72 Hours in Marseille and La Ciotat - Chasing the Olympic Flame in France

72 Hours in Marseille and La Ciotat - Chasing the Olympic Flame in France

Marseille, France's second-largest city, boasts a rich history dating back to 600 BC when it was founded by Greek sailors from Phocaea (who called it Massalia). Known for its vibrant cultural scene, Marseille was named the European Capital of Culture in 2013. The city is renowned for its bustling port, diverse neighborhoods, and historic landmarks. Its edgy charm, dynamic street art, and seaside vistas are captivating, though the city’s energy can be a bit unexpected for first time visitors. Here are my recommendations for exploring Marseille and its surrounds and maximizing all that this exhilarating port city has to offer. 


Day 1 - Visit Marseille

Morning: Explore Le Panier District

Start your visit in the vibrant hillside neighborhood of Le Panier. Known for its vibrant street art and colorful squares, Le Panier is the oldest district of Marseille. It’s a feast for the eyes and a great spot for photos with narrow winding streets, graffiti murals, colorful old façades, and charming squares. Pass by the Vieille Charité (a former almshouse turned contemporary art museum) then visit the Place des Pistolets or Place de Lenche, overlooking Notre Dame de la Garde, for lunch. 

After lunch: Visit Le Mucem

Not far from the Panier district, you can walk to visit the crown jewel of Marseille’s museums - le MuCEM, or Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean. Overlooking the sea and described as a “multidisciplinary space where anthropology, history, contemporary archaeology and art intersect,” the MuCEM was inaugurated in 2013, the same year that Marseille was designated as the European Capital of Culture. 

Late afternoon: Maison Empereur

Next, head to Maison Empereur, France’s oldest hardware store. This place is more than a shop—it's a treasure trove of quirky finds. From vintage toys to Le Creuset kitchenware, candles, and home decor, there's something here to fascinate everyone. A great place to find useful souvenirs, like the ME printed dishtowel we picked up for just 6€. 

Evening: French Happy Hour at Cours Julien

Experience "l'apéro" (short for aperitif) at one of the cozy cafés in Cours Julien. While the adults enjoy a glass of pastis or local wine, there’s a kids play area nearby to keep the little ones entertained. With kitschy shops, art galleries, and relaxing water fountains, this area feels like you’ve chanced upon a hidden spot reserved for ‘in the know’ locals. Don’t miss the graffitied staircase which offers stunning sunset views over the city.


Day 2: Stay Cool along the Coast in La Ciotat

Morning: Beach Day

Drive to La Ciotat for a morning at the beach. Parking can be a challenge, so head out early to avoid the crowds, especially during high season. La Plage des Capucins is good for families traveling with younger children - it’s easily accessible and has gentle waves. 


Midday: Lunch at the Old Port

After the beach, head to La Ciotat's Old Port for lunch. I'm usually disappointed by seaside cafés, but the port is scenic so it's worth a visit. Do your research based on your tastes and find a table to enjoy some of the fresh seafood Marseille is known for with views of the boats. In cooler months, try bouillabaisse, a warming seafood stew local to the region.   



Afternoon: Parc du Mugel

Explore Parc du Mugel, a lush botanical garden with paths that lead to stunning coastal views. Let the kids run free in the open spaces or join you for a short hike up to the scenic lookout points.

Evening: Sunset at La Calanque de Figuerolles

End the day with a visit to La Calanque de Figuerolles to savor the golden hour. Like most calanques, the path here is a little steep and rocky, so leave the stroller at home. The beach area is tiny, so find seating where you can and take in the stunning rock formations that jut out above the crystal clear waters. 


Day 3: Back to Marseille for the Grand Depart 

Morning: Visit the Parc Longchamp

Leave La Ciotat early and spend the morning at Parc Longchamp. The kids can play in the expansive gardens while you relax by the fountains. The museum offers some interactive exhibits if you need a respite from the heat. 

Lunch: Explore the Noailles neighborhood 

This area is really vibrant and feels like you're somewhere other than in France. Several streets are lined with vendors selling handwoven baskets, rugs, and spices from around the world. Visit the Asian eatery Gingembre for mouthwatering Vietnamese and Thai inspired dishes in an airy, Insta-worthy setting. Highly recommended!  From Noailles, you're within a 10-minute walk to visit the Vieux Port. The picturesque old port area merits a quick pass through before you leave Marseille. 


Tips for Families

Stay Cool: Both cities can be hot in May - September, so keep hydrated and take breaks in shaded areas.

Travel Like a Local: Participate in local customs like "l'apéro" for a taste of French culture. You may be open to trying pastis, a local anise-based liquor, or a classic Aperol spritz, and of course, there's plenty of gelato around for the little ones. 

Stay Flexible: Crowds, traffic jams, limited parking, and few food options between 3-7pm are part of the experience. Go with the flow and allow time to just wander idly. Some of our best discoveries happen in the unplanned moments.

Our whirlwind tour of Marseille and La Ciotat in 3 days inspired this little series - Chasing the Olympic Flame. This area of France offers a unique blend of culture, authenticity, and local charm. Stay tuned for our next stories from Toulouse and Paris as we continue our exploration through France series!


Photo credit: Juma 

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