So, you might have seen some cheap flights and thought to yourself: carpe diem man, I’m going to Marseille. Then you realise that you’ve just booked a stay in the south of France in winter.
Marseille, with it’s amazing live music, street food, the calanques with clear blue water and cliffs to dive off of — all not really great when the temperature drops below 10°.
The Vieux Port
But fear not, I lived in Marseille at the beginning of the year and can give you the best tips on what to do there in the colder months. I was working in a hostel there called Hello Marseille Hostel. If you’re in Marseille and looking to stay in a cheap hostel, this is the one. It’s really small and all on one level, so you meet people easily. Volunteers run the hostel in a sort of self-managed team. The team puts on communal dinners a few times a week where you can meet other travellers as well. It’s a great atmosphere all around, even if the hostel is a bit old and run down. Working there was as great as it sounds, just three months of occasionally working and otherwise hanging out with travellers from all over the place and discovering the city.
View from the hostel’s balcony
My favourite places in Marseille
This lovely old quarter of the city is just next to the Vieux Port, so you can’t miss it. My favourite thing to do was to get a cup of tea at a place literally called Cup of Tea that’s just outside the Panier. They’ve got a crazy selection of teas and you get a big pot for only 3 or 4€. The decoration inside is all dark wood, records on the wall and bookshelves filled with french classics, most of which you can buy too. You just walk past the Hotel de Ville (if you watch the series Marseille, you’ll recognise it immediately) towards the impressive Intercontinental Hotel, turn left and you’re there. You’d better check the Facebook page for opening times though, because the owners tend to open when they please. It’s shut on Sundays as well.
The Hotel de Ville
After you’ve filled up on tea and cake, it’s time to take a steep road up into the Panier. The Panier is all about artists studios, handcrafted jewelery, street art and pastis. I especially liked going to La Vieille Charité. It’s a cultural centre in an old baroque building with art and history museums, a cinema and a café.
In the Panier, there are several traditional french bars. Most notably, the Bar de 13 Coins, which was the model for a bar in the famous french telenovela “Plus belle la vie”.
You can sit in one of these bars, sip pastis and just people-watch. A few minutes in you will realise that pastis is disgusting and everyone walking by thinks you’re a creep, which is when it’s time to move on. You then walk through the Panier towards the sea and reach the Cathédrale La Major. It’s a huge, striped cathedral overlooking the modern harbour. Don’t confuse it with Notre Dame de la Garde though, that’s the one on the hill.
Some friends in Marseille for a visit
If you still have time in your day, you should then go down to the Musée de Mediterranée. I can’t say that the exhibitions are especially interesting, an hour spent is probably enough. That being said, if you’re interested in Mediterranean culture this museum has the largest collection of any media on the Mediterranean region. The building is really remarkable, as well. From the top of the modern building you cross to the Fort Saint-Jean via a long bridge over the sea. From the tower in the old fort you get the second best view on Marseille, the first being from Notre Dame de La Garde of course.
Fort Saint-Jean, as seen from the sea. The black long thing on the left is the bridge connecting it to the museum.
View from the tower
The Arabian Market:
The Arabian Market is just off the Canébiere, which is the main street running from the Vieux Port straight through the centre of Marseille. The first thing to do when you get there is to have a large slice of pizza for 1€. The pizza is delicious and food is expensive in France, so even if it tasted like cardboard it’d be worth it.
If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen and want to cook your own meals, this is the best place to get fresh fruit and veg. It’s cheaper than in supermarkets, and if you’re one of those people with the ability to haggle you can get it even cheaper. There is a great café with colourful tiles that sells sweet mint tea and a huge selection of Arabic sweets. They often have rosewater in them, which to me just tastes like soap. Otherwise, they’re sugary, tasty delights.
Not the best picture of me… also, this was taken when I was there in the summer
Cours Julien is the best place to be in the summer. Graffiti on every wall, open air gigs, bars and restaurants and lots of handcrafted jewelery or clothing. In the winter, I have to say it’s a great place to go for a beer and to walk around the streets and shops, but it’s not the hub it is in the summer. Still worth a visit though, especially for some great and cheap burritos at Un Mexicain à Marseille. They have vegan options and a burrito is only 5€! Next door is a live music venue called Le Molotov, so you can probably just spend a whole night on that square.
Isle Frioul and Chateau D’If
The very best thing about Marseille is that you can just take a ferry and be on a little island within half an hour. What I always did was take the ferry after 5pm, when the evening pricing starts. That way you have enough of the sun to enjoy the island, but can also see the sunset. The boat ride to the island gives you a spectacular view of Marseille and the Chateau d’If. On another day, you can stop at Chauteau d’If as well and read all about the history (actual and fictional) of the old prison island. The Count of Monte Cristo isn’t the only book featuring the chateau. An amusing fact is that when Alexandre Dumas’ book became really famous and the island was opened for visiting, they dug a tunnel so that a cell looked like Dantès’ would have!
Palais du Pharo (there is a nice park around the palace, too)
The tiny harbour of Isle de Frioul
Cliffs all along the island
Notre Dame de la Garde
All you really need to know about this is that the view from up there is the best I’ve seen of any city (except Skybar in Bangkok). Before taking the strenuous walk up to there though, why don’t you strengthen yourself in the Patisserie Sylvain Depuichaffray around the corner from Hello Marseille Hostel.
Also, when you get to the church you should walk past it and to the cliffs. From there you have an unobstructed view of the city and sea. If you wish, you can even walk down that side of the hill to get to the sea.
You can see the two islands in the background
This is where I am ending the post, even though there are so many more things I could talk about! For example: taking a walk along the road that runs by the sea, Palais Longchamp, the Cité radieuse by Le Corbusier, numerous tea shops, bars and restaurants I went to, Friche la Belle de Mai etc. etc.
If you’d like any more recommendations, don’t hesitate to ask! I am impressed if you made it to the end. Thanks for reading!