Marseille is often called the capital of southern Europe, as it is home to more than a million people. Though you will find it painted as a sleepy village in 19th-century works of art, it has since grown into a bustling harbor full of seaside cafes and boutique stores. There are two ways to enjoy Marseille: eating, drinking, and shopping your way through its many districts or “quartiers,” or experiencing its rich history through landmarks like the MuCEM or the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica. Experience Marseille whichever way suits you — or, if you are feeling up to it, you can try your hand at both.
Two Vibrant Neighborhoods: Le Panier and Vieux Port
As France’s largest city after Paris and the oldest in the entire country, Marseilles is a great destination for people who want to experience authentic French living. The harbor is lively, and the city is bright and luminous with a particularly Mediterranean feel owing to the red-tiled roofs and deep blue waters that you can see from almost any street. While the city has many districts, you will want to check out two in particular: Le Panier, or “The Basket,” and Vieux Port, meaning “Old Port.”
In Le Panier, there are many popular shops, markets, and cafés full of the spirit of Marseille. Narrow streets wind their way through gorgeous homes and terraces before opening into squares filled with food and drink. This is a place to wander for hours — every inch is full of character, with its cozy restaurants, street artists, and other boutique charms.
Vieux Port is as old as the name suggests — 2,600 years, to be exact. It has been an important Mediterranean harbor since its founding in 600 B.C., docking thousands of ancient ships until steamboats grew too big to fit in the shallow port. Since then, the industry has moved north while the Old Port turned into a popular place for yachts and sailboats.
The harbor is shaped like a large rectangle. On three of its sides sit warehouses which were used for the boating industry in the 18th century. Now, they have been revitalized to house cafés, restaurants full of fresh seafood, and wonderful patio seating right next to the water. You could spend hours wandering through the Old Port, with options for every taste and even a Ferris wheel to hop on after a delicious meal.
Experience the History of the Entire Mediterranean
The city is also known as a melting pot, long seen as the bridge between Europe and North Africa, its neighbor across the sea. If you want to learn about Marseille’s diverse history, the best place is probably at the MuCEM, or the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée. This world-renowned museum is dedicated to the history and culture of the entire Mediterranean civilization, with three different buildings that house galleries, lectures, film screenings, and a treasure trove of information.
After filling your brain at the MuCEM, you can step outside to visit a few landmarks like the Abbaye Saint-Victor, an 11th-century abbey named for martyr Victor of Marseille. While most of the abbey was destroyed at the turn of the 1800s, you can still visit the stark and creepy crypts below the old church. This tour is definitely worth it if you like your history to be included with a dash of fright.
Finally, you will want to check out the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde — French for “Our Lady of the Guard” — which was built in the mid 19th century on an ancient Marseille fort. Here, you will see every beautiful work of art you would expect from an old European Catholic basilica, from beautiful murals to intricate mosaics to marble statues. As a bonus, the structure sits on a beautiful hilltop which serves as a vantage point from which you can see every part of the city below.
That’s a Wrap on DDC21
When you’ve finished taking in the sweeping views of the Mediterranean one last time, take a moment to say goodbye to the beautiful Splendor which has served as your home during Dream Destination 2021 before you head back to the airport. Though we will all be sad to go, at least we got to embark on this wonderful journey through the most beautiful of Europe’s port cities. Reflect on the great memories you made, and look forward to sleeping once again in the comfort of your home.
If you do not get to qualify for DDC21, keep your chin up — DDC22 is right around the corner, and we are doing everything we can to make sure that trip will be just as magical as this one. Finish this year strong and go into the next one with that goal in mind, and you just might be joining us in 2022.