Given its role as France’s major port and its proximity to Africa and the Mediterranean, it is not surprising that Marseilles is an extremely culturally diverse city with great transport links to most of the country. Marseilles is the gateway to Provence, an area famed for its cooking and its artists.
As well as being an important port and industrial city, Marseilles is also an important center for culture with the Opera de Marseille and the Ballet Nationale de Marseille housed in the historic Opera House. It has also attracted many famous artists over the years, including Renoir and Cezanne, and spawned much of France’s hip hop music. In 2013, Marseille will be the European Capital of Culture.
How to Get to Marseilles
Cruise ships dock at the commercial piers north of the Vieux Port (Old Harbor) area, which is quite industrial. A taxi or shuttle will take you to Vieux Port proper which is the small historic part of town and by far the nicest part of the city to explore.
One Day in Marseilles
The main spine of Marseilles is La Canebiere, the avenue running up through the center of the old harbor town. From here you’ll find the main shopping streets, including the pedestrianized St-Fereol and Cours Julien for fashion. For somewhere outside the main tourist drag, head for Corniche President-J-F-Kennedy for shops and cafes with a sea breeze blowing through them.
The cathedral Notre-Dame-de-la- Garde is a must - you can catch the Little Train (Petit Train Marseilles) up the hill. The views are wonderful and the church decor a homage to the maritime life of the city.
If you like modern art check out Musee Cantini, or head to the elaborate Palais et Parc Longchamp for the Musee des Beaux-Arts. In the bay is the Frioul archipelago, one island of which is Chateau d’If, the famous fortress island featured in the novel The Count of Monte Christo. If you prefer countryside to cities, head out to Provence to Avignon, or Aix-en-Provence, or Arles, made famous by Van Gogh.
The language is French and you’ll find yourself needing some basic French or to point and nod a lot, as English becomes rarer outside the more touristic old port area. The currency is the Euro and ATMs are easy to find around the old port (Vieux Port).
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