Marseille taxiMarseille is a relatively easy city to get around, either on the public transport system or on a wide range of fun alternatives aimed at tourists.

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It's really only on foot that you best absorb the atmosphere of Marseille. But when energy flags, or your destination is too far, or the climb up the hill to the top of the Old Town in the midday sun is just too much of an ordeal, a variety of solutions are at hand.

The Marseille Metro and Bus Network

Marseille has two metro (underground / subway) lines. M1, the blue line, runs roughly east to west and back in a broad loop. M2, the red line, runs roughly north to south.

Both have stops at the main train station, Marseille Saint Charles, and they also intersect further south at Castellane.

They are criss-crossed by a network of over 50 bus routes and three tram lines. To get to L'Estaque, notionally an arrondissement of Marseille though really a small town in its own right, take any train from Saint Charles station in the direction of Miramas.

 

Click here for a list of maps of the Marseille metro, bus and tram network. The system is clean, cheap, regular and fully integrated, and the good news for summer visitors is that it is all air-conditioned. Announcements in the metro are now made in English as well as in French.

A long-standing source of annoyance for nighthawks in Marseille (and one reason for the city's underpowered nightlife) is the fact that the metro stops early on weekday evenings.

Old Port metro station MarseilleHowever the metro service has been recently extended until 1.00am all through the week. Some bus and tram routes run until midnight-1.00am. Click here for a map of Marseille's night transport network.

Some elements of the public transport system are better equipped for disabled travellers than others. The trams are exemplary, and the new batobus boat shuttles along the coast are wheelchair-friendly.

But the metro and many of the buses are less so and Marseille scores very low in surveys of French cities and their provision for handicapped access on public transport.

Wheelchair ramps have been installed at the boarding points for the so-called "ferryboat" across the Old Port. However few of Marseille's metro stations are equipped with a lift / elevator. There are escalators instead, which are quite often out of service. In some cases there are stairs only.

Insider tip for local transport in MarseilleYou can now check on the city transport website which metro stations have escalators and lifts / elevators - and which ones are currently out of service. This is currently available in French only but is fairly easy to understand.

City officials point to a personalised point-to-point transport service for people who need assistance, but this is available for local residents only. Meanwhile disabled visitors to Marseille will, apparently, have to wait.

The RTM (La Régie des transports de Marseille, or Marseille Transport Authority) offers a bewildering range of tickets and tariffs. Full details are available on the RTM website. There follows a summary of the best ones for visitors.

A single-journey ticket (un ticket solo) can be bought on board the buses, and from machines at metro and tramway stops or from an accredited vendor. As with most urban transport systems, the tickets are cheaper if you buy them beforehand.

Un ticket solo allows unlimited travel for one hour, with the restriction of one metro journey. There is also a two-journey ticket which offers the same rate per trip.

A new tram in MarseilleThe Carte 10 Voyages is slightly cheaper: it offers ten journeys and the same card can be used by several people travelling together. You can make a small further saving by recharging any of these cards once they're empty, rather than buying a new one.

There are also several good value all-in passes of various descriptions. A City Pass aimed at tourists offers an all-in package including free entry to numerous museums, a boat trip to the Château d'If, a trip to Notre-Dame de la Garde on the petit train and unlimited travel on the metro, buses and tramways.

It is valid for one, two or three days and can be bought from the Tourist Office. You can also book the Marseille City Pass online here.

Longer-term visitors might find it worthwhile getting a Transpass card, which can either be topped up when needed, rather like London's Oyster cards, or function as a season ticket. It has to be used in connection with a photo-ID card. Both can be obtained at metro stations.

The Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus

Marseille's HoHo tourist bus covers a large circuit that takes in most of the main tourist sights. It runs roughly every 30 minutes throughout the summer (and at less frequent intervals through the winter) and has an earphone commentary in eight languages, including English. The tour lasts around 75 minutes.

You can board at any of the 14 stops and buy tickets on the bus itself, at the Marseille Tourist Office at 11 la Canebière (the end of the street near the Old Port) or on the HoHo website, which also has the bus timetables and a route map.

Petit Train

Marseille, the petit trainThe petit train (little tourist train) is a kitsch but fun toy-town choo-choo painted in the Marseille livery of blue and white.

Leaving from the Old Port (the stop is towards the end of the quai du Port, near the Fort Saint Jean), it plies two routes: up to Notre Dame de la Garde and through the Panier (Old Town). It's by far the best mode of transport around these steep and narrow streets. The trains can accommodate wheelchairs.

The train to Notre Dame runs every 20 minutes in summer and every 40 minutes in winter. The ride lasts around 80 minutes, including a 30 minute stop at the church.

The train to the Old Town runs every 30 minutes from April to December only and also takes in the new development around the docks, the MuCEM and the huge Terrasses du Port shopping mall.

You can get out for 30 minutes at the Vieille Charité in the Old Town and/or the Terrasses du Port. Depending on your choice, the entire circuit takes between 75 and 95 minutes.

A third train runs from Port Frioul on the island of Ratonneau to the Hôpital Caroline in July and August only.

Don't be surprised if you can't find the ticket booth on the Old Port in the late evening: the train tows it away at the end of each day. Website for the Petit Train de Marseille.

Bicycle

The "le vélo" bicycle hire scheme allows you to pick up one of the city's 1,000 rent-a-bikes at one of its 130 bike racks and park it at any of them at the end of your ride. A hefty deposit will be taken, but the rental itself is cheap (and the first half hour is free).

More details (in English) on the "le vélo" Marseille bike rental website which features an interactive map showing bike racks in central Marseille, with live information about the availability of vehicles and parking slots at each one.

Various private companies offer bicycle, electric bike, electric scooter and Segway rentals and/or guided tours of Marseille on their vehicles. Check with the Tourist Office for what's currently available.

Taxi, Bicycle Taxi and Tuk-Tuk

If you need to phone for a taxi while out and about in Marseille, there is a single number to call: 0811 46 90 90. From this number you can order a taxi from any one of Marseille's taxi ranks - and the service is offered in English as well as in French. The two main taxi companies, Taxis radio Marseille and Taxis marseillais, both also have a smartphone app.

If taking a taxi at other times, bear it in mind that, as in most major cities in the world, unscrupulous taxi drivers are a hazard. If you think you have been cheated, make a note of the taxi registration number and report it to the Tourist Office. To avoid such annoyances, you can also pre-book a holiday taxi in Marseille here.

Two recent additions to Marseille's streets are the pousse-pousse), an electric-assisted bicycle taxi which accommodates up to three (thin-ish) passengers, and the little Asian-style tuk-tuk. Various itineraries are offered, including the Old Town or Panier and commentaries are in French and English. Details of both these from the Tourist Office.

Car

One-way traffic system around Marseille Old PortThere is a one-way traffic flow around the Old Port to fit in with the large new pedestrianised area on the quai des Belges.

Essentially, traffic flows "anti-clockwise" round the port from half-way down the quai de Rive Neuve to the quai du Port. Cars heading in the opposite direction (i.e. towards the south) will need to use the Old Port tunnel.

Driving around the city is not quite as hairy as you might expect. There are plenty of car-parks in the centre (the page on this link includes an interactive map), though Marseille's parking charges are among the highest in France.

Various motorways can bring you straight into the heart of the city and there is also a network of tunnels to speed your way through (see the map, below).

Things will become a lot easier after the completion of the Rocade L2, a major bypass round the north-east of Marseille. After very many delays the eastern section of the L2 bypass opened in late 2016. But the northern end of this enormous project won't be fully ready until the end of 2017.

Marseille road tunnels mapTraffic entering Marseille along the A55 autoroute from the north can drive straight to the south side of the Old Port via the Joliette and Old Port tunnels.

After that a second tunnel, the Prado Carénage takes you to the A50 motorway which leads on to Aubagne, Toulon and Nice.

The Joliette and Old Port tunnels are free, while the Prado Carénage tunnel - 2.5 km / 1.55 miles long - costs a couple of €uros (beware: it can be easy to drive into it in error when exiting from the Old Port tunnel).

In 2013 a new tunnel, the Prado Sud opened. This tunnel is 1.5 km / 1 mile long and is also subject to a small toll charge. It leads south from the end of the A50 autoroute to just beyond the Prado roundabout.

If used in conjunction with the older tunnels, it can save considerable time driving between the Prado area in southern Marseille and the autoroutes leading north. Click here for details of the Prado and Carénage road tunnels.

On the downside, you will be navigating among some very excitable local drivers. Marseille is one of the most congested cities in Europe and its drivers are especially fond of wild and double- or triple-parking, which hardly helps the traffic flow.

The main street, the Canebière, is best avoided altogether, as the new tram lines have narrowed the car lanes, creating frequent traffic jams. The lower end of the Canebière is now closed to private cars (though buses, trams and bikes can still ply there).

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Boat

A ferry crosses the Old Port every few minutes between the Town Hall (Mairie) and the rive Neuve close to Marseille's iconic Bar de la Marine. This service has long been plagued by staffing and technical problems but it has now been taken over by RTM (the municipal transport network) and offers a more extended service.

The bad news is that it's no longer free, as it used to be. There is a small charge for the four minute crossing unless you hold an RTM season ticket.

A new ferry boat part-powered by solar panels on the roof was introduced in 2010 but has been plagued by technical problems. As a result the César, the historic ferry boat which previously plied this crossing, has been brought back to help out the newcomer.

The César is a little piece of Marseille history. In one of its earlier versions, it starred in Marcel Pagnol's 1931 film, Marius and appears again on screen in Daniel Auteuil's remake.

From late April until late September a fast boat service - the navette, or "batobus" / "water taxi", pictured - shuttles between the Old Port and Pointe Rouge, where you can find one of Marseille's prettiest small beaches, thus enabling commuters and beach-goers alike to dodge the chronic traffic congestion along the Corniche JF Kennedy.

Batobus, MarseilleBoats run once an hour, the journey time is around 40 minutes and the trip is free for holders of a Transpass season ticket. There's a charge for casual users, who can use their ticket to transfer, free, on to a bus when they arrive at Pointe Rouge or the Old Port.

The boats leave from the corner of the Old Port where the quai des Belges joins the quai de Rive Neuve, by the departure area for the Château d'If shuttle.

The service first started in 2012 and the experiment has been an enormous success, in terms of passenger numbers.

Over 1,500 people, mainly locals, have used the service daily, twice the number originally projected. There are often very long queues for the boats, which can accommodate just 100 passengers.

You'll need to arrive early at rush-hour, when commuters use the service, and at any time in the mid-summer to be sure of a seat. High winds force the service to be cancelled on two to three days a month.

A second batobus route has since started up linking the Old Port to L'Estaque on the other side of Marseille. Again the journey time is around 40 minutes. Marseille-L'Estaque is already catered for by the Blue Coast Train, but the new batobus has dramatically increased the travel options and brings you closer to the centre of L'Estaque.

A third batobus route runs from late June to late September between Pointe Rouge on to the remote beaches of Les Goudes on the edge of the calanques, previously difficult to get to by bus.

This service has smaller boats that take 50 passengers, and a less frequent service. Click here for maps of all three boat routes and the timetables.

But in spite of its popularity, the batobus has been losing money and the ticket price has been sharply increased. Let's hope the social and environmental benefits it brings will ensure its long-term survival.

A traditional Marseille boat or pointuThe Frioul If Express is a regular shuttle to Marseille's nearby islands, including the legendary Château d'If. In addition several other companies offer half-day, full-day or evening trips along the coast throughout the summer.

They include Croisières Marseille Calanques, Icard Maritime and Bleu Evasion. A range of catamaran cruises is available with Levantin. Some of these services may not run on days of high wind.

Alternatively you can hire a boat for the day from companies such as Blue Touch or Location Barques Marseille. Or take a tour of the Old Port in a traditional pointu (fishing boat) like the one pictured above.

Note: some of these boat companies' websites are not especially user-friendly. Several are in French only and most do not offer online booking. By far the easiest option is just to stroll down to the Old Port, where many of them are based, and enquire in person.

 

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