I took a bus to Marseille on a gloomy afternoon last November. The stay in Nice was cut short by two days because of some complications with the couch-surfing host and the city itself, which I will tell you in another post. This time, I booked accommodation at a two-star hotel in the heart of Marseille instead of looking for free beds, and asked myself to stay in as the sun went down.

Dropping off my backpack at the hotel room, I headed out for steep uphill walks to the iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde and reached the entrance just to find the Sunday service had begun. I found myself a seat in the back and quietly admired the church’s magnificent Byzantine-style architecture while following the rituals. Almost no meter square of the church’s interior was left plain. The arches were adorned with red and white stripped marble, ceilings lavishly painted with giant frescoes and side chapels filled with votive offerings. Being France’s second largest port city, the maritime theme was visually evident everywhere from the boat and anchor motifs in the mural paintings to the model ships under the ceiling vaults.

The service lasted for no longer than thirty minutes but the crowds took forever to dwindle. After a short self-guided tour around the church I walked out the door to be stunned by a spectacular sunset over Vieux-Port and across the city, which unfortunately couldn’t be captured because my phone ran out of battery. By this time the whole church facade had been lit up and turned into a bright and shiny gem emerging from the hill. Located at the highest natural point of Marseille, the Notre-Dame was without doubt the perfect choice for a sky view of the vibrant ancient city.

The following morning I set out to check off some attractions downtown Marseille, starting with the unmissable Vieux-Port. Traveling in the off-season I was blessed to see the port city real and raw as it was. In the morning, the promenade near Quai des Belges was lined with a bunch of fish stalls which invited local shoppers in with the freshest catch although the food seemed a little pricey. The city may not have that fancy and glamorous look compared with other cities in the French riviera like Nice and Cannes, but for some reason it gives me a sense of familiarity, something to remind me of my coastal hometown back in Vietnam.

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2016-11-14-11-47-042016-11-14 11.48.47.jpgVieux-Port in the morning

2016-11-14 11.57.40.jpgMusée d’Histoire de Marseille (History Museum)

2016-11-14 13.00.34.jpgVieille Charité

2016-11-14 13.16.15.jpgCathédrale de la Major (Marseille Cathedral)

Le Cours Julien was probably the most fascinating neighborhood in Marseille with trendy cafe, vintage restaurants, souvenir shops and colorful street art that brought the whole streetscape to life. I discovered this area accidentally by turning into any random corners and keeping walking for no purpose. The deeper I ventured into the neighborhood, the more lively it became. Not all who wander are lost. Marseille was full of nice surprises that only came along with fresh minds and low expectations.

2016-11-14-13-13-012016-11-14-13-10-372016-11-14-13-13-392016-11-14 12.39.46.jpgStreet art in Le Cours Julien

Marseille may have been notorious with drugs, crime and insecurity but not necessary a blacklist destination. Here are my two-cents for solo (female) travelers:

  • Try to squeeze the sightseeing and street roaming in the day-time which is absolutely doable since most of the city’s top attractions are in the walking distance. Avoid walking alone at night.
  • Stay in the safe neighborhoods in the center like Vieux-Port or Le Panier so you won’t need to commute on the packed buses/trains and thereby reduce the risks of being pick-pocketed. Strongly recommend the great-value Hotel Moderne on Rue Breteil.
  • Don’t make yourself look like a tourist by glueing your eyes on maps and taking pictures constantly.
  • Don’t bring too much cash or valuable items with you. Or you can travel with a neck wallet and wear it under your shirt (although it may look not so cool…

13 thoughts on “24 hours in Marseille

  1. I loved the photos (especially those street art ones)! To tell the truth I didn’t know that Marseille is seen as dangerous place but maybe it was good to know before I someday travel there. I think your tips for solo females were good to remember in any not so safe city. 🙂

    Your posts are always interesting and fun to read so I nominated you for Blogger Recognition Award in my side blog:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Heheh…we’d stand out as tourist on any day…! LOL. But then yes you are right the reputation of the city is not exactly stellar. Still, it is a city to marvel at. One thing though, since it is by the coast and you did take pictures of the fresh catch, did you sample any seafood?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t intend to buy but could only tell the fish was fresh by a look although it wasn’t as easy as in Vietnam. In the open markets our fish vendors often let the fish swim in the tank so a five year old kid can tell it’s alive 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Despite Marseille’s bad rep, I actually really like the city – it’s remarkably compact, cheap to visit (except food – so I didn’t eat out much when I was there) and there are some stunning views to be found. I’d been to Marseille years ago with my family, but went back in late October last year (and coincidentally stayed at the same hotel you did) and had a great time showing my boyfriend round the sites. Even though I wasn’t travelling alone, I still felt a little on my guard and we stuck to the main thoroughfares after dark, usually those around the Vieux Port.

    Liked by 1 person

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