Welcome to Marseille, a multicultural melting pot fizzing with creative energy. Life in this port of cool sprawls out from the harbour, taking in Byzantine basilicas, edgy artists’ studios and sweet-scented soaps along the way. In the summer, make a beeline for the Calanques – the jagged cliffs to the south of the city hiding secluded bays. Take a dip in the clear blue waters at Sormiou, Morgiou (a tiny harbour), Sugiton or Port-Pin. They’re hard to access, but worth the extra effort.
By accident or design, you’re bound to find your way to Cours Julien, drawn by its creative energy, exuberant street art and sizzling bar, music and restaurant scenes. Duck into its side streets for bookshops, galleries and boho boutiques. From the hippest hoods to the coolest clobber – and the finest food in town – here’s how to make the most of your stay
Find your bearings atop the Terrasses du Port mall. R2 Rooftop’s huge terrace has panoramic views across the harbour. Then sample Madame Jeanne’s organic, exquisitely presented small plates. We love the natural wines and dramatic foliage. Or try the fried-chickpea speciality at La Boîte à Panisse – with a plate of fish, a pot of aïoli for dipping, and a glass of something chilled. End the night at moody cocktail bar Gaspard with a mean matcha and yuzu margarita.
Start at Notre-Dame de la Garde. Perched high above the harbour, the white limestone basilica is a Neo-Byzantine symbol of the city that can be seen for miles. Tucked between MuCEM and the old port, Le Panier is the city’s oldest quartier. Explore the warren of steep narrow streets, bohemian bars and gentrifying squares, studded with a few surviving historic buildings. Don’t miss an amble around the Vieux Port: for generations, the fishermen and their families have traded the day’s catch at the morning marché de la pêche.
Drop in on Maison Vauban when the munchies hit. This cheerful neighbourhood eatery offers simple, market-fresh lunch dishes. It’s also perfect for an evening apéro and tapas when the action spills out on to the street. For one of the best – and quirkiest – fish restaurants in town, head to La Boîte à Sardine. It’s filled with nautical curios and an impressive collection of sardine tins. Épicerie L’Idéal isn’t just an (ideal) grocery filled with Mediterranean specialities, but also a busy small-plates café – just the thing for a taste of the sud.
Explore the history, art and culture of the Mediterranean basin in a stunning waterside building by Rudy Ricciotti. But there’s more to Marseille’s cultural landscape than the now iconic MuCEM. La Voûte Virgo hosts exhibitions, DJs, and an eclectic line-up of live music. It also has one of the liveliest Sunday brunches in town. Or check out La Friche Belle de Mai, with its exhibition spaces, community gardens, rooftop bar, skatepark and more.
Set aside some time the next morning for a trawl through Marseille’s eclectic boutiques. Set in a former butcher’s shop, Jogging stocks edgy art, fashion and design for the style-mag crowd. Maison Empereur offers traditional clothing and utility wear from the owners of the famed hardware emporium a few doors down. Stop by vintage streetwear trove Maison Mère for rare creps curated by the Sneakers Museum team.
Image credits: © Agnes Mellon, Architectes Rudy Ricciotti et Roland Carta; © Agnes Mellon, Architectes Rudy Ricciotti et Roland Carta; © Grégoire Bernardi; © Grégoire Bernardi; © Grégoire Bernardi; © Grégoire Bernardi; © Grégoire Bernardi