24 Hours in Marseille, France

Spend a day enjoying this enduring city's nature, history and Provençal cuisine

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Marseille has come a long way since its founding by the Greeks around 600 BC. As it was then, it's still an important port city and center of trade and commerce — in fact, it's the France's second largest city after Paris.

But mix in a multicultural population, a new focus on culture and the arts, and a growing culinary scene and you end up with a diverse city that's hard — but not impossible — to digest in just a day's time. If you don't mind an itinerary packed to the brim, you can cover a lot of ground in 24 hours.

Here's a sampling of things to do and see on a quick stop through France's most dynamic city.

Day 1 - Morning

24 hours in Marseille Marseille's Old Port. Photo: Theresa Boehl

It seems the whole city revolves around Marseille's energetic but aging Old Port. It's the most popular spot for tourists and a central place from which to explore. It's also the most picturesque spot, flanked by stately edifices and filled with boats bobbing in the sea, and is always buzzing with the activity of fishmongers and street performers. You can buy fresh-caught fish at the port's daily fish market, held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Canabiere thoroughfare, heading east and west, begins at the Old Port. It's lined with cafes, sweet shops and modest restaurants, all catering to tourists who wandered away from the Old Port. Walk to La Cure Gourmande to sample some of their irresistible sweet biscuits, or buy chocolates, caramels or spongy madeleines.

24 hours in Marseille The Marche de Noailles produce market takes place near the Canabiere thoroughfare. Photo: Theresa Boehl

Stop through the bustling Marche de Noailles produce market, a collection of small fruit and vegetable stands mostly run by the city's Arab community. The vibe is chaotic and noisy — have a moment of quiet and a coffee and croissant at Cafe Prinder or restaurants surrounding the Rue du Marché des Capucins.

Day 1 - Afternoon

24 hours in Marseille Le Cours en Vert is a vegetarian/vegan restaurant located in the Cours Julien square. Photo: Theresa Boehl

Grab lunch at one of many bohemian cafes lining the lush Cours Julien, a gritty but artsy plaza with an impressive center fountain, located not far from the Canabiere. The best way to approach the square is from Cours Lieutaud, which gives access to a steep, mural-lined stairway and one-of-a-kind views of the surrounding narrow streets.

24 hours in Marseille Ruins of the ancient harbor occupy a space in front of Marseille's History Museum. Photo: Theresa Boehl

Set aside the afternoon to visit some of the city's museums. The waterfront Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, inaugurated in 2013 when city was named the European Capital of Culture, draws a steady stream of visitors. The History Museum boasts a jaw-dropping collection of artifacts, including the hull of a ship from the 2nd century discovered in the area where the museum now stands. But most impressive are the museum's gardens, home to ruins of the ancient harbor, first used by the Greeks and then the Romans. There's also the Musée des beaux-arts, located in the Palais Longchamp monument, where you'll find art from the 16th through 19th centuries.

Hop on the tourist trolley to climb up to the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica, which rests on the highest point in the city on the site of a former 13th-century chapel and crypt. The striking Neo-Byzantine church has an ancient fort as its foundations, and is topped by a gold statue of the Virgin Mary with her child, an iconic beacon visible from many parts of the city.

Day 1 - Evening

For dinner, escape the frenzy of the Old Port and walk to Rue Saint-Saëns, a quiet street near the Plaza Thiers, just a block from the port. Several restaurants there offer a plate of the deal day — at economical Chez Paul, you get an appetizer, and entree and a dessert for 15 euros. Like many nearby cafes, the menu focuses on fresh seafood. For 38 euros, you can try the house bouillabaisse, a shellfish and seafood stew born in the city and famous throughout Provence.

Later, get drinks at tourist-free Longchamp Palace, a bohemian restaurant and bar that livens up an otherwise quiet corner in the neighborhood near the train station. You'll be elbow-to-elbow with fellow beer and cocktail drinkers. Come earlier in the evening to claim a coveted seat in the back patio.

24 hours in Marseille Anse de Catalans, not far from Hotel Perón. Photo: Theresa Boehl

Stay at the 4-star guest rated Newhotel of Marseille, a modest property near the Vieux-Port de Montréal. Rooms are sleek with modern decor — they feature free WiFi and flat-screen TVs, and they have a bar and restaurant on-site.

Day 2 - Morning

24 hours in Marseille Vallon de Auffes fishing village, a mini city within a city. Photo: Theresa Boehl

Wake in the morning and take a stroll along the oceanfront Corniche promenade until you reach the Vallon de Auffes, a tiny fishing village hidden in the midst of the city, where a cascade of colorful cliffside houses meets a small port filled with boats. Then follow the Corniche north until you reach the Anse de Catalans, a summertime beachfront gathering point for swimmers, sunbathers and beach volleyball enthusiasts.

If time allows, head to the Old Port to catch the ferry to the rugged, windswept Frioul Islands, complete with secluded beaches, or to the Chateau d'If, built as a fortress in the 1500s and used as a prison in the 17th century.

24 hours in Marseille Plage de Saint-Esteve, a secluded beach on the Frioul Islands. Photo: Theresa Boehl

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For more information about visiting Marseille, go to www.marseille-tourisme.com/en/.

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