A stroll through the Old Port

Arriving from Gare Saint-Charles, visitors walk down the Canebière to the Old Port and are immediately immersed in Marseille's unique atmosphere. This is where the history of the Phocaean city began - with the birth of the ancient Greek colony Massalia - and this is where it continues to be written day after day. The 3,500 rattling masts of the boats moored here, the chirping exclamations of the fishermen selling their fish at the fish market and the terraces packed with tourists and locals prove that this is the heart of the city. This is Marseille's main square, the place where people gather for every occasion, from the Christmas market to fireworks displays on 14 July and celebrations of Olympique de Marseille victories. The rest of the time, you can enjoy a stroll under the shade. Follow the guide, we'll tell you all about Marseille's Vieux-Port.

Marseille's Vieux-Port can accommodate up to 3,500 boats.

- © Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock
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The history of Marseille's Old Port

The ancient Greek colony of Massalia was built around the Old Port in 600 BC. Legend has it that the city was born of the marriage of a princess and a sailor from Phocaea, demonstrating that Marseille has always welcomed foreigners.

Massalia then became Massilia during the Roman Empire, before taking the name Marsiho in the Middle Ages. The Old Port was always the city's nerve centre, essential for trading in the Mediterranean. Two forts were built at the entrance to the port to protect it: Fort Saint-Nicolas and Fort Saint-Jean.

The Old Port, with Fort Saint-Jean on the left and Fort Saint-Nicolas on the right.

- © Sergii Figurnyi / Shutterstock

Marseille's Vieux-Port is now a marina and fishing port, but it remains the symbol of the city. It was renovated in 2013 as part of Marseille's European Capital of Culture programme. Formerly surrounded by roads, traffic has been reduced to leave more room for pedestrians, and access to the port has been made easier. A Norman Foster-designed shade canopy now covers the quay, giving the Old Port a more modern look.

What to do in the Old Port

To get to Marseille's Old Port, take La Canebière, the city centre's most emblematic avenue. It stretches for a kilometre as far as the Eglise des Réformés. Shops, cafés, luxury hotels... the avenue was a fashionable place in the 19th century, but it gradually became the thoroughfare for all the sailors who moored at the Vieux-Port, and the alcohol flowed freely. The avenue was subsequently restored and is now frequented daily by hundreds of people coming and going from the Old Port. The emblematic Old Port was and remains the beating heart of the city of Marseille. Its atmosphere has remained unchanged for centuries.

The shade on the Old Port.

- © Pani Garmyder / Shutterstock

Here, you can stroll along the quays, watching the fishermen as they head out to sea or return home with their arms full of fish. On sunny or rainy days, you can take refuge under the shaded roof, whose mirror-covered ceiling lends itself easily to selfies. Pastis flows freely from the terraces of the many bars and restaurants that line the harbour, and the atmosphere is friendly and good-natured.

It's an eclectic place where the constant hustle and bustle of the city centre reigns, and one that undeniably contributes to Marseille's reputation. Without the Old Port, formerly known as the Lacydon, Marseille would be almost devoid of personality.

The fish market on the Old Port.

- © Elena Pominova / Shutterstock

Every morning, Marseille's Vieux-Port fills up with stalls: it's time for the fish market. Fishermen present and sell what they have caught that very morning at the fish auction - it couldn't be fresher! Fishmongers, tourists and locals mingle here to buy their lunch or simply to admire the sometimes enormous fish lining the stalls. If you're not keen on the smell of fish, the flower market on Tuesday and Saturday mornings should be more to your liking.

Our favourite hotel on Marseille's Old Port

3-star Hôtel Belle-Vue Vieux-Port Marseille
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3-star Hôtel Belle-Vue Vieux-Port

This 3-star hotel boasts one of the best views of Notre-Dame de la Garde and the Old Port!
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Practical information for the Old Port of Marseille

If there was only one thing to visit during a weekend in Marseille, it would undoubtedly be the Old Port! You can spend just a few minutes there to get a feel for it, or stay for an hour or two to soak up its unique atmosphere.

📍 How do I get to Marseille's Vieux-Port?

Right in the heart of the city, Marseille's Vieux-Port is very easy to get to on foot or by public transport. It is served by metro line 1 at Vieux-Port station, as well as buses 41, 47, 55, 60, 61, 80, 82, 82s and 83. This is also where all the city's maritime shuttles pass through. Underground pay car parks are also available.

View of Notre-Dame de la Garde from the Old Port.

- © Pani Garmyder / Shutterstock

A few tips for your visit

  • Marseille's Vieux-Port is the ideal place to explore Marseille by sea. This is where the shuttle buses leave for the Frioul islands or for l'Estaque, la Pointe Rouge and les Goudes.
  • Cruises in Marseille harbour to the Calanques National Park also leave from the Old Port.
  • Around the Old Port, you can admire Marseille's town hall, the church of Saint-Ferréol and the Théâtre de la Criée.
by Editorial Team
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