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What to Do in Marseille—and Planning Pitfalls to Avoid

As one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world, the port city of Marseille in southern France has a long and colorful history—and for a good chunk of that time, Marseille was regarded by many as a seedy crossroads where travelers were better off passing through than lingering. 

Over the last decade and change, though, Marseille has undergone a transformation. The upgrade got going in 2013, when Marseille-Provence was chosen as the site for a full year’s worth of exhibits, performances, and other artsy events as the European City of Culture.

The European Union as well as the French and regional governments poured tons of money into Marseille to get the place ready for its cultural close-up, improving public transit systems, installing a new conference center, and introducing state-of-the-art museums and other offerings. As a result, many of the 11 million visitors who flocked to the city over the course of that year came away raving about the new destination dynamo.

If you’re looking for evidence of how major public investiment can revitalize a place, look no further. 

Mind you, Marseille still has some grit, with graffiti plastering many buildings, chaotic traffic, and a problem with pickpockets akin to what you’ll find in Rome. 

But Marseille also has some of the most compelling museums, performance spaces, galleries, bars, and clubs in all of France. And due to its extraordinary longevity, Marseille is chockablock with history and splendid architecture. What’s more, the city’s status as a gateway for immigration has resulted in some of the most exciting and diverse restaurant and shopping scenes in Europe. 

There’s a lot to do—and some pitfalls to avoid. Here are 9 crucial things to know before you go.