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Marseille in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Marseille is one of the most important places in France and has many attractions to discover. Here's what you can see and do in the city to discover it during a 3-day visit.

Matías Rodríguez

Matías Rodríguez

11 min read

Marseille in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Marseille sunset | ©Hermenegildo Santamaria

Marseille is France's second most populous city and also one of the largest and most important in the country, so visiting all its attractions in 3 days seems like an impossible mission. However, with the right itinerary and an intensive tour, you'll be able to see the main sites and enjoy one of the most interesting and complete cities in Europe.

Among the best things to see and do to discover Marseille in 3 days you can visit the Cathedral, see the Old Port, tour Le Panier, attend an opera show, marvel at the Longchamp Palace and take a trip to the Château d'If, which is famous for being mentioned by Alexandre Dumas in his novel The Count of Monte Cristo and is one of the best tours of Marseille.

Day 1: Tour Le Panier, visit Marseille Cathedral, have lunch at the Old Port, see the Vieille Charité, spend the afternoon at Port Antique and attend a performance by the Marseille Opera.

Marseille Cathedral| ©Chris Bancrof
Marseille Cathedral| ©Chris Bancrof

The area around the Old Port is considered the historic centre of Marseille and is where most of the city's major attractions are located, so on the first day of your tour I suggest you start your visit in the Le Panier neighbourhood and then wander around its most significant sites.

You can also have lunch in one of the restaurants in the Old Port, which is famous for its seafood; spend the afternoon in the eclectic Port Antique park, which is located in an area of ruins; and in the evening enjoy a show by the Marseille Opera.

Walk around the Le Panier district

Located between Boulevard Longchamp and the port, Le Panier is the oldest quarter of Marseille and holds a significant place in history, as it is where Napoleon Bonaparte lived with his family during his stay in Marseille. Le Panier is a cosmopolitan neighbourhood, with art galleries and colourful streets, ideal for exploring with the family or if you plan to visit Marseille with children.

La Panier is also known for its winding lanes, gastronomy, clothes shops and squares, including Les Molins, which has three 18th century mills, and Lorette, which has an old hospital that has been converted into a Moroccan restaurant.

Le Panier is also home to some of the city's main attractions such as the Cathedral, which will be the next stop on your tour after walking the streets of the most picturesque quarter, which is often included in the best tours of Marseille.

Book the best tours of Marseille

Visit Marseille Cathedral

The Cathedral of St. Mary Major is not only one of the most beautiful in France, but also one of the most striking in Europe, because it combines Romanesque and Byzantine architectural styles and also has an interior decoration in marble and porphyry that is rare in religious buildings.

You can get to the Cathedral quickly using the M1 and M2 metro lines, and while you can visit all year round, if you plan to visit Marseille in August you can witness the Marian procession for the feast of the Assumption. This is the only time during the celebration when the Golden Virgin walks through the streets of Le Panier.

You can visit the Cathedral of Marseille for free in a tour that will take you about 1 hour and a half, between the usual queue for the entrance and the tour of the central nave of the building, which is very large.

  • Price: Admission to the Cathedral is free.
  • Opening hours: Every day from 10:00 to 19:00.
  • Location: Place de la Mayor, Marseille.

Lunch in the Old Port

After touring the Le Panier district and visiting the Cathedral of Marseille, I suggest you visit the Old Port, which is the epicentre of the city's nightlife. It is a marina where many of the boat trips depart from and also an important gastronomic centre, with some of the city's best restaurants and cafés facing the Mediterranean Sea.

In the Old Port you can enjoy the seafood, salmon and lobster restaurants for lunch before continuing your tour on the first day. From Le Panier it's about a 10 minute walk down 5 streets. Among the outstanding restaurants I suggest 1860 Le Palais, La Nautique and Le Collins, which serve some of the best seafood in town.

Restaurants in the harbour generally work by reservation, although during midday they usually have room. Note that if you plan to visit Marseille in June or during the summer months, you may have to wait for a table.

Book a boat trip in Marseille

See the Vieille Charité

Vieille Charité| ©Tiberio Frascari
Vieille Charité| ©Tiberio Frascari

After lunch I suggest you return to Le Panier to continue the tour and visit the Vieille Charité, which is a former almshouse that assisted beggars and veterans and now houses the Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology and the Museum of Art of Africa, Oceania and Amerindian.

The Vieille Charité is worth a visit because it is also one of the most beautiful buildings in the neighbourhood and because it has one of the most interesting cultural and educational centres in Marseille, with children's activities and a library with books for children, making it an ideal family activity.

La Vieille Charité has an entrance fee of around 3 euros per person, which will give you access to all the rooms and exhibitions. On Sundays the visit is free.

  • Price: the entrance fee is approximately 3 euros per person.
  • Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
  • Location: 2 Rue de la Charité, Marseille.

Spend the afternoon at Port Antique

Port Antique or the Garden of the Vestiges is a park containing archaeological remains of the old port of Marseille and is classified as one of the Historical Monuments of France. You can reach this garden by bus on line 70 or by using the M2 Metro line.

It is an ideal place to spend the afternoon, as it was part of the ancient Greek city of Massalia and includes parts of the city wall, a freshwater basin, Roman road slabs, the remains of three square towers and a gate estimated to be more than 2000 years old.

In the Jardin des Vestiges you can take a guided tour that lasts approximately 2 hours and also rest in the common areas of the park, before continuing your tour.

  • Price: Admission to the garden is free.
  • Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 9.30am to 6pm.
  • Location: 2 Rue Henri Barbusse, Marseille.

See a show at the Marseille Opera House

To close the first day of your tour, I suggest you attend a show at the Marseille Opera, which is one of the most traditional cultural activities of the city and also a unique event where you can get to know the most important musical building of the city and also visit one of the most active nightlife districts.

The shows at the Marseille Opera are available all year round, although it is sometimes necessary to book in advance, so I suggest that if you organise your itinerary before your visit, buy tickets for the music concert to secure your seat and avoid last minute increases.

After the show you can enjoy the restaurants in the Opéra district, which is located in the heart of Marseille and can be reached by buses on line 81, using the M1 metro line and Marseille hop on-hop off buses.

  • Price: Tickets for the shows have an initial cost of approximately 25 euros per person.
  • Opening times: will depend on each concert.
  • Location: 2 Rue Moliere, Marseille.

Book a hop on-hop off bus tour of Marseille

Day 2: Visit the Palais Longchamp and its gardens, tour the Museum of Fine Arts, have lunch in the Saint-Victor quarter, see Notre-Dame de la Garde and have fun in the bars of the Opéra

Palais Longchamp| ©Vicuna R
Palais Longchamp| ©Vicuna R

For the second day's tour, I suggest a visit to the northern part of the city, including the Palais Longchamp and its extensive gardens. You will also visit the Saint-Victor district, one of the most bohemian areas of the city, and Notre-Dame de la Garde, one of the most famous religious buildings in Marseille.

To close the second day of the tour I suggest you to get to know the nightlife of Marseille and for that nothing better than visiting the bars of the Opéra district, which stands out for its multicultural and varied offer.

Visit the Longchamp Palace and its gardens

The Longchamp Palace is one of the most beautiful in the city and also has a very particular history, because its construction was ordered by Napoleon, but nowadays the building houses a permanent exhibition that analyzes his fall as emperor of France and conqueror of Europe.

You can reach the Palais Longchamp by bus on line 81 and by using the M1 metro line. Inside the complex you can also visit the Museum of Fine Arts, which houses the city's finest paintings and sculptures from the 16th to 19th centuries, and the Marseille Museum of Natural History.

You can also visit the Palace gardens, which used to have a zoo and a botanical museum, but nowadays there are no animals. It is an ideal place for you to relax before continuing your tour.

  • Price: Entrance to the Palace and the museums costs approximately 8 euros per person.
  • Opening hours: Every day from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm.
  • Location: Bd Jardin Zoologique, Marseille.

Book tickets for the best museums in Marseille

Have lunch in the Saint-Victor quarter and visit the Abbey

The St. Victor quarter is one of the most distinctive in the city because it is known for its bohemian atmosphere, its food market, interior design shops and also for its fine dining restaurants and bars, making it an ideal place for lunch on the second day.

You can get to Saint-Victor from the Palais de Longchamp on the 81 bus and using the M1 metro line. Among the best places in the neighbourhood for lunch are Ourea, Mouné and Le Pavillon d'Argent, which offers Latin food.

If you want to make the most of your visit to Saint-Victor, you can also visit the Marseille Soap Museum and the Abbey, which had a considerable influence on the whole of Provence. These are two of the neighbourhood's major attractions.

Book a day trip to Provence

See Notre-Dame de la Garde

Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica| ©Jorge Láscar
Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica| ©Jorge Láscar

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde is not only one of the most famous and most visited religious buildings in Marseille, but with its beauty it has nothing to envy to its Parisian counterpart. Marseille's Notre-Dame de la Garde sits on a peak 150 metres above sea level, offering some of the best views of the city.

You can reach the basilica by bus on lines 49 and 55 and on Metro line M2, and there you can discover the bell tower, which is highlighted by the golden figure of the Virgin Mary and is one of the city's typical postcards.

The attraction of the Basilica of Notre-Dame is that the crypt is carved out of the rock in Romanesque style and is richly decorated with mosaics. The climb up to the basilica is very steep, so I do not recommend that you make the climb on foot.

  • Price: Admission to the basilica is free.
  • Opening hours: daily from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm.
  • Location: Rue Fort du Sanctuaire, Marseille.

Visit the bars of the Opéra district

Opéra is home to some of the best and busiest bars in the city, especially if you plan to visit Marseille in summer, so to close the second day of intensive sightseeing, I suggest you relax with a drink in the bars of one of the city's most beautiful neighbourhoods.

You can get to Opéra on the 81 bus line and the M1 metro line. Among the many bars on offer I recommend you visit Marengo, La Civette, Palais and Montgrand, which is known for its signature cocktails.

Most bars also serve food, but if you want to opt for a more elaborate menu, you'll also find some of Marseille's best restaurants in the neighbourhood.

Day 3: See the Château d'If, have lunch at Thiers, visit La Plaine Market, spend the afternoon in Parc Borély and bid farewell to Marseille in the bars of the Old Port

Château d'If| ©Jeanne Menjoule
Château d'If| ©Jeanne Menjoule

The third and last day of the tour will be one of the most intense, as I suggest a visit to the Château d'If, which is located on a small island in the Frioul archipelago and is known for being one of the main settings of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo, written by Alexandre Dumas.

Once you return to the city you can have lunch in Thiers, visit La Plaine market, relax in Parc Borély and say goodbye to Marseille in the bars of the Old Port, which as you will have seen by then, is one of the most beautiful areas of Marseille.

See the Château d'If

The Château d'If is possibly one of the most popular sites in world literature since Alexandre Dumas used it as the setting for the prison of the protagonist of The Count of Monte Cristo. However, this fortification was also made popular by the legends of the Marquis de Sade and the Man in the Iron Mask.

The Château d'If can be reached by boat on a 25-minute trip departing from the Old Port area and will take approximately 3 hours in total to visit the site. You can also make the most of your visit by touring the nearby islands, although the castle is the main attraction.

Note that if you plan to visit Marseille in February or during the winter months, the temperature may drop significantly in the Mediterranean Sea, although without reaching considerable lows as in other parts of mainland Europe.

  • Price: Entrance to the castle costs approximately 6 euros per person.
  • Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
  • Location: Embarcadero Frioul If 1, Marseille.

Have lunch in the Thiers district and visit the La Plaine market

Once you return from the Château d'If you can have lunch in Thiers, which is a residential neighbourhood containing theatres, the Palais des Arts, the Church of St Vincent de Paul and a host of informal bars and restaurants in its narrow streets.

You can reach Thiers using the M1 and M3 metro lines and the T2 tram line. Among the best places for lunch are Le Cercle Rouge, Lacaille and La Mesa Latina, which is often included in the best food tours in Marseille

In addition, in Thiers you can also visit the La Plaine Market, which is an informal market located in the Place Jean Jaures where the people of Marseille buy many of their daily necessities such as fruits, vegetables, meats and decorative items.

Book the best food tours in Marseille

Spend the afternoon in Parc Borély

Borély Park| ©Corinne PACA
Borély Park| ©Corinne PACA

Borély Park is one of the largest parks in the city and also one of the most beautiful, with its Botanical Garden and miniature replica of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Garde. You can use this park to rest before finishing the third day of the tour.

To get to Borély Park you can take the 44 and 83 bus lines and the M3 Metro line or visit it with some of the best bike tours in Marseille, as some of them include it in their itinerary.

At Borély you can also walk the paths, visit the ponds and, if you plan to visit Marseille in spring, you can see the gardens in bloom.

  • Price: Admission to the park is free.
  • Opening hours: Every day from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm.
  • Location: Au. du Parc Borély, Marseille.

Say goodbye to Marseille in the bars of the Old Port

When you reach the end of this intensive tour, there's nothing better than closing your visit and saying goodbye to the city in the bars of the Old Port, which has one of the busiest nightlife areas in Marseille.

You can get to the Old Port using the 44 and 83 bus lines, the M3 metro line or Marseille's hop-on-hop-off sightseeing buses. Some of the best places to have a drink include Vertigo, The Shamrock, Bar de la Marine and Little Temple Bar.

Before you say goodbye to the city I suggest you take the time to stroll around the harbour illuminated by the night lights, gaze out over the Mediterranean in the quiet of the night and begin to miss Marseille and all its attractions.