12 must-see things to do in Bouches-du-Rhône

Visiter les Bouches-du-Rhône

Are you visiting Marseille on vacation? Don’t hesitate to discover the department. Here are the 12 must-see things to do in Bouches-du-Rhône!

Le 13 is a department rich in flavor and culture, and there’s never a dull moment. Marseille may be its showcase, but there’s plenty to visit in the Bouches-du-Rhône. From Provencal towns and medieval villages to hiking, historical remains, seaside resorts and beaches, there’s something for everyone.

So how do you visit the département? Here are 12 must-see things to do in Bouches-du-Rhône!

1. Marseille

Old Port

Vue panoramique aérienne sur la basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde et le vieux port de Marseille, France

Photo credit: Shutterstock – S-F

No visit to the Bouches-du-Rhône region is complete without a visit to Marseille’s Old Port!

Bounded by the Saint-Jean and Saint-Nicolas forts, the Vieux-Port is the soul of Marseilles. It’s a short walk, but there’s so much to look at and observe: the countless terraces, the fish market, the little boats, the buildings from another era. You can spend all day here, despite the small size of the area.

Take the time to sit out on the terrace and enjoy the moment!

MuCEM

MuCEM

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Digital signal

This is probably the best museum to visit in Bouches-du-Rhône.

The Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM) is located near the Vieux Port. Its original cube-shaped facade impresses many. The interior is just as culturally enriching. Widely acclaimed for its collections, the MuCEM traces the history of the peoples of the Mediterranean.

Panier district

Le Panier, incontournable à visiter dans les Bouches-du-Rhône

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Zyankarlo

Located in the heart of the 2nd arrondissement, the Panier district is Marseille’s oldest neighborhood and the most picturesque of the old towns in the South of France. The cobbled streets are narrow, and the typical color of the buildings is yellow.

We love the atmosphere and the relative calm. Mostly shaded, Panier is also a great way to escape the hot summer sun.

Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde

Visiter Notre-Dame de la Garde

Photo credit: Shutterstock – vichie81

Its eventful history has left its mark on the history of Marseille. First built around 1215, the chapel was repeatedly modified and disused after the French Revolution. It was reborn in the 19th century as the Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, the protector who watches over the city’s inhabitants.

Known as the « Good Mother », it is an iconic Marseille landmark and a must-see in the Bouches-du-Rhône region. The panorama from the top of the hill is superb, with the Grande Bleue, the city and, for OM fans, the Stade Vélodrome!

Prado Beaches

Visiter les Bouches-du-Rhône : Plage du Prado

Photo credit: Shutterstock – mehdi33300

With the aim of creating easy access to the sea for the people of Marseilles, these beaches were developed in the 1970s. And, with over three million visitors every year, they’re a great success! The color of the water is superb and it’s the perfect place to relax.

The Prado beaches are also ideal for activities, with large lawns for soccer fans and those who want to put their towels down off the sand. There’s also a world-renowned skate park. Definitely one of the best places to go in Bouches-du-Rhône.

Visit the Château d’If

Visiter dans les Bouches-du-Rhône : Château d'If

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Boris Stroujko

Sometimes overlooked when visiting Marseille, the Château d’If is one of the city’s most legendary buildings.

The château is a prison dating back to the time of François I, in the 16th century. The fortress remained a prison until it was opened to the public in 1890. The site is famous in literature for being the prison in which Edmond Dantès, the hero of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, is locked up.

Accessible only by boat, the château can be visited at any time of year. Not exactly overcrowded, you can enjoy the view of Marseille and the Mediterranean while taking a deep breath of fresh air!

2. Calanques National Park

Parc National des Calanques

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Gaspar Janos

It’s hard to visit the Bouches-du-Rhône without visiting the Calanques. The Calanques National Park is just a few minutes from Marseille. An enchanting and magnificent place, you’ll never tire of the view of the famous calanques. Sorgiou, Port-Miou and Morgiou are the most beautiful.

It’s also a great place for hiking and sporting activities such as kayaking, canoeing and climbing.

3. Cassis

Port and market

Visiter Bouches-du-Rhône : Cassis

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Andreas G. Karelias

With its postcard image, the port of Cassis is one of the most pleasant places to visit in the Bouches-du-Rhône. This beautiful marina is home to colorful wooden boats that we love to look at and photograph. Yet so close to Marseille, it’s a real little village port. It’s a delight to stroll around, and the many terraces make it even more enjoyable to sip pastis!

Close to the port, the Cassis market is the town’s liveliest spot every Wednesday and Friday. Taste the local produce and soak up the atmosphere of the southern markets, where the shouts of shopkeepers drown out the chatter of passers-by!

Port-Miou cove

Port-Miou

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Lamax

At the far end of the Parc National des Calanques, the Port-Miou calanque is the most beautiful of all, and can easily be admired from Cassis. A must-see in the Bouches-du-Rhône region, so magnificent is this place.

Beaches and Cap Canaille

Visiter dans les Bouches-du-Rhône : plages de Cassis, en pleine calanque

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Gaspar Janos

Like any self-respecting seaside resort, Cassis has beautiful beaches to enjoy and relax on. Sandy beaches such as Bestouan or Grande Mer, or pebble beaches such as Arène, are waiting for you to bask in the sun and take a siesta in the shade of a parasol!

For sporty types and hikers, the ascent of Cap Canaille between Cassis and La Ciotat, with France’s highest cliffs, offers a breathtaking view of the calanques, Cassis and the turquoise sea!

4. The Roman city ofArles and Montmajour Abbey

Arène et amphithéâtre romain, Arles, Provence, France

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Gerhard Roethlinger

For those who love Roman remains, Arles is a must-see in the Bouches-du-Rhône. With its amphitheatre and ancient stones, Arles is a fine testimony to the city’s Roman past. Enthusiasts can visit the Musée de l’Arles Antique.

The town is also famous for Van Gogh, to whom a foundation is dedicated. The Musée Réattu, with its beautiful façade on the banks of the Rhône, is not to be missed. You can also visit the beautiful Montmajour Abbey to the north of the town.

5. Local gastronomy

Visiter dans les Bouches-du-Rhône : Bouillabaisse

Photo credit: Shutterstock – hlphoto

When it comes to things to do in the Bouches-du-Rhône, it’s hard not to mention gastronomy!

We start the aperitif with a pastis accompanied by tapenade, a local olive-based recipe. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you’re ready for the region’s most emblematic dish, bouillabaisse, the famous fish soup with an inimitable, delicious taste. Bread croutons can be dipped in aïoli, a garlic-based sauce. Vegetarians can replace bouillabaisse with soupe au pistou, a summer vegetable soup made from pasta, served with pistou, garlic, basil and olive oil.

If you still have room for dessert, treat yourself to a chichi frégi, a large chickpea fritter!

6. Aix-en-Provence

Old town

Centre ville d'Aix-en-Provence

Photo credit: Shutterstock – RossHelen

Largely pedestrianized, the old town of Aix-en-Provence is the perfect setting for a Provencal urban center. With its colorful old buildings, narrow cobbled streets and many trees to protect you from the sun, this old town is one of the most beautiful to visit in the Bouches-du-Rhône.

Places to stroll include Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, where you can admire the huge astronomical clock, Cours Mirabeau, where you’ll find most of the restaurants, and the Mazarin district, a rather chic but charming area!

Paul Cézanne’s studio

Atelier Paul Cézanne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – trabantos

For budding painters, this is definitely the best thing to do in Bouches-du-Rhône.

The studio of Paul Cézanne, a native of the town, presents the place where the painter loved to practice his art every day between 1902 and his death in 1906. The layout, with its furniture, brushes and other tools, means you can almost feel his presence!

7. Salon-de-Provence

Balade autour de Marseille : Salon-de-Provence

Photo credit: Shutterstock – RobArt Photo

For a clairvoyant or medium, visiting the Bouches-du-Rhône is potentially like making a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Nostradamus! But, without reading the future, we’re sure you’ll also appreciate Salon-de-Provence for its typically Provencal town center, where you’ll love lounging on the terrace.

After a tour of the Château de l’Empéri, you can visit a soap factory, as soap-making is the town’s specialty.

8. Hiking in the Alpilles Regional Nature Park

Les Alpilles

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Oleg Znamenskiy

Nature-seekers should check off Les Alpilles among the things to do in the Bouches-du-Rhône. This park is renowned for its many hiking, horse-riding and cycling trails. An ideal place to get away from it all for a few hours. Some will even try their hand at climbing!

9. Les-Baux-de-Provence

Visiter les Baux-de-Provence : château

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Gerhard Roethlinger

Located in the heart of the Alpilles, Les-Baux-de-Provence is a magnificent village perched in the mountains, where time seems to have stood still. Despite its small size, every cobbled street has its own historic monument! At the top, the ruins of the Château des Baux offer a marvellous panorama.

To the north of the village, don’t miss a visit to the Carrières de Lumières. These former quarries have been converted into an underground museum, with works of art displayed on the limestone rock! A walk around Marseille that’s both historic and original.

10. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Glanum

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Lamax

Located in the Alpilles between Avignon and Arles, the village of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is typical of the region, with its light-colored buildings, fountains and shady streets and squares.

The Glanum archaeological site, one of the best-preserved Gallic sites in France, is just a few kilometers from the village. Nearby, the Saint-Paul-de-Mausolé monastery, which inspired Van Gogh, is a magnificent, flower-filled place to escape and relax.

11. Aubagne

Aubagne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Eleni Mavrandoni

The town of Marcel Pagnol, whose birthplace has been converted into a museum, is a typical Provencal heritage. You’ll never tire of its sun-drenched, tree-shaded town center and its superb buildings.

Aubagne is also famous for its village of Santons, where three thousand santons, the little clay figurines that originally represented the Christmas crib, are displayed. This is a wonderful place to discover the artistic traditions and know-how of Provence, not always fully appreciated.

12. Camargue

Camargue Regional Nature Park and Nature Reserves

Parc naturel régional de Camargue : flamands roses et Saintes Marie en arrière plan

Photo credit: Shutterstock – HUANG Zheng

Visiting the Bouches-du-Rhône means discovering magnificent places threatened by climate change.

Due to rising sea levels, the Camargue could disappear before 2100. Yet this national park is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in France, and every effort is made to preserve it. In addition to its magnificent landscapes, the nature reserves and ornithological park are home to numerous protected animal species. We love to observe birds and flamingos in their natural habitat.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer vue d'en-haut

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Francesca 2011

Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is the historic village of the Camargue. The town center is typically Provençal, with narrow cobbled streets and white houses, and the sea to boot! A chance to take a walk in the fresh air.

Don’t miss the town’s 9th-century church, a masterpiece of Romanesque art.

How do I get to Bouches-du-Rhône?

By plane

Marseille-Provence airport is one of France’s largest. It is served by a large number of classic and low-cost airlines. There’s plenty to choose from, which will make it easier for you to get here. So don’t hesitate to take a look at a flight comparison site like Skyscanner, which lists the cheapest flights. And don’t forget to take into account your other criteria.

By train

In addition to the Marseille Saint-Charles train station, the department has a large number of stations for visiting the Bouches-du-Rhône (Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Cassis…) from any major French city. All types of train serve the département: TGV, TER, Intercités and Ouigo.

By bus

In recent years, the bus has established itself as a safe and very inexpensive means of transport. If you’ve got some time on your hands and want to leave comfort behind for a few hours, the bus is for you!

By car

The département is served by numerous freeways: A7, A52 and A55 for Marseille, A8 and A51 for Aix-en-Provence.

From major French cities, the Bouches-du-Rhône can only be reached by freeway, reducing travel time. From Paris and Lyon, for example, tolls cost around €60 and €25 respectively. And don’t hesitate to carpool.

Where to stay in Bouches-du-Rhône?

Marseille is the ideal place for those who want to stay in town. What’s more, Marseille’s location is ideal, as it’s right in the middle of all the things to do in the Bouches-du-Rhône region. You can also be in the city and in the hinterland, as in Aix-en-Provence or Salon-de-Provence.

You can also stay by the sea (Cassis, La Ciotat) or camp nearby. Finally, those in search of tranquility and escape can choose Les-Baux-de-Provence or Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

To find your accommodation, don’t hesitate to consult a hotel comparator or Airbnb for a more authentic experience.

Map of hotels and accommodation – Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur