First off. I have heard quite mixed thoughts on this city. I met a Russian girl while studying abroad two years ago who told me that Marseille just wasn’t what she had expected. That she was looking forward to someplace beachy and sunny and pleasant, but that it was dirty and dangerous and disappointing. But I met another girl while studying abroad who told me that Marseille was actually one of her favorite places in all of France. Taking both opinions into account, I still decided to check out it for myself.
My friend and travel buddy Sophia and I hopped on a train from Lyon to Marseille during our February vacation. (There are half-month vacations ever few months in the school in France. Few can complain). Here is our story and maybe a thing or two I would recommend for anyone going to see Marseille. I have to give a big shout-out to Mazen, my housemate’s friend who gave us an unforgettable tour of the city. You’re a great guide and friend!
- Walk in and around Vieux Port There is the old port and the new one. Back in the day, the Vieux Port was the hub for ships coming in and out of Marseille, which is located in south-eastern France at the Mediterranean Sea. Today, you can see many little boats tied to the old port at the docks, and it’s a nice place for a walk and a bite to eat. You can also take a ride on the Ferris wheel for 7 euros. The restaurants along the dock are touristy and pricy though. Farther north, the new port has replaced the old one as a more practical place for welcoming boats and cruise ships.
2. Tea at Teavora In the two nights Sophia and I stayed at Marseille, we went to this tea salon twice. This is how it works: you enter and take off your shoes because you walk on sand! There are no chairs or high tables. You sit on cushions and drink tea. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t get much better for me. The grand selection of tea might give you a hard time narrowing down your pick. The tea is between 3-4.60 euros. You can also order a wrap with chicken, fresh veggies and cheese, or a dessert. The atmosphere is very relaxed, and people just sit and chat. There are candles, mood lighting, tapestries. Often, places that aspire to be fancy exert so much effort into making the front look alluring that they forget to clean their restrooms. But this place is sparkling and even has soft paper napkins –that’s what made me go from liking it to loving it: the bathroom.You might have to make a reservation in advance if it’s before 8pm, but we just came in both times and got a place. It’s also near a tram stop.
- Take a bus to Calanques Yes, there is a lot to see in Marseille. But if you are up for a hike and a stunning view of the Mediterranean, visit Calanques. We took the 21 bus from Place Castellane (direction Luminy) and arrived up on a hill at a university campus. From there, you can take a walk up the hill, take the various trails up the mountains or descend towards the water. We just hiked up the main hill and looked out at the beautiful sea, cliffs and boats.
(There is the regular bus which takes 25-30 minutes from Place Castellane, and there is the Jet bus, which makes only 3 stops, taking around 15)
- Cathedral Notre Dame for sunset We specifically planned our day so that we could make it up to the cathedral for sunset. Once you’re up there you have yet another incredible view of the sea, but you can see the entire city of Marseille. Looking out, I couldn’t stop thinking that the city reminded me of the Bay Area. I had no idea that the city is as hilly as it is. Living in Bordeaux, I am very used to a very flat topography. And then there is a prison reminiscent of Alcatraz because it too is off the bay, on a tiny island.
- Check out this crafty party of town where there is art everywhere. From murals to graffiti to deep writing on the walls.
While in Marseille, Sophia and I stayed at an Airbnb where a nice young couple hosted us. Upon our arrival, the husband sat down with us (with tea!) and traced on a map the places we should hit up while there, given we only had two and a half days. For those of you who have never used Airbnb, I would highly recommend it. Basically, you go on the site, choose the city you want to visit and then browse a bunch of photos of potential places. You can read all the reviews of the hosts, filter price ranges and search by the parts of the city that interest you. We paid about $45 a night (split over two people!). This is more or less how much you might be paying in a hostel, around $23 per night, but I prefer Airbnb. We had our own private room, a shared bathroom and the coolest balcony in town.