Anne’s Essential Marseille : 5 walks

Over the past few months, I’ve had the great fortune of hosting friends and family in Marseille! During these visits, I developed a route that would take us through all of the “essentials” of the city: tourism sites, local culture, boats, beaches, etc. I decided to put all my favorites on a Google map, so you too can experience my personal Marseille tour in five walks. If you want to see everything on the map, you’ll need two or three days — unless you wake up at the crack of dawn and power walk your way through everything. But I don’t really recommend that…

Walk I: Le Cours Julien to the Vieux Port

This is always the first walk I take my guests on because I live near the very cool, bohemian neighborhood of Cours Julien, hence it’s always our de facto starting point. Here, the alleys are filled with local boutiques, restaurants and bars, and the walls are covered with ever-changing street art. I also love to take my guests through the Marché de Noailles, a daily food market in a busy and colorful North African quarter in the heart of central Marseille.

Click for full walking directions

Head up rue des Trois Mages towards Place Jean Jaurès. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, spend some time wandering the huge Marché de la Plaine open air market that sells all manner of things from produce to trinkets to clothes, mattresses, cookware and more. Turn right onto rue Andre Piogglioli and then take a right at rue des Trois Rois. While ogling the street art, take a left on any one of the perpendicular streets; my favorite is rue Pastoret because of its colorful decorations and whimsical boutiques. This will lead you to the main square of Cours Julien. Stop for a coffee or ice cream at Ego, or head across the square to the Cours Julien Staircase. After a photo or two, head down the stairs and across the footpath, and take a right onto rue d’Aubagne. Turn right on rue Rudolph Pollack to walk through the main produce section of the Marché de Noailles. Once you’ve wandered through the stalls, turn left on rue Longue des Capucins. Notice all the small butchers, bakers, and grocers selling inexpensive food. Take a peek inside Saladin’s — a gem of Noailles, this spice market sells just about every kind of spice imaginable and smells heavenly! Take a right back onto rue d’Aubagne and then turn left at the St Louis Hotel. Cross the street and continue straight ahead to the Vieux Port!

Walk II: The Vieux Port to Vallon des Auffes

From the Vieux Port, there are many options depending on how much time you have, and what you’re interested in visiting. I love showing my guests the very beginning of the area of coastline known as La Corniche. This 40 (or so) minute walk takes you along Marseille’s coast, up to a Le Pharo park perched high above the port, and past one of its sand beaches to a picturesque little fishing port. I love bringing a picnic and some beers to the beach and taking in the colors and sounds of the Mediterranean. Bus 82 departing from the Vieux Port takes roughly the same route, if you need a break from walking.

Click for full walking directions

From the center of the Vieux Port, walk along the left side, Quai de Rive Neuve. You’ll pass a bunch of bustling bars and pubs which are great for a pastis or other apéro in the afternoon sun. You might recognize the interior of Bar de la Marine from the scene in Love Actually where Colin Firth awkwardly proposes in Portuguese. Continue past Fort Saint Nicolas on your left and up the hill. You’ll eventually arrive at the entrance to Parc Émile Duclaux on the right-hand side of the street, and I highly recommend taking a quick detour inside the park to get an incredible view over the harbor—but beware, this hill is often very windy! The park is also known as Le Pharo because of the Palais du Pharo planted in the center. Built in 1858 by the Emperor Napoleon III for his wife Eugénie, this grand palace is now a convention hall and also houses some offices of the Aix-Marseile University. After exiting the park, continue to the right on Boulevard Charles Livon. You’ll basically stay straight on this road for the rest of the walk. After the road curves to the left, you’ll come across Plage des Catalans. This beach is admittedly not Marseille’s very best, but its accessibility makes it a really popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Take a slight right onto Corniche President John F. Kennedy (no joke- there’s also a Cours Franklin Roosevelt elsewhere in the city!) and soak in the gorgeous glittering blues of the Mediterranean. You’ll eventually reach the stately Monument aux Armées d’Afrique, a memorial to soldiers who fought in the Algerian war. Cross the street from the monument and head down the stairs, Escalier du Vallon des Auffes to arrive in the small fishing port.

Walk III: The Vieux Port to Le Panier/MuCEM

This walk takes you to the opposite side of the Vieux Port into Marseille’s oldest neighborhood, Le Panier. I love spending hours wandering all of the tiny winding streets, and then usually head over to one of my favorite sites in Marseille: MuCEM and the Fort Saint-Jean. The Fort is another great place to bring a picnic to enjoy Marseille’s history and famous sunshine.

Click for full walking directions

Head to the right side of the Vieux Port, Quai du Port. Turn right at the fancy Hotel de Ville onto rue de la Mairie. Go through the big plaza towards the impressive Intercontinental Hotel, housed in a former hospital, and turn left on rue Caisserie. Continue around rue Caisserie and take a slight right onto Place de Lenche, a square with a killer view surrounded by cafés and often buzzing with activity. You’ll pass by a biscuiterie, Les Navettes des Accoules, which has been making traditional navette cookies for years. I am super obsessed with these slightly chewy cookies lightly flavored with orange blossom, and always pick up a bag when I’m in the neighborhood. From Place de Lenche, I highly recommend wandering through the winding alleyways of Le Panier; you are sure to stumble across something interesting, be it a wacky boutique or some surprising street art. To continue on the itinerary on the map, head straight onto rue de l’Évêché and then right toward rue Sainte-Françoise. Take a minute to pop into the Undartground boutique where local street artists sell some of their work, or stop in Bar des 13 Coins for a café in a very local atmosphere. Turning left on rue du Panier, you’ll pass several quaint shops and narrow streets. Continue until you find the staircase on rue des Moulins. This will lead you to Place des Moulins, where three windmills that used to power the city once stood. Continue down the hill on rue des Moulins and take a right on Montée des Accoules. If you continue straight ahead, you’ll end up back at the top of Place de Lenche!

From there, let’s head toward the impressive Cathédrale La Major. Make your way back to rue de l’Évêché and turn left this time at rue Four du Chapitre. Continuing onto Place de la Major, you can’t miss the massive cathedral on your right, nor will you be able to resist the beautiful blue of the sea beyond it. From the parvis of the cathedral, head down the stairs towards Esplanade J4 and Marseille’s newest museum, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilization or MuCEM opening in 2013. This museum has an eclectic interdisciplinary permanent collection, and regularly hosts really interesting temporary exhibitions on all manner of subjects that reflect the cultural melting pot of Marseille and Mediterranean cultures. Once inside the museum, feel free to pay for entry into the exhibits, or follow signs to the top floor terrace (entry here is free) where you will be able to cross the pedestrian footpath into Fort Saint Jean. Explore the many levels and lookouts from the fort which has been recently renovated and now has tons of seating areas for a picnic or just a little rest. This fort was built in 1660 by King Louis XIV. With its position at the mouth of the city’s port, one would naturally assume that it was an important protection against invading forces. In fact, the fort was built in response to a rebel uprising “in order to subdue the spirit of independence of the city of Marseille” as Wikipedia puts it – the canons pointed toward the town, not out to sea. When you’ve finished exploring the different levels, take one of the exits out of the fort back to Le Panier or the Vieux Port.

Walk IV: The Vieux Port to La Bonne Mère

All visitors to Marseille should make a point to visit Notre Dame de la Garde, or La Bonne Mère as it is known by the marseillais. Besides being an iconic symbol of Marseille and offering an unbeatable vantage point over the city, the church itself is quite remarkable and one of the reasons I originally fell in love with Marseille, to be honest. There are many ways up, some probably more scenic than the route I usually take, but I like to be direct, especially since it’s a pretty steep climb. If you’re not feeling like a 30 minute walk straight up the hill, I highly recommend the Tourist Train which departs from Quai du Port, loops around La Corniche and then climbs up to La Bonne Mère. Otherwise, bus 60 departing from the Vieux Port will take you there for around 2 euro a ride.

Click for full walking directions

From the top of the Vieux Port, head to the left towards Quai de Rive Neuve. Walk about halfway down and turn left on rue Fort Notre Dame and continue straight until the roundabout. Take the second exit to the right, turning onto rue des Brusques. Continue straight ahead and you will see the leafy Parc Pierre Puget. You could continue the climb through this hidden gem of a park, or turn right and then left to stay on Cours Pierre Puget. Turn right onto Boulevard André Aune and walk up the giant hill…… don’t forget to turn around and see the view of the Vieux Port as you ascend! Take the stairs at the top of the hill and turn right onto Montée de la Bonne Mère. Follow the stairs (yes, more stairs) until you arrive at the church. Enjoy the spectacular 360° views!

Walk V: Les Réformés to Palais Longchamp

This final part of the tour isn’t as essential, but if you’ve got the time, Palais Longchamp is worth a wander! This “palais d’eau” was erected in the late 19th century to celebrate the arrival of water in Marseille! Aside from the monumental fountain and sprawling park, it now also houses the Museum of Natural History and Museum of Fine Arts.

Click for full walking directions

From our original starting point (my apartment!) near Cours Julien, cross the street towards rue de la Bibliothèque. Turn left and descend rue Curiol. This street is always interesting because of all the prostitutes that hang out in the doorways! They probably won’t bother you, but if you’d prefer to avoid them, you can take one of the parallel streets instead 🙂 Once you reach the bottom of rue Curiol, you will have arrived at La Canebière, Marseille’s famous artery, often called the Champs-Elysées of Marseille, so well-known there’s even a song about it! The Square Léon Blum in this upper part of the Canebière is quite nice; I especially like the two huge giraffe statues that house little free libraries. Turn right on the Canebière, towards the Réformés church and follow the tram tracks through Square Stalingrad to Boulevard de la Libération. Feel free to hop on the tram (you’ll need to buy a ticket for 1,60 euro), or take the 20 minute walk up the pleasant boulevard all the way to the monument.

 Which area of Marseille would you most like to explore?!

14 thoughts on “Anne’s Essential Marseille : 5 walks

  1. This makes me want to go visit Marseille again! A friend was placed in Marseille for TAPIF, and we visited many of these places. I can’t remember a lot of it (it was back in 2007), but these photos jogged my memory and made me pull up my old photos. I’ve been back several times since then, but it’s still been years!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely a place that merits several trips — so much to see and profit from, especially in the warmer months! These walks don’t even cover some of my favorite farther-flung corners of Marseille. Perhaps a Part II will be in order in the future 🙂


  2. Thanks for coming up with these walks! I’ve done Walks III and IV, both which were rewarding for the city views and history. I’d love to return to Marseille, should I be in the area this year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, you totally should!! Because it’s surrounded by more popular places like Nice, Cannes, and Aix-en-Provence, I feel like tourists tend to skip over Marseille — big mistake in my opinion!!


  3. I actually live in Marseille and I only did 2 out of the 5 walks you recommend ! Well thanks because I now know I NEED to go to La Bonne Mère and to the Vallon des Auffes 😉
    I wish you’ll be able to come back someday !

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey — So weird and SO random, but I read your blog a few years ago when I was thinking of doing TAPIF after I graduated from college. I’m in France now (celebrating graduating from grad school) and I just got to Marseille. I re-found your blog because you liked a post of mine (Café Fort on my blog Black Stylo) the other day lol such a small world! If you’re down to grab a coffee or something let me know! Any suggestions on things to do/places to go are very welcome as well 🙂 -Maegan


    1. Wow how serendipitous !! I must have followed you back when you were considering TAPIF 🙂 I’m working today, but I really really hope you enjoy Marseille! How long are you here ? Definitely check out all the stuff in this post, I’d recommend avoiding the vieux port for food and drink (too touristy/expensive) but check out cours julien area or le panier for a good vibe. Drink pastis and eat panisse ! La boîte aux sardines if you want seafood !


    2. Or if you’re looking to get really off the beaten path, I would check out the navettes leaving from the vieux port about once an hour…. they’ll take you to the village of l’estaque, or the pointe rouge beach both on opposite ends of the city. Or for really stunning views, the boat to the îles frioul. Can’t beat the landscapes 🙂


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