One day in Marseille is of course not enough to see everything there is to do in France’s second-largest city, however, if you are stopping by on a cruise or you are landing here to explore more of the French Riviera, it’s well worth staying for 24 hours and seeing some of the sights.
This port city has a lot of history, plenty of sights to explore, and of course, plenty of fantastic food to eat.
Despite being quite a sprawling city (which you’ll see at one of the viewpoints on your one day in Marseille!), navigating the tourist sights can pretty easily be done in a short period of time thanks to how close together they all are.
How to Get to Marseille
If you are already in France, you can either take a high-speed train to Marseille from bigger cities like Paris, Leon, or Nice, or if you are entering Marseille from other parts of Europe, you can arrive at the airport.
The main train and bus station in Marseille is Gare de Marseille-Saint-Charles. This is where you will arrive if you are taking the train and you are then only a 10-minute walk to the city’s main pedestrian boulevard.
If you are going to take the train around France, I highly recommend downloading the French transport app SNCF Connect. This app allows you to check train times as well as book tickets. You can then have them on your phone to show to the train staff as they pass through the train car.
This app is good for both local train travel like Marseille to Cassis as well as between major cities and even some international trains like Paris to London on the Eurostar.
If you are arriving by air, you will likely arrive to the Marseille Provence Airport (code: MRS). This is a pretty small airport that mostly services RyanAir and EasyJet flights from around Europe and land in Terminal 2. There are some flights with Air France and British Airways that land in Terminal 1, but the two terminals are right next to each other.
When you enter the arrivals hall, follow signs to the buses. Right outside of Terminal 2 you will see where all of the buses pull up. There is a ticket counter outside where you can purchase tickets directly to Saint-Charles. They cost €10 each way and take about half an hour. The buses leave every 20 minutes.
Getting Around Marseille
Once you are in Marseille, you will be able to explore for most of your one day in Marseille simply on foot. The walk from the train/bus station to the Old Port which is the hub of activity in Marseille, takes about 15-20 minutes. Once there you can walk all around the port to see the different sights.
If you don’t want to do much walking, the bus network in Marseille is excellent, although a bit expensive at about €2 per trip. You can check routes and schedules on the RTM website (they also have an app you can download here for Android and here for Apple).
There is also a metro network in Marseille if you want to explore further afield.
Where to Stay for One Night in Marseille
If you are only staying in Marseille for one day, you will want to be as close to the Old Port as possible because that is where the majority of the things to do in Marseille are located.
I’ve covered all budgets in this list starting with the budget hostel option and finishing with the most stunning boutique hotel with views to really make your trip one to remember.
- Hostel Vertigo Vieux-Port – This hostel is as close as you can get to the port if you are on a budget. The beds cost $35 per night for a four or eight-bed dorm (price varies depending on the time of year). The hostel is very clean, the staff are incredibly friendly, and it’s a great place to stay if you are traveling solo and want to meet other travelers along the way. Book a stay at Hostel Vertigo Vieux-Port here.
- Maisons du Monde Hôtel & Suites – This seems like a hotel that should cost far more than it does. Double rooms can start as low as $140 per night. The rooms are stylish, the design is colorful and fun. For a little bit more, you can enjoy an incredible breakfast or simply stop in the restaurant in the morning for a coffee. The location is perfect only a minute or so walk from the Old Port and close to lots of great restaurants. Book a stay a stay at Maisons du Monde Hôtel & Suites here.
- Hotel Belle-Vue Vieux-Port – And a Belle Vue it is indeed. The rooms here face the port and allow you to watch one of the most stunning sunsets you’ll ever see. For only one night in Marseille, if budget isn’t an issue, this is the place to stay. Many rooms also offer a view of Notre Dame de la Garde, the city’s hilltop church. It’s eco-friendly and breakfast is included each morning. Rooms start at $280 per night. Book a stay at Hotel Belle-Vue Vieux-Port here.
What to Do in One Day in Marseille
As I mentioned above, you can fit quite a lot of things to do in one day in Marseille. These are all of the things that I think you can pack into a one-day Marseille itinerary if you start early enough.
Walk Along La Canebière
If you have just arrived in the city and are coming from Saint-Charles station, you will likely walk down this street to get to the port anyway.
However, it’s well worth walking along this grand boulevard.
In 2013, Marseille was named the European Capital of Culture for the year and it was during that year that, amongst other things happening in the city, this street became pedestrian-only as you come close to the port.
Take in the architecture of buildings from the 17th century, the wide boulevards, and the cafes. It’s the perfect warm-up for all there is to see in Marseille and I think it is such a fun way to start your tour of Marseille.
Explore the Vieux-Port
At the end of La Canebière, you come to Vieux-Port or the Old Port. Stroll underneath the cool L’Ombrière de Norman Foster which is an art piece at the port made of mirrors. It’s a fun little thing to check out and reminded me of the bean in Millennium Park in Chicago.
The Vieux-Port is where the city of Marseille was born. Back in 600 BC, the Greeks arrived at the port. After the Greeks built a city here, it later became an important port in the Roman Empire. It was then the medieval city of Marsiho. It remained an important port in this region of the world until the 19th century.
So much of the city’s history is bound to this port and you can see a small slice of that as you wander around. If you have more time, you can hop on the ferry out to the different islands in the Mediterranean. The beaches here are some of the best in Marseille.
Take in the Views from Fort Saint-Jean
There are two forts at the edge of the Vieux-Port, one on either side which were part of the defenses of the port in the last few centuries.
These two forts were called Saint-Nicolas and Saint-Jean forts. Fort Saint-Jean is on the northern side of the old fort and is the only one that you can currently walk around and explore.
It is free to explore this area and climb up the turret to take in the view of the fort. It is one of the best views of the Old Port without having to head up to the cathedral on the other side of the city.
The fort is also part of the MUCEM, which means that for the price of a ticket, you can also go into some of the exhibition rooms inside the fort.
MUCEM or Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean is a museum right on the edge of the Old Port that is both part of the Fort Saint-Jean and part of a very modern new building which was unveiled in 2013 when Marseille was the European Capital of Culture.
The museum has art exhibits as well as tons of artifacts and information about the history of this region of Europe. As someone who had never been to the Mediterranean region before, it was a really interesting place to start my French Riviera trip.
One of my favorite things about this museum is the architecture. It’s so cool to walk from the old Fort Saint-Jean to the new modern building over a little footbridge and be able to explore the old history of the city as well as see what makes it so special today.
The museum costs €11 and it includes all of the exhibits and collections. You can read more about what the museum has going on during your trip on their website here.
See Cathédrale La Major
As you head away from the Old Port past MUCEM, you will see the city’s cathedral, Cathédrale La Major, also referred to as Cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Majeure.
This is a Catholic Church with a Romano-Byzantine style of architecture.
The cathedral was built in the 19th century and was purposely located in the La Joliette neighborhood so that when ships from around the world were arriving in the new commercial port, they could see the grandeur of Marseille and its cathedral.
It’s well worth taking in the views of the cathedral as you head from MUCEM to get an idea of what that must have been like. The interior of the church is also quite ornate and worth checking out.
Wander the Historical Streets of La Panier
Walking around La Panier was one of my absolute favorite things to do on my one day in Marseille.
La Panier is the oldest neighborhood in Marseille and the narrow streets and colorful shutters are truly magical in that Mediterranean sunshine.
I recommend walking around at lunchtime or later in the day if you want to eat around here. Most things shut for a sort of midday siesta (which is common all over France).
La Panier is a really great place not just for a cafe or lunchtime meal, it’s also where you’ll find some awesome boutique shopping to do. There are places selling locally made jewelry, clothing, swimsuits, shoes, and homewares. I really loved all of the shopping around this neighborhood and would highly recommend it!
Even if you don’t like shopping, the streets of La Panier are well worth exploring.
Visit La Vieille Charité
La Vieille Charité is the old alms house in Marseille that is now a museum.
In 1640, the local government decided that they should build a place for people that couldn’t afford a home to come and have a safe and warm place to live. It took several more decades but eventually in 1671, the first bricks were laid on La Vieille Charité. It was eventually completed in 1749.
Around the complex, you can explore the arches and porticos with a chapel in the middle which is where you’ll find the majority of the museum. It houses the Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology and the Museum of African, Oceanian, and Amerindian Arts which is a pretty cool thing to explore.
If you don’t want to pay to see the museum, you can simply walk around the outside of the chapel and see the architecture. There are also free toilets here which are a rare find in most European cities, so don’t miss out on those!
Climb up to Notre Dame de la Garde
This is the pièce de résistance of Marseille in my opinion and something that should be saved until near the end of your one day in Marseille because you will be pretty tired after all those stairs.
The best way to get to Notre Dame de la Garde is to take bus number 55 from the Old Port until you reach the stop Tellène Valentin. From here you will get off the bus and see the staircase that leads to the entrance of Notre Dame de la Garde. You can pay the bus driver in cash. If you are driving, navigate to this parking lot.
There are a few reasons it’s worth climbing up the stairs to this church. The first reason is the incredible views back over all of Marseille.
The second reason is that there are not many churches that are quite like this one.
I have never been in a church that is so nautically themed. It is the home of the seafarer and the church tells the story of the people who call this city home.
There is a painting of a sailboat over the altar. There are boats hanging from the ceiling. You’ll see lifesavers hanging on the walls alongside tons of photographs and paintings depicting the history of this city.
Watch the Sunset at Plage des Catalans
If you’re here in the summertime, you’ll have plenty of daylight left to sit and watch the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea. The colors at Golden Hour in the port are special, but heading over to the city’s nearest beach, Plage des Catalans is a really nice spot.
You can see the islands that are close to Marseille and are well worth visiting if you have more time at the end of your trip.
You can catch buses 82 or 83 from Hotel de Ville (right in the Old Port) and get off at the stop Le Pharo. From there it’s about a 2-minute walk to the beach. Bring a beer, some snacks, and a blanket or towel.
Have More Time?
If you’ve been to Marseille before and are looking for things to do for one day in Marseille that are a bit different, these are some of the things on my list for a return trip to Marseille.
- Take a Boat Trip to Port du Frioul – This is such a beautiful part of Marseille and a day trip all its own. Ferries run regularly and if you are visiting during the summer, it’s a really amazing beach spot for the day.
- Palais Longchamp – Inside this beautiful park, Parc Longchamp is a stunning palace. This is also where the Museum of Natural History.
- Take a boat trip to the Calanques – If you aren’t heading into the Calanques National Park near Cassis (you should add it to your list, WHAT A TOWN!), then you can take a boat trip there from the Marseille port.
Where to Eat in One Day in Marseille
Of course, even with only one day in Marseille, you’ll need to eat.
It’s all about seafood here, so I’ve listed some of the top-rated spots that are close to the things to do in Marseille on this list.
- Les délices de l’évêché – For a great breakfast option, this bakery does all of the best French pastries you could want as well as bread and cakes.
- Le Pain de l’Opéra – This is such a great little bakery to either have coffee and a croissant or to grab a sandwich to take with you for a lunch on-the-go. They also have salads, wraps, quiches, and pastries.
- Crêperie Bretonne Oil and Wax – This is the fanciest place to have a pancake or crepe. There are crepes, pancakes, blinis, and lots of toppings both sweet and savory. It’s a great option for both breakfast and lunch.
- Le Caveau Du Theatre – A seafood spot with tons of outdoor seating and open for both lunch and dinner.
- Le comptoir aux huiles – Open all day, this is the place to come for lunch or dinner. It’s rare that a restaurant doesn’t close between lunch and dinner, so if you’re like me and love a late lunch/early dinner after exploring, this is a great option. Mostly seafood options, but also a nice selection of meat options, too.
- Le Bouchon Provençal – This is the place to come for regional cuisine. You can have local beef tartare, panisse, and local wines.
Watch a Video of My One Day in Marseille Itinerary