A few words about Marseille, France
Marseille is the second most populated city of France (and third urban area) the biggest mediterranean port and the economic center of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region.
Marseille has a complex history, also known as Port d`Afrique. It was founded by the Phoceans (from the Greek city of Phocea) in 600 B.C. and is one of the oldest cities in Europe. The town is a far cry from the Cézanne paintings and Provençal clichés of sleepy villages, "pétanque" players and Marcel Pagnol novels. With around one million inhabitants, Marseille is the second largest city in France in terms of population and the largest in terms of area. Its population is a real melting pot of different cultures. It is also said that there are more Comorian people in Marseille than in Comoros! Indeed, the people of Marseille have varying ethnic backgrounds, with a lot of Italians and Spanish having immigrated to the area after the second world war.
For people not afraid to discover a real place with real people, Marseille is the place. Even Ferry crossings
from UK to Marseille are easy to find, so there's literally no reason why you shouldn't consider visiting Marseille. From colourful markets (like Noailles market) that will make you feel like you are in Africa, to the Calanques (a natural area of big cliffs falling into the sea - Calanque means fjord), from the Panier area (the oldest place of the town and historically the place where newcomers installed) to the Vieux-Port (old harbor) and the Corniche (a road along the sea) Marseille has definitely a lot to offer.
Forget the Canebière, forget the "savon de Marseille" (Marseille soap), forget the clichés, and just have a ride from l'Estaque to Les Goudes. You will not forget it.
Some things to see
le Vieux Port (old harbour): watching fishermen selling their stock by auction is a must. Arriving to Marseille in the Vieux-Port on a summer evening is something you will never forget... You can watch this show by going to Frioul islands or Chateau d'If and going back late in the afternoon. there is also a nice view on the harbor from the Palais du Pharo (Pharo Palace). The famous Canebière avenue goes straight down the harbor. However the Canebière is not that interesting despite its reputation.
Notre Dame de la Garde: the big church which overlooks the city. Old fishermen used to have their boats blessed in this church. You can still see many boat models hanging around in the church. From there it is one of the nicest view of the city. You can use the tourist train from the Vieux Port to reach the church - you can get off the train, look around and board a later train back to the port.
Musée des Docks romains (Archéologie-Graffiti-Lapidaire) (the old harbour from Phoenician and Roman times), Place Vivaux, 13002 Marseille. Tel: 04 91 91 24 62
Musée d'Archéologie méditerranéenne (Archéologie-Graffiti-Lapidaire), Centre de la Vieille Charité, 2 Rue de la Charité, 13002 Marseille. Tel: 04 91 14 58 59, Fax : 04 91 14 58 76
le Cours Julien and la plaine: a hangout area with bookstores, cafés, fountains, and a playground for the small ones (metro stop Cours Julien/Notre Dame du Mont). It is THE trendy area of Marseille. La Plaine is the local name for Place Jean Jaurès close to Cours Julien. Every Thursday and Saturday morning the Plaine market is the place to shop. If you are there early enough you can make very good deals, even if what you'll find there is sometimes "tombé du camion" (fallen off the truck) as one says in Marseille.
la Corniche: a walkway and a road by the sea that provides lovely views of the sea, the Chateau d'If to the south, and les Calanques to the east.
la Place Castellane: a roundabout with a grand fountain/column/sculpture in the center, with excellent cinemas and cafés surrounding. There is another place called La Castellane : it is a poor suburb of Marseille where Zinedine Zidane the famous football player was born. Be careful not to confuse the two places.
Boulevard Longchamp and Palais Longchamp (Longchamp casttle and avenue). From the Réformé church (up the Canebière) you can follow the Boulevard Longchamp where you can see nice example of old upper-class buildings to arrive to Palais Longchamp. The palais is worth visiting though it won't take you long. You can visit the "musee des beaux arts" as well as the natural history museum.
Parc Borély (Borely park). A large and great park, 300 meters from the sea. After a siesta in the park go have a drink at Escale Borely (a place with numerous restaurants and bars on the beach) to see the sunset.
Le Panier. Panier means basket in French, but in Marseille it is the name of the oldest area of the town. In the middle of this area there is the Vielle Charité, a wonderful old monument, now hosting museums and exhibitions.
Let's be honest, beaches in Marseille are not always great. Depending on the weather, they can be polluted. However the small beaches south of the city centre between La Pointe Rouge harbour and La Madrague harbour are cleaner, nicer and usually slightly less crowded. There are also good sandy beaches at L'Estaque - take bus 35 from Joliette metro/tram stop to the end of the line (20-25 minutes).
Unité d'Habitation: designed by Le Corbusier. The building is called "la maison du fada" (the house of the foolish) by indegenous people. The building contains a shopping street, a church, a children's school and housing. You can access the roof and enjoy the breathtaking view of Marseille between hills and sea (10am-6pm). There is a bar/restaurant/hotel on the 3rd floor too. Take bus 21 from Rond-Point du Prado metro.
Stade Velodrome: the stadium where the local football team "Olympique de Marseille" plays. Football matches are one of the highlights of Marseilles life. Whilst L'OM have fallen on rather lean times the former champions of Europe are the biggest football team in France. The atmosphere at the stadium is fantastic and whilst visitors are unlikely to get tickets for the popular Virage Nord or Sud seats in the Tribune Ganay offer an excellent view and a chance to soak up the atmosphere. Best games involve teams with some travelling support such as St Etienne, Lens or the grand-daddy match of them all against the evil Paris St Germain. Tickets can be bought (ideally several days before the game) either on-line or from the L'OM shop at the Vieux Port.
Noailles: The area around the Noailles sub-way station is one of the city's most interesting. Lined with Arabic and Indo-Chinese shops some of the streets could be part of a bazzaar in Algeria. A fascinating area.
Mazargues War Cemetry, On the way to Luminy. A war cemetery dedicated to WW I and WW II martyrs from the Allies, especially the Indian and Chinese gunners and runners. A very serene place, it is the perfect place to spend sometime thinking about the people who laid down their lives and the madness of war.