Marseille is the second largest city in France, yet it is relatively unknown to foreign tourists. This is a shame because the city has so much to offer. Not only has it been France’s cultural capital, but today it is also one of Europe’s cultural capitals.
If you are planning on spending a few days in Marseille, you should know that this part of Provence is known for its great climate year-around, delicious food, stunning architecture, and gorgeous beaches on the Mediterranean sea.
And after a visit to the Vieux port with its famous fish market, the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica and the narrow maze that is Le Panier in Marseille, you may want to see more. If you have a few more days to spend in the area, you may want to take a day trip or two to the surrounding countryside.
Now, I should say that since I have family in Marseille, I do know the surrounding areas and villages quite well. Traffic jams are common as the locals do rely on the car a lot.
As such, I’ve kept the day trip destinations to what is typically within an hour or two from Marseille. I’ve not included big cities like Lyon, Monaco, or Nice, since you will be hard pressed to see everything and head back to Marseille within a day.
And so with that, let’s get to the best day trips from Marseille, shall we? Allons-y!
1. Les Calanques
A set of cliffs to the west of the city, Les Calanques are a magnificent natural wonder. With towering rocks and aquamarine clear water, you can decide to hike, swim, or just take it all in.
Drive over to the small fishing town of Cassis if you prefer to explore the Calanques by land, or take a boat leaving from the Vieux port of Marseille.
You cannot come all the way to Marseille and miss out on visiting Aix-en-Provence. The ying to Marseille’s yang, the chalk to the cheese, the chic (and rich) town of Aix-en-Provence is only 30 minutes away from Marseille on the highway.
Sometimes called the 21st arrondissement of Paris, this fortified town with its old city walls has all the charm of a small town in Provence. You can read more about Aix-en-Provence here, and see tour options to visit from Marseille.
Right next to the Calanques and Marseille, is the small seaside town of Cassis. It is a stunning place full of beautiful pastel architecture with houses perched on hills, vibrant flowers, and gorgeous beaches.
If you intend to visit the Calanques, there are boats leaving from Cassis as well, that will visit different Calanques than the ones leaving from ones near Marseille.
The French Riviera is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world.
With its glistening waters, beautiful coast, and the attractive towns that line it, it’s easy to see why this place is so popular. You can read more about visiting Cassis here.
The provençale city of Avignon is a mere 65 miles (105 km) away from Marseille on the A7 Autoroute du Soleil highway, which should take around 1h15 by car.
This fortress city in the South of France is most famous for being the temporary home of the Catholic popes, who were based there in the 13th century, instead of in Vatican Rome.
With many famous sights like the Palais des Papes (Palace of the popes) and the Pont d’Avignon (Avignon bridge), Avignon is one of the most popular cities to visit in France.
It is a lively city with plenty of theatres, restaurants, and cultural events. In addition, it is close to two other attractions, the antique town of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and the Fontaine de Vaucluse, making it a lovely place for a day trip from Lyon.
Right next to Avignon is the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is about 75 miles (120 km) away from Marseille. The village grew around the “Pope’s vineyards” carrying the Côtes du Rhône appellation.
The name translates to “Pope’s new castle”, and it is named for the castle that was built in the area by the Avignon P
opes as their summer residence.
The village and vineyards are about 25 minutes away from Avignon by car (such distances took longer to cover back then). Only the facade of the castle remains these days, but the village itself is quite charming and surrounded by vineyards.
There are many tours that will take you to visit the vineyards and you can read more about visiting Châteauneuf du Pape here.
6. La Ciotat
About 22 miles (35 km) away from Marseille is the seaside town of La Ciotat. The town has a rich sea-faring history dating back to antiquity and contains some stunning examples of 18th-century architecture.
La Ciotat is known for its beautiful marina and its walks along the harbor. It is a town that doesn’t take itself too seriously, making it an ideal place to visit during summer vacations.
The town’s big claim to fame: the site of the world’s first cinema by the famous Frères Lumières. These days tourists flock to it for its outdoor markets and nearby beaches that among some of the best in the French Riviera.
A little further away than La Ciotat, you have the small town of Bandol which is about 35 miles (55 km) away from Marseille.
Overlooking the Mediterranean, you’ll find Bandol with its beautiful sandy beaches, and coastal hiking trails to make an excellent holiday destination. It captures all of the charm and culture of the quintessential south of France.
The town plays host to some of the most stunning beaches in the area with plenty of entertainment nearby, including a casino. In addition, you could go hiking, swimming, or boating in the area, as the natural parks that surround Bandol are quite unspoilt.
8. Lavender fields of Valensole
If you are visiting this part of France, you will not want to miss out on the famed lavender fields in Provence. Those sweet-smelling purple flowers are certainly a sight to behold.
Now, I should note that if you want to see lavender fields, you have to visit Provence in the summer. The best time to visit the lavender fields is between mid-June to mid-July. There is no point visiting in October because there will be no lavender growing, it will already have been harvested.
If you do happen to be in Marseille during that time, you can visit a nearby lavender farm and learn about its cultivation and uses from a local producer. There are several tours, some which leave in the mornings or in the afternoons that you can see here.
I recommend the morning tours, especially if you are visiting in the summer because it gets very hot under the sun in this part of the world.
Most people have never heard of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume in Provence. And they don’t know its connection to Mary Magdalene, and her years in France.
Located about 40 miles (65 km) away from Marseille, this is reputed to be the town that Mary Magdalene is buried in.
Provençale tradition recounts that she arrives in France in a broken-down little boat with Lazarus, Maximin, Mary Salomé, and their servant Sara. From there she is said to have gone to Marseille, and converted the locals to Christianity.
In Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume is the church where her body is believed to be buried. You can read more about visiting Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume here.
Glitzy Saint Tropez may seem to be quite a change from gritty Marseille, but in reality it is only 90 miles (145 km) away. If you are looking for a luxurious beach holiday that will help you relax and enjoy life, Saint Tropez is the place to be.
Now, I’m suggesting it on this list but the real glamor of Saint-Tropez is the nightlife and the people you meet. It is a party town, and just walking through its streets on a simple day trip, may not help you get to know this luxury enclave, compared to staying at least 1-2 nights.
Located around 37 miles (60 km) away from Marseille, Sanary-sur-mer is famous for its daily markets which were voted the most beautiful markets in France in 2018 by TF1, a major national French television station.
The markets sell everything from fresh seafood, to local specialties like lavender and olive oil, as well as other souvenirs that can easily survive in luggage to take back home.
Slightly smaller than La Ciotat and Bandol, it also has plenty of small boutiques and cafés to enjoy.
Arles is a small town that sits on the river Rhône, about 60 miles (95 km) away from Marseille. It is most famous for being the home of Vincent Van Gogh from 1888-89, during which he produced over 300 paintings and drawings.
But even before Van Gogh, the town had a long history. It was founded during the Roman Empire, becoming an important city as demonstrated by the arena and other ruins that still like the city.
It is also next to the Camargue national park, with its unique wetlands and horse-riding culture that attract visitors from far and wide. You can read more about taking a tour to Arles from Marseille here.
13. Baux de Provence and Carrières des Lumières
The Carrières des Lumières is around 52 miles (85km) from Marseille, near the town of Baux-de-Provence. Ancient quarries that were used to dig out limestone for construction, have been taken over by a digital art studio.
The art exhibition projects the imagery of famous artists like Picasso and Van Gogh on these centuries old walls, of what is classified as a “Site naturel classé” (listed natural site).
And the nearby village of Baux-de-Provence is not so bad either. Les Baux de Provence has been named one of the “plus beaux villages de France“, with an impressively large Château, pedestrianized village, and more.
You can take a tour to Les Baux-de-Provence from Marseille and read more about visiting Baux-de-Provence and the Carrières des Lumières here.
St. Rémy de Provence is just 60 miles (95 km) from Marseille and is one of the most beautiful towns in all of France. With its pastel-colored buildings and cobbled streets, it’s definitely worth a visit.
It is also famous for being the place where Vincent Van Gogh lived, albeit under rather odd circumstances.
From 1889 to 1890, Van Gogh was a patient at the Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and it is here that he painted some of his most memorable works, including The Starry Night, which actually features St. Remy.
In the old town of St. Rémy is the Musée Estrine, dedicated to Vincent van Gogh and his works. You can read more about visiting St. Rémy-de-Provence here.
The town of Martigues is famous for its canals, earning the nickname “the Provençale Venice”. It is the point of passage between the Mediterranean and the Etang de Berre, and is thus filled with small canals and bridges that have been much inspired by their more famous counterpart.
With plenty of sights like the Miroir des Oiseaux and the Quartier de l’Île there is plenty to see and do in this former fishing village turned tourist town. You can read more about visiting Martigues here.
If you enjoyed that post, you may want to read more about traveling around Provence and the French Riviera. A bientôt!