Although it’s the second-largest city in France, Marseille feels like a quaint, laid-back town. Between the old city, the national parks, and the sun-soaked beaches, Marseille is one of Provincial France’s most underrated gems.
Located on the Mediterranean coast, this charming port city has a rich, multicultural past. Founded by the Greeks and operating as one of Europe’s largest commercial trading center, Marseille has grown to become a bustling city full of life and culture.
To soak in Marseille’s vibrant history and culture, visit one of the many museums during your visit. Spend the day viewing fine art, exploring centuries worth of history, or learning about the human body. There’s a museum for every type of interest in Marseille!
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Explore almost 26 centuries worth of French history at the Musée d’histoire de Marseille. Founded in the early 1980s, the museum includes artifacts, objects, and paintings dating until the 18th century. You’ll find 2nd-century ship equipment, medieval pottery, and even an exhibit on the great plague of 1720. Some of the archeological objects discovered during the museum site excavation are also on display!
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Art lovers cannot miss a visit to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Marseille. Home to thousands of fine artworks from the 16th to 19th centuries, the Musée des Beaux-Arts is three floors of paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Besides its collection of famous French art, the museum also contains works from Spanish, French, and Italian artists. The building of the museum itself is also considered a masterpiece. Located on the Palais Longchamp, this ornate 19th-century building is a Marseille landmark.
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Founded in 1819, the Muséum d’histoire Naturelle de Marseille is the best place in Marseille to explore human and earth sciences. It contains over 80,000 animal species, 200,000 plants, and 8,000 minerals and rocks. There are also exhibits on comparative anatomy, prehistory, and evolution. Like it’s neighboring museums on the Palais Longchamp, the Muséum d’histoire Naturelle de Marseille is also a stunning 19th-century building designed by Henri-Jacques Espérandieu.
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Located inside a historic mansion, the Musée Grobet-Labadié contains the impressive art collection curated by the Grobet-Labadié family. Although it has since been converted into a museum, it still represents what high society life in France was like in the 19th century. Throughout each room, you’ll find paintings, sculptures, jewelry, glass pieces, ceramics, and even furniture that was used by the Grobet-Labadié family. The Musée Grobet-Labadié is a rare glimpse into the history of French aristocratic life.
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Referred to as MuCEM to the locals, the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée contains everything you ever wanted to see about European history and culture. The museum’s permanent collection contains multiple exhibits on how Europe and Mediterranean countries evolved over the last few centuries. The building is also worth noting. The giant cube-shaped museum is covered in lattice shell concrete.
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As one of the best art museums in Marseille, the Musée Cantini is a must-visit during your trip to France. Specializing in modern art from the first half of the 20th-century, Musée Cantini contains paintings and sculptures from the world’s top artists. You can find masterpieces from Picasso, Matisse, and Cézanne. More specifically, the museum focuses on Surrealism, Inter-War, and Cubisme themes from all over the world.
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Pétanque Museum is possibly the only museum in the world to be dedicated to the French sport of pétanque! If you’re not familiar with the game, then you can think of pétanque like bocce ball or boules. Although the museum is quite small, you can still learn about the history of the sport and how it became a beloved French pastime. You can even see the evolution of the game and how the equipment has changed over the years.
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Although it’s commonly just referred to as Musée d’Arts Africains, this impressive art museum actually encompasses three different cultures. Along with a vast collection of African art, you’ll also find art from the Americas and the Pacific. There are tribal masks, ancient artifacts, and even a few shrunken heads! But best of all, you can visit the Musée d’Arts Africains in the beautifully stunning Vieille Charité building.
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Tucked away inside the Marius Fabre soap factory is a small museum dedicated to the production and history of soap making! This sought-after souvenir can be found in many French homes and hotels and is one of the most popular items to be produced in Marseille. In the Marseille Soap Museum, you can see how the soap is produced, stamped, and packaged. And since you’re in a real working factory, you can purchase a few bars directly from the source!
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Situated next to Marseille City Hall, this small, charming museum is located inside and defunct Roman shipping warehouse. Discovered after WWII bombings, it’s one of the last remaining Roman warehouses in the world. Inside, you’ll find dolia, or ceramic containers, that were once used to store wine, oil, and other agricultural products. There are 30 dolia in the warehouse, each one with the capacity to hold over 2,000 liters of liquid. This unique museum sheds a unique light on Roman and French history and should be visited to really understand it’s significance.
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This off-the-beaten-path folk museum is a charming glimpse into Provincial life in France. Santons, or small figurines, originated right here in Marseille. And in the Musée du Santon, you can find a vast collection of this dainty, terra cotta figures. Most of the Santons on display date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, when they were originally created with random materials like string, crushed glass, and even breadcrumbs. You can also see how the tradition is kept alive, as artisans sculpt and paint the santons right in front of you.
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How many museums are in Marseille?
There are around 20-25 different museums located within Marseille. Besides history museums, art galleries, and science museums, Marseille is also home to several quirky and unique places to visit.
How many free museums are in Marseille?
There are a handful of smaller, independent museums that are free to visit. However, many large museums, like the Muséum d’histoire Naturelle de Marseille and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, are also free to visit on the first Sunday of each month.
What are the hours of Marseille Museums?
Most museums in Marseille open around 10 in the morning and close between 6-8 in the evening. While most museums are open on the weekend, you can expect larger museums to be closed one day a week, usually on Monday or Tuesday.
What can I bring into Marseille Museums?
Photography, water, and small purses are usually allowed in most museums in Marseille. But due to increased security checks, most museums prohibit large bags or suitcases. You can also check the website of the museum you plan to visit for a specific list of what is allowed inside.
As one of the oldest cities in France, Marseille is bursting with multicultural heritage and culture. It attracts millions of visitors each year, and thanks to it’s growing collection of museums, will continue to entice tourists for years to come.
So when you’re in the South of France, don’t forget to stop by Marseille! There are plenty of fascinating places, and even more fascinating museums, waiting to be discovered!
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Born in Los Angeles, Aaron Hovanesian is one of the original staff writers for Hotel Jules. Having backpacked the world as a young man, Aaron now prefers to travel the world in luxury, proudly staying in the world's most amazing hotels and properties. When Aaron is not traveling he lives in Western Colorado he can be found brewing his own beer (probably an IPA) or spending time with his two amazing golden retrievers.