France’s second largest city, and home to a metropolitan population of nearly 2 million people. Marseille is one of the largest cities on the Mediterranean. As the capital of the Provence region, Marseille is an excellent base to explore the south of France.
For many years Marseille has struggled to shake off it’s reputation as an industrial port city. Now visitors are welcomed to a vibrant cultural centre that is blessed with gorgeous weather in the summer months.
When in Marseille, you will find excellent cuisine (you must try bouillabaisse), historic architecture, fantastic shopping opportunities, a diverse gay scene and museums galore.
For gay rights in France, please see our Gay Paris City Guide page.
Unlike Paris, Marseille does not have a defined gay district. Most of the gay venues are scattered throughout the city resulting in a quirky and unique gay scene with its own distinct flavor.
The “tough guy” image attached to Marseille still hangs over the city, so public displays of affection are relatively uncommon. Marseille does, however, host a large and vibrant pride celebration on the first week of July.
Marseille Provence Airport (MRS) is located 27 km away from the city centre and is France’s 5th busiest airport. As well as acting as a hub for flag carrier Air France, the airport offers links throughout Europe and connections to Asia, Africa and the Americas.
You will need to take the free shuttle from Terminal 2 to Marseille Vitrolles where a direct train takes you to Marseille Saint Charles in 15-25 mins. Services run from about 6am until around 10.30pm with more services around rush hour. Singles cost €4.50 and can be bought online, at the airport or at the station.
A direct bus service from Terminal 2 takes you to Marseilles Saint Charles. Journey times are around 25 minutes and leave between 4am and 11.30pm with a waiting time of 15-20 minutes. Singles cost €8.30 and can be bought online or at the counter.
Taxis are available from the airport and to the centre of the city it will cost around €50-60 depending on time of day, the amount of luggage and any tolls on the road. You can book in advance to save time. As always make sure you get in an official taxi to avoid being ripped off.
Marseille Saint Charles is a well connected rail hub with good links to the rest of France. A high speed rail service links Marseille to destinations in Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany Switzerland and the Netherlands. The Eurostar service also links Marseille to the UK.
Marseille is a popular destination for cruises and its port offers scheduled ferry services to Corsica, Sardinia and destinations in North Africa. If luggage free you can walk in half an hour to the centre of town. Joliette is the nearest public transport hub.
Marseille is best explored by foot as only then can you really get a feel for its winding streets. It can, however, be extremely hot in the summer months and the walk up to the old town is quite steep.
By metro, bus and tram
Marseille is incredibly accessible via its integrated public transport system with two metro lines, two tram lines and an extensive bus network getting you where you need to be. Singles cost from €1.60 per hour and day tickets cost €5.20.
Metros run from 5.30am to 10.30pm Monday to Thursday with services extended until half past midnight over the weekend. Trams run from 5am to 1am everyday. Buses run regularly throughout the day with a less frequent night bus service available.
Mostly an experience for tourists, the popular water taxi offers water crossings from Vieux-Port to destinations on the waterfront. Services are hourly and run until later in the summer months (depending on weather forecast). Tickets start from €5 and can only be bought on board.
It is easy to find taxis in Marseille but as with any major city be careful not to be ripped off. Pre-booking is advised to ensure you get the best rate. Most taxi drivers will speak English as well as French.
For some of the best hotel selections, visit our Marseille Hotels page.
Vieux Port – Marseille’s old port has been the city’s focal point for centuries. From here, you can people watch and admire some formidable medieval architecture.
Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde – Marseille’s most prominent landmark. This neo-Byzantine church offers fantastic views over the harbour.
La Canebière – an elegant, almost Parisian boulevard with a multi-cultural feel. Here you will find a vibrant North African community with a fantastic market just off the street.
MuCEM (Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée) – here you can explore the ancient and fascinating history that sprung up around the Mediterranean Sea. The building itself is impressive also.
Le Panier – another wonderfully historic district of Marseille that is great to explore. It really is worth the steep journey up the hill!
Château d’If – historic castle on an island in the harbour just a short ride away by ferry. This island features as a location in Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo.
Musée d’Histoire de Marseille – a great museum to explore Marseille’s vibrant history. This musuem has exhibits stretching back to Roman times.
Villa Méditerranée – an eye catching structure designed by the architect Stefano Boeri in 2013. The building is almost more impressive than the actual museum it hosts.
Marseille enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate for most of the year, with the summer months experiencing scorching temperatures. May through to June is probably the best time to visit as the weather is not so sweltering and there are not so many tourists.
That being said Marseille’s Bastille day celebrations in July are legendary and compared to Northern Europe, winter in Marseille is very pleasant. It is not uncommon to see North European tourists dining alfresco while Marseille residents are wrapped up.
France is a Euro area country. Cash dispensers are widely available. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted. Hotels, banks and some local businesses also operate foreign exchange desks.
Christopher Curtis provides photography workshops, customised guided tours and photo shoots for various events.
Chris is a professional gay photographer from London, who’s now living in France with his partner. They put together travel itineraries for people who want to discover the unseen Provence and the entire region, from Avignon to Marseille, from Montpellier to Nice.