Where can you travel in winter for a sunny break? To Marseille, of course!

Are you planning a winter vacation, but have no idea where to go? Your only wish: to go to the sun. No need to ask for more, we’ve found the perfect destination for you: Marseille! Between sun, beach, sea, heritage and gastronomy, you’ll enjoy a change of scenery with your family, partner or friends in France’s second-largest city, which welcomes an average of 5 million tourists every year.

Discovering Marseille in winter in the sun: cultural visits

Must-see sites combining history, culture and heritage

At an altitude of 154 meters, the basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde (nicknamed La Bonne Mère) overlooks the entire Phocaean city. According to tradition, she watches over the fishermen, sailors and inhabitants of Marseille. This Byzantine-inspired Romanesque church accommodates nearly 2 million visitors annually, making it Marseille’s most visited monument.

France’s first major museum dedicated to the Mediterranean, the Mucem opens its doors to young and old alike, who will discover a vast diversity of content in its permanent and temporary exhibitions where multiple themes (history, anthropology, archaeology, art history and contemporary art) intersect. Located on the J4 esplanade, the building designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti remains a benchmark for culture open to the open sea. An integral part of the museum, the fort Saint-Jean with its village, gardens and countless secrets remains a cheerful maze where tourists love to stroll to enjoy the sun’s rays.

Accessible via a maritime shuttle, the If castle present on the namesake island seduces many visitors every year with its history. A former state prison, it was made famous by Alexandre Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo, a novel in which the hero is imprisoned in this fortress.

Another must-see Marseille landmark: the palais Longchamp in the 4th arrondissement. Originally built to accommodate the waters of the Durance into the city, this water tower comprises several distinct entities: on the left, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Marseille and on the right, the Natural History Museum of Marseille. A public garden welcomes visitors, who have the option of heading to the park with observatory, at the rear of the palace.

Bustling, authentic neighborhoods

Beyond the must-see Old Port district, there are other atypical places to visit in Marseille during your winter vacation. The oldest district of the Phocaean city, le Panier will have you strolling through its colorful, leafy alleyways to discover its artisan boutiques and convivial restaurants. The producers of the TV series Plus belle la vie drew inspiration from this Marseille neighborhood to build the fictional Mistral district. In December, January or February, step into a bistro for a pistou soup that’s sure to warm you up.

Now head for the quartier Notre-Dame-du-Mont, one of Marseille’s most original, located in the 6th arrondissement. You’ll have the opportunity to discover the cours Julien, a place where street musicians share their music and street art is featured on facades and staircases. It’s theartists’ district par excellence!

For an up-close-and-personal experience with the people of Marseilles, head to the Stade Orange Vélodrome, where Olympique de Marseille fans gather to support their favorite team and set the mood. On match days, the atmosphere is festive and electric. Our top tip? Go backstage at the stadium during your stay in the Phocaean city. You’ll have privileged access to the changing rooms, press room, preparation room and trophy display.

The Phocaean city, between land and sea

The Calanques National Park

Extending over the communes of Marseille and Cassis, the Calanques National Park abounds with exceptional places between land and sea, where biodiversity is enhanced. Thanks to the protection they receive, the calanques have retained their wild character. During your winter break in Marseille, take one of the marked hiking trails and discover the heritage treasures of this park rich in flora and fauna. You’ll have the chance to quietly admire sumptuous landscapes at a time when tourists are more discreet.

La bouillabaisse, a typically Provencal dish

A gourmet blend of seafood and produce, la bouillabaisse is a culinary specialty from Marseille. It consists of fish on the one hand, and bouillon on the other. To this is added a rouille or aioli-based sauce to accompany the pieces of fish and croutons rubbed with garlic for dipping in the broth. This is a timeless recipe from Marseilles gastronomy, found on the menus of many restaurants. Chefs even signed a bouillabaisse chart in 1980, listing the ingredients and original presentation of the typically Marseillaise dish.

Why go to Marseille in winter?

Many events take place in Marseille in winter. From mid-November to early January, you can wander the aisles of the Village de Noël on the Vieux-Port, at Quai de la Fraternité. You’ll have the opportunity to discover the specialties of the merchants spread over fifty chalets or take a ride on the Ferris wheel specially installed for the occasion to enjoy a magnificent view of the city.

In a similar approach, the foire aux Santons – present right next to the Christmas market – is an unmissable outing if you’re heading to Marseille in winter. This Provencal tradition handed down from generation to generation delights young and old alike. Santons are small statuettes sculpted in clay that initially represent the nativity, i.e. the birth of Jesus Christ. For the duration of the fair, activities and workshops are organized for children.

In January, you can attend the Pastorales, theatrical plays performed after Christmas that evoke the birth of Christ in a sheepfold, surrounded by his parents Mary and Joseph. It includes the shepherds’ procession to the stable where the divine child is found. Rather burlesque, the Pastorales have their origins in the midnight masses at which the inhabitants of a village would gather to re-enact the nativity. It’s an unmissable event if you’re visiting Marseille at the start of the New Year.

Aside from these events marking the festive season, Marseille attracts many tourists – even in winter – with its historic monuments, museums, fabulous landscapes and culinary specialties. It has nothing to envy of classic European destinations such as Spain, Greece or Italy.

As rain is rare in winter, you’ll enjoy a stay with a relatively dry and sunny climate. Going to Marseille in winter means you won’t have to deal with large numbers of tourists. Winter remains the ideal time to discover the calanques, far from the stifling heat of summer and the risk of fire. Tranquillity guaranteed!

If you’re looking for a holiday in the sun under the sign of culture, nature and gastronomy, the Phocaean city fills this role perfectly. Plan your trip with the Marseille Tourist Office, Leisure and Convention Bureau today!