Marseille is a port city of great natural and architectural beauty. During the Christmas season, you will find plenty to see and do, whether you want to explore its cultural and religious traditions or enjoy the characteristic atmosphere of celebration.
During the Christmas season in Marseille you can skate on the ice rink, prepare and taste the main dishes of the season and also experience the New Year's Eve celebrations. In addition, if you have time left in your itinerary, you have the option to take a trip to the nearby towns of Avignon, Cassis and Provence to discover their traditions.
1. Watch the light bulbs at the festival of lights and take part in the traditional walk organized by
Watching the light bulbs and the rest of the Christmas decorations at the festival of lights is another must-see event during the season. It is an activity that starts at the end of November and lasts until the first week of January approximately.
To give you an idea of the majesty of the decoration, you should know that there are more than 100 Christmas trees arranged throughout the city. In this way, you will find about 175 bouquets with lights and 95 decoration centers. In sum, there are about 13 thousand meters of cable and just over 26 thousand bulbs, so there will be plenty of light. Undoubtedly, an activity that is part of the best tours of Marseille.
In case you are in Marseille on December 17, you can participate in the traditional organized walk, which includes a tour of the most representative places of the city: the streets of Le Panier district, the oldest of Marseille, as well as the Place des Moulins and the Place de la Lenche.
Following the tour, which will last about 1 hour and 15 minutes, you will pass by the Cathedral of St. Mary Major and the Old Port. At this point, you will be in the heart of Marseille. Finally, you will head to the Mucem, which offers attractive architecture, exhibitions and events.
2. Do some shopping at the Marseille Christmas market
One of the must-do activities when visiting Marseille in 1 day or more, is to go to the Christmas market, which takes place annually in the Vieux-Port or Old Port. There, you will find groups of small local vendors, stores, among other options.
When you arrive at the market, you will see dozens of artisans selling various items for Christmas gifts. You can choose from jewelry, ceramic and glass products, candles, toys and, of course, the famous Marseille soap. You will certainly not be at a loss for what to give yourself or your loved ones.
While shopping, you can stop for a hot chocolate or mulled wine, which will help you keep your body temperature at a pleasant level. You can also have a snack or a local dessert, such as turrones (nougat). The best thing is that the Puerto Viejo is in the center of the city, so it is an easily accessible place.
- Hours: from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm from Sunday to Thursday and from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
- Location: Quai de Rive Neuve, 13001 Marseille.
3. Take a Christmas getaway from Marseille to some nearby villages to enjoy their traditions
Take advantage of your stay of at least 2 days in Marseille at Christmas to visit some nearby towns like Avignon, Cassis and Provence. Take a day trip and discover their religious traditions and various Christmas activities.
Option 1: Avignon
Getting to Avignon from Marseille is a very popular Christmas route, for which you only need to travel approximately 1 hour and 19 minutes. In this beautiful region, known as the city of the Popes, you will find many seasonal activities.
For example, you can enjoy:
- Some street shows, with Christmas parades and concerts.
- A visit to the Célestins Church and its beautiful nativity scene.
- The Avignon skating rink.
- The Clock Square with the Santa Claus Chalet, ideal if you are with children.
- The Avignon Market, with an atmosphere of celebration, decorations, lights, Christmas foods and other seasonal products.
Option 2: Cassis
Another town near Marseille that you should visit is Cassis. This town is approximately 45 minutes away by car. There, you will find a colorful market in its Provençal port. You can buy handicrafts, ornaments, fashion, traditional food and many souvenirs.
Also, as you walk through the small streets of Cassis, you will be wrapped in the magic of Christmas, thanks to the organ grinders (street musicians), storytellers, Santa Claus, cribs, among others. And, if you are in town at sunset, you will discover another perspective of the place due to the Christmas illumination.
Option 3: Provence
An excursion to Provence from Marseille at Christmas time is another must-do during your trip. In this town you will find marked Christmas traditions.
- Santon Fair: this is an important tradition dating back to 1803, through which you can learn about the santons (handmade figures used to give life to the nativity scene, made of clay).
- Nativity scene in miniature: an impressive nativity scene that brings together the characters of the town in the form of santons. You will see the mayor, the priest and even the man who sells vegetables at the market. Each of them represented in the nativity scene.
- Christmas Theater: with theatrical shows that tell the history of the village.
4. Learn how to prepare typical Christmas dishes in a local's kitchen.
If you are a food lover or simply want to live a different experience, then you can venture to prepare some of the typical Christmas dishes, from the kitchen of a local. To do so, participating in some of the best gastronomic tours in Marseille is a good option.
This is a very fun experience, where you and a local culinary expert will buy fresh ingredients at a nearby market. Afterwards, you will go to the person's home to prepare the recipes and learn the history of each one.
During the activity you will prepare desserts such as Galette des Rois and Bûche de Noël. You can also choose to make some savory recipes such as canapés, lamb meat and bouillabaisse, a fish-based soup. All of them are very characteristic dishes of the region.
- Price: if you connect with a tour its cost could start at 85€ per person.
- Duration: the average time spent for this activity is approximately 4 hours.
5. Enjoy the various Christmas and New Year's Eve activities in Marseille
In case you are staying in the city during the Christmas and New Year's Eve season, don't hesitate to experience the atmosphere of celebration that Marseille usually offers during these days of the year.
You can start by going to the Old Port. As you walk around the place, you will be amazed by the lights and seasonal decorations. In addition, you will find a series of restaurants and bars, where you will have the opportunity to enjoy an appetizer or a delicious dinner.
As the night progresses and you get closer to New Year's Eve, you will be able to enjoy the fireworks show in all its splendor. Thus, you will welcome the new year.
Among other good options to celebrate in the city, the following stand out:
- Attend the concert performed by the Marseille Philharmonic.
- Themed parties until dawn in local nightclubs such as Danceteria in the historic center.
6. Get to know the basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde and its religious events at Christmas time
The basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde is a must-see destination at Christmas, as you will not only contemplate its architecture and design, which combines various Gothic and romantic elements. You will also have the opportunity to enjoy the lights and seasonal decorations that embellish this historic monument.
Upon arrival, the first thing you will see outside the cathedral is an imposing Christmas tree. In addition, because the cathedral is located at a height of 149 meters above sea level, you will get a panoramic view of the city, completely covered with lights. There, you will be able to take beautiful pictures.
Also, you will be able to access the interior of the sanctuary free of charge and, thus, contemplate the chapels, the main altar and the sacred art that it houses. Also, in the surroundings of the basilica there are several places of interest, such as the Botanical Garden, the playground and the Museum of the Basilica.
7. Take a boat ride and enjoy the sunset during the Christmas season in Marseille
During your stay during the Christmas season, you can venture out for a boat ride in Marseille. You will be able to enjoy the beautiful sunset that characterizes this winter season. In addition, you will get a privileged view of the city.
This is one of the boat tours of Marseille that you can take, if you want to sail on the Mediterranean. You will only have to approach the Old Port of the city and then get on a boat to start this ride on the calm waters of the Mediterranean.
You will have the opportunity to contemplate a unique sunset, since during the winter period, which coincides with Christmas, the air is cleaner and consequently the humidity levels are lower. Therefore, the colors of the light at sunset are more vivid than when visiting Marseille in summer or at any other time of the year.
In addition, throughout this ride of approximately 45 minutes, you will be amazed with the panoramic view of the city, which takes on greater prominence due to the hundreds of Christmas lights that cover the streets and buildings.
8. Board the free-stop bus for Christmas and admire the decoration of the most emblematic places
Another option to see the city from a privileged perspective at Christmas time is to take the hop-on hop-off bus. This way, you can appreciate the decorations and participate in the Christmas activities in the various tourist spots of Marseille.
The bus tour with free stops in Marseille, will allow you to take a scenic route through the main tourist destinations of the city. Such is the case of the Cathedral of La Major, the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, the Old Port, the Mucem, among other places.
This is a tour that will allow you to explore the city without fear of unexpected rain or snow, characteristic of this season. In addition, you will learn the history of each monument as you go, thanks to the audio guide.
You will be able to get on and off the bus whenever you want at the different assigned stops. You will have the opportunity to visit some monuments, take pictures or go to a Christmas market to buy souvenirs or taste the traditional gastronomy.
9. Visit the ice rinks of Marseille at Christmas and live a different experience
If you are looking for some things to do in Marseille with kids when visiting the city at Christmas time, then opting to go to the city's ice rink is a good option. You'll enjoy it as a family and be enveloped in a celebratory atmosphere with seasonal music, lights and decorations.
Option 1: Eco-responsible Ice Rink
This rink is located in the center of the city. Here, both you and the little ones will be able to glide over a huge surface of approximately 300 square meters. All this, while contemplating the Christmas environment composed of lights and beautiful decorations.
In addition, in this place you will have the opportunity to pay respect to the environment. The rink is built with recycled glass and certified wood.
Option 2: Patinoire Palais Omnisports
Another alternative for ice skating in Marseille during the holiday season is the Patinoire Palais Omnisports. This 1,250-square-meter rink is just a 12-minute drive from the city center.
There you will find a lively Christmas atmosphere, a gigantic tree and, on Christmas Eve, children can have their picture taken with Santa. In addition, the site is divided into several areas (Glisse en famille, the ice school for 7 to 13 year olds and Jardin des Oursons for 4 to 6 year olds) for maximum enjoyment and safety.
10. Visit the only Christmas village in France in the fishing port of Le Barcarès from Marseille.
You may think that being in Marseille for more than 4 days during the Christmas season, the tourist destinations to visit are a bit limited. However, this is not the case. You can travel to the fishing port of Le Barcarès and visit the Village de Noël.
You will have to drive less than 3 hours to the village of Le Barcarès. There, from the first moment you will experience the magic of Christmas: lights all over the streets, giant Santa Claus figures, polar bears, among other images representative of the season.
In the Village de Noël you will find many activities to have fun with your friends or family. For example:
- Walking through the streets, to contemplate the decorations and take beautiful pictures.
- Skating on the ice rink, with some animated characters (penguins, bears, reindeer).
- Climb the big Ferris wheel to get a privileged bird's-eye view of the village.
- Enjoy the Christmas parade, with Santa's sleigh, nutcracker soldiers, jugglers, among others.
In addition, you will have the opportunity to take a panoramic tour of the entire village aboard a small train and, if you wish, take a walk through the fir forest in the area of the Labyrinth.