France’s second-largest city is steeped in history and home to a gentle Mediterranean climate. It's also home to some of the most beautiful buildings and shoreline in France and has no shortage of stunning sights awaiting visitors.

In fact, the city’s famous atmosphere and bustle give it a reputation for being able to provide an even more authentic experience for tourists than the sometimes overcrowded streets of Paris. Here are three things you can see in Marseille that you won’t soon forget.

Marseille Cathedral

Photo of the beautiful and intricate Marseille Cathedral
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The Marseille Cathedral, also called the Cathédrale La Major, is a stunning Roman Catholic church that sits in a picturesque waterfront location in the Le Painier district.

The cathedral consists of multiple domed towers made with beautiful white limestone that dwarf the surrounding port facilities. The towers and main section of the cathedral employ architecture that blends traditional Roman and Byzantine styles for an effect that tends to be more inviting than the Gothic architecture favored further north in Europe.

The Marseille Cathedral was completed in 1893, and at the time of its completion, it was the largest religious structure in the world.


Photo of a harbor lined with boats and buildings
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Vieux-Port is the beating heart of Marseille and a trip to the fish market on the Quis des Belges is a not-to-be-missed experience. In Vieux-Port, you can trace the history of the city through the centuries, from when it was an important industrial port during the 1700s back to when the first settlers founded Marseille is 600 BC.

The district is wonderful to observe as a whole but also features many noteworthy stops. These include Saint Victor’s Abbey, the lighthouse, and the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations.

In addition, Vieux-Port makes a great starting location for many of Marseille’s best adventures. You can hop on a ferry that will take you to the prison fortress of Château d'If, where Alexander Dumas set “The Count of Monte Cristo,” or stroll up the hill to Le Painier, a quaint and ancient neighborhood with narrow lanes winding between bright-painted buildings.

Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde

Photo of a large, old basilica on a hill above Marseille, France
Credit: olrat / iStock

The most unforgettable and unmissable sight in Marseille is the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde. The magnificent symbol stands at the highest point in the city and is visible from almost anywhere in Marseille and the surrounding countryside.

The basilica, constructed over a 20-year period that began in 1851, sits on the foundation of an ancient fortress and consists of two separate but intertwined portions. The lower portion is a Romanesque-style church carved from the stone the basilica sits upon.

The upper portion is designed in a striking Byzantium architectural style and features white and green limestone. The upper portion also includes a 135-foot bell tower upon which stands a 37-foot-tall gold statue of the Madonna and Child.

As impressive as the basilica looks from afar, it is well worth completing a journey to the top of the hill. Once there, you can take your time to tour the interior to see ancient frescos and beautiful marble rooms and hallways. After enjoying the church, however, step out onto the terrace for one of the most truly unforgettable sights to be found in Marseille — a panoramic view of the red-roofed city that stretches all the way into the Mediterranean.