Top 19 Free Things to Do in Marseille, France (2024)

Top 19 Free Things to Do in Marseille, France (2024)

Marseille is a bustling port city on the Mediterranean coast of southern France. It’s known for its lively culture, delicious seafood, and gorgeous architecture.

I’ve been living in France for over six years and have been to Marseille several times. From the towering Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde to the colorful doors in Le Panier, I love everything about this city.

Best of all, most of these activities are completely free!

In this post, I’ll share with you the top free things to do in Marseille so you can plan an amazing budget-friendly vacation.

Here are the top free things to do in Marseille France. It has everything you need to plan an amazing trip.
Free Activities in Marseille

19 Free Things to Do in Marseille

From museums to beaches, Marseille has plenty of budget-friendly activities.

Here’s a look at the top attractions I recommend you do while you’re here.

1. Marvel at the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde

This is a photo of Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde from the Passerelle Parvis-St. Jean. It's in the distance on the top of a hill. Then, in the foreground there is Le Vieux Port with boats docked in the harbor.
Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde

The Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde is easily the most famous landmark in Marseille. It sits on the highest hill overlooking the city and offers incredible views of the surrounding area.

Its exterior is a stunning example of Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. And its interior is even more impressive with glittering mosaics and stained-glass windows on every wall.

There are a few ways to reach the church, but the most affordable is on foot.

From Le Vieux Port, it took me about 45 minutes. I went in the afternoon when the sun was beating down, which made it more difficult. So, I recommend going in the morning before it gets too hot.

Address: Rue Fort du Sanctuaire

2. Hike in Parc National des Calanques

This is the view from the View from the Belvédère de Sugiton in Calanques National Park. There are limestone cliffs on the left. They are partially covered in green bushes. Then, on the right, is the Mediterranean Sea.
View from the Belvédère de Sugiton

I love to hike and the Parc National des Calanques is one of my favorite places in Marseille to do it.

This national park spans the coast, from Marseille to Cassis, and it’s filled with breathtaking viewpoints, towering cliffs, and secluded coves.

The best part? Hiking here is completely free!

There are a few different trails, depending on your fitness level and how much time you have.

If you’re only in Marseille for two days, I recommend hiking to the Belvédère de Sugiton.

From the entrance, it took me about an hour. And the views from the top were spectacular. I could see the length of the coast on either side, and I had a bird’s eye view of the Calanque de Morgiou.

The trail was paved and easy to follow, so even if it looks high up, you don’t need to be an experienced hiker to do it.

Helpful Tip: From June to September, reservations are required to visit certain parts of the park.

3. Visit Le Vieux Port

This is The Vieux Port in Marseille. There is a row of boats docked on the harbor and the buildings surround the port in the distance.
Le Vieux Port

Le Vieux Port is the heart and soul of Marseille.

It was founded by the Greeks in 600 BC and has served as the city’s main harbor ever since.

Stroll around the port, watch fishermen bring in their daily catch, and soak up the lively atmosphere.

I, personally, loved walking up and down Quai du Port. The views are incredible and it’s a great spot to people-watch.

Then, near the entrance of the harbor is the Fort Saint-Jean. Admission here isn’t free, but you can still admire the architecture and climb the Passerelle Parvis-St. Jean for some amazing views.

4. Discover the Cathédrale de la Major

This is the high altar in the Cathédrale de la Major. There is the altar that is on a marble floor. It's surrounded by sculptures, chairs, and bouquets of flowers. Then, in the back there is a cross with Christ nailed to it and the apse.
Cathédrale de la Major

The Cathédrale de la Major was the most impressive church I visited in Marseille.

It’s located right next to the port and its striking exterior is impossible to miss. The striped white and green stonework is similar to the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde but on a much larger scale.

Helpful Tip: For the best panorama of the church, I recommend going across the street to Esplanade du J4.

Inside, you’ll find stunning mosaics, marble walls, and intricate stained-glass windows.

But my favorite feature was the high altar.

As you can see in the photo above, it’s absolutely stunning, and the apse behind it only adds to the magnificence.

Address: Place de la Major

5. Wander around Le Panier

This is a colorful street in Le Panier. There are several buildings lined up and all are different shade of orange. Then, the windowsills are also different colors. There are also a few plants on the sidewalk in front of the doors.
Le Panier

Le Panier is not only the oldest district in Marseille but it’s also the most picturesque.

And there’s nothing like strolling through its narrow, winding streets and admiring the colorful buildings.

I spent hours getting lost in Le Panier. There’s a certain charm it has. It’s alive and authentic at the same time. The locals are friendly yet unapologetic.

Laundry hangs from the windowsills, public streets are used as personal gardens, and street art is on every building.

It’s the best place to experience life in Marseille.

I recommend starting at Montée du Saint-Esprit and making your way to Rue de la Charité. That’s what I did.

6. Appreciate Palais Longchamp

This is a photo the main waterfall in the Palais Longchamp. There are statues and cascading water flowing beneath them. There are also flowers and trees surrounding it.
Palais Longchamp

Surprisingly, Marseille suffered severe water shortages up until the mid-19th century.

The Palais Longchamp was built to celebrate the arrival of water from the Durance River via the Canal de Marseille.

This stunning monument features a central château, cascading fountains, and beautiful gardens.

It’s also surrounded by two of Marseille’s most incredible (and free) museums – the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle.

Then, behind it is the Parc Longchamp. It’s full of walking paths, shaded areas, playgrounds, and benches.

After I took a few photos of the cascading fountains, I visited both museums and walked in the park. There was so much to do, I spent about half a day here.

Address: Boulevard Jardin Zoologique

7. Tour the Abbey of Saint-Victor

This is the Abbey of Saint-Victor. It's a large stone building with towers and lookout windows on each tower.
Abbey of Saint-Victor

The Abbey of Saint-Victor was founded in the 5th century by John Cassian and named after Saint Victor of Marseille, a Christian martyr.

Over the years, it became part of Marseille’s defense system and withstood several invasions.

The abbey was restored in the 19th century to the structure you see today.

Compared to the other churches on this list, I thought its exterior was far less elegant. But once I went inside, I realized just how much it had to offer.

Inside, you’ll find various relics, ancient artifacts, impressive mosaics, and Saint Victor’s sarcophagi.

There’s also an area called Saint Victor’s crypt, but his remains have yet to be found. So, for, now, it’s only a legend.

Address: Place Saint-Victor

8. Follow the Painter’s Trail in L’Estaque

This is a colorful façade along the Painter's Trail in L'Estaque. There is a door and a window and the top of it is blocked by tree leaves.

L’Estaque is a small fishing village located at the western edge of Marseille. It’s known for its picturesque harbor, charming streets, and famous residents.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it became a magnet for artists like Paul Cézanne. He, along with many others, showcased the beauty of L’Estaque in their works.

In fact, this little district is where the infamous Impressionist, Fauvist, and Cubist movements transformed art as we know it.

And you can follow along in the footsteps of these painters by taking the “Painter’s Trail” or “Chemin des Peintres.”

I started at Maison de Cézanne à L’Estaque in Place François Maleterre.

It took me about two hours, which is longer than average because I stopped to take photos and wander down the side streets.

Helpful Tip: Along Montée du Cercle, there is a set of stairs that goes up to Place François Maleterre. It’s also where you’ll find the first sign for the Painter’s Trail.

9. Watch the Sunset from Jardin du Pharo

This is the view from the Jardin du Pharo or Parc Émile Duclaux. In this distance there is the Fort Saint-Jean and you can see two boats sailing by into the Vieux Port. In this distance there are thick dark clouds moving in.
View from the Jardin du Pharo

The Jardin du Pharo (or Parc Émile Duclaux) is a magnificent garden behind the Palais du Pharo estate.

It was originally commissioned by Napoleon III in the 19th century for Empress Eugénie and has since become a popular escape from the busy city.

Here you’ll find manicured lawns, sweeping views of the sea, and benches where you can sit and relax.

I visited the Jardin du Pharo several times and my favorite was at sunset.

The orangish-pink hues from the sky lit Fort Saint-Jean, and, in the distance, a storm was approaching. I was lucky to snap the photo above before it downpoured on me.

Address: 86 Boulevard Charles Livon

10. Relax at the Beach

This is the view of Prado Beach. There is the water with buoys floating. In the distance there is the beach surrounded by mountains.
Plage du Prado

Marseille is known for its beautiful beaches, so you can’t visit and not go to one.

The closest to downtown Marseille is Plage des Catalans, but, for me, it was too crowded.

I preferred Plage du Prado.

Here you’ll find long stretches of sandy beach, calm waters, and lots of space to play volleyball. It’s the perfect place to relax and soak up the sun.

Then, if you want something more secluded, head to Calanque de Sugiton. This small beach is hidden in a beautiful cove and can only be accessed on foot.

But the views and solitude were worth the long hike, at least for me.

11. Browse a Market

This is the Le Vieux Port Fish Market. There are two men standing in front of a Styrofoam box of fish. One man is holding up the fish and showing it to the other.
Le Vieux Port Fish Market

Marseille is home to some of the best markets I’ve been to in France.

There’s the Marché de Noailles, known for its North African and Middle Eastern stalls, or the Marché des Capucins for fresh produce and seafood.

Both are great places to experience Marseille’s diverse culture.

But my favorite was the fish market at Le Vieux Port.

Here local fisherman come to sell their daily catch. It had everything that makes Marseille Marseille – a lively atmosphere, strong accents, and seafood.

12. Walk Along La Canebière

This is the interior of Église Saint-Vincent de Paul that is at the end of La Canebière. There is an aisle with wooden chairs on either side. In the back there is the altar with light shinning in from the stained-glass windows above it.
Église Saint-Vincent de Paul

Over the centuries, La Canebière has evolved from a hub for rope makers to a bustling avenue full of energy. In fact, it’s often called the Champs-Elysees of Marseille.

It stretches from Le Vieux Port to the Église Saint-Vincent de Paul, passing a mix of quaint boutiques and international brands.

And you’ll find plenty to do if you’re looking for budget-friendly activities.

People watch, snap photos of the beautiful buildings, take a break on one of the public benches, or do some window shopping.

I loved my visit to the Église Saint-Vincent de Paul. It’s not as well known as some of the other churches I mentioned, but a must-see, nonetheless.

Then, there’s a pastry shop called La Cure Gourmande Marseille – Fabricant de Navettes. They often have free treats you can try. My favorite was the traditional calissons.

13. Hang Out in Parc Borély

This is a rose from the Rose Garden in Parc Borély. It's a large rose that has two colors, white and yellow. It's surrounded by big green leaves.
Rose Garden in Parc Borély

Parc Borély was my favorite place to relax in Marseille. It’s outside the center so it’s never busy.

There are endless tree-lined walking paths, a giant lake, and colorful gardens.

My favorite garden was the Roseraie.

It was full of beautiful roses in all colors and sizes. Of course, the botanical and Chinese gardens were also spectacular.

Then, there’s the Château Borély. It now houses the Museum of Decorative Arts, Earthenware, and Fashion and offers a glimpse into the refined aesthetics of the region.

Helpful Tip: Admission to the Museum of Decorative Arts, Earthenware, and Fashion is free, but only for the permanent collection.

Address: Avenue du Parc Borély

14. Go to a Museum

This is the Jardin des Vestiges at the Musée d'Histoire de Marseille. There is a large space filled with ancient ruins. There are stone walls and iron boats to show what the ancient port looked like in ancient times.
Musée d’Histoire de Marseille

As the second largest city in France, I thought everything would be expensive, including the museums. After all, the list of free museums in places like Lille is small.

But to my surprise, many of them are free!

Aside from the Museum of Decorative Arts, Earthenware, and Fashion in Parc Borély, I also visited several others.

Below is a list of my favorites:

  • La Vieille Charité (Musée d’Arts Africains, Océaniens et Amérindiens and Musée d’Archéologie Méditerranéenne)
  • Musée des Beaux-Arts
  • Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle
  • Musée d’Histoire de Marseille

Helpful Tip: The permanent collections are free to visit, and temporary exhibits are only free on the first Sunday of every month.

15. Explore La Corniche Kennedy

This is Plage de Maldormé along the La Corniche Kennedy. There is an limestone outcrop with a small building then below it is the beach where people are sunbathing and swimming.
Plage de Maldormé

La Corniche Kennedy is a magnificent promenade that winds around the Mediterranean coast of Marseille.

It was named after President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the year he was assassinated, and offers a peaceful escape from the bustling city life.

I walked from the Plage des Catalans to the Malmousque Marseille and stopped at many scenic spots along the way.

Below I’ll cover the most famous (Vallon des Auffes and Malmousque) in more detail, but there are a few others worth visiting.

The first is the Monument aux Morts de l’Armée d’Orient.

It’s dedicated to all those who died for France in North Africa. It also offers some of the most spectacular views of the Mediterranean that I’ve seen.

The second is Plage de Maldormé.

It’s a small pebble beach with crystal clear turquoise waters. It’s hidden so many people don’t know it’s there. If you want to go where the locals sunbathe then this is the place.

Helpful Tip: On the first Sunday of the month La Corniche Kennedy is car-free. This is the perfect time to enjoy a stroll or bike ride.

16. Take a Photo of Vallon des Auffes

This is Vallon des Auffes. There is a row of colorful fisherman houses in the back. Then, in front of the houses, there is the harbor with boats docked.
Vallon des Auffes

Vallon des Auffes is a small fishing port hidden between the limestone cliffs along the Mediterranean Sea. There isn’t a ton to do here, but you can’t come to Marseille and not stop by.

And, for someone like me who loves taking photos for my Instagram feed, Vallon des Auffes is a must.

Its traditional fishermen’s houses are some of the most colorful in the area, so I recommend visiting on a weekday or early in the morning when it’s less crowded.

If you want to capture this little village in one frame, there are a few spots.

The first is from the Pont du Vallon des Auffes. It looks down onto the port and you’ll be able to see all the colorful houses.

The second is from underneath the same bridge. That’s where I snapped the photo you see above.

17. Visit Malmousque

This is Malmousque. There are houses stacked on top of each other and big trees in between.

Malmousque is another picturesque fishing village along the La Corniche Kennedy Highway. It’s a quieter and more secluded spot than Vallon des Auffes.

You can walk along the waterfront and take in the beautiful views of the turquoise waters and the colorful houses.

There are also lots of alleyways and hidden courtyards to get lost in.

I spent hours wandering around. Much of the area has retained its authentic character and I felt like I had stepped into a different part of Marseille.

Helpful Tip: The photo I took above was from Pont de la Fausse Monnaie.

18. Check Out the Street Art

This is a mural at the corner of Rue de la Charité and Traverse de la Charité. There are several different designs.
Street Art in Le Panier

Marseille is often criticized for having too much graffiti, but like the city, I would say it’s very underrated.

In fact, most are beautiful works of art.

Two of the best neighborhoods to explore street art are La Panier and Cours Julien.

But, of the two, Le Panier was my favorite.

Here you’ll find a blend of colorful murals, stencils, and illustrations. I would say most are abstract, but several narrate stories or have a political message.

You’ll no doubt stumble on a few just by walking around. That’s how I found the mural you see in the photo above. It was at the corner of Rue de la Charité and Traverse de la Charité.

19. Admire Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse

This is the exterior of Le Corbusier Cité Radieuse. There are five rows of windows and each has a different color windowsill.
Le Corbusier Cité Radieuse

Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse was conceived by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and completed in 1952.

Initially, it was built to provide extra housing after World War II. But, today, it’s a hotel with the remaining apartments rented out to retirees.

It integrates living spaces with communal facilities to enhance the quality of life for those who live there.

Not only that but its colorful hallways, doors, and windowsills make it one of the most beautiful buildings in Marseille.

You can explore the exterior and go up to its rooftop where you’ll have one of the best panoramas I’ve seen.

Address: 280 Boulevard Michelet

Conclusion: Free Things to Do in Marseille

From scenic coastal walks to fascinating museums, Marseille has lots of free things to do.

Whether you’re interested in history or want to relax, there’s something for everyone.

My favorite free activities were walking the Painter’s Trail in L’Estaque and exploring La Corniche Kennedy. But I also enjoyed lounging on the beach.

Now that you know all the best free things to do, it’s time to start planning your vacation. Why not start by checking out which websites will give you the best deal on tickets for your trip?

Read More Articles About France

I hope you enjoyed my post and found it helpful. Here are some other articles that I think you might find interesting.

Jen Ciesielski
Jen Ciesielski

Jen Ciesielski is the creator of Dabbling in Jet Lag. She has lived abroad for over ten years, traveled to more than 50 countries, and speaks French and English fluently. Her areas of expertise include moving abroad, learning languages, and travel planning. Originally from the United States, she now lives in France, where she has been for more than six years. She has also traveled extensively around the country. She shares her experiences as an expat living in France and helps thousands of people plan their trips every month.

Articles: 147