Whenever people travel to France, they mostly choose the one and only Paris as their destination. And not without reason. It is the capital of France, romance, and fashion too! Nevertheless, there is so much more to this country, and in this article, I will try to give you a few reasons why to opt for travel to Marseille instead of the famous capital.
Let's start with a short introduction, that might explain why this article is more than just another list of things to do and see. The rivalry between the two cities is infamous - starting from the historic seat of power and ending in football. Yes, almost like the French equivalent to Barcelona against Madrid, OM (Olympique Marseillais) and PSG (Paris Saint-Germain) and their fans have been rivalling for decades now. Exploring the connection between these two before your travel to Marseille might just reveal so many underlying cultural intricacies. Here goes a great conversation starter for your encounters with the locals!
Throughout the years Marseille has earned an infamous reputation among French people, and it was one of the reasons many still consider this city unsafe for tourists. Before we explore all the nice parts, it is important to let you know that in recent years it has witnessed major changes. The local government continuously works especially hard on changing this image and implementing various development projects. And you know what? It has been successful! The number of tourists is growing, and life over there has become much safer. You deserve to prove everyone wrong by enjoying the slightly chaotic and unpredictable nature of Marseille on your own skin.
Where is Marseille?
Considering you are not very familiar with the geography of France, one might wonder where is Marseille? Easy. It is on the coast of the Mediterranean sea! A short distance from the French Riviera and the border of Spain lies this city, which happens to be the second-largest in the country. Taking into account the historical significance and the location, it is well connected by land, sea, and air. It just means that even if you have decided to visit the Eiffel Tower and Louvre first, travel from Paris to Marseille will take just above 3 hours by train (they have amazing speedy trains in France). If not - Marseille airport (to be more precise - Marseille Provence Airport) is really well connected to the whole of Europe and beyond! Why travel to Marseille instead of Paris?
1. Beach and sun
In my universe, I would opt for Marseille just after hearing this. Marseille has an average of 300 days of sunshine a year! Even the cooler winters will bless you with the very necessary Vitamin D intake and allow a leisurely enjoyment of outdoor activities. Besides that, it is really a prime location for beaches of any liking - sand, cliffs, pebbles. Whatever you prefer! Keeping that in mind, you might ask me what to do in Marseille? It is obvious - pack a picnic bag with rose and delicious local cheeses, go to Catalan Beach just 15 minutes walk from the Old Port, and enjoy an amazing Mediterranean sunset with someone special! Are you keen on Marseille weather now?
2. The tradition of Aperitif
One of my favourite things in Marseille is their tradition to go for some snacks and a few drinks right after finishing their workday, but before heading to dinner (which they are having quite late usually). It is called Aperitif and is an integral part of the local lifestyle. Locals meet up, drink a cool glass of rose and have a plate of typical snacks alongside friendly conversations, sometimes for hours into the night. It is an absolutely great tradition that allows unwinding after a presumably tough workday. You should definitely give it a go with your buddies or local companions to become more in tune with the local rhythm of life!
3. A big city with the feel of fishermen villages
Even though Marseille France is often described as a busy and chaotic city, it still has these unique places that will charm the lovers of rural scenery. Being on the coast and historically comprising several historic fishermen villages, Marseille offers many opportunities for the views with boats, small ports, and fisheries, as well as neverending sunsets. In the city and a heartbeat away Calanques, Les Goudes, Cassis are just a few to name. Charming, authentic, and something you will never find in Paris!
4. Historically multi-ethnic
For centuries Marseille has been an important port and therefore a mixing pot of cultures on the French Mediterranean coast. Playing an important role in the French colonization of Africa and the Orient has shaped the very distinctive multicultural heritage that is still very visible even nowadays. Besides the extremely multi-ethnic local crowd, you will also witness the varied influences in the architecture and the city itself. If you are keen on experiencing more of this scope of Marseille, then you should visit Marche de Noailles. It is a market of spices and different other goods often described as "an authentic window to the Arab world". And so the list goes on…
5. The southern fjords and stunning beauty of nature
As opposed to Paris, in my opinion, Marseille has been blessed with way more beauty of nature. Let me give you an example. Are you curious and trying to find out what to do in Marseille? You will immediately find images and suggestions to visit Calanques. These beautiful splits surround Marseille in cliffs, that usually also feature pristine blue waters and marine vistas, that might leave you speechless. Have a hike up, and you have gone to heaven! And this is just one of those examples of what nature lovers will not find in Paris. If you love nature, travel to Marseille and explore the surroundings!
6. Seafood paradise
If you are a foodie just like me, then travelling just about anywhere to catch the local flavour is no joke. Which is why I have to emphasize that Marseille France is THE location for seafood. Or at least one of the most prominent ones. Traditionally it is famous for Bouillabaisse - and intricate seafood soup that has reached unimaginable price heights due to its popularity lately. It is definitely worth a try, but if you are not willing to pay up to 100 EUR for a bowl of food, then there is another option. Being on the coast offers the benefits of a variety of other fresh sea delicacies! For a more pocket-friendly option, I suggest choosing something locals eat, for example, grilled and/or spicy sardines! Are you drooling already? I definitely am!
7. Water sports fans, rejoice!
If you are a fan of sailing, wind-boarding, kite-surfing, etc., then Marseille is the right spot for you. Besides the fact that you will not find the sea in Paris, the Provence (and therefore, Marseille too) is known for Mistral - a very strong wind, that keeps the region extremely sunny and the waters especially suitable for a variety of sports. Interested?
8. The less pretentious sibling
Both Paris and Marseille are known for being quite busy cities and not without reason. So should the first and the second largest cities in the country be! But nevertheless what speaks in favour of the coastal Marseille, is the general vibe of the city. If Paris has historically been THE place to go and THE grand centre of the French universe, then Marseille just hasn't. It has created a much less pretentious vibe - the city and the locals just don't make out of themselves this "important" image, and one can truly feel it in the daily rhythm over there.
9. Lavender fields...
...and everything else about the Provence. Enjoying the beautiful countryside on the beautiful country roads by bike or even a car (rentals, anyone?) is just so easy from Marseille. And I promise, just google lavender fields and you will understand what am I talking about! Just the name Provence itself calls for a particular “provincial” charm. Use a chance to visit local wineries, fisheries, cheesemakers. Enjoy the rural beauty and slow down under the warm sun, enjoying a truly magnificent local produce. Do you get the idea? One of the most recognizable regions in the world is calling you!
10. The underdog factor
I have always been a fan of visiting the less likely destinations. And there is a reason why it is important to mention it here too. Travel to Marseille, because it is the less likely choice! It comes with much fewer expectations dictated by pop culture, but also with many more opportunities for unique experiences. Even if you can not miss out on the capital of romance, a direct travel from Paris to Marseille or the relatively nearby Barcelona will definitely be worth the effort!
I hope this article gave you at least a few hints and ideas to consider different scenarios for your travel to France! Wouldn’t it be great just to catch a flight to Marseille airport, be transported in the sunny Marseille weather, and enjoy a cool rose with a view to the beach? I am definitely signing up for this!