During the kids recent school holiday, we jumped on the train from Nice to Marseille, leaving Wednesday afternoon and arriving back in Nice on Friday afternoon. We chose to take the local TER train although there is also a high speed TGV making the same trip. The ride is about 2.5 hours for both trains and because there was no real advantage to speed, we decided to save a few euros with the TER.
We had less than 2 days in the city, but we were able to check off all items on the “things to do in Marseille” list with the exception of one. We ran out of time to visit the Parc National des Calanques. If you have the time, I’d advise adding this to your itinerary.
In all honesty, Marseille wasn’t my favorite city on the French Riviera to visit with kids. It seemed to be better suited to those looking to enjoy the nightlife. That said, I’m glad we made the journey to see the third largest city in France. We all loved visiting Chateau d’If and the Notre Dame especially.
Things to Do in Marseille with Kids:
1. Chateau d’If or Castle of If: Have you ever read The Count of Monte Cristo? The novel by Alexandre Dumas relates historical events from 1815–1838 with the hero of the story, Edmond Dantès, being wrongfully imprisoned in Chateau d’If. I started this novel before our visit, so it was eerily thought provoking to walk through a space I’d just been reading about. Kind of deja vu all over again’ish. The movie is rated PG13 if you have older children, they can watch the movie before or after your visit.
The Chateau d’If started as a fortress and was later expanded and used as a prison from 1580 until 1871. In order to get to the Chateau d’If, you take a 20 – 30 minute boat ride through the Old Port, passing by Fort Saint-Jean and out into open water. If you understand French, there is a commentary during the ride, pointing out some of the landmarks.
We spent 2 hours exploring the grounds of the island and wandering the jail cells of the Chateau, taking pictures from the towers and watching a movie on the history of the Chateau d’If. The movie is in French, but handsets are available in English and other languages so all visitors can follow the story. We brought snacks and water for the kids and they ate, gazing out at Marseilles while the adults enjoyed a coffee nearby at the restaurant. The coffee was rather expense at 4.50€ for a cappuccino. I could have saved 0.50€ and gotten a glass of wine, but I was exhausted from not having slept well the night before.
The Chateau d’If was a favorite of my family as well as of our friends traveling with us. If you only have a day in Marseilles, we would recommend the Chateau d’If as our top attraction.
Boat Ride: 10.80€ pp
Family rate with Frioul If Express: 8.10€ pp
Chateau entrance (adult): 5.50€
Chateau entrance (under 18): Free
Free with the Marseille City Pass
2. Notre Dame de la Garde – Our 2nd favorite location in Marseille was the Notre Dame de la Garde, located on the highest natural elevation in Marseille, 490 ft. Instead of taking the bus as many people recommended, we decided to walk. The walk takes about 25 minutes from the Port. My kids were fine with the uphill climb and there is a nice park to stop at about halfway up, if needed.
The views over Marseille and the Old Port are stunning and the Notre Dame itself is a wonder to behold. The gold leaf statue of Madonna and Child on the top of the Notre Dame is a staggering 37 ft tall!
3. Old Port or Vieux Port – We stayed on the Port, so this was our first area of exploration. The kids enjoyed wandering around, looking at the boats and seeing the massive ferris wheel all lit up. On Thursday morning, the fisherman display and sell their fresh catch. Unfortunately, we were staying in a hotel, so there was no chance to fix fish for dinner.
We also browsed the stands set up all along the Quai de La Fraternité with the most gorgeous pottery. I’d suggest checking with the tourism office to see what events will be held during your visit as the activities change regularly.
4. Fort Saint-Jean & Cathedrale de la Major – After exploring the Port we walked toward the Fort Saint-Jean. Interestingly, the fort was erected in 1660 in response to a local uprising against the governor rather than for the defence of the city. The cannons pointed inwards towards the town, not outwards towards the sea.
Continuing along the waterfront, you will see the Cathedrale de la Major. The present Roman Catholic Cathedral was built between 1852 and 1896. Even though the cathedral is undergoing renovations, it is still open to the public. The gorgeous altar, stained glass windows and mix of styles make it a place even the kids will enjoy. Afterwards we walked through the Old Town or Panier. It wasn’t my favorite French Old Town, but it’s worth walking through as you circle back to the port.
5. Palais Longchamp – The monument opened in 1869 and was built by Notre-Dame de la Garde architect, Henry Espérandieu. The monument now houses the Museum of Fine Arts and Natural History Museum. We didn’t have time to check out the museums, but the kids did spend a great deal of time playing at the park just behind the monument.
While we didn’t find a ton of kid specific activities, we were able to combine education and fitness during our trip to Marseille. During our next trip from Nice, we plan to explore the Parc National des Calanques and stay in Cassis.
If you’ve been to Marseille, let us know about other things to do in Marseille with kids that we missed.