Things to do in Marseille in 1 day. Is Marseille dangerous?Visiting museums, the cathedral and the fort of San Jean
03 January 2022
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During the December holidays in Spain, we decided to visit the south of France and we took a direct flight Malaga – Marseille. Marseille is the largest city in Provence. After reading about how dangerous this city is, I had doubts whether to go there or not, but you must understand that everyone provides information from his/her point of view, sometimes exaggerating way too much! We simply could not miss visiting a beautiful Marseille!
Is Marseille a dangerous city? It is true that Marseille is considered as the most dangerous city in Europe. As a major port city, Marseille has a drug dealing problem. Eternal gang wars and the city´s high crime rates make this historical city a bit challenging place to visit.
In my opinion, you need to be basically careful, to move around the central districts, to not call attention with your mobile phone (by the way, in non-dangerous Valencia my phone was almost stolen when I was taking photos on the street), to keep your backpack in front of you, and Marseille will seem no more dangerous than Paris, New York or any big city. By the way, we adhere to these precautions in any city, there is nothing special about Marseille in that sense.
We rented a car for all 3 days of traveling at Marseille airport. At the entrance to the city of Marseille we were greeted by Arab women begging for alms. Nothing scary. We decided to park in a covered parking right in front of the Cathedral of Marseille (15 euros for 6 hours). By the way, it is worth reading reviews about parking beforehand, to summarize: even in an expensive covered parking equipped with cameras, your belongings can be still stolen… According to people´s opinions there is an agreement between thieves and the security service – for some reasons, the security cameras suddenly just stop working. In our case, we had two hand luggage bags with personal belongings with no value, and nothing happened. Don’t leave anything expensive in the car and it won’t hurt so much in case of…! Still want to visit Marseille? 🙂 Let´s go then!
Cathedral of Marseille
Built in the Byzantine style, the Cathedral of Marseille is one of the largest churches in France. It took 40 years to build the cathedral, between 1852 and 1893, when Marseille was the first port in France and served as a port that received ships from all over the world. This is the only cathedral built in France in the XIX century.
The cathedral actually consists of two churches, old and new, and they overlap in some way. It is located on the esplanade at the entrance to the port and not far from the base of old Marseille, where religious buildings have been constructed since the IV century.
The construction of the new church began in 1852. The first stone of this church was laid by Napoleon himself! Perhaps, only due to this fact it is worth coming to the Marseille’s lands!
The Cathedral of Marseille is a true architectural gem. During the construction of the new cathedral, a paleo-christian baptistery was discovered. It dates back to the V century, has a square shape, contains an altar and is decorated with beautiful mosaics. The cathedral combines Roman and Eastern styles, which made possible opening cultural doors towards the east.
You can admire its unique and majestic architecture inside the Cathedral of Marseille: Byzantine arcades, statues and magnificent mosaics. The materials chosen for the construction of the church are impressive: white Carrara marble, porphyry, onyx from Italy and Tunisia, mosaics from Venice and green stones from Florence.
The most important architects of that times designed the cathedral throughout the years of construction: Léon Vaudoyer, the father of historicism, which was replaced in 1872 by Henri Esperandieu, until he was replaced by Henri Antoine Révoil in 1874, who completed the construction of the cathedral in 1893.
After visiting the cathedral, we moved towards the Mediterranean Archeology Museum. The path led through the Le Panier district, which is also a must-see place of Marseille. You cannot avoid sensing a special atmosphere created by the Provence style old buildings with colorful facades and clothes hanged on balconies, with lots of graffiti and street art on the walls, with unusual cafes and shops that you will not find in any other district of the city.
I believe that museum lovers should definitely visit the Museum of Mediterranean Archeology of Marseille, as it contains the second most important collection of artifacts from Ancient Egypt after the Louvre! You can visit the museum in less than one hour and the entrance is free. We were unlucky, for unknown reasons the permanent collection was closed that day. Well, now we have another reason to visit Marseille again.
Museum of History of Marseille
Next we moved towards the Old port of Marseille, and a heavy rain accompanied by a strong wind began (common here), the umbrella broke in exactly 30 seconds. We entered to the shopping center to cover ourselves from rain. There was an entrance to the Museum of History of Marseille in the mall and we decided to enter. We did not regret it at all! The entrance is 6 euros, but for some reason we passed for free (on Saturday). Usually, on the first Sunday of month the entrance is free. Unfortunately, the descriptions of the exhibits are only in French, so it’s worth installing the mobile translator app.
The museum’s interesting route allows us to discover the 26 centuries of history of the oldest city of France through 4.000 exhibits and hundreds of multimedia devices.
In my opinion, the Roman port is the main sight of that outstanding museum.
This place was a Greek and later a Roman port, the present old port of Marseille is a main basin of that ancient port. The limestone blocks of the harbor have traces of crustaceans and marine corrosion, which indicates that in ancient times the sea level was about 50 cm lower than in the present times. The ancient port was filled with water and was used at least until the VI century AD. Subsequently, it was filled up and built up with buildings.
Old port of Marseille
After visiting the museum, we moved to the old port and to the Abbey of Saint-Victor. A beautiful view of the city opens from this spot. Within a three-minute walk you can reach the St. Nicholas Fort, which is currently closed for reconstruction (according to reviews).
Another sight and must-see place of Marseille, which is definitely worth visiting, is the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time for that, but it is very beautiful from this spot as well.
After walking on sunset along the old port and taking a hot mulled wine, we moved to the Fort of Saint-Jean. The entrance is free. Views from the fort are simply amazing.
Fort Saint-Jean is an integral part of the military complex and an important part of the history of Marseille. In the XII century during the command of The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, during the Crusades the Fort St. Jean was used as a starting point for arrival of the troops to the Holy Land. The complex consists of a chapel, a church, a hospital and the Commander´s palace. The construction of the military complex was completed in 1365. The large square tower was built by the King René between 1447 and 1453, who tried to defend that way the port with more efficiency. The round tower, so conspicuous and specific, dates from the middle of the XVII century.
You can access the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean directly from the fort, which I also consider a must-visit if you have at least two days for visiting the city.
Our tour of a beautiful city of Marseille has ended. We only had 6 hours for visiting the city, but we saw a lot. Our general impression was positive – nothing bad happened to us. I definitely recommend you to visit Marseille, but it would have been better to spend two days in the city. If you have time you can visit the island castle Château d’If – the place of imprisonment of Edmond Dantes, the protagonist of the novel written by Alexandre Dumas “The Count of Monte Cristo”.
Where to eat in Marseille
I present you my selection of restaurants in Marseille, where you can have a delicious lunch. These restaurants are selected on the basis of good reviews and high ratings, and of course, where I would definitely go to enjoy food!
- Entre Terre et Mer, Le panier
If you want to enjoy an extra fresh seafood, this is the place for you. The price for two people for tasting different seafood types is about 56 euros. They also offer meals at a price of 20-25 euros per dish.
- Le Bouchon Provençal
French cuisine restaurant, according to photos and reviews, the dishes are very tasty. Yes, the portions will not be large and cheap (20-25 euros per dish), but we are going to France to experience a gastronomic pleasure, right?
- Restaurant l’Inattendu
Excellent French and Mediterranean restaurant, the specialty of this place is octopus, so grilled Provencal octopus with vegetables is a great choice!
- Chez Loury Restaurant Le Mistral
If you are in Marseille, you may want to taste a local dish – Marseille fish soup or Bouillabaisse. Bouillabaisse for two persons will cost you about 39 euros. They offer a three-course menu for 14 euros, where you can order a small portion of bouillabaisse.
Check out a homemade bouillabaisse recipe here.