Marseille has the soul of a port city, with a vibrant cross-pollination of ethnicities and cultures. It is often the first or last port on a cruise, so this gritty, eclectic city is either the first place you’ll see or the last place you’ll remember, putting you in league with legions of Mediterranean sailors who have been embarking here since antiquity.
What We Love
Vieux Port: The wide-open jaw of the old port is the beating heart of Marseille and acts like a public park with cafes, street performers, and boutiques lining the quays. Get there around 8 am to see the fish market at its piscine best.
Le Panier: Just up from the port, the old city has close alleyways, lilac shutters, intimate cafes, and artisanal boutiques with handmade fabrics and ceramics from the entire sweep of French colonial cultures. The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM) has made this part of town even more of a destination.
Best Known For
La Canebière: This busy main street of hotels and restaurants presents a side of French life that is airbrushed out of postcards, seedy and real but teeming with energy.
Chateau d’If: This fortress was the setting for Dumas's immortal classic, "The Count of Monte Cristo," and fans should take the express boats from the Vieux Port.
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Who It's Best For
Explorers: For its embrace of the French colonial empire and other Mediterranean cultures, Marseille can’t be beat.
Seafood Lovers: The bounty of the Mediterranean and the Provencal sun plus the heady ethnic mix of the city make for the most exciting seafood scene in France.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Hang on to Your Wallet: Marseille has a reputation for crime that isn’t entirely undeserved.
It’s Not Paris: The galleries, Michelin stars, and refined grace of the City of Light are not found in the dusty streets of Marseille — which many consider a very good and exciting thing.
Sarah Rose is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for The Wall Street Journal.