Top 8 unusual places and activities in Marseille

It would be a mistake to think of Marseille only in terms of its beautiful beaches, its Bonne Mère and its famous Vieux-Port. Beyond the tourist clichés, the city abounds in original places within its various neighborhoods. Between art, culture, nature, history and sea, there’s no doubt that young and old alike will enjoy discovering the unusual activities and places of Marseille, a beautiful city in Provence.

Atypical places to discover in Marseille

1. Cours Julien

In the 6th arrondissement, the cours Julien is part of the Notre-Dame du Mont district. A veritable den of artists, it showcases street art through graffiti by local artists present on the walls and staircases. As you pass through, stroll through the atypical alleyways to meet the artisans of vintage-looking boutiques. An artistic spot par excellence, the cours Ju is frequented both during the day and in the evening. Every Wednesday morning, an organic farmers’ market awaits you, where you can buy fresh, quality produce from local producers. During your lunch break, sit down at a restaurant terrace table to enjoy a typically Marseillais dish. In the evening, the district comes alive and becomes a rendezvous for young people in search of a festive and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Don’t hesitate to call on the Office de Tourisme de Marseille, which offers guided tours on the theme of street art to learn more about this modern trend sublimated by the Cours Julien.

2. La Friche la Belle-de-Mai

A working space and artistic venue, the Friche la Belle-de-Mai – born from the former Seita factory – is a 45,000 m² multi-purpose public space. Inside, there are five performance and concert venues, shared gardens, a play and sports area, a restaurant, a bookshop, a crèche, exhibitions, a toit-terrasse and a training center. This space brings together all the arts: theater, dance, music, painting, radio… There’s something for everyone. Making, producing, distributing and sharing art and culture, all stages are carried out within the Friche. People from Marseille and vacationers alike enjoy strolling, dining, taking their children to the playground or growing a vegetable garden in the communal garden. All summer long, the roof of the building is open to the public, who can lounge on deckchairs while enjoying the musical ambience.

3. The Cosquer Méditerranée replica

Near Marseille, in the calanques, on the cape of Morgiou, lies the Cosquer cave, a underwater cave unique in the world discovered in 1985. In the rock, various ordinary land animals of cave art have been engraved, but also seals, fish, penguins, and symbols that may evoke octopus or jellyfish. Access is via a narrow 150-meter-long tunnel whose entrance is 35 meters below ground. Identifying each drawing required detailed work, making it one of Marseille’s historically rich sites. The entrance to the cave is now condemned, but a replica opened in June 2022 in the Villa Méditerranée, near the Mucem, so that visitors can admire these works of art dating back over 30,000 years.

4. Hôtel de Cabre

Also known as the house of the Échevin de Cabre, the Hôtel de Cabre is the oldest house in Marseille. Located at the corner of rue de la Bonneterie and Grand-Rue, in the 2nd arrondissement, it was classified as a Monument historique in 1941 for its facades. The rest of the house has been listed since 1926. With its imposing facade and mullioned windows, it takes visitors by surprise as they pass by. On the commission of Consul Louis de Cabre, an influential city notable, the house was built in 1535 on the outskirts of the Old Port, close to the Hôtel de Ville and Hôtel Dieu. Following the Second World War, the neighborhood was rebuilt in 1954. A truly unusual site in Marseille, the house was moved in one block and rotated 90° to align with the Grand-Rue.

Unusual activities and unique experiences in Marseille

5. The Fer à Cheval soap factory

As one of the last soap factories to perpetuate the tradition of Marseille soap, the savonnerie Fer à Cheval is listed as a historic monument in France. Genuine Marseille soap requires particular care and skilled labor, standing in contrast to industrial manufacturing. Only master soapmakers master the soap paste to perfection, over which they keep a constant eye. From generation to generation, these specialists pass on their making secrets with the aim of preserving the authenticity of this Marseille heritage. By reservation only, it is possible to visit the factory boutique located within the soap factory combining modernity and know-how.

6. The pastis factory

Since 1884, Cristal Limiñana, the last pastis factory based in Marseille, has been a specialist in aniseed aperitifs. Particularly recognizable by its hexagonal shape, the bottle of Cristal Anis, is still made at this family-run factory. Very close to the Marseille Blancarde train station, you can visit the factory only by appointment. Over the course of an afternoon, discover the backstage of the manufacture of the most popular alcoholic beverage in the Phocéenne city and the Southern region, in general. In the company of the great-granddaughter of the factory’s creator, you’ll learn the Mediterranean history of the Limiñana family. You’ll also be revealed the secrets of anisette, pastis and the whole range of drinks made in Marseille.

7. The Ferry Boat

Why not take part in the world’s smallest crossing during your stay in Marseille? Linking Mairie on Quai du Port to Place aux Huiles on Quai Rive Neuve, the crossing aboard the famous Ferry Boat measures just 283 meters. In less than 5 minutes, it takes you from one side of the harbor to the other while enjoying a lovely sea ride. Catamaran-style, the electrosolar ship has been in service since February 2010 and offers promenades every day from 7:30am to 8:30pm. Departures are scheduled every 10 minutes, depending on the weather. To take the Ferry Boat, go to either the Quai du Port or the Quai de Rive-Neuve. An inexpensive activity, the crossing costs just €0.50.

8. The Corniche Kennedy bench

Considered by Marseillais to be the longest bench in the world, the Corniche Kennedy bench runs for nearly 3 kilometers. Anecdotally, it enabled Marseille to enter the book of records in 1965. An award that makes many smile, because, in reality, the bench is interrupted by passages built into its concrete. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest bench in the world has been certified in Switzerland, with an uninterrupted length of 1.013 kilometers. Following a citizens’ initiative, the bench in the Phocaean city has been decorated with color thanks to the installation of mosaics by Paola Cervoni, art therapist and founder of the Viv’arthe association, and hundreds of children. To create the work, Paola drew inspiration from Barcelona’s parc Güell, in which Spanish artist Gaudi decorated the benches with colorful mosaic. By 2024, 77 new portions of the bench will be dressed in every color, to celebrate the Olympic Games to be held in Marseille’s harbor.