take a coffee, pause and soak up the atmosphere.
Get lost in the streets of Panier on your Marseille weekend getaway
What is Marseille famous for?
Marseille is well known for several things. As well as its main attractions, it’s also known for its products. You can find one of its most popular items, Savon de Marseille, everywhere, and in different fragrances too. While we didn’t take any ourselves, I did notice that prices vary between places. To put it simply: the less touristy the area, the cheaper the price.
Don’t visit Marseille without trying the local sweet biscuits called ‘Navettes’. These oblong-shaped biscuits resemble the shape of a boat and are usually prepared for the Christian holiday of Candlemas. Recipes can differ, but typically they’re perfumed with orange blossom water.
Saying that, there are a dozen of very good, and authentic, Neapolitan pizzerias in Marseille. For over 4 generations, Chez Etienne’s family-run business has been serving up freshly baked pizza with plenty of creamy mozzarella.
La Bonne Mere is another excellent Italian pizzeria near Notre-Dame de la Garde. Be sure to make a reservation before visiting because tables here go fast.
One of Marseille’s famous exports – Savon de Marseille
A weekend in Marseille – where to stay?
We couldn’t have found a better place to stay than NH Collection Marseille. Its location in La Joliette neighborhood is central and also within walking distance to the central sights in Marseille. The hotel’s also right by the charming Panier neighborhood in Marseille. It’s the place where you get a feel of Marseille life up front.
Our suite was bright, light and also very generous in size. The separate living area with sofa and TV leads to a grand bedroom with king bed. My favorite feature, however, was the bathroom! There’s a bathtub and separate shower room, both with rainforest shower options. It was the most relaxing way to end a day of exploring the city, and we can’t wait to return.
The hotel manager, Victor, and all the staff, including their guest relations manager, Germana, are exceptional. When you hear the phrase ‘welcome home’ on arrival, you know you’re in for a great stay.
Convinced? You should be! Check their rates and make your stay a reality at NH Collection Marseille.
Where to stay in Marseille – NH Collection Suite bedroom
Just one section of the fabulous NH Collection Marseille Suite bathroom
Is it expensive in Marseille?
The answer to this really depends on where you’re coming from, and also on what you’re spending. Other fellow (northern) Europeans may find the prices fairly standard. Travelers coming from further afield may find them higher than average.
Like most destinations, you can find competitive prices for accommodation to suit your budget. Food and drink again vary by location and the type of restaurant. By the main hub of the old port many of the restaurants around the harbor can get expensive. I’ve never been a fan of the menu du jour (menu of the day) as the food’s never as good. Just my experience.
It’s possible to eat cheaply if you’re on a budget. There are many decent boulangerie (bakeries) to take fresh bread and savory goods that won’t break the bank. Marseille also has a large North African community (Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian), where you’ll find plenty of local eateries too.
What do you think of Marseille? Is it a city you’d like to explore in a weekend? Leave me a comment below!
Till next time, happy boutique travels x
*prices correct at time of travel.
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