European Culture in Marseille-Provence


Marseille’s Vieux Port or Old Harbour.

Marseille, France’s second largest city, has the distinction of being Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2013. Throughout the year, events are being planned in the city (and in the surrounding Provence region) to showcase the great diversity of Europe’s history and culture. With its long and sometimes turbulent history – the city can trace its roots back to the Roman times – as well as its cosmopolitan fabric, Marseille is the perfect city to experience the fascinating cultures of the Mediterranean. The city also boasts a terrific range of restaurants (don’t miss the famous bouillabaisse), picturesque neighbourhoods such as Le Panier and miles of gorgeous beaches, making it a great destination for a dose of culture, gastronomy and sand! Furthermore, with its excellent road and rail connectivity with other cities in the region, Marseille is well-positioned as a base to visit other European Culture events in Provence.

In Marseille itself, brand new structures have been built, ushering in somewhat of a renaissance in this city on the shores of the bright blue Mediterranean Sea. A slew of exhibitions, concerts, festivals, film screenings as well as participative projects have been planned so there will be lots to see and do in and around the city throughout the year.

European Capital of Culture in Marseille

Many of the activities will be centred around the Vieux Port, Marseille’s historic harbour. The harbour itself has received a thorough makeover by the world-renowned architect, Norman Foster, and features several amazing new buildings. My tip would be to start your European Capital of Culture orientation at the very cool Pavilion-M. You’ll find the complete cultural programme here and you can also sign up for guided tours and register for a City Pass.


The brand new Pavilion M – tourist office and exhibition centre.

A short walk along the Vieux Port brings you to the historic Fort Saint Jean, and behind it, two new futuristic buildings: the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) and the Villa Méditerranée (an audacious building that looks like it could topple over at any moment!). Together with Fort Saint Jean, to which it is linked by a bridge, the MuCEM is set to be the most popular attraction during the year with an impressive line-up of exhibitions, festivals and concerts.

A bridge connects Fort Saint Jean to the MuCEM.

A bridge connects Fort Saint Jean to the MuCEM.

The Villa Méditerranée will focus on cultural and artistic exchanges between the various Mediterranean countries, with events including exhibitions, concerts and film screenings.


The Villa Mediterranee is another spectacular new building in Marseille.

Continue past the Villa Méditerranée and you’ll stumble upon a curious whitewashed building. This is another new cultural venue: the Musée Regards de Provence. Housed in the city’s old sewage treatment plant, the museum showcases paintings, photos and sculptures by artists for whom Marseille, the Provence and the surrounding Mediterranean were a source of inspiration.

A quick stroll past the Cathedral will bring you to yet another new cultural venue, the J1. The J1 is an old ferry terminal which has now been converted into an exhibition centre.


The J1 exhibition centre.

The J1 will host an exhibition highlighting and life and works of the famous architect Le Corbusier. If you’re a fan of his work, you could also visit one of his creations, the intriguing Cité Radieuse apartment building in the outskirts of Marseille. The rooftop of this building has also recently been opened as a contemporary art space called MAMO (Marseille Modulor).

Major exhibitions and events

Here’s a quick list of some of the major exhibitions and events that will be held in Marseille and in the Provence region as part of the Marseille-Provence European Capital of Culture festivities:


  • Rodin, la Lumière de l’Antique” (Rodin, the Light of Antiquity) in Arles
  • Picasso Céramiste et la Méditerranée” (Picasso, Ceramics and the Mediterranean) in Aubagne
  • Christian Lacroix (CIRVA Collection) at the breathtaking Montmajour Abbey in Arles
  • Grand Atelier du Midi: “De Cézanne à Matisse” (From Cézanne to Matisse) in Aix-en-Provence and “De Van Gogh à Bonnard” (From Van Gogh to Bonnard) in Marseille.
  • Le Corbusier at the J1 in Marseille


  • “Pavillon M” in Marseille
  • GR® 2013 – a 360km walking trail takes hikers on an incredible journey through Provence, including audio walks, viewpoint picnics, festivals and open-air art.
  • TransHumance – another mega project that involves bringing together walkers, herdsmen and horse riders. Set out on foot or on horseback and take part in creating this collective work of art for a day or three weeks – an authentic and totally unique experience. At nightfall, the caravanserai invite riders, hikers and all to enjoy cultural and artistic presentations, as well as culinary treats and encounters with an eclectic mix of shepherds, poets, astrophysicists and scientists.
  • Carrières de Lumière in Les Baux-de-Provence – this exhibition of the works of some of the world’s best-known painters such as Monet, Renoir and Chagall takes place in an old quarry in the form of a stunning sound and light show.
  • Les Rencontres Arles Photographie (Arles International Photo Festival)
  • Le Festival d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence (Opera Festival)
  • Art, Architect and Wine at Château La Coste near Aix-en-Provence

For the complete list of activities, please visit Marseille-Provence 2013.

Experience Marseille-Provence like a local

HouseTrip-logo A great way to truly experience Marseille as well as Provence is to stay in a holiday rental. This allows you to quickly get acquainted with the locals – the property owners – who, in most cases, are more than happy to share their insights and secrets of the city. I’ve found the locals I stayed with to be extremely hospitable and generous with tips and advice. HouseTrip offers a great variety of holiday rentals in Marseille and in Provence. Here are several apartments I stayed at or visited in Marseille and which I can definitely recommend:

This gorgeous apartment with amazing city and sea views is spacious, well-furnished and centrally-located (in Le Panier). Your host (and Marseille Greeter), Eva, is a gem and if she has time, she’ll take you for a walk around some of her favourite spots in the city.

This spacious apartment features stunning views of the MuCEM and Villa Mediterranee and the Mediterranean Sea.

This spacious apartment features stunning views of the MuCEM and Villa Medierranee and the Mediterranean Sea.

The beautiful view from Eva's apartment.

The beautiful view can be enjoyed from the living and kitchen/dining areas, and the bedroom.

This Vieux Loft apartment is great for families or a group of friends. The interior is very cool – includes a suspended bed! – and the dining/bar area downstairs is massive! The loft is a stone’s throw away from the Vieux Port.

The funky bathroom of this Marseille Vieux Loft.

The funky bathroom of this Marseille Vieux Loft.

The suspended bed in the loft.

The suspended bed in the loft.

The loft also has a very cool bar!

The loft also has a very cool bar!

This compact apartment in the heart of Marseille is perfect for a couple or solo travellers. Your host, Yg, is an artist who will gladly share her insights of Marseille with you.

This centrally-located apartment is perfect for 1-2 people.

This centrally-located apartment is perfect for 1-2 people.

One more tip: book a tour with the Marseille-Provence Greeters. This is a network of locals who love to show visitors their city. They will take you on great walks around the city, tailored to your interests, be it art, architecture or food. I highly recommend them.

Note: this post was brought to you in partnership with HouseTrip.

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6 Responses to “European Culture in Marseille-Provence”

  1. Keith Jenkins 01/08/2013 11:58 am

    Thank you Nikhil! 🙂 Haha, they were cleaning the windows but they do look like Spiderman! 😉


  2. Nikhil Chandra 01/08/2013 7:26 am

    Now this one read like a Wikitravel page. Complete travel guide kind of thing for anyone looking to explore Marseille. Cultural immersion is a must during any trip one makes and what is better than staying in local apartments where one could interact with locals gaining insights into the life and culture of the place. Your write up has combined the best elements of a walking guide with details of attractions, arts & exhibition and where to stay “local”. And photo look good too. And by the way are those spiderman atop the Villa Mediterranee 🙂

  3. Keith Jenkins 30/07/2013 7:14 pm

    Hey Mike,

    You’re welcome. I loved Marseille and the surrounding Provence. Hope you make it there next year!


  4. Mike (Nomadic Texan) 30/07/2013 1:25 pm

    You had me at Marseille! I have never been and the House Trip place looks absolutely amazing. Hopefully next spring when I visit Spain, I can make a side trip to Marseille and I also want to experience Nice. My uncle who traveled all the time, loved France and everything about it. Thank you kindly for sharing!

  5. Keith Jenkins 29/07/2013 12:38 pm

    Oh, their bouillabaise. Delicious! I had it every evening! 🙂


  6. Ele 29/07/2013 12:32 pm

    We also tried their famous fish soup. I also bought delicious chocolate coated nuts in one of their sweet shops.

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