As beautiful and amazing as a visit is France is not a really cheap travel destination for travelers. Marseilles, the second largest city in France, should not be an exception. My challenge was to make my visit to Marseille part of a one-month trip to France as budget-friendly as possible. While I’m sure there are attractions worth your money, I managed to find plenty of free activities during my trip to Marseille.
What is great is that Marseille really convinced me, even though I stuck to free attractions. I was preparing to dislike the city because it had a reputation for being pretty bleak. A day later in Marseille sightseeing and I can’t wait to go back there. I am now saying that a day is certainly not long enough and I have no doubt that there are attractions that are worth paying for. These are just my Marseille travel tips for those on a budget who want to spend a day in Marseille and save money.
Marvel at the Longchamp Palace
Let’s start with the Palais Longchamp, the first attraction that I saw and that immediately excited me. This palace is on a beautiful boulevard right next to my Airbnb and is a real sight. The building is more of a monument than a real palace and houses two museums. But it is really the extravagant fountains, stairs and balconies that should not be missed.
This section is known as C.Hâteau d’eau or “moated castle” and is at the level of size that you are surprised that it is even real. I kept coming back here for lunch, for example, because it’s just so monumental and elegant. During my visits, I saw a couple taking wedding photos here and models doing a photo shoot, which wasn’t a big surprise given the backdrop.
See the views from Pharo Palace
After a long walk through the city center, the next one was the Pharo Palace. The palace is located behind a small park on a peninsula and occupies an important place near the entrance to the Old Port. It seems the palace is more of a wedding venue outside these days than I was there. The big attraction, however, are the many magnificent viewpoints on the cliffs, from which you can look in different directions. Based on the number of people here, it seems to be a popular place, especially among locals.
Stroll along the old harbor
While other cities have a large place as a spiritual center, Marseille has its old port. This large, sheltered harbor is surrounded on three sides by the city and offers lively riverside areas. Today it functions as a huge marina for hundreds of sailing boats and yachts, with endless rows of masts that fill the room.
But the waterfront is no less busy, with people everywhere, and many queue up for ferries and boat trips. As fascinating as it is to look past the boats, you also want to pay some attention to the architecture. This city bag is full of classic buildings, especially near the town hall. The crowds here in the Old Port will really not bother you, because there is just so much to see.
Find street art in Le Panier
Without exploring a lot of plan, it was pure luck that led me to the neighborhood that was named Le Panier north of the port. When I went to the town hall I noticed one by one. A building led to a street that led to a staircase. Before I knew it, I was deep in this labyrinth of narrow streets that form the oldest part of Marseille. To be clear, this is a very popular area with tourists – I just accidentally ended up there.
What makes this area really attractive to tourists these days is street art everywhere. Yes, there are restaurants, boutiques and the renowned La Vieille Charité cultural center. But none of them seemed to catch the attention of my fellow travelers as much as the lively Instagram feed, I mean street art. Don’t expect it to be easy to take photos here, as you can meet many other tourists in the off-season as in November have to fight.
Take a look at Marseille Cathedral
A landmark that is guaranteed to be on any itinerary for a day in Marseille is the massive Marseille Cathedral. Even when the front was covered with scaffolding, it was clear how grand and important the cathedral is. Although the Byzantine architecture and size date back to the 19th century and replace an older building, it’s hard to ignore. Then there is the inside made of marble and other precious stones. Oddly enough, the main hall is lined with flags and banners, which is not an ad you would expect.
Visit the gardens at Fort Saint-Jean
Is it strange that I recommend you go somewhere because it smells good? Frankly, that’s part of the reason why I’m suggesting you go to Fort Saint-Jean. This large stone fortress overlooks the entrance to the Old Harbor and dates from the days of Louis XIV. And yet I remember most of the smells from the fortress gardens.
Big cities like Marseille rarely smell good, but the gardens of Fort Saint-Jean certainly do. Various herbs and other aromatic plants pamper your nostrils as you walk from one vantage point to the other on the fortifications. Sure, the views are phenomenal, like so many places on this list. But this is definitely the best smelling part of Marseille.
See the Saint-Victor Abbey
Marseille is home to some monumental sights, but a smaller one that still impresses is the Saint-Victor Abbey. Although it is no longer an abbey, it is still an atmospheric historical landmark. The original abbey is said to date from AD 415, although it went through several cycles of destruction and renewal. Apparently the monks behaved so notoriously bad here that they were turned into a church at the Pope’s command! A visit won’t really inform you of these details, but thanks to the worn stone and the dark interior, you will get an impression of its vintage.
Hike to the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
If you do one with your day in Marseille, take a trip to the Basilica of Marseille. Its full name is the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde and it is located on a hill south of the city center. It is visible across the city and of course also offers an impeccable view across the city. The walk from the port to the basilica is a short walk away, but the climb is definitely worth it.
The basilica makes an immediate impression when you are close enough to see its details. The gold leaf statue of Madonna and Child, which cannot be seen from afar, immediately attracts you. Wait until you catch a glimpse of the main church and its lavish Byzantine decorations. The basilica is divided into two levels, including a crypt and a glamorous upper church, which you both want to see.
Then of course there is the view. From the basilica viewpoint, you can see all of Marseille at once. The panorama extends directly from Palais Longchamp to the old port and to the island and the Chateau d’If. I am disappointed that I did not visit Château d’If because I love the movie The Count of Monte Cristo, but the view must be enough.
Travel tips for a visit to Marseille
At this point, you’re probably wondering how it’s possible that all of this is free. Believe it or not, it is. Of course that’s when you choose to go everywhere like me, but I was exhausted in the end. Marseille actually has a public transport network consisting of metro lines, buses and trams. So this could be a good investment.
To get to Marseille you have the choice between train or bus. Take the TGV from Avignon was a pretty quick and comfortable ride, but one of the rare train trips I did in France. I honestly found out Flixbus A far more reliable and cheaper option, although I prefer train travel.
Last but not least, there is accommodation in Marseille. Like most of my trips through France, I found a vacant room stay with Airbnb and had some great hosts. Not that it doesn’t exist Hostels and Hotels in MarseilleIt’s just the good ones that were often outside my price range. If you want to travel this way, definitely plan a little more for accommodation.
Have you ever wanted to visit Marseille in the south of France? What travel tips for Marseille would you recommend to visitors who want to spend a day in Marseille? Please share your thoughts in the comments below
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