department: bouches-du-rhÔne (13)
region: provence-alpes

   Marseille, arguably the oldest city in France, was founded 2,600 years ago by Greeks from Phocaea as a trading port. Today, it is the second largest city in France after Paris, and the centre of the third largest metropolitan area after Paris and Lyon.

The city's main thoroughfare, the wide boulevard called the Canebière, stretches eastward from the Old Port (Vieux Port) to the Réformés quarter. Two large forts flank the entrance to the Old Port – Saint-Nicolas on the south side and Saint-Jean to the north. Further out in the Bay of Marseille is the Frioul archipelago, which comprises four islands, one of which – If – is the location of Château d'If, made famous by the Alexander Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo. The panorama from the old chapel terrace is outstanding.

© ATOUT FRANCE/Franck Charel

The main commercial centre of the city intersects with the Canebière at rue St Ferréol and the Centre Bourse (the main shopping street). The centre has several pedestrianised zones, most notably rue St Ferréol, Cours Julien near the Music Conservatory, the Cours Honoré-d'Estienne-d'Orves off the Old Port, and the area around the Hôtel de Ville.

Marseille has a Mediterranean climate with mild, humid winters and warm to hot, mostly dry summers. December, January and February are the coldest months, averaging temperatures of around 12°C during the day and 4°C at night. July and August are the hottest months, averaging temperatures of around 29°C during the day and 19°C at night. Marseille is known for the Mistral, a harsh cold wind originating in the Rhône valley that occurs mostly in winter and spring. Less frequent is the Sirocco, a hot sand-bearing wind, coming from the Sahara Desert.

La Canebière is the historic high street in the old quarter of Marseille. About a kilometre long, it runs from the Old Port of Marseille to the Réformés quarter. It has been called the Champs-Élysées of Marseille, and is thought to have derived its name from a hemp rope factory. The name 'Canebière' comes from the word Cannabis in Latin, as the area around the Old Port were originally hemp fields and Marseille was one of the world's largest trader of hemp baskets and ropes from the Middle Ages until the 1930s. 

The avenue was built as Marseille expanded in 1666, when King Louis XIV (1638–1715) decided to expand the city of Marseille. During the French Third Republic (1871-1940), it became a haven for high society, with many cafés, luxury hotels and boutiques, and music hall performances. However, it was marred by the assassination of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia on the avenue on October 9, 1934.


To the east, starting in the small fishing village of Callelongue on the outskirts of Marseille and stretching as far as Cassis, are the Calanques, a rugged coastal area interspersed with small fjords. Further east still are the Sainte-Baume, a 1,147m (3,763ft) mountain ridge rising from a forest of deciduous trees, the town of Toulon and the French Riviera. To the north of Marseille, beyond the Garlaban and Etoile mountain ranges, is the 1,011m (3,317ft) Mont Sainte Victoire. To the west of Marseille is the former artists' colony of l'Estaque; further west are the Côte Bleue, the Gulf of Lion and the Camargue region in the Rhône delta.

Marseille was designated as European Capital of Culture in 2013, and is a city that is proud of its differences from the rest of France. Today, it is a regional centre for culture and entertainment with an important opera house, historical and maritime museums, five art galleries and numerous cinemas, clubs, bars and restaurants. Marseille also has a large number of theatres, including la Criée, le Gymnase and the Théâtre Toursky.

© ATOUT FRANCE/François-Xavier Prévot

Marseille has been important in the arts, and has been the birthplace and home of many French writers and poets. The small port of l'Estaque on the far end of the Bay of Marseille became a favourite haunt for artists, including Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne.

A popular local tradition is the making of 'santons', small hand-crafted figurines for the traditional Provençal Christmas crèche. Since 1803, starting on the last Sunday of November, there has been a Santon Fair in Marseille; it is currently held in the Cours d'Estienne d'Orves, a large square off the Vieux-Port.

© ATOUT FRANCE/Michel Angot

Marseille's main cultural attraction was, since its creation at the end of the 18th century and until the late 1970s, the Opéra. Located near the Old Port and the Canebière, at the very heart of the city, its architectural style was comparable to the classical trend found in other opera houses built at the same time in Lyon and Bordeaux. Currently the Opéra de Marseille stages 6 or 7 operas each year. Since 1972 the Ballet National de Marseille has performed at the opera house. In marked contrast, Marseille is also well known in France for its hip hop music. Bands like IAM originated from Marseille and initiated the rap phenomenon in France.

At a culinary level, it is argued across France, that Marseille is the only place that makes authentic bouillabaisse. It behoves you to try it in Marseille, for lunch – but don't expect to be good for anything afterwards apart from sleeping it off!

© ATOUT FRANCE/François-Xavier Prévot


11, la Canebière, 13001 Marseille
Tel: 0826 500 500

getting there

By air
The airport lies to the north-west of the city at Marignane on the Étang de Berre.

Marseille-Provence airport is linked to the city centre by a shuttle that operates every 20 minutes. 

The airport hosts almost 30 airlines, linking 27 countries across the world.

By rail
The railway station – Gare de Marseille Saint-Charles – is north of the Centre Bourse, and linked by the Boulevard d'Athènes to the Canebière. In 2015 a direct service to Marseille was introduced by Eurostar, running from London St Pancras.


The best way of getting around the city is on the Metro - The RTM. Tickets are sold in the form of magnetic cards and are valid for just one trip, a whole day of for several journeys. You can get from one side of the Vieux Port to the other (place aux Huiles to the Hotel de Ville) on the free ferry boat, daily 0900-1900.

City Pass Marseille
The City Pass-Marseille is an all-inclusive pass giving free access to museums, public transport and even a boat trip to the Chateau d'If. Valid for 24 hours).

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