5 Reasons Why Marseille Is the Coolest City
November 17 2015
The reputation of the southern port city of Marseille, France, regularly precedes it and – on occasion – can persuade people to avoid the city altogether and visit the sparkling city of Nice instead. In my eyes that’s a huge mistake. Not only is Marseille far cheaper to stay in than its more luxurious counterpart, it’s also much cooler, too.
Saying that Marseille is the “Coolest City in France” might seem like a grand suggestion to make, but the truth is that, within France, there really isn’t an abundance of cities that can match the number of interesting and attractive qualities it has. It’s an energetic, food-obsessed, multicultural, historic, street-art-covered, alternative city that seeps history and modernity, as you can see from the photos below.
1. Street Art in Marseille
As you walk downhill from the main railway station, towards the marina and the waves, the immediacy of how gritty the city is becomes apparent. The city certainly isn’t winning any cleanliness awards at the moment, and down every street, you’ll find a mixture of buildings that have seen better days being “redecorated” by the local graffiti and street art community. Perhaps they do so to inject a little colour and life into the stone and greying plaster of some of the buildings; but for the most part, it’s a case of finding any wall that will do to express themselves on.
As you keep walking through the heart of Marseille, you’ll see the graffiti tags, paste ups, and the occasional detailed street art mural. The abundance of art makes the it easy to understand that alternative culture is alive and kicking within the city, and every other piece you see tends to communicate one message or another, with anti-fascist and pro-immigration political sentiment amongst the most common themes.3
2. Marseille is Incredibly Ethnically Mixed
One aspect of Marseille that’s most recognisable, and a large contributing factor to its coolness, is how wonderfully diverse the community is. Obviously driven by the presence of a port in the city for centuries, it’s not at all surprising to see that much of the ethnic makeup of the city is comprised of families from around the Mediterranean.
It’s clear from the Turkish cafes filled with Middle Eastern coffee and sweet treats. The long Chinese shops filled with imported spices and large sacks of rice also make it easy to understand. The Ethiopian barber shop filled with people laughing, drinking, and enjoying the sounds from the radio reinforce the point that Marseille is driven by immigration. It thrives because of the people who choose to call it home.
From the aspect of a traveller, walking through Marseille feels like travelling across the world in the space of a day. The smells and the sounds are so foreign and exotic that they provoke imagery from distant lands, yet all of it feels like it belongs there. It’s this mixture and easy accessibility to the world from one place that make Marseille unquestionably cool
3. Marseille is a Cool Old Lady
Most international visitors to Europe understandably want to see and stand open-mouthed in front of places of interest and age-old buildings, to appreciate not just how cool they are, but how old they are.
Marseille holds a large historical importance within France thanks to the length of time it has served as a port. Even the merchants from Ancient Greece knew of the city and would regularly pull in to rest and trade.
Of the several older attractions that still manage to dominate the skyline, the cathedral of Marseille is amongst the most striking and memorable. Although the large religious building, with its distinct, Italian-inspired stripes, was only recently constructed in the 19th century, the early days of the church were founded in the 12th century and parts of it can still be seen today.
For the history-enthusiastic traveller, Marseille isn’t just a cool place to visit, it’s an important part of mankind’s history.
4. This Lady Has Had Cosmetic Surgery
Marseille isn’t just old churches or row-after-row of former warehouses, it’s also a city going through a great deal of cosmetic changes; and, as the second largest city in France, it’s getting all the attention that it deserves.
Over the past decade, there have been a number of conscious efforts by the local council to breathe new life into some of the more neglected parts of the port and marina, with the most drastic change and addition coming in the form of the McCEM, or Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, a building I’ve loved since I first set eyes on it.
Completed in 2013, the museum is the best possible confirmation of how varied the city is, as it documents the mixing of cultures through trade and familial ties in the Mediterranean over the past few thousand years. Although the history displayed within the museum is fascinating enough in itself, the quality and juxtaposition of the new building against the older fort is by far the most interesting and noteworthy.
5. Marseille Is Cool At Night Too
Most of the world’s biggest port cities have had to go through a huge amount of reconstruction over the past few decades, hoping to rid themselves of the endless rows of empty warehouses in which the exports would await their own journey. Marseille has gone to great lengths to breathe life into its own former port-side and marina, and it’s done so in terrific fashion.
What makes the port so cool today is how the warehouses have now become the place to be every night of the week. Instead of barrels of wine, the long arched corridors host hundreds of people in their reinvented roles as restaurants, bars, and plenty of clubs.
For the local and visiting cool kids, there are a number of “must attend” clubs that stay open way into the following morning.
It’s always strange to see the occasional straggle of bleary-eyed people first thing in the morning, making their way along the water’s edge past fishermen – who’ve been out working at sea already – lining up to sell their catch from the day.
Marseille Is Cooler Than Any Words or Pictures
Mixed all together, Marseille must surely be a melting pot of inspiration for the people that live there, and for each traveller and tourist who pass through. It’s hip, happening, and far cooler than any article I write can communicate. The only real way in which to find out for yourself just how entertaining a city is, is to visit for yourself.
Have you ever been to Marseille? What’d you think about it? Let us know your thoughts down below!