The Vieux-Port: Marseille’s old port was for many years the city’s gateway to the sea and the world of trade. Now it is a lively center of the downtown area, brimming with restaurants, bars, and cafes. The historic section of the city around the port was destroyed during World War II and reconstruction began in 1948. In past centuries thousands of trading vessels passed through the port each year. Now the harbor is a marina crowded with smaller ships. Two forts were built by Louis XIV to protect the port: from Fort St. Nicolas you get a fine view of the harbor; Fort St. Jean is now the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations.
Whether you are looking for nightlife (such as the Trolleybus nightclub), culture (the National Theater), or just a bench to sit on while you watch the moonlight on the water and the masts of the ships, the Vieux-Port offers it all. With plenty of hostels and hotels in the surrounding streets, the harbor is often first port of call for visitors to the city. From here you can take a twenty-minute boat ride out to the historic fortress-turned-prison Château d’If on the small Îsle d’If, or walk up to the Jardin du Pharo (the Pharaoh Gardens) to get some greenery and a rest from Marseille’s grime, traffic, and fast pace.
As your day of wandering around the city comes to a close, the perfect ending can be to walk up from the port and saunter down the coastal road. As you get out to the area of the fancier hotels, such as la Petit Nice or Hotel Peron, stop and watch the sunset over the ocean. Climb over the low wall and sit on the rocks as the waves crash against the cliff beneath you. The sun goes down, the city lights come on, and the ships slowly sail out of the old port and into the ocean beyond.