Searching for the pros and cons of living in Marseille, France?
With its warm climate, stunning coastline, and relaxed-paced lifestyle, it’s no wonder so many expats move to Marseille.
But don’t pack your bags yet. There’s a lot you’ll want to consider.
I’ve been an expat in France for more than six years. I understand both the French culture and way of life here. I’ve also spent a decade abroad and lived in four other countries, so I know what to look for in a new city.
And, today, I want to share with you all the pros and cons of living in Marseille so you can decide whether it’s the right place for you.
So, let’s get started.
25 Pros and Cons of Living in Marseille
Marseille offers a unique mix of old-world charm and modern energy. It’s a rich and diverse culture that welcomes and embraces expats.
But like any urban center, it comes with its share of challenges.
In the following sections, I’ll cover everything you need to know about moving to this vibrant coastal city.
1. Pro: Breathtaking Coastline
Imagine waking up each morning to the sight of the sparkling Mediterranean, its deep blue waters stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s like being on a permanent vacation.
Marseille’s coastline is a blend of sandy beaches and dramatic rocky cliffs, making it a nature lover’s paradise. And, for a cosmopolitan city, it adds that je ne sais quoi feel.
Whether you want to go for a swim or a challenging hike, Marseille’s coast offers a wealth of activities and unrivaled scenic beauty.
Some of the most popular beaches include Plages du Prado and Plage de l’Huveaune. But my favorite was Plage de Maldormé. I loved that it was secluded and far from the main tourist spots.
Beyond the city, you’ll find the jaw-dropping beauty of the Calanques National Park. It’s a treasure trove of dramatic cliffs and crystal-clear waters. I found lots of small hidden beaches where I could relax and enjoy the serene setting.
2. Con: Slow-Paced Lifestyle
While the relaxed pace of life in Marseille is less stressful than in Paris or Lyon, it can also be a disadvantage.
This ‘laissez-faire’ attitude translates to slower service in restaurants, shops, and administrative matters. Deadlines are often seen more as guidelines rather than firm commitments.
And when you’re trying to renew your visa, it can be the most frustrating thing to deal with.
I’ve been through four visa renewals in France, and I can’t live in a city that doesn’t have an efficient administration. I don’t have the patience or time to deal with it.
But if you’re accustomed to slow bureaucracy, then Marseille won’t be a problem for you.
3. Pro: Rich Historical Heritage
From the iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica to the centuries-old Le Panier district, every corner of Marseille tells a tale.
It was founded in 600 BC by the Greeks and is, to date, the oldest city in France.
But, of the events that took place here, Marseille is most known for its role in the French Revolution.
In 1792, hundreds from Marseille marched to Paris in support of the revolution. Along the way they sang the “Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin.” It was initially written by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle after France declared war on Austria. It later became the national anthem and was named “La Marseillaise,” after the people of Marseille.
Then, there’s the Old Port, or Vieux Port, which has been the heart of the city for almost 3000 years. Today, it stands as a testament to the city’s enduring maritime heritage.
Marseille’s historical legacy is not only a source of pride for the locals but also fosters a unique sense of place. And living here means you’ll constantly be surrounded by these echoes of the past. It adds an enriching backdrop to everyday life and offers endless opportunities to connect with the culture.
4. Con: Language Barrier
The language barrier is one of the biggest hurdles you’ll encounter as an expat in Marseille. In more tourist areas, you’ll find a few people who speak English, but, in general, most locals only speak French.
This was the most challenging part for me. I struggled with simple day-to-day activities like grocery shopping and doctor’s visits. It was frustrating and, at times, I felt incredibly isolated.
But locals did appreciate it when I tried to communicate in French. They were more willing to engage with me and help me when I needed it.
So, while it might seem like a massive barrier in the beginning, if you use it as an opportunity, it’s more of a pro than a con. Not only that but you’ll learn French quickly.
5. Pro: Multicultural Atmosphere
One of the best things about living in Marseille is the multicultural atmosphere.
It’s often described as a ‘melting pot,’ where different cultures coexist and intermingle.
Here you’ll find influences from Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. And each is reflected in the city’s cuisine, architecture, and festivals.
This cultural diversity fosters an environment of openness and acceptance. So, as an expat, you’ll never stand out, unless you don’t speak French.
Not only that but there’s a very strong community of expats here. It’s a vibrant and cosmopolitan city where something is always going on. And you’ll always be able to find people who share your interests.
For Marseille, I recommend using Meetup. This is a fantastic platform where you can find other expats. They offer tons of online and in-person events that are worth checking out if you plan on moving here.
6. Con: Busy Tourist Season
From mid-June to August, Marseille becomes a bustling hub, attracting hordes of tourists from around the world.
The beautiful coastline fills with massive cruise ships, each one uglier than the next. And the worst part, there are at least a thousand tourists on board, most of whom are obnoxiously loud.
This mass influx of people leads to overcrowded streets and long wait times at attractions. The center becomes so noisy it’s unbearable.
Not only that but public transport is more congested, and parking spaces are hard to find.
If you thought your commute to work was stressful, just wait for the high tourist season. It only gets worse.
Prices also increase, for everything! There are discounts for locals, but it’s still irritating to deal with.
Keep in mind that most cities in France including Paris and Lyon experience the same thing. And it’s impossible to avoid unless you live in smaller less-touristy places.
7. Pro: Gastronomy
The gastronomy of Marseille is a testament to its rich and diverse cultural heritage. The local markets overflow with fresh produce, while the bakeries charm with the scent of freshly baked croissants. It’s a culinary paradise for food enthusiasts.
And, for someone like me, who isn’t a foodie, I loved every local dish I tried. I’d even say it rivals the gastronomy in Lyon.
The most famous is undoubtedly the bouillabaisse – a traditional Provençal fish stew.
Then, there are navettes – a boat-shaped biscuit flavored with orange blossom. You can find them anywhere in Marseille, but my favorite was those that came from Le Four de Navettes.
Useful Tip: Le Four de Navettes was founded in 1781 and is the oldest boulangerie in town.
But you can’t call yourself a local without trying panisse. This fried chickpea cake, while simple in its ingredients, is a staple of southern France. Often served as an appetizer, it’s crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and brimming with a subtle nutty flavor.
For the best, head to L’Estaque. It’s a quiet neighborhood with seaside vendors selling fresh panisse throughout the day. You won’t find a better place to immerse yourself in the culinary culture of Marseille.
8. Con: Pollution
Unfortunately, like many urban centers, Marseille struggles with high levels of pollution. It’s not as bad as Paris, for example. But the high traffic levels and industrial outputs have contributed to a decrease in the air quality.
There’s also been a rise in marine debris such as fishing nets and plastic bottles from the increased port activity. Cruise liners, fishing boats, and tourist shuttles are all to blame.
While efforts are being made to limit the destruction, it degrades the quality of life in an otherwise beautiful city.
9. Pro: Vibrant Art Scene
Marseille has been a magnet for artists for centuries. Between the 18th and 20th centuries, it served as a hub for renowned painters like Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne.
Today, it’s home to a thriving art scene that blends traditional heritage with cutting-edge creativity.
And living here means you’ll be able to explore the galleries and museums whenever you want.
For instance, La Vieille Charité showcases an impressive collection of traditional Mediterranean pottery. And the Mucem (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations) displays ancient artifacts from around the world.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts was, however, my favorite.
Established in 1801, it houses priceless collections from the 16th to 19th centuries. And it’s the oldest museum in Marseille.
10. Con: High Crime Rate
The biggest downside to living in Marseille is the high crime rate. It’s even considered one of the most dangerous cities in France.
Near the outskirts, violent crime is particularly high. And, within the center, petty crimes such as pickpocketing are common.
The authorities are taking steps to combat the problem. There’s been an increase in police presence in tourist areas. And the government is starting to address the high unemployment rate.
But, from personal experience, Marseille was not any different than Paris.
No matter where you decide to live, you’ll have to be mindful of your safety and be vigilant at night.
When I was in Marseille, I was always aware of my surroundings. I took the same precautions that I did when I lived in Paris and London.
At the end of the day, it’s a con of every big city. And you’ll have to decide if that’s something you are prepared to deal with.
11. Pro: Perfect Weather
The weather in Marseille is undeniably the biggest pro of living here.
It’s a typical Mediterranean climate with a whopping 300 days of sunshine each year. The temperatures are warm yet comfortable. In summer, it stays between 21 and 26 degrees Celsius (70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit), making it perfect beach weather
Even the winters are mild, with temperatures rarely falling below 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit).
For me, this was the biggest draw of living in Marseille. I love any outdoor activity that doesn’t involve snow and cold weather. So, if you’re like me, you won’t find a better place to live in France.
12. Con: Limited Job Opportunities
If you’re planning to move here for work, you may want to think twice. Marseille’s job market is limited, especially when compared to Paris or Lyon.
The unemployment rate is also above the national average. This study showed that 10% of residents in the region were unemployed and 12% were economically inactive.
Although the tourism and shipping industries do offer some opportunities, they are competitive. And there’s a certain level of seasonality.
But this is a general con of living in France. There are not a lot of jobs and the ones that do exist require extra diplomas, even if you already have a degree.
As an example, I have a Ph.D., and, if I wanted to go into project management, I’d have to get a certificate in that field. Even if I wanted to manage projects in the same sector as all my diplomas.
I got so tired of dealing with the requirements that I decided to create my own company with this blog. And, now, I don’t have to deal with the lack of opportunities here.
Needless to say, if you don’t have a job lined up, it will be challenging to find a stable well-paid position here.
13. Pro: Easy Travel
Located on the southeast coast of France, Marseille is a gateway to the Mediterranean.
It boasts a large international airport, a high-speed train station, and an extensive network of motorways. Marseille’s port also offers frequent ferry services to Corsica and other picturesque locations. So, you’ll be able to travel in and out of the city very easily.
For travel enthusiasts, this is a huge advantage. You won’t be confined to one city, and you’ll be able to explore other parts of France.
But, even if you’re not a traveler, living in a well-connected city is important as an expat. Family emergencies back home are inevitable. And knowing that you can get there easily will bring you peace of mind.
14. Con: Stray Cats
One of the lesser-known, yet significant, downsides of living in Marseille is its shocking number of stray cats. These felines roam freely across the city, often in search of food or shelter. While they are cute, they can be a nuisance. They often rummage through trash and sneak into apartments.
There are initiatives to control the population and improve the welfare of these cats, but it’s something you’ll have to deal with.
If you don’t like cats, this might be a deterrent.
15. Pro: Welcoming Community
The Marseillais are known for their open-heartedness and sociability. They are eager to share their love for their city, culture, and traditions of food and drink.
Of the places I’ve been, the locals in Marseille were some of the friendliest I’ve met. They welcomed me with open arms and made me feel at home from the moment I arrived.
And it’s not only the locals. Marseille’s vibrant expat community is also welcoming. From the moment you arrive, you’ll feel like you’re a part of the group. It makes it easy to build a support network that can help you integrate into French culture.
Needless to say, you’ll quickly feel like part of the community here, no matter where you’re from.
16. Con: Seasonal Wind
The Mistral is a notorious gust that sweeps through Marseille.
Originating in the north, this seasonal wind can reach speeds up to 90 kilometers per hour (55 miles per hour), reaping a whirlwind of effects on the city. It can transform a sunny day into a freezing one and stir up tumultuous sea conditions.
It’s the worst in winter and spring, particularly as the seasons change.
On one hand, the Mistral brings clear skies and fresher air. It actually clears out the pollution. But on the downside, it can also cause disruptions and occasional power cuts.
It’s not the biggest con on the list, but it is something to be aware of if you decide to move to Marseille.
17. Pro: Affordable Cost of Living
As the second largest city in France, you would think that the cost of living in Marseille is high. But it’s not.
From rent to groceries, dining, and entertainment, the cost of daily life in Marseille is much lower than in cities like Paris or Lyon.
As an example, a one-bedroom apartment in the center of Marseille costs about €800 per month. The same apartment in Paris would be well over €1000 per month.
You’ll be able to go out to eat and enjoy everything that Marseille has to offer without worrying about emptying your wallet.
Plus, it makes relocating affordable.
When I moved to Paris, I shelled out a ton of money on an Airbnb apartment. My apartment wasn’t ready yet and I needed something temporary. I ended up in a less-than-desirable neighborhood, which is something you won’t have to worry about in Marseille.
18. Pro: Thriving Nightlife
Marseille’s nightlife is an electrifying mix that caters to a diverse range of tastes.
Here you’ll find chic cocktail bars and cool music venues as well as nightclubs that stay open until the early hours. Whether you’re looking for a tranquil spot to relax or somewhere that’s more upbeat, there’s plenty to choose from.
And, best of all, every district offers something unique.
Le Panier is a quaint neighborhood with tons of cafes, bars, and restaurants. This was, actually, my favorite place to hang out at night. It was lively with a familiar feel to it. I had the impression I was at home from day one.
Meanwhile, the area around Rue de la République is full of stylish clubs frequented by locals.
La Joliette is also very popular. It’s more modern than the other areas and the views of the Mediterranean are unbeatable.
If you need a thriving nightlife with a social scene, you’ll get what you’re looking for in Marseille!
19. Con: Lack of Green Spaces
Despite its incredible coastline, Marseille falls short when it comes to parks and gardens.
The closest parks are Parc Borély and Parc Longchamp. They’re great for a stroll but not ideal if you’re after something more natural. Plus, they are always full. It’s almost impossible to find a quiet spot, especially on the weekend.
You’ll have to leave town to find hiking trails and calm beaches. For instance, the Calanques National Park is about 45 minutes away by car or bus.
There are walkways along the coast, but they are surrounded by busy roads.
If you love hanging out or running in local parks, Marseille might not be the best choice for you.
20. Pro: Public Transportation
While Marseille doesn’t have the most extensive public transport system, it’s affordable, efficient, and clean.
The bus network covers most of the city and it’s very dependable. You can pay with cash or a card that you can recharge when needed. There are also trams and metros. These networks are not as extensive as those of the buses, but they are reliable.
Then, there are boat services that link different districts along the coast of Marseille. They run from early morning until late in the evening and tickets are discounted for residents.
Finally, if you want to explore beyond Marseille, there’s the high-speed train network (TGV trains) that runs across France. And, for regional trips, TER regional trains are a great way to get around.
If you plan on working and living within the city limits, you can get by without a car. That’s what I did when I was in Marseille. It wasn’t always easy, but it was doable.
21. Con: Lots of Cruise Ships
The number of cruise ships that sail into Marseille has become ridiculous.
Each ship carries thousands of tourists, and while this is great for the economy it’s a nightmare for locals. It leads to overcrowding and brings way too many tourists at once. I felt like it created an inconsistent atmosphere. One day it’s calm and the next it’s full of tourists.
Not only that but these vessels pollute the air and degrade the water. I could see the black smoke filling the harbor. It was disgusting.
Their negative impact on the daily life of locals and the environment is undeniable. It might not bother you at first, but after a while it’s annoying.
22. Pro: Affordable Healthcare
One of the best things about living in Marseille, and, in France, in general, is the healthcare.
France’s healthcare system is often ranked among the best in the world. It prioritizes accessibility and coverage for everyone.
In Marseille, hospitals and clinics are well-equipped and staffed by highly skilled professionals. And this extends to pharmacies where medications are available and affordable.
Residents are eligible for state health insurance, which typically covers 70% of medical expenses. That means that the average cost to see a general doctor is €7.50, after reimbursement.
Useful Tip: You must be a legal resident of France for three months before you can have access to France’s healthcare system. This doesn’t mean you can’t see a doctor in those first three months. It means you won’t be reimbursed 70% of the cost.
23. Con: Noise Pollution
Like many urban hubs, Marseille struggles with noise pollution. The city’s lively nightlife, bustling markets, and densely packed traffic all contribute to a constant hum that never seems to go away.
Then there are the street musicians, the clatter of café life, and the horns from cars and boats. I felt like I never got a quiet moment. I tried wearing noise-canceling headphones, which worked most of the time. But that’s not a solution for everyone.
So, if you’re looking for an oasis of peace, you should consider this downside. Or at least find a place far from the hustle and bustle of the city center.
24. Pro: Outdoor Activities
Marseille is a haven for outdoor lovers, boasting a wide variety of activities for every adventurer.
If you like water-based activities, you’ll have your choice. From sailing and paddle boarding to diving, there are tons of options.
There are also lots of land-based excursions.
Hiking and climbing are popular in the Calanques National Park. And, if you’re willing to go further, you’ll find tons of natural parks. Some of the most popular include the Parc naturel régional de la Sainte-Baume and the hills of Garlaban.
And, best of all, Marseille’s mild climate means you’ll have access to all these outdoor activities year-round.
25. Con: Traffic Congestion
Marseille is the second biggest city in France. And like most places this size, traffic jams are a huge problem, especially during rush hour. Its narrow, winding streets become choked with cars, turning what should be short journeys into long commutes.
Its public transport network is not as extensive as Paris or Lyon, so most people have no choice but to drive. And, if you thought traffic was terrible in those cities, you’ll be in for a surprise here. It detracts from the otherwise high quality of life.
In general, I could get around the center of Marseille using public transport. But, if you plan on working or living outside the city, you’ll need a car.
Useful Tip: Since Marseille is on the coast, the air quality is good most of the year. I never smelled car exhaust, despite the traffic.
FAQs About Moving to Marseille
Why is Marseille a good place to live?
Marseille is an excellent place to live for several reasons. First, its Mediterranean climate means mild winters and warm summers. Second, as France’s oldest city, it boasts a wealth of historic sites, museums, and other cultural activities. Third, Marseille is a food lover’s paradise, famed for iconic dishes like bouillabaisse. Finally, it’s more affordable than other big cities in France, like Paris or Lyon.
Is Marseille a good place to live?
Yes, Marseille is a good place to live. Its vibrant culture, delicious food, and mild climate make it an appealing city. Plus, since it’s so affordable you’ll have access to a wealth of amenities without breaking the bank. It does, however, have its challenges. Some neighborhoods can be rough, and the bureaucracy can be frustrating.
Is Marseille an expensive place to live?
Marseille, compared to other major cities in France, is affordable. Rent for apartments, the cost of groceries, and dining out tend to be lower than in cities like Paris. But, like anywhere, prices can vary depending on your lifestyle. Certain areas of Marseille are more luxurious with a higher cost attached to them.
Is it safe to walk around Marseille at night?
Safety can vary in Marseille, as with any large city. In general, the city center and tourist areas are safe to walk around at night. But it’s always good practice to stay in well-lit areas and be aware of your surroundings.
Which arrondissement is best to live in Marseille?
The best arrondissement to live in Marseille depends on your lifestyle and preferences. If you prefer a vibrant, bustling atmosphere, the 1st arrondissement is the place to be. For a more quiet, residential feel, the 8th arrondissement might be a perfect fit. Then, there’s the 7th arrondissement. It offers that dreamy waterfront lifestyle.
What is the wealthiest part of Marseille?
The wealthiest part of Marseille is the 8th arrondissement. Here, you will find luxury apartments, villas with panoramic views, and high-end shops. The area is also home to several beaches and offers a serene and sophisticated living environment.
Conclusion: Living in Marseille, France
Marseille offers an eclectic blend of history, culture, and scenic beauty that’s hard to find elsewhere. With its vibrant markets, tasty cuisine, and breathtaking views, it’s a city that will show you the best of French living.
But, like any city, it has its share of challenges. While some areas boast of safety, affluence, and glamor, others have high crime rates. It’s a city of contrasts, but therein lies its charm. Ultimately, living in Marseille is about embracing and immersing yourself in the culture.
So, if the pros listed here outweigh the cons, then Marseille is for you. And it’s time to start preparing for your move. I recommend learning how to introduce yourself, so you can make a good first impression.
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