Marseille, France is ranked as the second-largest city in the country by population. It has an interesting past of various migration of people from different parts of the world. Its history dates back to 600 B. C. when a local Gallic girl’s father gave her the city of Marseille as a wedding gift.
Over the years, the port city has dynamically grown and has also had a rough history of crime. This has changed over the years with many migrants who have moved here looking for a city with less hustle and more sun. We take you on a tour of the best things to do in Marseille, France for backpackers.
Old Port of Marseille
One of the places to go in France is the Old Port of Marseille. This port has been a natural harbor for the city since 600 B.C. A wonderful place for a backpacker to just come and sit and watch the views around. The harbor is very beautiful and was fully made pedestrian in 2013. It has large sidewalks and a fish market that opens daily.
A beautiful place to start your tour off with a morning walk before you go touring the rest of the city. The port has many small cafes and shops lined up along the streets. These cafes seem to be built on former warehouses that give the whole area a unique look.
Some of the places not to miss out on when taking a tour of the port include The St. Victor’s Abbey which happens to be one of the oldest places in the area that was formerly a Christian church.
You will also get to see the Phare de Saint Marie lighthouse. And finally, take a tour to the Roman Dock Museum. The museum hosts Roman commercial warehouses that were found during the reconstruction of the port after World War 2. Inside are large jars that were used in ancient Roman times. The museum opens from 11 am to 6 pm and admission is 3 Euros.
Take A Hike Through The Massif des Calanques
One of the things to do in France is taking a hike through the Massif des Calanques. This is a place that goes for up to 20 km and it is situated between the city of Marseille and Cassis. The area consists of rugged and spectacular white limestone.
Here, you will come across several Calanques. Calanques are steep walls found on the Mediterranean coast that have white rocky cliffs that descend onto the sea.
The area can be explored on foot or by car. Also for your convenience, there are local car rentals available. For the budget backpacker, you can enjoy this activity on foot through hiking through the Calanques of Morgiou and Sugiton.
Replenish yourself just before the hour-long hike and carry some packed food. There is a café just at the beginning of the walking route if you choose not to carry packed lunch, you can have your meal here. Carry water as there is also no water available and you will need it for the hike.
Château d’If In Marseille France
Château d’If is a prison situated off the coast of Marseille. It’s one of France’s destinations that is a must-see. The Island has a fortress which was constructed on orders of King Francis in 1516 he thought it would be an ideal place to construct a fort for the city of Marseille to protect the city from enemy attack. The construction of the fort begun in 1524 and was completed in 1531.
The use of the place as a fort never came to pass and it was later converted into a prison in the 1800s. It was believed that it would be difficult for prisoners to escape from the Island. Prisoners in their thousands were housed here between 1800 and 1890 when the prison was closed.
When you visit take the time to go to the old prison and visit the neighboring village. You can also have a picnic and take a swim at the shores of the Island. The rocks in the area are hard and it will be advisable to wear comfortable hiking shoes. In addition, carry plenty of water, swimwear, and sunscreen.
The Island is opened every day of the week except Mondays and opens from 10 am to 5 pm and from April to October, it closes later at 6 pm.
Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
While visiting Marseille one of the places to tour is the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde.
The basilica sits majestically at the highest top of the city of Marseille and for many years, it has been used as a fort. Interestingly, it had been completed in 1864 and was named Notre- Dame meaning ‘Our lady’. The basilica has a 10-meter sculpture of the Virgin Mary which is believed by the residents to be a statue that watches over the city.
Also, the basilica has a small museum inside it that gives a full account of its history. TIf you’re interested in having an amazing time, there is a guided tour available that costs 9 Euros for a ticket. It is one ticket that will take you to and from the basilica using a small tourist train called Petit Train Touristique. The train leaves Vieux Harbour and takes you to the church and back.
Additionally, while riding the train you will see the beautiful waterfront and as you ride you will notice climbing and descending hills. Inside the church is beautiful and you have to prepare yourself for a long stair climb. Also, the entrance is free.
Palais Longchamp In Marseille France
The Palais Longchamp is a monument to marvel at during your tour. The monument has a museum in it and it is surrounded by the Longchamp Park. The monument has a beautiful fountain that can be seen from near and far. The place is largely toured by locals more than tourists.
The museum has a rich and interesting history with captivating artifacts inside it. Here, you will find fossils and samples of flora and fauna. Some of the items inside here are as old as 200 million years. There is also the beaux art museum where you will see art from the 16th century. Taking pictures is not allowed in the museum.
Centre de la Vieille Charite
This is a former charity house that used to accommodate poor people. During the 17th century in France, the poor would be rounded up and taken to almshouses. During the French Revolution, the center was an asylum then later a barracks and then during the Second World War, it was used as low-cost housing for people who lost their homes.
The courtyard and ground floor of the center is free. Admission to the museum is 6 Euros and you can access it free every first Sunday of the month. The place has other floors that contain historical artifacts from places like Egypt and Mexico. The Petite Train also stops over here and while here you can also explore the neighborhood.
The church was built in the 12th century. At one point it was a monastery. The monastery is said to have been built above another basilica which was built in the 5th century.
Inside the church, you will find sculptures of a Roman Soldier named Victor of Marseille who was martyred in the 4th century for publicly condemning the worship of idols.
Inside the church to you will find artifacts that have survived the French Revolution, the First and Second world wars. The church also has tombs which date as far back as the 5th century. To access the tombs costs 2 Euros while general access to the church is free.
Marseille France Calanque d’En-Vau
You may only access this and other Calanques by foot or by sea. This place has spectacular views that you would not want to miss out on. Before you leave though get yourself ready with a good pair of hiking shoes, swimwear, and water to keep you hydrated.
There is a clear hiking trail painted red to let you know you are in the right direction. You can opt to take the hike from Port Miou and then follow the white and red stripes. During your experience you will find other hikers picnicking, taking swims and sunbathing. You will certainly love joining these wonderful experiences.
To continue to see the scenic views you can end your break and continue hiking through the white and red path to the end then come back along the sea on the blue tracks.
The best time to explore this area is between October and June where you can take a dip into the sea. In July to September, you may find the area closed to avoid the risk of fire depending on the weather conditions then.
Hiking the Calanques Sugiton
Another favorite hiking spot is the Calanques Sugiton. What makes this a favorite is a fact that it has many rock formations and dirt paths with no strollers which makes it an interesting place to explore.
If you are adventurers and active then this would be a favorite for you. The trail is about 6km going to and from Sugiton. This park in Marseille France is free to enter however if you get there by car there is a parking fee.
Friche Belle de Mai
The Friche Belle de Mai is a big complex that consists of a restaurant, an art space, a theatre and cinema among other interesting places. This location was a former tobacco factory and rail yard which was converted into a cultural complex in 1992. This is a great place to explore and sample French culture.
Have you been to these attractions in Marseille before? Share with us your experience in the comments below