Last updated on July 3rd, 2023 at 12:22 pm

With a distinct culture that differs from any other place in France, the port city of Marseille is well worth a visit either as a standalone city break or as part of a longer road trip across the charms of Provence and this is why we came up with this guide on what to see in Marseille in 2 days.

The oldest city in France. One of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in Europe. The country’s second-largest city by population. An important trading centre since ancient times and the main commercial port of France to this day. Marseille is all this and even more.

Marseille has long been a favourite destination for those seeking fantastic Mediterranean weather with a dash of culture and a hearty helping of architectural splendour. It may not boast the most historic buildings in the country, but it certainly has plenty of Second Empire grandeur.

The city also boasts an irresistibly multicultural ambience that you can’t miss even if you’re spending as little as 2 days in Marseille.Moreover, the outskirts of Marseille are home to some of the finest beaches France has to offer. However, this Marseille in 2 days itinerary focuses on the must-see attractions within the city proper.

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Marseille Travel Tips

Before we get into all the details about how to spend 2 days in Marseille, here’s a short introduction to Marseille to help you plan your visit.

  • Where is Marseille: Marseille is the capital of the historical Provence region. Located on the southern coast of France, it has a prime spot on the Mediterranean Sea, with ferry connections to other fantastic locations like Corsica, Sardinia, Algeria and Tunisia.
  • Best time to visit Marseille: Late spring, before the summer high season.
  • How many days in Marseille: Many would say that one day in Marseille is enough. Yet, two nights is probably about right if you want to get a good feel for the city. However, you can easily add another few days to your long weekend in Marseille. Especially, if you plan to spend some time exploring the surrounding Provencal countryside or the nearby beaches.
  • How to get to Marseille: Marseille has one of the largest international airports in France, served by tons of flights each day. From the airport, you can reach Marseille downtown in half an hour by car or slightly longer using the shuttle. Alternatively, you can travel to Marseille by train or bus from Germany, Belgium, Italy and other Western European countries in under a day.
  • How to get around Marseille: Downtown Marseille is a very compact area. You can easily check out the best of Marseille on foot. That said, the city does boast some steep hills. These can leave you feeling hot and sweaty, especially when the temperature is high. Fortunately, the public transport system is robust and very easy to work out.
  • Where to stay in Marseille: The best area to stay in Marseille is the Old Port. Although we usually favour hotels and Bed & Breakfasts over apartments, it seems that it’s easier to book an apartment in Marseille. Those modern apartments have the perfect location to explore Marseille in 2 days.
  • Is Marseille safe to visit? It’s no secret that Marseille is often regarded as a sketchy port city. After all, which major port city, like Bari, for instance, doesn’t come with a handful of scary stories? That said, if you practise your common sense, stick to the tourist parts away from the city’s notorious northern districts and avoid dark areas at night, you’ll be just fine.
This image shows a panoramic view of the Old Port from La Notre-Dame de la Garde.
Marseille in all its glory

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Marseille in 2 Days: The Best Marseille Itinerary

Day 1: Le Panier & The Old Port

Le Panier and the Old Port are the most historic parts of Marseille – and the most picturesque. The settlement of these areas dates back to the Ancient Greeks. They came in about 600 BC to found the colony of Massalia – a name Greeks still use to refer to Marseille.

While little of this early civilisation remains except for a few crumbling foundations and walls, the subsequent streets that have sprung up on the spot are a maze of postcard-perfect scenes.

Wander The Streets of Le Panier

Marseille’s oldest district is known as Le Panier (French for The Basket). This is perhaps due to the tightly woven sequence of alleyways that link the quarter together. Another theory is that there used to be a popular inn of that name at the heart of the area. 

Any Marseille itinerary should begin here because it’s easily the most enchanting part of the city, filled with sandy-coloured houses. Le Panier is also one of the best places in Marseille to buy the famous Marseille soap. This is the city’s signature product, manufactured in Marseille for centuries on end.

What sets Le Panier apart from the other quaint old quarters that fill the towns of France is the way it’s managed to maintain a traditional village vibe at the same time as becoming a hub for modern art. Sprawling murals pop up around every corner to the extent that you can even join a walking tour around the most notable frescoes.

This image shows a street art mural in Le Panier that shows four local men playing card games with a panoramic view of the city in the background.
Street art in Le Panier or Marseille Old Town

Yet Le Panier is not without its fair share of Marseille sightseeing spots either. Here are a few suggestions:

Hotel Dieu InterContinental Marseille

Now known as InterContinental Marseille, Hotel Dieu was at one time Marseille’s preeminent hospital. The current building dates from the mid-18th century. It has a fabulous outdoor terrace where you can enjoy a drink or some food, accompanied by a stunning view that looks out onto the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica.

This image shows the main facade of the Intercontinental Hotel Dieu.
The imposing Hotel Dieu
Les Navettes des Accoules

Just a short walk down the road from Hotel Dieu is this biscuiterie, famous for making a Marseillais speciality: navettes. These sweet biscuits are made in the shape of boats. They traditionally feature orange blossom to give them a light, floral flavour. For foodies and everyone with a sweet tooth, trying the famous navettes is one of the top things to do in Marseille.

This image shows Maria posing behind a stand of Les Navettes des Accoules while holding a bag full of sweet biscuits.
Of course, we tried the famous navettes of Marseille
Place des Moulins

Place des Moulins once featured 15 windmills. Although you’ll have to look hard, you can still spot the three remaining ones that have been incorporated into homes. Mainly, though, this historic square is just a nice enough place to park up with your navettes and indulge in people-watching. 

This image shows one of the windmills incorporated in a building on Place des Moulins, one of the best places to visit in Marseille in 2 days.
One of the remaining windmills on Place de Moulins
La Vieille Charité

Probably the most impressive building in Le Panier, La Vieille Charité was built in the 1600s and 1700s as a refuge for the poor. Well, that was the original plan.

By the time it opened – after some pretty extensive delays caused by municipal bureaucracy – it functioned more as a place to lock away beggars, vagrants and anybody else who was unfortunate enough not to have much money, making them work for their keep.

Problematic history aside, the building is a monument to the genius of the architect Pierre Puget, a native of Marseille. He also designed the Halle de Puget covered market space, where fishmongers and butchers once plied their trade. Today, La Vieille Charité functions as a collection of museums, with the domed chapel sitting ostentatiously right at the centre.

This image shows the domed chapel in La Vieille Charite, one of the buildings you must see in Marseille in 2 days.
La Vieille Charité on a sunny day
Cathédrale de La Major

Cathédrale de La Major is Marseille’s most important place of worship – and a big, beautiful building, too. The exterior is particularly impressive, mixing Byzantine elements – in particular the striped stone towers – with more traditional Roman ideas.

Construction began during the Second Empire, under the reign of Napoleon III. However, it took from 1852 to 1896 for the whole thing to be completed. Hardly surprisingly, given its grand size.

This image shows the Cathedrale de la Major.
Marseille’s eye-catching Cathedral
MuCEM & Fort Saint-Jean

If you only visit one museum in Marseille, make it the Musee des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Mediterranee. That’s the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations to non-Francophones. 

The MuCEM lays claim to being one of the most striking modern pieces of architecture in Marseille. Inside the glass cube, you’ll find an interesting permanent exhibition and temporary exhibitions that focus on the common fates of the Mediterranean people. However, for many, the building itself and its setting on the sea is what makes the MuCEM a must-see. 

You can book your skip-the-line tickets for the MuCEM here.

This image shows people relaxing at the rooftop terrace at the MuCEM.
Incredible architecture at the MuCEM

Part of the MuCEM includes Fort Saint Jean, which is linked to the main area by a footbridge. This impressive defensive structure was originally built by Louis XIV in the 1600s. It has since been upgraded and embellished with further ferocious additions.

This image shows a panoramic view of MuCEM and the footbridge that connects MuCEM and Fort Saint Jean.
A perfect blend of old and new architecture

Notre-Dame de La Garde

As you wander the streets of Le Panier, you can’t help but notice the Notre-Dame de La Garde watching over you from its prime position on top of the limestone outcrop that dominates Marseille. 

If the thought of scrambling up to this point – especially in the fiery heat of a South of France summer – leaves you feeling faint, there are numerous public transport options to get you to the summit. The most family-friendly of these is Le Petit Train, aka The Little Train. It runs every few minutes from the Old Port. The fun train’s starting point is this one.

This image shows a panoramic view of the Old Port and La Notre-Dame de la Garde.
The basilica overlooking the Old Port of Marseille

However, it’s worth noting that in high season this touristy transportation can get pretty busy. Instead, it’s easier just to hop on Bus 60. The bus runs from the same location, using a simple public transportation ticket. Likewise, you can get there with the Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus. Notre-Dame de la Garde is one of the stops along its route.

Another thing that sounds pretty cool is to take a Segway tour around the town. It will lead you up to Notre-Dame de La Garde – among many other Marseille tourist attractions – though on a bit of a tighter schedule.

Designed in a similar style (and at a similar time) to the Cathedral of Marseille, there are a couple of things – aside from the location, obviously – that set Notre-Dame de la Garde apart from its larger sibling. The first is the shiny golden statue of the Madonna and Child, which crowns the 41-metre-high bell tower. The second is the amazing mosaics, carefully restored, that line the inside of the basilica.

Read here for more information and the opening hours of the Notre-Dame de la Garde.

This image shows La Notre-Dame de la Garde and its shiny golden statue on the bell tower.
Can a church be more photogenic than this?

Abbaye de Saint-Victor

After you’ve spent a good amount of time marvelling at the wonders of Notre-Dame de la Garde, head back down to the Old Port and another landmark of Marseille: the Abbaye de Saint-Victor.

You could easily mistake this religious structure for a castle because it has some fairly formidable walls and crenellated towers guarding the millennium-old basilica. There’s also an eerie crypt that contains medieval sarcophagi.

This image shows the Abbaye de Saint-Victor.
The impressive Abbaye de Saint-Victor

Palais du Pharo

A 15-minute walk from the Abbaye de Saint-Victor, the Palais du Pharo is another grand piece of architecture that owes its existence to the building-mad brain of Napoleon III. Sauntering through the grounds of the Palais du Pharo offers spectacular views of the harbour and the Mediterranean Sea

This image shows the Palais du Pharo as seen from onboard the ferry.
Old-world charm at its best

The Old Port (Vieux Port)

Finish your first day in Marseille with a stroll along the Old Port waterfront, where you can find plenty of restaurants to eat dinner with the gently rocking sailboats in sight. And, of course, don’t miss a walk under the mirror roof of the Ombriere de Norman Foster where local hip-hop dancers show off their talents before the eyes of stunned onlookers.

This image shows the reflection on the mirror roof of the Ombriere de Norman Foster of people walking in the Old Port.
No, we didn’t post the photo upside down; that’s the reflection of life going by under the mirror roof of the Ombriere de Norman Foster

Day 2: A Day on The Sea

Undoubtedly, one of Marseille’s biggest draws is its proximity to the sea. This is why your second of 2 days in Marseille should be spent mostly on or by the sea.

Chateau d’If & The Frioul Islands

For lovers of literature, there is one place that absolutely has to be included on a list of what to do in Marseille: Chateau d’If. It’s here that Alexandre Dumas’ great fictional hero, The Count of Monte Cristo, was wrongfully imprisoned for 14 years, before eventually escaping to craft his laborious revenge plot.

Art imitates reality. Chateau d’If was indeed a prison for many years after it was converted from its original purpose as a defensive fortress. Today, you can check out the various cells that housed real-life criminals, revolutionaries and other people the authorities wanted to be sealed away. That makes for an occasionally gruesome but always interesting history lesson.

Similar to Chateau d’If, Bourtzi Fortress in Nafplio Greece is another island fortress in Europe. You can read everything about Nafplio here.

This image shows the view of Marseille and Notre-Dame de La Garde from the top of the Chateau d'If, probably the top place to visit in Marseille in 2 days.
View of Marseille from Chateau d’If, one of the best places to visit in Marseille in 2 days

Chateau d’If sits on its own little island – the smallest of the four that comprise the Frioul Archipelago. Therefore, it can only be reached by boat.

The best way to get to Chateau d’If is by the Frioul-If-Express ferries. They run from the Old Port to the Frioul Islands and Chateau d’If – weather permitting. Keep in mind that you may have to brace for some fairly long queues to get your tickets. However, you can plan your trip to Chateau d’ If in advance and buy your tickets the previous day.

You can also extend your trip and explore the other islands that make up the Frioul Archipelago: Pomegue, Ratonneau and Tiboulen. The larger islands of Pomegue and Ratonneau are linked by a causeway. Once you hop off the boat at Port Frioul on Ratonneau Island, you can spend a leisurely amount of time snorkelling, swimming and hiking, in a landscape dotted with hidden coves and scenic ruins.

Check out the ferries schedule to Chateau d’If and the Frioul Islands here.

This image shows Chateau d'If as seen from the ferry. A colourful boat sails in front of the island.
The Frioul Archipelago is ideal for a boat trip from Marseille

Palais Longchamp

You could easily spend the entire day lounging on the islands and bathing in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet, if you’re eager to check out a couple more of Marseille attractions, make a trip back inland to the Palais Longchamp

This neoclassical beauty offers the cooling sight of an elaborate fountain with waterfalls at its heart. The two wings that frame the water feature a museum each. The Musee des Beaux-Arts, which contains some paintings and sculptures by French masters, and the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de Marseille (Natural History Museum of Marseille).

Cours Julien

If you still have a little time left at the tail end of your 48 hours in Marseille, descend from Palais Longchamp to Cours Julien, a little enclave of artistic creators and indie boutiques. Cours Julien is famous for being one of the trendiest, hippest parts of Marseille. Its colourful streets explode with vibrant murals. These are complemented by some of the city’s finest bars and buzziest nightlife.

Make sure not to miss the Instagram-famous rainbow-hued staircase. The latter connects Cours Julien to the Old Port. You can then pick one of the area’s lively restaurants for your last dinner in Marseille.

This image shows a pasta dish with spinach and cheese.
We never say no to a delicious dish of pasta and the quaint restaurants at Cours Julien didn’t disappoint

Alternatively, if the weather is good, you can wrap up your 2-day Marseille itinerary in style by enjoying dinner on a harbour cruise, watching the sun sink below the horizon as you chow down on a buffet from the deck of a catamaran.

So, Is Marseille Worth Visiting?

Marseille might not be as popular as other destinations in France, such as Paris or the French Riviera. Yet, it’s an amazing place to escape to if you want to fill your eyes with the dazzling blue of the Mediterranean Sea and feel the vibes of a cultural melting pot like no other.

And if this Marseille in 2 days trip leaves you hungry for more, Marseille can be the perfect base for a unique road trip across the dreamy Provence region.

WORDS: Maria & Katerina
IMAGES: Katerina

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