Get lost in the picturesque narrow streets of the Panier district

The charming Panier district offers a real journey into Marseille's past. Located in the city's second arrondissement, the Panier district is as picturesque as it gets and a must-see in Marseille. In its narrow streets lined with flowers and green plants, you can admire hundreds of colourful houses, so dear to Provence. You'll have to walk through the Panier to feel the bucolic atmosphere that reigns in its little cafés and typical shops. And don't forget to pass by the many monuments and historical landmarks dotted around the district. Start by discovering the Saint-Laurent church, which offers a panoramic view over the whole of Marseille, then go for a drink at the Hôtel-Dieu, a former hospital transformed into a 5-star hotel, and don't forget to visit the Vieille Charité, an art museum that was once a hospice for the city's poor and beggars.

The narrow streets of the Panier district are as picturesque as they get.

- © Zyankarlo / Shutterstock

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The history of the Panier district

The history of the Panier district began almost 2,600 years ago, when the city of Marseille was founded under the name of Massalia. The Greeks chose this place to set down their luggage because of its elevated position and proximity to the sea. The agora, from which citizens could keep an eye on the activities of the port, was located on what is now the Place de Lenche, while the Butte des Moulins was home to the acropolis dedicated to Athena.

The district continued to develop as Marseille expanded. In the 12th century, the Confrérie du Saint-Esprit built a hospital, which later became the Hôtel Dieu and has now been transformed into a luxury hotel, the 5-star InterContinental Marseille. In the 18th century, a large hospice was built here: the Vieille Charité.

An old bazaar in the Panier district.

- © Carolyne Parent / Shutterstock

In the 19th century, the district was a notorious hangout for prostitution. During the Second World War, the Nazis decided to raze the Panier to the ground because many resistance fighters were hiding there: 1,500 buildings were destroyed, 30,000 people were evicted and thousands more arrested. It was only some fifty years later that the district was renovated and artists, designers and small boutiques began to set up there, making it one of the nicest areas in Marseille.

What to do in the Panier district

The Panier district is probably the most legendary in Marseille. The pavements are dotted with flowers and climbing plants, adding character to the winding, colourful alleyways that are perfect for daydreaming. The atmosphere is soft and pleasant. At the bend in the road, you'll come across a cute little café terrace, a piece of street art or a shop selling local produce, turning this popular district into a veritable open-air museum. Don't let the stairs put you off - it's well worth the effort!

A typical restaurant in the Panier district.

- © bellena / Shutterstock

With a history stretching back thousands of years, there are many monuments to discover in the Panier district. We've already mentioned the Place de Lenche, home to the ancient Greek agora, some of whose underground remains have survived to the present day. The Maison Diamantée is the oldest house in Marseille, built at the end of the 11th century and home to some of the city's most famous families. The Hôtel de Cabre, built in 1535, is also one of the oldest houses in Le Panier. Nearby, the church of Les Accoules is well worth a visit.

We have also already mentioned the Hôpital du Saint-Esprit, built in the 12th century and enlarged over time before becoming the Hôtel Dieu in the 17th century. Since 2013, this monumental building has been home to a 5-star hotel, whose terrace offers breathtaking views over Marseille and Notre-Dame de la Garde. The Pavillon de Daniel was built in the 17th century, and the guillotine was erected on its forecourt during the French Revolution.

A former printing works in the Panier district.

- © Chrispictures / Shutterstock

In the heart of the Panier district, the Vieille Charité was built in the 17th century to house the poor natives of Marseille. Left derelict after the Second World War, the building was renovated and transformed into a multidisciplinary scientific and cultural centre. Today it houses the Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology and the Museum of African, Oceanic and Amerindian Art, as well as a poetry centre and research institutes. An emblematic site for the city of Marseille, it is a true architectural masterpiece.

The Vieille Charité museum in the Panier district.

- © Pani Garmyder / Shutterstock

Practical information for La Vieille Charité

Opening times: every day except Monday, 9.00 am to 6.00 pm

👛 Admission: €6 (concessions €3)

📍 Location: it's here on Google Maps

Our favourite hotel in the Panier district

5* InterContinental Marseille Marseille

5* InterContinental Marseille

The 5-star InterContinental is one of Marseille's most legendary hotels, housed in the former Hotel Dieu in the Panier district.
8.3 Very good
£238 / night

Practical information for the Panier district

The Panier district is the oldest part of Marseille and one of the most legendary. It has a gentle atmosphere that you absolutely must discover on your next trip to Marseille. Allow around two hours to explore the Panier, a little longer if you want to visit the Vieille Charité or have lunch in one of the district's typical restaurants.

📍 How do I get to the Panier district?

Right next to the Old Port, the Panier district is easily accessible on foot from the city centre.

By public transport, take tram T2 or T3 to Sadi Carnot stop, metro 1 to Colbert station or metro 2 to Joliette. Buses 60, 82 and 82s also stop at Mucem St Jean, bus 55 stops at République and bus 49 serves Mucem St Jean, Place de Lenche and Place Bargemon.

The shady alleyways of the Panier district attract many visitors in summer.

- © Chrispictures / Shutterstock

A few tips for your visit

  • Because of the many staircases, access to the Panier district can be difficult for people with reduced mobility.
Need a hand? take a look at our guide
Further reading
A stroll through the Old Port
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...
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