My fiancée and I moved to Marseille from England in October 2012. For two years, we steadily covered all the things to do in Marseille for free. What I love so much about this city is the variety of things to see and do, and what a huge percentage of these things cost absolutely nothing!
Here are my ten favourite things to do in Marseille for free.
Things To Do In Marseille For Free – 1. Les Calanques
How can I not start with the Calanques? This is truly an area of natural beauty. “Calanque” is best translated as “cove” or “rocky inlet”. The latter, whilst being a fairly accurate description, does nothing to describe just how awe-inspiring these are.
“The Calanques” consist of 10-20 separate inlets ranging from Marseille to Cassis (over around 35km if you walked them from end to end). I would try to recommend certain Calanques (Sugiton, Morgiou, Vau, etc), but the truth is that they are ALL so beautiful that I would recommend that you visit as many as you can. In fact, it is their variety that makes them so appealing.
They are not incredibly easy to get to, but definitely worth the effort. There are three main entry points.
From Marseille: From the end of the beaches in Marseille (pointe rouge), you can walk to “Les Goudes” and then through to the Calanques. In order to maximize your experience, for €1.50 take the Number 19 Bus to Montredon and then the connection to Callelongue. From here, you can walk for 2-3 hours and take in 4-5 wonderful calanques. The further you walk the less people you will pass and the more beautiful the experience becomes.
By Bus via Luminy: For €1.50 and taking 20 minutes, you can take the Number 21 Bus to Luminy. From here, if you take the main path (follow the crowds), you will reach the calanques in no time. From the end of the path, you can then visit 4-5 different calanques within a 30 minute walk. Sugiton (where the water in unexplainably cold – which is AWESOME after a 30 minute walk in the summer heat) is easy accessibly and particularly stunning.
From Cassis: From Cassis, you can also walk to the Calanques in less than 30 minutes and take in the sights. Vau is particularly beautiful, where you will also experience people rock climbing, kayaking and enjoying all other sorts of outdoor activities.
If you are willing to pay, there are also boat trips and kayaking trips available into the calanques from the sea (from both Marseille and Cassis). Whilst enjoyable, I would personally recommend the walk.
Things To Do In Marseille For Free – 2. Notre Dame de la Garde
“La Bonna Merra”, as the Marseillais say in their thick accents, is a defining feature of the Marseille City skyline. Built on top of a large hill, you can see the Notre Dame de la Garde from pretty much anywhere in Marseille. And, she is majestic!
A 30 minute (fairly tiring) walk from the Old Port will take you to the top of Marseille. There are 360° views over Marseille, where you can fully comprehend the vastness and density of this great city. On a clear day (most days are), you can see for miles all around, including great views over the Mediterranean sea.
You can also go inside the church, crypt and everywhere else with absolutely no entrance fee.
I would recommend, if you are able, that you walk both up to and down from the Notre Dame, and its definitely worth passing by the Abbaye Saint Victor (the oldest church in France – its VERY old) on the way.
Out of 1684 current opinions left on trip advisor, the Notre Dame has only received 6 negative reviews. Given how much people like to complain on trip advisor, this should enforce how worthwhile this climb is!
Things To Do In Marseille For Free – 3. Les plages – Sunset at the beach
Marseille is not well known for its beaches. However, there are many to be found. If you travel out south-east from the city, along “La Corniche”, you will find multiple beaches on the way, ending in the larger “Prado” beaches. The beaches themselves are a great experience and you will usually find a plethora of surfers, kite-surfers and wind-surfers in the sea, with pétanque, football and volleyball being played along the shore.
If you continue along the Prado beaches out of the city, you will reach the wonderfully pleasant port of Pointe Rouge. There is a great Pétanque area to enjoy. Until you have experienced playing pétanque, whist enjoying a picnic (including the local delicacy of Pastis) and overlooking the Med, you haven’t fully experienced what it is like being a Marseillais!
These beaches are a top destination to sit for a few hours, to swim in the sea or to devour a picnic. But, in my opinion, they really come alive at sunset. In summer, people line the beaches well into the evening as it stays warm enough to swim and relax, and there are often (organized and makeshift) parties along the beach.
What makes it so special in the evening? Without doubt, it is the wonderful sunsets. The sun falls over the Chateau d’If and the islands which sit slightly off Marseille, creating the most wonderful views – I’ll let the photos do the talking here.
Things To Do In Marseille For Free – 4. La Corniche
As mentioned above, the Corniche links the Old Port to the Prado beaches. The Corniche stetches for 5-6km and provides wonderful views of the Mediterranean. However, the land is also pretty interesting, with plenty of sights and sounds lining the route.
It is possibly to cycle (although there is no designated cycle path and the road can be a little dangerous) and the Number 83 Bus follows the entire route. However, once again, I would advise you to muster up the energy and embrace the hour’s walk from end-to-end.
There are small hidden ports (including the beautifully tranquil Vallon des Auffes), hidden beaches, chateaus and fascinating monuments along the route, so take your time!
Things To Do In Marseille For Free – 5. Le Panier
The real Marseille. The Panier district is set behind the Old Port, but is sufficiently hidden to ensure that it doesn’t have a touristy feel. In fact, quite the opposite – The Panier is a hidden gem. There are some wonderful traditional shops (soaps, breads, cheeses, wines…).
This area can only be accessed by foot, but you wouldn’t want to do it any other way. Just walk in, and get lost. Turn whichever way the next site takes you. Eventually, you will return back to a street serviced by the tram/metro and everywhere is walkable in this area.
Things To Do In Marseille For Free – 6. Palais Longchamp
One of the most astehtically pleasing buildings in Marseille, the Longchamp palace is set in the centre of the city, but you wouldn’t know. Situated in some very pleasant surrounding gardens, the palace is easily accessible from the metro or tram routes.
The palace is surrounded by fountains which are strangely, but interestingly, enlivened by pink dolphins – an addition due to the European City of Culture 2013 festivities. In fact, the palace hosts an entire zoo of brightly coloured statues. A little strange, but adds to the overall feel of this area.
For those arty folk among us, there is also a museum found within the palace: Musée de Beaux-Arts.
Things To Do In Marseille For Free – 7. Parc Borely
Just before the Prado beaches, you will find Parc Borely. This is another lovely area to relax and feel as if you are away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The Parc is host to a lovely waterway (rowing boats are available at a very reasonable price), trees, grassland, an outdoor free gym and pétanque games everywhere.
On a sunny day (again, most days) it becomes the home for cyclists, runners and roller skaters and the Chateau Borely forms a stunning center piece to the park.
It is also home to some impressive botanical gardens on the east side of the parc, which are well worth a visit.
Things To Do In Marseille For Free – 8. Le cours Julien
This place just has character. I could describe it, but I wouldn’t be able to do a job anywhere near as well as this google video series does. Watch it all, and then go there yourself to soak up the experience:
Things To Do In Marseille For Free – 9. Le Vieux Port
Probably the most well-known area of the city (and what I would class as being the “city center”), the Old Port is an extremely touristy. However, this doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing! Tourists sometimes visit place because they are, you know, good!
The Old Port is surrounded by shops and restaurants, and is the hub for all boat trips out to sea. However, being in the Vieux Port without visiting any of these for a few hours is a great experience. On one side, there is the impressive Hotel de Ville, on the other is the majority of the cafés and bars, including what we affectionately call “The Love Actually Café”. This is where Colin Firth confusingly proposes to a Portugese girl (in Portugese) and all the French diners (and everyone lining the streets) fully understanding everything that is going on! Anyway, I digress.
Take the free “ferry” across the Vieux Port. Whilst this is only a 3 minute trip (and the walk around only takes 15 minutes), the free boat is definitely worth the experience as you weave your way through the boats which are docked in the port.
Things To Do In Marseille For Free – 10. Musee des Civilisations de l’Europe et la Mediterranee
Finally, a new addition in 2013 for the European Capital of Culture, the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe, known more informally as the MuCEM, is a magnificent piece of architecture which is a most welcome addition at the end of the Old Port.
The MuCEM hosts numerous exhibitions, many for free, but I enjoy it most for the wonderful building design and the unique views it provides. Particularly impressive is the view back over the Old Port with the Notre Dame de la Garde dominating the sky-line behind.
There you go – 10 things to do in Marseille for free. Has anyone visited any of these places? What did you think? Do you have any other suggestions of things to do in Marseille for free?