Marseille is Provence’s main city and the western gateway to the French Riviera. Established by the Ancient Greeks as a trading port, France’s oldest and second largest city is today a regional centre of culture and entertainment. As one of the top helicopter companies in France, Skycam can transport you to Marseille quickly and easily from any of the Côte d’Azur towns, so you don’t waste time stuck in heavy traffic. You will have more time to explore the city and attractions including an opera house, maritime museums, gourmet restaurants and five art galleries. Here are our favourite picks for things to do in Marseille.
Marseille’s Old Port is a vibrant harbour backed with fishing boats, yachts and seafood restaurants. The harbour is flanked on each side by the Fort Saint-Nicolas and the Fort Saint-Jean. Fishermen sell their catch on the quayside, which has been regenerated into a pedestrianised civic space for performances and informal events. L’Ombrière, a ceiling mirror designed by renowned architect Sir Norman Foster as an outdoor area of shade, is a striking contemporary feature of the port.
Le Panier is Marseille’s oldest quarter and the site of its original Greek settlement, just inland from the Vieux Port. It was destroyed in World War II, with only a few buildings spared. Le Panier was rebuilt and is now an arty neighbourhood where history, diversity and creativity abound in its sun-soaked squares and narrow alleyways.
As a melting pot of influences from Catalonia, Italy, the French West Indies, Vietnam and beyond, Le Panier has managed to retain its character and community feel; old charcuteries and grocers share street space with design studios and hip new galleries. Strolling the lanes to check out artisan craft shops, boutiques and workshops is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Marseille. Place de Lenche is a lively square on the site of a Greek agora and a top spot for lazy afternoons dining and drinking at one of the terrace cafes.
Located at the highest point in Marseille, La Garde (162 metres), this basilica offers sweeping 360-degree panoramic views of the city’s terracotta roofs, islands and limestone cliffs and is at the top of most people’s list of things to do in Marseille. Inside the opulent 19th-century Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica, there are coloured marble designs, murals of ships and boats and mosaics. A 10-metre tall gilded statue of the Virgin Mary sits atop the bell tower. The basilica is a one-kilometre walk from the Old Port, but the tourist train also stops here.
Marseille has such a rich heritage that plenty of museums are needed to showcase it all. The MUCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) is located right on the harbour and a big draw for its architecture and design alone when it was inaugurated as part of the 2013 Capital of Culture project. Its interdisciplinary exhibits combine art, history, geography, and sociology, but people also love the space for its views of the old city and port.
The Marseille History Museum is also near the harbour and has the remains of an ancient Greek Port on its grounds. It offers a deeper insight into the city’s fortunes and misfortunes, while the nearby Museum of Navy & Economy covers the city’s maritime past. The Vieille Charité is a lovingly restored former 17th-century hospice that houses a collection of artefacts from Rome, Greece and the Near East, as well as a cultural centre, research units and art galleries.
Marseille’s five-kilometre stretch of the Corniche coastal road that meanders along the Riviera grants access to a number of rocky coves and sandy beaches. Stop at the Vallon des Auffes, a traditional fishing port 2.5 km south-west of the Vieux Port on the Corniche Kennedy. The picturesque inlet is backed by small cliffs on either side and packed with multi-coloured huts and restaurants serving Marseille’s signature dish, a Provençal fish stew called bouillabaisse.
If you would like to experience Marseille for yourself, even for a day, please contact us to find out more about our comfortable and convenient helicopter flights in the South of France.