Marseille's attractions are many, but the top draw in 2013 will undoubtedly be acting as host as Europe's Capital of Culture. Street fairs, concerts, firework displays and food will be on offer all year, along with new galleries and halls rotating different exhibitions. There are also many other age-old attractions, like the Vieux Port old harbor, where the fishermen auction off their fish and there are many restaurants, or the famed Canabiere Avenue, which has plenty of cafes and people-watching spots.
Make sure to visit Les Calanques, a series of mini "fjords" set in limestone cliffs just outside of Marseille. You can take a boat trip out or go by land.
There are dozens of nice places to stay in Marseille, from chic B&Bs to upscale brand hotels. Many visitors want to be near the Vieux Port, but this area is very touristy, and you might want to opt for something a bit more local, like the trendy Cours Julien neighborhood where you can find the boutique Pension Edelweiss and other digs. For something a bit more quiet, a spot like Le Petit Nice Passedat Hotel which sits over the Mediterranean and offers upmarket accommodation, could be a perfect choice.
Take It or Leave It:
Marseille is very crowded (and hot) in July and August, as this is the main European holiday period, and many hotels will be at capacity, not to mention prices upped. Consider a spring or fall visit instead if possible.
Seafood lovers flock to Marseille to try its bouillabaisse seafood soup, and there are plenty of restaurants to try it in. The Le Petit Nice Passedat Hotel has a 3 Michelin-starred restaurant which serves some of the best in town. There are plenty of other atmospheric eateries around the old port, but try to avoid the tourist restaurants that claim to make the real thing for 20 euros. In addition to bouillabaisse, make sure to try aioli (dried cod and veggies with a garlic sauce), Marseille's other signature dish.
Most restaurants end their lunches promptly at 2, so don't be late!
Bouillabaisse, if it is the real deal, must be reserved in advance, so make note of this when planning for dinner.
Be Sure to Sample:
Pastis is Marseille's drink claim to fame, and you should certainly try one while here at one of Marseille's many nightlife spots. Bars looking over the Vieux Port are popular, as are rooftop spots with views across the city. And despite being pastis and wine territory, locals still flock to O'Brady's Irish Pub out near the stadium to watch sports on the big screen and down pints of Guinness.
The Gare St. Charles train station area is not safe late at night. Additionally, if going out at night, take taxis at this time.
Take It or Leave It:
Some bars (and restaurants) close down for several weeks in August during the annual French holiday time.
Marseille offers plenty of shopping opportunities. Most visitors want to go home with some of the famed savon de Marseille, which is an olive oil soap that has been made locally for six centuries now! There are also fashion boutiques, galleries, and shopping malls to keep you busy. In the Cour Julienne, you can find bohemian shops while fine paintings and antiques can be had from places like the Galerie Cargo.
Best Local Souvenir:
Savon de Marseille.