Visiting Marseille with kids

In April, we took a trip to Marseille with our kids and were pleasantly surprised to explore a unique side of the South of France. We were intrigued to look beyond its edgy reputation, compared to other French cities, and were delighted by what we found.

Marseille is one of the oldest cities in France, with a history dating back over 2,600 years. Founded by Greek settlers around 600 BC, it was originally known as Massalia. Its strategic location on the Mediterranean coast made it a vital port city for trade and commerce in the ancient world. Throughout the centuries, Marseille has been influenced by various cultures and civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Moors, each leaving their mark on the city’s architecture, cuisine, and traditions.

Today, Marseille is the second-largest city in France, comparable in size to Paris. It features a comprehensive public transportation system, including a metro, buses, and trams.

Marseille is also known for its infamous wind, Le Mistral. Therefore, regardless of the season you visit, it’s wise to pack an extra layer and a wind protector for the whole family, in case you find yourself in the path of sharp winds. Whether you’re just walking around the city, going on a boat ride to nearby islands or hiking, the extra layer of clothing will surely come in handy.

If you’re travelling with kids, here are my recommendations for some of the things to do in Marseille with kids.

1. Walk around the Old Port and board Le Petit Train

We kicked off our visit to Marseille with kids by heading to the Old Port (“Vieux Port”) and admiring the multitude of boats docked there. If you’re visiting in the morning, keep an eye out for fishermen selling their catch at the daily fish market. Look for a large mirrored art installation by the renowned British architect Norman Foster – this marks the spot where you’ll find tables displaying a wide variety of fish.

Then it was time for the little tourist train Le Petit Train”, which was the perfect choice get an overview of the city. I recommend this activity for kids of all ages. Marseille is quite large, and Le Petit Train offers a convenient way to explore without getting tired from walking.

The train departs from the Old Port and takes you on a tour of the main tourist attractions. There are three circuits to choose from, and we opted for Circuit 1 to get a closer look at Notre Dame de la Garde Cathedral. Perched atop the highest point in the city, this basilica is the symbol of Marseille, overlooking the entire cityscape.

The tour lasts for 1 hour 15 minutes, including a 20-minute stop at Notre Dame de la Garde Cathedral. The tour takes you from the Old Port to the Cathedral, passing along the Corniche on the seafront. The 360° panorama of the city from the cathedral is spectacular, and the church itself is stunning. We felt that we didn’t fully appreciate Notre Dame de la Garde with just 20 minutes, so if we had more time in Marseille, we would have dedicated a separate visit to explore its beautifully painted ceilings, walls, and stained glass windows.

If you decide to visit the Cathedral separately, keep in mind that it’s located on the highest elevation in the city. If you choose to walk from the Old Port to the Cathedral, it would take you about 30 minutes, with an uphill climb.

There were no lines to buy tickets for Le Petit Train on arrival in April, but you may want to book your tickets in advance if you’re visiting during the busier summer season.

Petit Train departure point: 174 Quai du Port

Opening hours: 10 am – 12.20 pm / 1.40 pm – 5.20 pm (high season between 1 April and 30 November); 10am – 12 pm / 2 pm – 4 pm (low season in December, January, February, March)

Duration: 1h15mins (20 mins stop at Notre Dame de la Garde)

Departure : every 20 mins during high season, every 40 mins during low season

Prices: €10 per adult, €5 per child

2. Explore Old Town (Le Panier)

This charming and colourful neighbourhood is a feast for the eyes. Located just steps away from the Old Port, Le Panier is brimming with narrow streets, quaint shops and art galleries. Everywhere you turn, you’ll find pathways, doorways, and shop shutters adorned with intricate and playful street art. Meander through the streets where you’ll sure to stumble upon hidden gems.

Le Panier is also home to several cultural landmarks, including La Vieille Charité, a 17th-century former almshouse turned cultural center housing museums, exhibitions, and a stunning baroque chapel. Nearby, the Cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Majeure (La Major) impresses with its grandeur and architectural splendor.

3. Visit the Grotte Cosquer

This museum offers a unique experience for both kids and adults alike. In 1985, diver Henri Cosquer stumbled upon the entrance to one of the most enigmatic underwater caves, containing prehistoric art dating back 30,000 years. The walls of the Cosquer cave are adorned with drawings of animals, handprints, and other traces of ancient history.

While the museum itself is a replica of the cave, the reproduction is really well done. Kids will particularly enjoy sitting on the rotating “wagon” as they traverse through the cave, marveling at the ancient paintings. The audio guide (available in English) gives lots of useful commentary along the way. Additionally, there are exhibits on a separate floor showcasing prehistorical animals that no longer exist, provide a fun and educational way for them to learn about the past. I would schedule about 1.5 – 2 hours for visiting this museum.

Opening hours: daily from 9.30 am to 7.30 pm

Prices: €18 per adult, €11 for children aged 10-17, €6 for children aged 6-9, free for children under 5.

4. Go on a hike to Calanque de Sugiton

Situated between Marseille and the town of Cassis, the Parc National des Calanques is a stunning natural area characterized by rocky landscapes, secluded coves, and pristine beaches. Exploring the Parc National des Calanques is an ideal way to spend either part or the whole day outdoors, immersing yourself in nature with the kids.

While you have the option to take a boat tour to discover the beauty of the Calanques, we decided to opt for a hike to the Calanque de Sugiton, renowned as one of the most beautiful Calanques in the area. We chose this hike based on our hotel’s recommendation, and because it was easily accessible via public transportation. Taking bus B1 from Marseille to the “Luminy Calanques” stop, we walked approximately 15 minutes to reach the trailhead and began our adventure from there.

The Calanque de Sugiton, however, faces issues of overcrowding during the summer months. To address this, the city of Marseille has implemented access restrictions on select days between June and September. On these dates, only visitors with prior reservations are permitted entry, obtained in the form of a free QR code presented upon arrival. Click here to make the reservations.

Our hike lasted about 4-5 hours, including a leisurely picnic lunch that we brought along and numerous short stops with the kids along the way. The views from the top of the hiking trail were just incredible. While the majority of the trail was manageable, there were some sections—especially when descending towards the beach—where we navigated rocky dirt paths off the paved road. We opted not to descend all the way to the beach but ventured as close to the water as we felt comfortable. We completed the hike safely with our 4 and 8-year-olds, although I would recommend it more for children aged eight and up. Here is what the path looked like.

Tips for hiking the Calanques with kids:

  • Bring enough water and snacks for the whole family as there is nowhere to buy these on the way
  • Take a sun hat and sun cream
  • Set out early in the day to reduce sun exposure and avoid the crowds in the peak season
  • The park may be closed due to the risk of wildfires and adverse weather conditions, so check before you leave
  • Wear sturdy shoes with good grip to avoid falling as rocks can be slippery in places
  • Download a mobile application called “MesCalanques”, which gives you live updates, maps and other useful information for your walk.

5. Take a boat trip to see the Calanques

If hiking is not your thing or if you have younger children, then I recommend opting for a group boat tour to admire the Calanques from the water. Keep in mind that these boat trips won’t take you deep into each Calanque nor do they include stops for swimming. However, they are an excellent choice for families with young children who might find the hikes too strenuous. Additionally, there are tours available to the nearby seaside town of Cassis (you can read about our trip to Cassis with kids here).

Boat trips depart regularly from the old port of Marseille, with tickets available for purchase directly from the harbor kiosk without the need for advance booking. The timetable varies monthly, with more frequent departures during the summer months. While there are outdoor seats on the boat offering the best views, there is no shade, so it’s advisable to bring along a hat and sunscreen.

6. Take a boat trip to visit the Chateau d’If


Dumas’s classic novel “The Count of Monte Cristo,” where it features as the infamous prison where Edmond Dantès is wrongfully incarcerated. Today, visitors can explore the fortress’s chambers, including the former jail cells, and enjoy panoramic views of Marseille, the Mediterranean Sea, and the coastline. The site offers insights into Marseille’s history, providing an educational experience for kids.

For children aged 6 to 12, a games booklet is available for purchase at €2 in French or English. Additionally, there’s a French-speaking family tour suitable for children from age 3 upwards, priced at €9 per adult and €4 per child (excluding the sea crossing).

Opening hours: 10 am – 6 pm (from 1 April to 30 September), 10 am – 5 pm (from 1 October to 31 March). Closed on Mondays, 1 January, 1 May and 25 December.

Prices: €7 for adults, free for those under 18, and free for those aged 18 – 25 who are EU nationals and/or residents.

There is a cafe onsite that’s open from Easter to the end of September, where you enjoy lunch or a snack. Alternatively, you can bring your own picnic to the island. There are no trash bins on the island, though, so you’ll need to bring any rubbish back with you to the mainland.

The boats from the Old Port to Chateu d’If depart daily and frequently subject to weather conditions.

How to get to Marseille

Marseille has an international airport, 50km away, and it’s also very well connected by the train network. We took a high speed train (“TGV”)  from Paris to Marseille which took only 3 hours and 20 minutes.

Where to stay in Marseille

We stayed at Maisons du Monde, conveniently situated at the Old Port, and this is the area I would recommend for families visiting Marseille. It’s a lively neighbourhood, offering easy access to public transportation and close proximity to boat departure points for excursions to nearby islands.

If you’ve been to Marseille with kids, share your best tips in the comments below. If you plan to travel to Marseille and have questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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