Marseille!!! “Why would you want to visit there?”. That was the first response l got from a friend when l told them we were visiting Marseille. Other responses ranged from indifference to concern for our safety. A couple of friends from Bordeaux were proud to tell me that they would never go there…insane! Everyone had an opinion, none good. A more timid couple might have been intimidated. Instead, it made us even more eager to visit this old port city. I can tell you without a doubt that you should ignore the naysayers and visit this absolutely beautiful city.
Marseille is the second largest city behind Paris, and it’s oldest. It also has its largest commercial port. It is visited by over 2.5 million tourists yearly, including almost a million via cruise ships. We went with Ryanair, one of the low-cost European airlines. We rented a lovely apartment that we found on Airbnb. It was located in the Vieux-Port (Old Port) area. We had no problem navigating the city’s Metro system from the airport and were in the city within an hour.
The Old Port is just stunning for a lack of better word. The marina is dotted with lovely little fishing boats and sightseeing cruise boats. There is a lively fish market at the port and impromptu stalls set up with merchants selling their catch of the day to customers who eat whilst standing. Dozens of cafes and restaurants are all along the main street, serving everything from sushi to fast food and typical french food. We had great bouillabaisse, one of the specialties of Marseille cuisine. We never once felt unsafe while in the city. As with anywhere else, one should take normal precautions. Crimes of opportunity are everywhere and I am sure Marseille is no exception. The flat was about 6 blocks from the Old Port and we walked everywhere, even at night in the dark deserted streets and we never felt vulnerable. The people of Marseille are very friendly. My very basic french got us a lot of smiles and helpful information from the locals as to where to eat, like a little hole in the wall tapas place. It’s obvious they take pride in their city and are happy to welcome visitors.
I would suggest buying a Marseille City Pass if you visit. We purchased a 48-hour pass at a cost of €31 each. It sounds pricy, but it was definitely worth it. This pass gets you free rides on the whole transport system, buses and Metro, and ride we did. We love getting lost on purpose and not have to worry about change etc for the bus or train. It also gets you into a bunch of free museums like the Museum of Natural History, Museum of African Art, Modern Art museum. We also loved the fact that we got a free boat ride and admission to either the Chateau d’If or Frioul Islands. We chose the Chateau as we are big fans of “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas. It was nice to skip the line once on the island and be ushered in with our city pass. In addition, you get a ride of the little tourist train that takes you up the hill to the Notre Dame Cathedral from where you have the most awesome view of Marseille. We purchased our passes at the tourist office at the Vieux-Port.
Marseille was chosen as the European Capital of Culture 2013. Well deserved, there are so many things to do and see here. There is a fine Opera House. Loads of theaters, the small fjords stretching from Calanques to Cassis, and of course the famous football team Olympique de Marseille. In June, there is the Fete de la Musique festival with free concerts. There is also a yearly Gay Pride festival. The Bay of Marseille area, l’estaque used to be a favorite hangout of artists like Cezanne and one of my personal favorites, Renoir. I mean, how cool is that? The Longchamps Palace is also worth seeing, and your pass gets you free entrance to the Grobet-Labadie museum right opposite it. Forget everything negative you’ve heard about Marseille. Just visit!!! You won’t be sorry.