Marseille France City Break Tourist Guide

Marseille is on the TGV line from Paris. It takes about 4 hours from Paris Gare de Lyon Railway Station. The modern TGV Station is about in Marseille centre.

Marseille Vieux Port

You can take the Eurostar train from London St Pancras International Station to Marseille via Paris. It takes about 7 hours in total.

Marseille in Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, South of France. You have to go to Marseille to say you have been but I think you will be disappointed. Apart from a few streets around the old harbour it is an ugly, dirty, grimy, run-down city. Parts of the city smells of urine or rotting food from the many over full commercial rubbish bins.

It is not very female friendly place. Men of Arabic origin hang around and leer at passing un escorted women. It seems acceptable to shout out comments and when no answer is given to harass them or use obscene gestures.

You can go to Marseille on a TGV train

Marseille is only worth a one day trip to walk around the harbour, the church and the shopping area. Keep to the main streets. Parts of the city's back streets are populated day and night with prostitutes, men hanging around dealing drugs, and low life looking to steal from you. There are lots of beggars, street children and pushy street traders. Marseille is a good base to see other parts of the South of France like Arles, Avignon and the Wine region.

Marseille international airport

Marseille airport is halfway between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. There are 4 terminals/halls and the budget airline terminal called MP2 is hall 4. There is a direct bus from the airport to the Marseille central train and bus station. It leaves every 20 minutes and takes around 30 minutes depending on the traffic.

There are only two metro lines in Marseille - the red and the blue one. They meet at two stations: Gare St. Charles (St. Charles train station) and Castellane. A single ticket costs about 2 euro and you have to validate it before you get to the train. The trains and the stations are clean and never too crowded, so that is a nice means of transport. The metro system closes early at 9pm due to security reasons.

Marseille Vieux Port

Le Vieux Port Marseille (Old Harbour)

Even though there are lots of things I do not like about Marseille I did enjoy strolling around the old Harbour. It is the main marina of the city and guarded by two huge forts at its entrance. It is full of expensive pleasure boats and a few fishing boats. You will find lots of cafes and restaurants. It is a good starting point for walks to either one of the forts, around the old city, along the shopping street 'Canebiere' or to the church Notre Dame de la Garde.

Phoenician Greeks arrived and settled in Marseille, 2600 years ago. They were attracted by the natural harbour and availability of pure drinking water. The Moorish Arabs invaded Spain from North Africa and occupied a lot of the costal area of the South of France including Marseille. When they were eventually forced out the King Rene I of Naples in 1447 constructed two large fortifications to protect the narrow passage into the old harbour

You can walk around the outside of the forts but access to the inside is limited as it is still used by the French military area. Fort Saint Nicolas, extended under King Louis XIV was not design to protect the harbor but to control any riot than might occur in the city. For that purpose, the canons are not aimed towards the open sea but towards the city of Marseille.

During World War II the houses next to the Town Hall, were destroyed on order of Hitler. He considered that the district of the Vieux-Port was a thieves' den, a place of refuge for outlaws and anti-Nazis, "a mass of criminals, under-humans and saboteurs". The district was locked by the SS, its 20,000 inhabitants were expelled without having the time to collect any belongings and the houses were destroyed and razed to the ground.

You should visit the daily open air fish market 'Marche aux poissons'. The female stall holders are usually the wives of the fishermen. You will find it at the bottom of the Cannebiere, on the quai des Belges, in the Vieux Port. It begins every day at 8:00 AM and lasts until about noon. The ferry which crosses the harbour between the Town Hall and the Huiles Square offers a fun way to see the harbour and the town. This is the south of France not Calais.

I observed that if you want some respect from the waiters you will need to at least try and speak in French. The waiter will note your effort and then switch to English. If you start off speaking English they will treat it as sign of disrespect. You will not get a good service. My French is not good but because I tried to speak in French the waiter was very helpful and pleasant. The same was not true of the service the two tables of nearby Americans received because they only spoke English.

Travel books