Poster for the port of Marseille by Roger BroderMarseille's identity is deeply bound up with its ancient origins as a port and the vast network of sea routes that opened up the city to the world. This is a guide to its ferry terminals and the services from them today.

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Click here to read a guide to the cruise ship area of the port and here to read a guide to Mediterranean cruise holidays starting in Marseille.

Marseille's port district dates from the mid 19th century, a period of huge economic expansion for the city.

As a result of this exponential growth, the historic Old Port could no longer cope with the marine traffic, in particular steamships, and so a new complex of docks and warehouses was constructed.

Pictured top left: a vintage poster from 1928, designed by Roger Broder, which celebrates Marseille's romantic heyday as the "gateway to North Africa".

Over the last couple of decades, the whole port area has undergone a huge fresh bout of renovation under the auspices of the Euroméditerranée Project, the largest State-financed operation since La Défense in Paris, and the Marseille-Provence 2013 European Capital of Culture programme.

For a very long time, this made the district a giant building site which was very difficult to navigate. However, while the works are ongoing and by no means complete, things have much improved and the Joliette area in particular, with its tree-lined seafront boulevard, is now really pleasant to walk around.

Major cultural initiatives like the FRAC PACA modern art gallery and commercial ones such as Les Docks (former warehouses, now beautifully refurbished as a shopping and restaurant complex) and Les Terrasses du Port (a huge brand-new shopping mall) are contributing to the gentrification of the whole area.

Map of Marseille Port TerminalsClick on the image, left, to see a detailed map of the Marseille port area with numbered terminals. Scroll down below the main map to see area maps showing pedestrian and vehicular access to the individual terminals.

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FERRIES OPERATING OUT OF MARSEILLE

Four ferry companies run routes out of Marseille and offer scheduled services to Corsica, Sardinia, Algeria and Tunisia: Corsica Linea (formerly known as SNCM, or Société Nationale Corse Méditerranée, then briefly as Maritima), CMN (Compagnie Méridionale de Navigation, also known as La Méridionale), Algérie Ferries and CTN (Tunisia Ferries).

It's possible to get an overview of fares and price comparisons on certain routes with our affiliate partner Direct Ferries.

None of these operators, of course, should be confused with the little local free "ferry-boat" which simply shuttles sleepily to and fro across Marseille's Old Port.

HOW TO GET TO AND FROM MARSEILLE'S SCHEDULED FERRY TERMINALS

There are four separate terminals, all in the "gares maritimes sud" (southern terminals) district. National Terminals One and Two serve passengers to and from Corsica and Sardinia, while International Terminals Three and Four serve passengers to and from Algeria and Tunisia.

Car passengers

From the A7 motorway, take exit 3 and follow the signs marked "gares maritimes".

From the A55 motorway, take exit 4 and follow the signs marked "gares maritimes".

From the A50 motorway, take the tunnels as if going to Fos sur Mer on the A55. Then, after the tunnels, take the exit marked "gares maritimes".

As you get closer, head for "gares maritimes sud" where the ferry port is located.

It's to the north of the Old Port, between Marseille's Cathedral and the huge, svelte CMA CGM skyscraper designed by the Iraqi-born star architect Zaha Hadid.

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Foot Passengers (terminals two, three and four).

From the airport: Take the shuttle bus to Marseille Saint Charles (the city's train and bus station). Then metro line 2, direction Bourgainville; stop Joliette.

From the centre of Marseille: Starting at Saint Charles, take the metro line 2, direction Bourgainville; stop Joliette.

Starting at the Canebière, take tram line 2 or 3, direction Euroméditerranée Arenc, stop Joliette.

Starting at the Old Port, take bus 55, direction Joliette.

If you're unencumbered by luggage and have plenty of time, it's perfectly possible to walk to the ferry terminals from the centre of town (or vice versa) in about half an hour along Marseille's wide, newly created waterfront promenade.

For terminal one: take tram line 2 or 3, direction Euroméditerranée Arenc, stop Arenc, or bus 35. This terminal is a little further from the town centre.

Click here to find a full guide to Marseille's public transport system.

Alternatively, click here to pre-book a holiday taxi to or from Marseille's ferry port.

Near the foot passengers' entrance, at 61 bis boulevard des Dames, is the rather beautiful Art Deco former SNCM building (pictured: architecture buffs note that a number of original features are preserved in the interior).

The Art Deco SNCM building at Marseille's ferry portCurrently closed, this building has been sold to developers, who are in the process of transforming it into a hotel, apartment, office and shopping complex.

Where to stay: An Ibis Hotel, Les Gens du Mer, the slightly more upmarket Suite Novotel and the four-star Golden Tulip (which opened in spring 2016) can all be found a few minutes' walk north of the terminals. The backstreets such as rue Mazenod contain many smaller hotels.

Where to eat and drink:

There is a sprinkling of brasseries with open-air tables on place de la Joliette. For a more upmarket meal, try La Table de l'Oliver, 56 rue Mazenod, 13002 Marseille; tel (+33) 4 91 91 17 04.

With the commercial expansion of this area of Marseille, there's now a very good choice of places to eat. Les Voûtes de la Major, the vaults of the Cathedral, have several restaurants and a gourmet food hall / brasserie. Many more dining options can be found in Les Docks and the panoramic rooftop terrace of the Terrasses du Port shopping mall.

 

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