Marseille has a complicated history. Founded by the Phoenicians in 600 B.C. it 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 third 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. A famous saying states that Marseille is the first Arabic city in the Paris-Dakar race, because it has a very large population of North African immigrants. 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.
Marseille is perhaps not the kind of city you will fall in love with your first day there. It is not Paris; there are few obvious "things to do" along the lines of the Louvre museum or the Champs-Elysees. However, for people not afraid to discover a real place with real people (and not a tourist park like Paris), Marseille is the place. 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 definitley 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.
Marseilles-Provence International Airport (IATA: MRS) is located about thirty kilometers from Marseilles. Buses and taxis connect in less than 30 minutes. (Shuttles every approximately 20 minutes). There are many domestic flights to Marseilles from several areas nearby, Corsica included. International flights are concentrated on Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, but the arrival of low cost airlines, connecting to several European cities in Marseilles has made more places available from Marseille.
The main train station is Marseille St. Charles.
Eurolines has many connections all over Europe. From Marseille there are at least direct connections to Barcelona, Prague and Tangier. The bus station is next to the main train station, the St. Charles Station at Rue Honnorat. You get access through Platform N in the train station. There is also a temporary office at Platform N.
There is also an Eurolines office on the 3 Allée Léon Gambetta; If you walk down the big stairs on the southside of the station, follow the road until you come to a squarelike intersection. The office is on your right hand.
Marseille is very well connected to most French cities through numerous highways. As always in France those highways are expensive but practical, comfortable and fast. Marseille is around 8 hours from Paris by car, 2 hours from Nice, 1h30 from Montpellier, 4 hours from Toulouse and 3 hours from Lyon.
Marseille has a big harbour. There are direct ferry routes from Marseille to Ajaccio, Bastia, Porto Torres, Porto Vecchio and Propriano. There are several piers at the harbour, so it is advisable to check well in advance from which pier you are departing.
By bus, tramway, subway
The Control of Marseilles Transport [ http://www.rtm.fr RTM ] which manages the network of public transport does not have good reputation among the Marseillais, there exists a solid network of lines of bus (74 lines) and subway (2 lines). However the bus management is far from being optimal, and you will not be surprised to see arriving the advance or late buses! The subway makes it possible to traverse the essence of the city very quickly. There is one tram line which opened June 30, 2007 and a second line will open in the fall. The tickets of bus/métro can be bought in the cafes, at the subway stations, or in the bus; it is advised to take charts freedoms of 7.10€ (6 voyages) or 13€ (11 voyages), not sold in the buses. The number of transfers is unlimited (including the arriving/returning) within the one hour limit between the first boarding and the catch of the last transfer on all the network (it is necessary to perforate with each entry to the bus). Caution! The subway closes at 21h except Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings (until 0h30). A network of bus at night is available. To note, the site of [ http://www.lepilote.com Pilote ] which takes again all the schedules of the buses, tram and subway of the RTM but are more functional and readable that the official site of the latter. Moreover this site takes again the schedules of the majority of transport in common runs of the agglomeration (tram, bus interurban, trains regional) and makes it possible to make research of routes on Marseilles and the communes of the neighborhoods.
A Ferry Boat allows to cross the Old Harbour (Vieux Port). It is a tourist attraction in itself known as the shortest commercial boat ride in Europe.
People are notorious for crazy driving. Avoid taking your car if you can. Due to the new tramway, satellite navigational systems such as the Tom Tom are likely to be out of date and dangerous if followed. For instance, following a Tom Tom in the centre of Marseille could take you across newly installed pedestrian areas or Tram lines. The one-way system has also completely changed.
Outside of town
Marseille is an important university center. The campus at Luminy, on the edge of the callanques is set in spectacular scenery from where the road heads along the coast to Casis.
La Bouillabaisse de Marseille
La bouillabaisse is an excellent fish-based soup served with la rouille (a garlic-saffron sauce) and bread similar to crostini. La bouillabaisse cannot be enjoyed at any budgetary level. If you are invited to the home of someone making bouillabaisse, then you are in the clear. Never eat cheap bouillabaisse at a resto unless it's not called bouillabaisse; only eat it out if you have to reserve in advance. Bouillabaisse is a meal...first the soup, the then fish.
There are lots of Kebab restaurants along the Cannebiere.
Le Vieux Port has free wireless access, available from many of the bars and restaurants, and in some places in the street (although there are not many places to sit). The ESSID to use is "Marseille San Fils" and the network is not encrypted. When you first connect, your browser will take you to a web page about the service in French -- simply click on "Cliquez ici" ("click here") on that page to use the network freely.
Parts of Marseille reputation is true. Despite being one of the most beautiful cities in Europe it is also one of the most dangerous for muggings and other petty theft. Large numbers of unemployed children of North African immigrants make some 'quartiers' of the city a virtual no-go area. Tourists are likely to be targetted by muggers particularly at night and in remote areas (such as the two forts guarding the enterance to the vieux port). Don't go out at night alone and don't carry too much cash or valuables. Various ne'er do wells also frequent the buses and metro, particularly during the evenings -- however they usually don't cause too many problems.