France’s largest commercial port, Marseille is a vibrant city. Sometimes you barely realize that you’re in France, with landmarks like the Byzantine-style Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, a beloved church with great vistas, the city’s most photographed sight. Open-air markets let you know that North Africa is not far away, and the amount of Italian you hear on the street is a reminder that a third of the population can trace their roots back to Italy. Almost every exploration of the city starts at the Vieux Port, or Old Port, flanked by two ancient forts.
Palaeolithic cave paintings in the underwater Cosquer cave, near the Morgiou calanque, dating between 27,000 and 19,000 BC, and neolithic brick habitations from around 6000 BC are evidence of long-time human habitation. Called the oldest city in France, Μασσαλία was founded as a trading port in 600 BC, by Greeks from Phocaea. As the Roman city of Massalia it thrived, contributing goods and wine from inland Gaul to the wealth of the empire. The rule of Visigoths, Frankish kings, the Emperor Charlemagne and the Carolingian dynasty followed.
During the 18th century Marseille became France's leading military port in the Mediterranean, with a major role in French imperial conquests from 1830 onwards, in Algeria/Morocco and other parts of Africa, and in Southeast Asia. After WWII over a million immigrants came to France through the city, many from former colonies. Those who stayed gave the city a French-African quarter with it's famous market.
As with just about any port city, Marseille has an active gay scene. Locals aren’t into public displays of affection seen in Paris, so you won’t see many men holding hands on the street; but the Marseille Gay Pride each June is an open and festive occasion now embraced by the population at large. The nearby cities of Avignon, Montpelier, and Nîmes, form a regional triangle with Marseille; each has it's own gay scene.
Marseille Provence Airport is about 12 miles northwest of the city. It’s France’s second largest gateway, so there are direct connections from almost everywhere except North America. You’ll likely have to transfer in Paris. Trains and buses, each running every 20 minutes or so, will get you from Vitrolles station to Marseille in 25 minutes for between 4.90 and 8.50 euros. Take the 5 minute shuttle bus at quay 2 from the terminal building. Arles, Avignon, Montpelier, and Nimes also have direct rail links, and for Aix-en-Provence there's a bus. Shuttle buses and taxis are also standing by to take you to your hotel. For Cannes, Nice and Toulon, change at Marseille. The Gare Saint Charles, main train station, has national and regional rail connections provided by SNCF and TER
Downtown Marseille is crisscrossed by bus routes, 30 stations on two lines of the Metro train system, and a tramway - all operated by RTM. For an overview of local transit in English see UrbanRail/Marseille.
From the Tourist Office you can buy a day (22 euros) or two day pass (29 euros) with unlimited access to all RTM routes, entry to 15 museums, a boat trip, a guided tour of Chateau d'If fortress, and the train to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde. Taxis are a good bet late at night, and to see the other towns and villages of Provence, a car rental might be useful.
Currency and Money
France is part of the Euro Zone, so the euro is the accepted currency. There are plenty of ATMs in the downtown area.
LOM Magazine, along with their GPS (Guide Plein Sud), is the best gay resource for what's happening in Toulouse, as well as other southern cities including Lyon, Montpellier, Nîmes and Perpignan. They can be read online too, with pdf copies to download. Actu-Gay also has an online guide to gay Marseille.
Têtu is the national gay magazine, packed with interesting features and profiles. It’s also one of the slickest gay magazines ever produced, and they publish periodic gay listings guides for all of France.
For the local Office of Tourism with hotels, restaurants and events listings, see Marseille.
See listings of gay and gay-friendly bars, restaurants, saunas and other businesses, with locations and website links, at our map & listings tab.
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