12 Cheap things to do in Marseille, France

Steve Cummings


One of the biggest and most famous of France's cities, Marseille is not only far from the country's capital city but is as different from Paris in terms of its culture and atmosphere as it can be. This ancient seaport has always been central to the country's trade with the rest of the world. Les Marseillaise locals are incredibly proud of their unique, long-lasting heritage and history. 

Marseille is known as a city of exceptional beauty, but like many of the most spectacular worldwide, it has a rough edge that makes it even more appealing. This diverse and lively city has plenty of things to see and do if you are vacationing here. However, we understand you may have a tight budget. 

The following guide will show you plenty of things to see and do in the city to ensure you have a Cheap Holiday to Marseille, France.

1. Cheap Accommodation

Before we start with our recommendations for frugal sites, landmarks, and activities, you may still need to book accommodation. Often considered an expensive city, you can still find cheap places to stay in Marseille if you look around and think a little outside the box. Here are some suggestions:

  • The family-orientated Best Western Plus Hotel La Joliette is a four-star hotel with rooms starting at a very affordable $98. It offers many of the standard features you would expect from a budget hotel, including a heated pool.
  • Holiday Inn Express Marseille Saint Charles – part of another popular hotel chain, the Holiday Inn Express Marseille Saint Charles is conveniently located. It offers prices on rooms from $88 before taxes, which is less than the current average for comparable hotels. 
  • B&B Marseille Centre La Timone – If you are not looking to spend a lot, this budget accommodation offers a family-friendly experience for as little as $64 per room before taxes. There are no bells and whistles, but this is a superb option when you are trying to save money to explore the great city of Marseille.

2. Marseille Cheap Restaurants

Now that we have you covered for cheap accommodation options, you will want to eat out sometime during your vacation, so let's look at some Marseille cheap restaurants.

  • Bertoni – located at 38 Rue SylvaBelle, 13006, this French cuisine eatery is a popular and inexpensive place to dine. The average meal price, consisting of a starter, main course, dessert, and some drinks, is around 20 Euros. It is an excellent restaurant where you can get that authentic French dining experience for less.
  • La Petite 13002 (a Gluten-Free and Vegan restaurant) – is located at 2 Place Daviel, 13002, offers a wide range of meat-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free alternatives. The food and overall experience at this diner are highly regarded, with the average meal of a starter, main, dessert, and some drinks costing around 18 euros. 
  • Itamae – a Japanese restaurant, located at 27 Rue de l'Abbé Féraud, 13005. It is excellent if you are looking for the best cheap eats in Marseille where something different from the usual French and Mediterranean fare is on the menu. 
  • Quartier Libre – this may be a place you would instead visit when you want to try a wide range of Mediterranean dishes. The average price for a starter, primary, and dessert is around 18 euros. 

While in Marseille, make sure to eat in some of the small cafes and patisseries to try some classic French pastries and bread.

3. Walk Around the Old Port

Marseille Old Port
Credit: kavramm/Depositphotos

For a cheap holiday to Marseille, France, you must choose the things you will do carefully and the places you will see. One place you really should explore is the Old Port. There is a very magical, timeless quality to Vieux Port, as the locals know it. This waterfront was at the center of trade conducted by France and served its purpose for around 26 centuries. Goods and cultural differences were exchanged here as it linked France and Europe with the world. The earliest settlers of any note here were the Phoenicians, who established a colony in approximately 600 BC. When the Roman Empire invaded and took control, it was a vast commerce center. 

The Port was valiantly guarded during the Crusades by Saint-Jean and Saint-Nicolas forts, which are still standing and free to visit. 

Despite its history, the most remarkable thing about this old Port is that it is still an integral part of modern Marseille. 

4. Beaches in Marseille

Beaches in Marseille
Credit: ericlaudonien93/Depositphotos

A summer getaway or any gateway to a coastal destination like this would be nothing without a stop at a beach or two. Fortunately, there are many great beaches in Marseille. When it comes to what is suitable for you, though, that is more about preference and the type of beach you are interested in 

Catalanes Beach is just 15 minutes away from Vieux Port and the city center for quick and easy swims in the sea. This makes it an affordable place to get your beach and sea fix. However, it could be a better beach by a long stretch. If you want a more stunning and aesthetically pleasing beach staffed by lifeguards during the high tide seasons, the Plage du Prophete or Plage du Prado are perfect. These beautiful sandy beaches draw crowds of water sports enthusiasts, families, and sun worshipers. Marseille beaches are also known for their friendly atmosphere, so you will never feel unwelcome. 

5. Calanques National Park

Calanques National Park
Credit: Romas_ph/Depositphotos

Whether you are a nature lover or want to get away from the hustle-bustle of the city lifestyle, one of the best free things to do in Marseille is explore the Calanques National Park. It is free to enter and stretches between the city's outskirts to the dainty little port town Cassis. Notable for the transparent and dreamy azure-hued waters that wind and bend through “calanques,” also known as craggy creeks to you and me, it also has lots of Mediterranean greenery on display.

You can swim in some of the most transparent and bluest waters you've ever seen or snorkel to your heart's content. Rock climbing and hiking are also available. This is a magical place that doesn't feel like it is a part of Marseille. 

6. Museum of the Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM)

Perhaps you are interested in visiting the best museums in Marseille while you stay in or around the city. One of the best, especially if you want to learn more about Mediterranean history, is the MuCEM, or Museum of the Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean. Although it only opened in 2013, it has already ascended the most-visited museum list and is one of the 50 listed. 

Here, you can learn about the Antiquity era's diverse traditions, with many collections and programs designed to highlight Mediterranean archaeology, cultural practices, cultural traditions, art history, and modern art. 

Roland Carta and Rudy Ricciotti designed the main building, which is easy to find as it stands next to the aforementioned Fort Saint-Jean. 

7. Explore Old Marseille in Le Panier District

One of the best things to do in Marseille for an even more comprehensive view of its history is to explore the stunning Le Panier District. The name literally translates as “The Basket District” and has been home to people since 600 BCE, making it the city's oldest part, inhabited or uninhabited. Le Panier was once the colony center for a group of people called Massalia. Interestingly, that is where the name Marseille comes from. At the turn of the 17th century, the area was abandoned by its more affluent residents for eastern building developments. From that point, it became a district populated by the city's working classes, including fishermen and sailors. Over the years, there was a welcomed wave of different immigrants from places like North Africa, Corsica, and Italy.

While it may have a checkered history as one of the poorest areas in a fairly affluent city, modern Le Panier is a little place to stroll. There are many cheerful squares, vibrant but narrow little streets, and hidden-from-plain-sight corners with trendy establishments like boutiques, street art vendors, restaurants, and café terraces. 

8. Retail Therapy and Cultural Experiences at La Canebiere District

There are many great places to go in the city for cheap bars. Marseille residents, after all, are fond of a drink. However, rather than go on a pub crawl, you should head to La Canebiere District to experience an authentic day in the life of Marseille residents. This is the most comprehensive and longest avenue within the city limits and has existed for centuries. It was expanded significantly during the latter half of the 18th century, as evidenced by the many opulent neoclassical-era buildings. This shopping and cultural melting pot stretches over the Vieux Port, making it easy to access. 

You will find a lot to see and experience just by walking around here. But there are also plenty of places to get some retail therapy or to stop in a nice trendy bar for a cheap beer or something more substantial.

9. Capucins Market

Vegetables shopping
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

If you still haven't had enough of Marseille culture, one of the best things to do in Marseille, even on a modest and frugal budget, is to visit the stunning Capucins Market. This is close to the above and features some of the least expensive but best quality fruit and vegetables. There are many amazing stalls here, all selling varied products, including textiles, spices, and food from around the Mediterranean and North Africa. 

10. Borely Gardens and Chateau

Another of the best free things to do in Marseille, especially if you are interested in escaping the noise and mayhem of the modern and older parts of the city, is Borely Gardens and Chateau. This is just 3 miles south of the city's center and features extensive gardens and ground around a beautiful stately home. It is not easy to see why this is so popular. You will find many different species of flowers and plants and lovely little canals that ducks and swans have made home. For children, there are also several playground areas. 

If that wasn't enough, you could use the park to reach the beach. 

Within the 18th-century stately home is the impressive Museum of Decorative Arts and Fashion, which is also free to enter and a must-visit. 

11. Marseille History Museum

Another great free thing to do in Marseille is the Marseille Museum of History. This is found at 2 Rue Henri Barbusse, 13001, and features a stunning collection of artifacts, documents, images, and more. Some highlights worth visiting include the prehistory exhibits on the region and how it developed through Ancient Greek and Roman rule. 

12. La Bonne Mere Basilica 

La Bonne Mere Basilica
Credit: saiko3p/Depositphotos

If you are interested in capturing some great pictures of the city and its stunning architecture, one of the best free things to do in Marseille is head to the renowned Basilica, La Bonne Mere, which translates as The Good Mother. This bell tower features a stunning gold leaf and bronze statue of the Virgin Mary. The building was consecrated in 1864 and was on the site of several former places of worship. 

Its architectural style is a great example of Romanesque Byzantine architecture. The tower offers some of the most awe-inspiring vistas of the city, taking in the waterfront, the Old Port, and many of the city's most iconic buildings and districts.

Final Thoughts

We hope that if you were one of those who believed there was no such thing as a cheap holiday in Marseille, France, we have managed to show you that you can be a frugal traveler and still enjoy this ancient, culturally and commercially important city on the French Mediterranean coast. There are many more cheap and beautiful things there, but this is a great starting list.

Please let us know in the comments if there is anything we should add.

Leave a Comment