Marseille is the second largest city in France and is also the largest port in the Mediterranean. The town itself is one of the oldest in the world and has a complicated and often controversial history. Originally founded by travellers from the Greek city of Phocea in 600BC the city now has one of the most diverse collections of cultures of any city in the world, and this really adds to its charm as a fantastic place to visit.
With an international airport located about 20miles from the city, hiring a car is a great way to get to the city, and to explore its surroundings. People driving in the centre of Marseille are advised to ignore satellite navigation system as the roads are constantly being dug up and changed, and with a tram line now crossing and replacing some roads following a Tom Tom can leave you stuck on a railway line.
Places around Marseille to visit if you hire a car
Whilst the centre of Marseille can be complicated from a navigational point of view, that doesn’t mean hiring a car doesn’t have its benefits, and just outside the city are some wonderful places to visit.
Le Vieux Port
As part of the largest port in the Mediterranean a visit to Marseille would not be complete without a trip to the old harbour. Le Vieux Port provides a free show and is best visited in the early summer evenings. Sit back and relax in one of the many portside cafes and bars and watch the local fisherman bring in their catch and then auction it off to local shopkeepers.
La Place Castellane
Paris isn’t the only city in France with one of the most amazing roundabouts in the world and La Place Castellane has a stunning fountain sculpture in the centre. Surrounded by cinemas and cafes the roundabout is certainly not of the concrete kind you may associate with towns in England and is a wonderful place to visit.
If locating Le Place Castellane when in Marseille be careful not to end up in the suburb called La Castellene, as it’s a rundown area of the city known only for being the birth place of Zinedine Zidane.
Mazargues War Cemetery
The Mazargues War Cemetery is a war cemetery holding bodies of soldiers who died in both the first and second world wars and is a wonderful place to visit for a moment of quiet reflection. The cemetery holds the bodies of a lot of Chinese and Indian gun men who came to help the allies in the two wars.
Just outside the city of Marseille are the miniature fjords of Calanques, and provide one of the most stunning sites around the outskirts of the city. The fjords are a mixture of blue sea and limestone cliffs and those with a particular like for walking can complete the cliff top path in a day if you keep up a brisk pace.
Formerly a prison, the Château d’If was built on a small island just outside the city and was originally built as a defence structure for the port. To access the island pick up a tourist boat from the Vieux Port in the city.
Marseille is built next to the sea, which means it is home to a range of different beaches. It’s important to find the right one however, as many are affected by overcrowding and pollution from the city. By hiring a car you have given yourself the flexibility to travel a little further in search of an ideal beach and you can’t go far wrong with Les Goudes, located right at the south tip of the region and a stunning little coastal town and beach.
The Plages des Catalans is located right next to the city but is pleasant for an afternoon stroll. There are around 15 different beaches stretching south of the city to explore, giving you plenty of choice.
The home of the city’s once famous football team, the Stade Veledrome really comes into its own when hosting football matches. Olympique de Marseille were once Champions of Europe but now don’t have the funds to make it all the way through the competition, but the club still remains the heartbeat of the city.
Try to buy tickets several days before a game for the best chance of getting in.
Hiring a car in Marseille
Like most cities in France, you’ll need to be 21 or over to hire a car in Marseille, and most drivers under 25 may find themselves with a higher excess and a higher premium because they are deemed young drivers.