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Marseille's complex history as a transportation and trade hub dates back to 600 BC, the year Phocean Greek settlers first founded France's second most populous city. Today, Marseille remains one of the most important transportation centres in both France and the Mediterranean Sea coast. This multicultural city boasts not only Europe's shortest commercial ferry ride across its bustling Old Port, but also an extensive public transit network on land. Marseille-Provence International Airport, France's fifth busiest, lies just 19 kilometres northwest of central Marseille by taxi, bus, train or car hire.
Who to Book With
Most of Marseille's vehicles for hire are found at Marseille-Provence International Airport and St Charles rail station. Advantage, which only accepts online reservations, is just one of seven internationally reputable car hire companies at the airport alone. Multiple branches of Sixt, Budget, Europcar and many more dealerships are located throughout Marseille.
Best Time to go
High season in Marseille, like elsewhere in the South of France, is summer, when vehicle rental and accommodation rates can soar as high as the seaside temperatures. Better bargains and cooler temperatures can be found in spring and autumn, but visitors should watch for sudden Mistral winds and downpours during these off seasons. Winter is both the coldest and driest season in Marseille.
Need to Know Essentials
These documents are mandatory for claiming your rental car:
- A valid drivers license
- A passport or other proof of age over 18
- Proof of insurance
Marseille's city centre is notoriously congested and chaotic, especially during typical rush hours. Many motorists choose to pay the high fees to park their vehicles in the city's outskirts rather than brave Marseille's traffic. Some shopping streets are completely closed to motorised vehicles. Car hire in Marseille is most practical for journeys outside the city, which lies at the end of France's main north-to-south A7 motorway. Nice and Cannes lie roughly two hours east of Marseille.
This centuries old transportation hub now contains France's fifth busiest airport and Europe's shortest commercial ferry ride in addition to its intricate road network and public transit system. Visitors can take a quick three-hour high speed rail journey to Paris or a leisurely cruise across Marseille's Old Port. A popular cycle hire scheme accompanies the city's extensive cycling path network. After the Marseille metro service stops running each evening, night buses step in as replacements.
Visitors can reach Nice within two hours or Paris within three hours aboard the high speed trains departing to both destinations each day from Marseille's main SNCF St Charles rail station. Several buses and both Régie des Transports de Marseille subway lines stop at this hillside rail station within walking distance of the Old Port and Canebière. Passengers with mobility issues should, however, opt for trams or buses as most métro stations are filled with stairs. Carte liberté tickets costing around £5.30 for up to five voyages, or just over £10.50 for up to 10 voyages which provide the best bargains.
Régie des Transports de Marseille operates Marseille's main inner city bus network, including night buses which step in after the métro ceases operations every evening. Some bus fares include day Marseille City Passes granting passengers admission to many city museums. Passengers can also board Eurolines buses which depart to diverse cities like Tangier, Prague, and Barcelona from the bus station next to the SNCF St Charles rail station.
Many Marseille taxi drivers are multilingual, including many employees of companies such as Taxi Radio Marseille and Boom Taxi Marseille. In addition to Marseille-Provence International Airport's 24-hour taxi service, official taxis are also available at the SNCF St Charles rail station. Several bars and restaurants will book taxis for their customers.
Rented vehicles may not be the easiest way to explore Marseille's own city limits, but they can easily transport visitors 32kms to the picturesque fishing port of Cassis or 25kms to the elegant city of Aix-en-Provence. Cannes may boast France's most famous film festival, but the Lumière brothers actually produced the world's first film at the rail station of a lesser known port called La Ciotat, 32kms outside of Marseille.
Cassis - This may not be as famous or luxurious as the much splashier French Riviera beach resorts east of Marseille, but this fishing community boasts its own relaxed charm. Visitors can sample the local food and wine, enjoy wide varieties of water sports, sail to the long narrow Calanques inlets, or simply admire the pure white cliffs overlooking Cassis.
Aix-en-Provence - Art admirers will undoubtedly want to stroll along the Circuit de Cézanne during their stay in the French artist's hometown, Aix-en-Provence. Stately mansions and unique fountains line the elegant tree-lined boulevards of this affluent city 25kms from Marseille.
La Ciotat - The Lumière brothers created the world's first motion picture at the rail station in the port community of La Ciotat, whose Eden Cinema also ranks among the world's oldest film theatres. The Musée Ciotaden tells the story of another famous local invention, pétanque, while a tiny island called Ile Verte is a popular day boating destination.