I have a new goal of writing up some itinerary ideas for each city we visit – it’s a lofty ambition (for me:)), but it’s so hard to find family friendly plans online that it seems very worth it. AND with it being the end of the vacances scolaires, or two week school break that comes after each six week school session, I happen to have quite a few new cities to write up!
We started this trip by heading to the south of France, in search of mild temperatures and sunshine. We kind of found them, but also found a lot of rain!
Marseille, the second largest and oldest city in France was our first stop. Strangely, many French people I know have never visited this city, perhaps because of its former reputation for being a bit ‘rough’ around the edges. I felt safe the whole time I was there, and apparently the city has been working to improve its reputation. And luckily so, because it is a beautiful city, with plenty of cultural and gastronomic heritage to discover, as well as plenty of outdoors activities.
Start at the Vieux Port, the huge rectangular harbor along the coast. This port has been a trade hub for over 2,600 years! Take a walk along the edge of the port to admire the many boats docked here. The port is lined by cafés and restaurants – we didn’t eat at any of them, but did stop for drinks to enjoy the view.
Don’t miss the Fish Market, an icon of Marseille, every morning from 8 am to 1 pm at Quai de la Fraternité, also at the Vieux Port.
If it is raining or you have little ones with you, consider taking Le Petit Train to get the lay of the eastern part of the city, including the steep hilltop from which the impressive Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde reigns over the city. The mosaic interior of this 19th century neo-byzantine style church is beautiful, and the view from the exterior of the church over the entire city is well worth the detour!
We also did a free visit to the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille to learn about the history of France’s oldest city. The ancient boat ruins caught the kids’ attention, as well as a couple of interactive screens that recounted the development of Marseille over the centuries.
Marseille is a bit lacking in the green spaces department, but we made up for it with a stop at the Plage des Catalans where the kids whiled away an easy hour playing in the surf and building in the sand. I wouldn’t say this is an *amazing* beach, but it gets the job done for kids.
The Parc Borely was high on my list, but due to the rain we never made it there. I was very tempted by the rowboat and 4-seater bike rentals, as well as the lakeside café, La Buvette du Lac. Next time!
Stop for a sweet treat at either Vanille Noire or Le Glacier du Roi. Vanille Noire was excellent, for both their vibrantly colored fruit sorbets or their signature flavor, Black Vanilla, which apparently gets its odd color from seaweed. A reader also recommended Le Glacier du Roi for their lemon ice cream served in a lemon, but it was unfortunately closed when we went!
A coffee or chai at Deep is not to be missed. The temperature was spot on on each time (no scalding hot coffee yay!) and I'd say the chai was one of the best I’ve ever had!
Lastly, take a ferry boat over to the L’îlot d’If to visit the Château d’If, where the Count of Monte Cristo took place, or the Frioul Archipelago for some stunning nature sites. Count at least a half day for these visits.
Marseille is a 3.5 hour train trip from Paris – purchase tickets on the Oui.Sncf website. I saw tickets for as low as 10 euros, but expect to pay more around 30 / person.
We rented an AirBnb with a prime location right at the Vieux Port, knowing it would make it easier to explore by foot.
For more tips, consider one of my custom itineraries for the area – there is a lot more to discover!