Can't Afford Paris? Head To It's Cooler Little Sister Marseilles Instead
The Debrief: Here's how to do an outrageous, over the top trip all for less than £180
Marseille is well and truly on the up: the once-dangerous port city on the southern coast of France has been enjoying a cultural and economic boom since it was crowned the ‘European Capital of Culture 2013’ which transformed the city from partially misunderstood to seriously underrated. Comparisons to Paris are inevitable. Marseille plays little-sister to the capital and lacks historical chic and all night raves, but it does boast Mediterranean beaches, a cultural diversity comprised of French, African and Arab influence and bars with a soundtrack to rival that of Ibiza.
Flights to France’s second largest city have been ludicrously cheap with Ryanair recently and daily life is also refreshingly affordable, not least because the pound is strong at the moment. A three day break (in which I did not hold back at all) set me back just under £180 and I kept track of all expenses so you can do French-culture without breaking the bank.
Travelling (Approx: €30)
Marseille’s ‘City Pass’ can be bought from the tourist information office in the city centre or online and provides you with unlimited access to all museums, an island day trip, discounts in shops and cafes and transport to the ‘Notre Dame’ Church. A 24-hour pass sets you back €24, and a 48-hour pass €31. Only invest in this if you’re planning to go on a massive culture binge because a) most of the train-entrance barriers are open or held open by locals and watching the inventive, acrobatic displays of gate-jumping will light a fire of rebellion deep within in you, and b) the city is very walkable.
Indulging (Approx: €70)
The food scene in Marseille is eclectic and cheap with a mixture of middle-eastern and French cuisine on every street corner. A chicken kebab with fries is accompanied with the kind of rainbow salad that you can never find in the UK and costs €4 - so naturally I got one every day. When you fancy eating at a place where the waiters say ‘bon appetit’ with more gusto, the restaurants on the port-front offer sit-down set menus for around €18 a person. For cheaper options try the homemade pizzas, fried prawns and speedy service in the very cool ‘Le Comptoir du Carmine’ (134 Quai du Port) which cost €31 for two including a super-sweet cocktail and boasted a bar, DJ and great service.
Most places in Marseille stop serving food by 10.30pm so when you have the munchies, head to the affordable 24-hour restaurant ‘O’ Stop’ (16 Rue Saint-Saëns) tucked away off the main street and watch the weirdness of the world go by at 1am whilst tucking into fish and rice (€12).
Overall, eating cheap and eating well was synonymous in Marseille; artisan gelato set me back €2 a scoop, croissants and coffee €4, and fresh strawberries €2.
Partying (Approx: €60)
Marseille has a buzzing music scene and is famed for its distinctive brand of hip-hop. Although the house and electronic stuff isn’t as renowned as that of Paris, ‘Rooftop R2 Marseille’ regularly draws big names and big crowds. Get there before 7pm for free entry and watch the sunset or head there after ten and pay around €15 on the door. If it’s casual drinks you want, head to the cool Cours Julien neighbourhood and try an archetypal French pub like ‘Brasserie Le Marseillais’ (2 Rue De Lodi) which does decent mojitos for €4 and also serves pastis - the cloudy, aniseed based drink borne in Marseille and which the locals sip in bars. Just prepare for the hangover two days in advance.
Saturday is market day in the city. Wander around the main square and the near-by street Allée Léon Gambetta, and you can find people hawking everything from home-made soaps (Granny’s Christmas gift was sorted for €4) to antique toys, vintage clothes and paintings. If you want fashion a-la-Marseille, check out the cool clothing store ‘American Vintage’ (31 Rue Francis Davaso) founded in the city and coming soon to London. Tailored items at affordable prices (€30 and up) are always hard to resist but somehow I managed it.
Finding good and affordable accommodation in Marseille turned out to be pretty difficult. Hostelworld is full of award-winning backpacker options but in peak season they were ridiculously expensive (€30-€40 a night). If you’re travelling with someone else it’s actually way cheaper to look for hotel or B&B deals online. We used Booking.Com and found ‘Appart’City Marseille’ - plush in the photos but in reality it had a cold, corporate feel and looked like Alcatraz from the outside. When the air-conditioning was broken and I found a leak in my room I kicked up a fuss and wangled two free breakfasts (result) – but it was oh so difficult. In short, do not stay here.
(Almost) Free Stuff To Do in Marseille (€10)
‘Notre Dame De La Garde Basilique’– For the cultural fix you know you should have, a visit to this church and statue which sits on a hill overlooking the entire city is well worth the 30min trek from the city centre– if not just to burn off those croissant calories. When you get to the top, drink in the panoramic views of Marseille’s urban sprawl and blue seas or check out the ornate church décor.
Visit the ‘Cours Julien’ neighbourhood – Considered the city’s hippest area, ‘Cours Julien’ is home to theatres, museums and chilled-spots against a backdrop of vibrant murals and graffiti art. Fun to walk around and waste time on an evening.
Day trip to ‘Frioul Islands’ – Ok so not technically free because it costs €10 for a return boat ride, but the sand and sea don’t cost a penny! Book your tickets on the day from the port and take a scenic 20 min ferry out to these pretty islands where there is little sand but lots of swimmable water.
Pre-game on the port – If you’re seriously lacking in Euros, forgo the fancy cocktails and join the French for a pre-lash/pre-game on the port front. Where else can you (legally) get drunk in the Mediterranean moonlight on Rose from plastic cups and watch locals dance by the sea to the drum-beat of middle-eastern street performers? Only in Marseille.
Total Spending Money in Marseille Approx: €250 (£176)
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