What is Marseille Famous For? 17 of Its Best Kept Secrets

Marseille is a lively port city with over 2,000 years of history hidden in its streets. Its food, people, and scenery create a unique identity that you won’t find elsewhere.

And, as the second largest city in France, there’s a lot to do here.

Now you’re probably wondering – What is Marseille famous for?

I’ve been living in France for more than six years and I’ve traveled all over the country. From the battlefields of Verdun to the quaint towns in Alsace, I’ve been to some incredible places. And Marseille is one of my favorites, so much so that I’ve visited several times.

In this post, I’ll share with you everything this Mediterranean gem is known for.

What is Marseille Famous For? Here are everything you need to know.
What is Marseille Renowned For?

Overview: What is Marseille Famous For?

If you’re short on time, I’ve put together a quick summary of this guide. 

Here’s a list of what Marseille is most known for:

  • Le Vieux Port
  • Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
  • Le Panier
  • Calanques National Park
  • Château d’If
  • Bouillabaisse

17 Things Marseille is Famous For

From enthralling museums to sun-drenched beaches, there’s no shortage of things to see, do, and taste in Marseille.

Below I’ll cover 17 things that Marseille is renowned for.

1. Le Vieux Port

This is a photo of Le Vieux Port. There are boats in the harbor and in the distance you can see the Notre Dame de la Garde church.
Le Vieux Port

The Old Port, or Vieux Port in French, is the heart of Marseille.

It was founded by Greek sailors from Phocaea in 600 BC and has since served as a gateway to the Mediterranean. Today, you’ll find old fishing boats docked next to modern yachts and colorful markets lining the streets. It’s a place where history meets the present.

But what I loved the most about Le Vieux Port was the atmosphere – it’s a bustling hub of activity and the perfect place to soak up the city’s energy.

Quai du Port was my favorite spot to watch the sunset and take in the stunning views of Marseille’s skyline. That’s where I took the photo above.

2. Le Panier

This is a street in the Le Panier district of Marseille. It's a stone street lined with colorful buildings and doorways. Then on the sidewalks there are potted plants.
Le Panier

Of the neighborhoods I visited in this undiscovered French city, Le Panier was the most charming. It’s the oldest district in town and is most known for its narrow streets, colorful buildings, and artistic vibe.

This is also where you’ll find La Vieille Charité, a striking baroque building that once served as an almshouse. It now houses two museums (The Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology and The Museum of Art of Africa, Oceania, and Amerindia).

I spent hours wandering up and down the streets. I couldn’t get enough of the cool street art and the colorful doors and windows.

And the locals were beyond friendly, especially to me, an American.

I was, actually, stopped by a fellow photographer who saw me taking photos for my Instagram feed and wanted to chat about the type of camera I was using. He shared his experience photographing Marseille and even gave me a few tips.

It added something extra to my visit and made me appreciate the district even more.

3. Food

This is a bag of Panisse I got from Chez Magali in L'Estaque. It's a white paper bag filled with these fried chickpea fritters.
Panisse

Marseille is a foodie’s paradise, more so than Montpellier.

And while there are countless dishes to try, the most famous one is bouillabaisse. It’s made with a variety of local fish and flavored with saffron and other herbs. It’s an absolute must-try.

You’ll find most restaurants serving some version of this soup, but the best I had was at Chez Fonfon.

But that’s not all Marseille’s food scene has to offer.

You’ll also find delicious street food like panisse (chickpea fritters) and sweet treats like navettes (boat-shaped cookies).

The best panisses I had was at Chez Magali in L’Estaque.

Then, for the most delicious navettes, Four des Navettes was unbeatable. Plus, it’s the oldest bakery in Marseille.

4. Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

This is the view of Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde the from Montée Commandant René Valentin. There are steps leading to the church and you can see the main steeple of the church which is topped with a golden statue of the Virgin Mary.
Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

The Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde is easily the most iconic landmark in Marseille. It sits on the highest hill overlooking the city, making it visible from almost everywhere.

The basilica itself is a stunning display of Romanesque-Byzantine architecture. And inside you’ll find intricate mosaics and colorful stained-glass windows.

But for me, the best part was the panoramic view of Marseille from the top.

I took the bus to a stop called Tellène Valentin and from there climbed a set of stairs along Montée Commandant René Valentin. As I walked up, I had a beautiful panorama of the city below and a unique view of the basilica.

5. Calanques National Park

This is a view of the Calanque de Morgiou from the Belvédère de Sugiton. It's an inlet surrounded by limestone cliffs. There are also boats docked at the entrance of the inlet.
Calanque de Morgiou

I’ve been to a lot of national parks in France and, while they were all spectacular, none of them were like Calanques National Park.

Here jagged limestone cliffs drop into the bright blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

You can experience the scenery in several ways. The most popular is on foot. There’s a map at the entrance with all the different trails.

To date, my favorite hike was to the Belvédère de Sugiton. It took me about an hour from the entrance of the park.

From the top, I had a beautiful panorama over the Calanque de Sugiton and the Calanque de Morgiou.

If you’re visiting for the weekend, I recommend adding it to your itinerary.

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

6. Museums

This is scuba diving equipment inside the Cosquer Méditerranée. there is big metal system connected to four tanks that were used to enter the Cosquer Cave.
Cosquer Méditerranée

Marseille boasts an impressive list of museums that cater to a wide range of interests.

Below is a list of my favorite museums that I visited in Marseille:

MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations) explores Mediterranean cultures through exhibits that span history, anthropology, and art.

Helpful Tip: If you visit the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, you’ll also be able to tour Fort Saint-Jean.

Musée des Beaux-Arts showcases a fine collection of European paintings and sculptures from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle offers fascinating insights into the diversity of life on Earth, with exhibits on paleontology and zoology.

Helpful Tip: The Musée des Beaux-Arts and Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle are in the Palais Longchamp.

Musée d’Histoire de Marseille chronicles the city’s past through artifacts like the remains of ancient ships.

Cosquer Méditerranée is a replica of the Cosquer Cave, an underwater grotto off the coast of Marseille. It contains some of the oldest known cave paintings.

7. La Canebière

This is the interior of the Église Saint-Vincent de Paul. There is an aisle leading to the altar with two rows of wooden seats. Then, behind the altar, there are stained glass windows.
Église Saint-Vincent de Paul

La Canebière is Marseille’s iconic high street. It stretches from the Vieux Port to the Église Saint-Vincent de Paul passing grand hotels and gorgeous stone buildings.

It was built in the 17th century, and, at the time, was surrounded by hemp fields, which is where its name, Canebière or Cannabis, comes from.

While shopping is the main attraction here, my favorite site was the Église Saint-Vincent de Paul. It sits at the northern end of the street, which is far quieter than the southern end. It’s a nice peaceful escape from the urban hustle.

8. Savon de Marseille

This is soap from Marseille. I bought it at the boutique from Fer à Cheval. There is a bag of soap in the middle then on either side there is a bar of the soap. In the foreground there are shavings of soap.
Fer à Cheval Soap

Savon de Marseille is a traditional soap that has been made in Marseille for more than 600 years.

The original recipe is made with olive oil, water from the Mediterranean, and alkaline ash from sea plants.

It’s recognized for its purity, gentleness, and effectiveness. It can be used for everything from body wash to laundry detergent and even as a stain remover.

You’ll find shops all around town, but nothing beats a visit to Savonnerie Le Fer à Cheval, the oldest producer of this iconic soap.

I toured their factory and learned about the history of soap and the strict regulations used to protect its authenticity. Then, I stopped by their boutique to pick up a few bars of soap to take home (photo above).

Helpful Tip: For a deeper dive into the cultural significance of this soap, The Marseille Soap Museum is another great place to visit.

9. Markets

This is a photo from Le Vieux Port Fish Market in Marseille. It shows two men standing around a Styrofoam bin of fish covered in water. One of the men is holding up a fish and showing it to the other.
Le Vieux Port Fish Market in Marseille

The first thing I do when I visit a new city in France is head to the local markets. Marseille was no exception.

The city has a variety of markets, each with its own charm and specialties. Some of my favorites include:

  • Le Vieux Port Fish Market – Every morning, fishermen line the quay to sell their fresh catch. It’s lively, colorful, and the perfect place to observe what life is like here.
  • The Noailles Market – This is Marseille’s most colorful market. Here you’ll find spices, teas, fabrics, and foods from around the world. It’s a great place to buy unique souvenirs.
  • Marché de la Plaine – This market is where local artists and craftsmen sell their creations. From handmade jewelry to home decor, it’s full of one-of-a-kind items you won’t find elsewhere.

10. The Marseille Cathedral

This is the high altar inside the Marseille Cathedral. The floor is marble and the altar is surrounded by statues and flowers. In the back there is a golden cross.
The Marseille Cathedral

The Marseille Cathedral (Cathédrale de la Major) was built in the late 19th century and stretches a whopping 142 meters (469 ft) long. That’s as wide as Strasbourg’s renowned Notre-Dame Cathedral is tall.

In fact, it’s one of the largest cathedrals in France and can hold up to 3000 seats!

From the moment I saw it, I was in awe. I was walking along Boulevard Jacques Saade and had the most spectacular panorama view.

The interior was just as impressive. The ceilings seemed to stretch to the sky and the stained-glass windows gave off a beautiful light. But my favorite feature was the high altar. As you can see in the photo I took above, it’s simply stunning.

11. Pastis

This is a bottle of Ricard pasits from Marseille. There is the bottle in the front and behind it is a glass of Ricard pastis.
Ricard Pastis

Pastis is an anise-flavored aperitif that is popular in Marseille and throughout Provence.

Its history dates to the early 20th century, emerging as a popular successor to absinthe after its prohibition in 1915.

The most famous brand is Ricard. It was created by Paul Ricard and has been dubbed the “authentic pastis of Marseille.”

This iconic drink is often enjoyed before a meal and served with water, ice, and sometimes a small snack like olives.

Since I love anise-flavored drinks, I couldn’t pass up the chance to try pastis when I was in Marseille. The combination of flavors and the refreshing taste made it a perfect drink to enjoy on a warm afternoon.

12. Frioul Archipelago

This is a view of the Ratonneau island from the Pomègues island. On the left is the man made breakwater that connects the two islands. There are boats docked in front of it. In the distance there are the cafes and houses aligned along the Quai d'Honneur Île Ratonneau.
Ratonneau Island

The Frioul Archipelago is a cluster of four rugged islands (Pomègues, Ratonneau, If, and Tiboulen) off the coast of Marseille.

Of the four, Pomègues, Ratonneau, and If are the most visited, so I will only cover those below.

Pomègues, the largest of the islands, is perfect for nature lovers and hikers. There are tons of trails, outlook points, and calanques. I hiked the entire length of the island, stopping by Fort de Caveaux and the Calanque de la Crine.

Helpful Tip: There are only two shaded areas here, so bring lots of water and sunscreen. I used SPF 50 and still got sunburned.

Ratonneau is connected to Pomègues by a man-made breakwater. It’s home to Fort Ratonneau, the Calanque de l’Eoube, and the Caroline Hospital. There are also several cafés along Quai d’Honneur Île Ratonneau where you can grab a drink or a bite to eat.

If is the most famous of the four. It’s dominated by the Château d’If, immortalized by Alexandre Dumas in “The Count of Monte Cristo.” This fortress-turned-prison offers guided tours, where you can explore the cells and ramparts.

Helpful Tip: Access to If is weather dependent. If the waves are too strong, all boat tours will be canceled.

13. Stade Vélodrome

This is a view of the Stade Vélodrome from the La Cité Radieuse – Le Corbusier. There is a tree lined street leading to the the stadium. The stadium is a long oval with a opening in the middle. It's surrounded by other buildings.
Stade Vélodrome

The Stade Vélodrome is one of the most famous stadiums in France. It’s also the second-largest stadium in the country and can hold more than 60,000 spectators.

It’s best known as the home of Olympique de Marseille, one of France’s most storied soccer clubs. But, for me, the architecture was its most impressive feature.

It opened in 1937 and has since undergone several transformations to become the modern structure you see today.

You can tour the facility with the Marseille Tourism Office and learn about its history. But, if you want to experience the atmosphere, I recommend going to a soccer game.

Then, for the best view of the stadium, head up to Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse rooftop terrace. That’s where I took the photo above.

14. Vallon des Auffes

This is Vallon des Auffes. It's a small inlet filled with docked boats. In the back there are colorful buildings.
Vallon des Auffes

Vallon des Auffes is a small port hidden beneath the Corniche Président John Fitzgerald Kennedy highway.

It’s surrounded by colorful houses and traditional fishing boats, creating a picture-perfect scene.

I spent quite a few hours wandering around and taking pictures. There are also some great seafood restaurants where you can sample Marseille’s famous bouillabaisse.

Helpful Tip: This area is residential so be respectful of the locals and their privacy.

15. Beaches

This is Prado Beach. I took this photo from a jetty that led to a diving platform so what you're looking at is the beach from the middle of the water. There are buoys in the middle of the water. In this distance there is the sandy beach.
Prado Beach

Marseille boasts some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in France. There are sandy stretches filled with activity, secluded coves, and everything in between.

Plus, they are all free to visit.

Most of the coves or calanques are in the Calanques National Park and the Frioul Archipelago. My favorites were the Calanque de Sugiton and the Calanque de la Crine. Both offer mostly secluded beaches and beautiful blue waters.

But the most famous beach, and my favorite, is Prado Beach. It’s always packed, but the atmosphere was so fun I hardly noticed. If you get there early, you won’t have a problem finding a spot to sunbathe or picnic.

16. Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse

This is the exterior of Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse. It's a long stone building with colorful window sills. the building is surrounded by trees.
Le Corbusier – Cité Radieuse

Designed by the renowned architect Le Corbusier, this modernist building is a must-see in Marseille. It was originally built to address the housing crisis after World War II. But it was far from downtown Marseille, so nobody wanted to move in.

To attract potential residents, other amenities like a doctor’s office, a bakery, and a grocery store were added.

Today, part of the building has been turned into a hotel, and the rest is occupied by retirees.

You can visit on your own or as a guided tour with the Marseille Tourism Office.

While walking around on your own is fun, you won’t be able to see the inside of the apartments. That’s why I booked a guided tour.

I loved learning about the history and hearing stories about the different people who lived there over the years. And the colorful hallways, windowsills, and doors were beyond cool.

17. Palais du Pharo

This is the view from the Palais du Pharo. In shows the Vieux Port in the distance and there are boats entering the harbor. In the distance, thick dark clouds are moving over the port.
View from the Palais du Pharo

Palais du Pharo was built in the mid-19th century by Napoleon III for his wife Empress Eugenie. It initially served as a place of residence and was later transformed into a hospital.

Today, it’s used for cultural events, with its public gardens offering stunning views of Le Vieux Port and Fort Saint-Jean.

I went at sunset as a storm was approaching in the distance and the view was breathtaking. That’s where I took the photo above.

Conclusion: What is Marseille France Famous For?

Marseille is a dynamic city that offers a unique blend of old-world charm and modern-day amenities. From its bustling Vieux Port to its delicious cuisine, there are so many things that this beautiful French city is famous for.

Some of the top highlights include the Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica, Le Vieux Port, and Le Panier.

But what makes Marseille truly special is its diverse population and rich history. With influences from various cultures, it has a unique character that can be seen in its architecture, food, and atmosphere.

It’s one of the main reasons I loved visiting.


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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.

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