plage prado smallYou might not at first think of Marseille for a beach holiday. But the city offers a vast array of seaside spaces catering to every possible taste all along its west-facing southern coastline. logoClick here to book a beach hotel in Marseille

Some are perfect for families with children, others for surfing, skateboarding, a beachside drink or meal or, at the very fringes of the city, a hike into the remote rocky calanques.

Map of Marseille BeachesSome are natural, others man-made, a few are sandy though most have pebbles or rocks. Of course sunbathing is high on the agenda at all of them.

This guide covers the beaches (plages) to the south of Marseille. Click on the map to enlarge the image.

Click here to read about the Plage de Saint Estève on the Frioul island of Ratonneau and here to read about three artificially created beaches, the Plages de Corbière, to the north of Marseille in the outlying district of L'Estaque.

Marseille offers some organised sports and activities for adults and children at the Plages du Prado in July and August.

These include everything from kayaking and snorkelling to beach rugby, hip-hop dancing and kite flying, and there are swimming lessons for kids. There is a nominal charge. Free wi-fi access is available on some of Marseille's beaches.

Along with other beach resorts, Marseille has made disposable ashtrays available from the lifeguard stations though unlike, say, La Ciotat, it hasn't gone as far as to make any beaches entirely non-smoking.

Near the lifeguard stations on the larger beaches are left luggage lockers, which you are strongly advised to use. Parents of small children can also get fluorescent bracelets for them here on which to mark their name and phone number.

Handicapped bathers should head for the Prado Beaches, where there are disabled parking spaces, special toilet and shower facilities, signage for sight- and hearing-impaired visitors, a rest area with a bed and special deckchairs, a team of helpers and marine wheelchairs (located next to the lifeguard station) to enable wheelchair-users to take a dip.

Each of Marseille's beaches is accessible by bus. But, even though the service is more frequent in summer, on hot afternoons these will be jam-packed with locals out for a dip after work or school.

So will be the beaches themselves: make sure you go early (or late) to beat the crowds. Don't even think about taking a car. It's wise to leave valuables at home too.

The batobus shuttle boat in MarseilleBetween the end of April and the end of September, there is another, very attractive transport option to the further beaches: an hourly boat shuttle service which runs between the Old Port and Pointe Rouge.

Between the end of June and the end of September, an extension service runs between Pointe Rouge and Les Goudes.

Started in 2012, this boat shuttle, pictured, was originally aimed at, and is also used by, local commuters. It has proved a huge success and long queues are to be expected in fine weather.

Another option is to rent one of Marseille's municipal bicycles. The city's "Le Vélo" bike hire scheme has racks all over town, including at many of the beaches, and there is a cycle track along the southern coastline.

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The sea can be turquoise-blue and marvellously clear, given the proximity of the beaches to a major city. It can also be filthy, depending on the wind direction.

Marseille has constantly fought to keep standards acceptable, with some success. Although popular myth continues to claim that its beaches are dirty, in fact most of them are classed as "excellent" under EU regulations and the remainder as "good".

Reports logging water cleanliness (or pollution) can be consulted online on the official French government website during the main season and are posted at each lifeguard station.

The town hall also has an interactive map, updated daily, on its own website detailing water temperature and quality and a free phone app called, logically enough, Marseille, which includes up-to-date information about the weather.

Beaches are closed when these become unacceptable and this will probably happen a couple of times over the summer.

Note that, as the beaches of Marseille are north and west facing, they are particularly exposed to the Mistral, the fierce wind from the north-west that can blow up at any time of the year.

On such days, sun-worshippers might consider the beaches north-west of Marseille, which are accessible by the Blue Coast train.

The bathing season in Marseille opens officially at the beginning of June and continues until the school term resumes in late August / early September. That doesn't mean that people can't bathe before then, of course (some madmen and -women go swimming on Christmas Day).

But from June until the end of August / early September, lifeguards are on duty at certain beaches. These are: Corbière, Frioul (plage de Saint-Estève), Prophète, Prado Nord, Prado Sud, Huveaune, Borély, Bonneveine, Pointe Rouge, Sormiou and Catalans.

Their stations are equipped with first aid facilities and defibrilators, walkie-talkies and (apart from Sormiou) toilet facilities. There are no lifeguards in most of the calanques.

Therefore it is perfectly safe to go swimming on the supervised beaches of Marseille and the city's lifeguards pride themselves on an unblemished record.

However, you should exercise extreme caution if bathing on a remote and / or unsupervised beach. The stretch of coast between Pointe Rouge and the calanque of Saména is particularly dangerous.

First check the water temperature, which can sometimes be quite low, even on hot days. It will always be a few degrees cooler in the calanques, where the sea is deeper than elsewhere along the coast.

Also take into account the speed of the wind, which can cause dangerous undercurrents. You can check the current weather conditions at sea on this website.

Plage des Catalans

marseille catalans beachThe first beach you'll come across on leaving the Old Port is the Plage des Catalans, pictured, with the private swimming club Le Cercle des Nageurs in the foreground.

Reached down a flight of steps, it's sandy and equipped with volleyball areas, a lifeguard station and snack bar and has a good view across the bay to the Château d'If.

In summer there are organised activities for children and a free "underwater trail" for snorkellers, with panels explaining the region's flora and fauna. But the main attraction is its proximity to the centre and you'll have to arrive early on sunny days to be sure of a spot.

The Plage des Catalans can get extremely crowded (and littered) in summer. To combat this, the city of Marseille has passed a decree limiting the number of bathers at any one time to 1000.

Police are stationed at the only entrance to the beach to keep check on the numbers, but there have been several unfortunate incidents in the past.

Unlike other beaches in Marseille, the Plage des Catalans closes its gates at 8pm in summer. Because of its location, it's also especially subject to pollution.

The beach has been recently enlarged by removing some unauthorised bars and adding sand. More improvements are planned. There's also now a paid-for private area which overlooks the beach. This part of the Catalans beach has sunbeds and serves drinks and light meals.

Dogs not allowed. About ten minutes' walk from the Old Port or bus 83.

The Vallons

The next long strip of the Corniche JF Kennedy (the coastal road) has no beaches proper but instead consists of a series of small creeks accessed down steps from the main road.

La Plage du Prophete, Marseille

Essentially, these are rocky inlets from which it's possible to go swimming and include the Vallon des Auffes, the Vallon de Malmousque, the Vallon de la Fausse Monnaie and the Vallon de l'Oriel. Some have restaurants. Click here to read more about them. Bus 83 from the Old Port.

Plage du Prophète

After the Vallons is the Plage du Prophète, pictured, another sandy beach down steep steps with volleyball areas, showers and a snack bar.

Protected by a breakwater and lifeguards during the day, it's a good spot for children and a very popular venue for picnics, apéritifs and barbecues on summer evenings. Bus 83 from the Old Port.


Parc Balnéaire du Prado

This large (26 hectare / 64 acre) park was landscaped in the 1970s using earthworks from the excavations for Marseille's then-new metro. It runs along the coast for about a kilometre / 0.6 miles, around the point where the Corniche reaches the David roundabout. You can't miss this: it's graced by the surreal sight of a huge replica of Michelangelo's famous sculpture, which was erected in Marseille in 1952.

kite festival plage du verdonThe Prado beaches host very many cultural and sporting events throughout the year, especially in summer.

In September, these beaches are also the backdrop to the Fête du Vent, or Festival of Wind, pictured. Most of the year the Marseillais curse the fierce Mistral wind (except, of course, when it chases the clouds away to make way for blue skies and sun).

But for a couple of days in autumn they celebrate it with hundreds of colourful kites soaring above the Mediterranean.

The event is also likely to include demonstrations of kite art, children's workshops, kite battles, wind-powered musical instruments and more. Both a major international event and a hugely popular one, the Fête du Vent attracts up to 100,000 kite-flyers and visitors from around the world.

Pictured right and top left, the strip of Prado beaches is split into a series of separate areas.

Parc Balneaire du Prado, MarseilleBus 83 will take you from the Old Port to the beginning of the park. From there, bus 19 will take you further along the coast.

First up is the Plage du Roucas Blanc, set well back from the Corniche behind a high grassy ridge topped by Le Bateau ivre (The Drunken Boat), a 1989 sculpture by Jean Amado dedicated to the poet Arthur Rimbaud, who died in Marseille.

Also in this park is another large sculpture, Les Sept portes de Jérusalem (The Seven Doors of Jerusalem) by David Soussana (1985).

The leisure facilities here include a solarium, sailing and canoe centre, volleyball areas, a small playground, toilets and showers, a diving platform and a lifeguard post. The beach itself is short on bars, but there's a good line-up of watering holes on the other side of the main road.

Plage Planches à voile, also sometimes called the Plage des Véliplanchistes, is, as the name indicates, beloved by windsurfers and kitesurfers. Yet another name for it is the Plage de l'Huveaune, after a small river which reaches the sea here.

It's a wide, sandy strip - one of Marseille's few original natural beaches - and prone to pollution on days when the Mistral wind is blowing: hence its local nickname, the Plage des Epluchures (Peel Beach).

On a level with, and right by, the noisy main road, this is a spot to practise water sports, not really to snooze quietly in the sun. There are jetties and a first-aid point.

Beach bars at Plage Borely, MarseilleAcross the road from the very popular Parc Borély, several dozen tourist bars, clubs, cafes and restaurants cluster on the Plage Borély and Plage Bonneveine, pictured.

Launched in 1992 as a buzzing resort - Marseille's version of Ibiza, as it was described at the time - Borély's pebble beaches have become rather run-down in recent years.

But a facelift is currently underway. It's now mainly family-oriented, but can be quite lively in the evenings. Click here for a review of our favourite bar-restaurant in this complex, Sport Beach.

Sun-loungers are available to rent, and there's a children's playground and carousel, volleyball area, toilets and lockers and a lifeguard station.

Opened in 1991, its legendary skateboarding park was one of the first of its kind and has recently been entirely renovated. You can go fishing on the rocks too, and there's a paid-for private area.

At the far end of the park, Plage de la Vieille Chapelle, a pebble beach, is screened from the sea by a low rock wall and has water that's cleaner and shallower than at some of the other beaches. It's much frequented by local fishermen and also has a launch channel for kitesurfers.

Plage de la Pointe Rouge

The sea-front restaurants lined up on this small, crescent-shaped, sandy beach are much less commercialised than the glossy tourist diners in the Borély and Bonneveine area and a delightful destination for a meal out.

Don't expect white linen tablecloths or gourmet dining: these places serve pizzas, grills and salads in a simple, idyllic setting.

As part of a national campaign to reclaim and clean up the coastline, these bars have had to dismantle their wooden terraces and place their tables directly on the sand. However they remain open for business, at least for the time being. Watch this space for further developments.

Down a flight of steps, the beach boasts a swimming pool, showers, a lifeguard station and, next to it, a large marina with a Yachting Club. There is a launch ramp for jet skis and you can hire pedalos or go diving. Across the road is an arcade of banks and shops, including one selling fishing tackle.

Metro line 1 or 2, stop Castellane, then bus 19. From late April to September, an hourly boat shuttle service runs between the Old Port and Pointe Rouge.


Right at the end of the 19 bus route, a few streets of shabby-pretty fishing cottages cluster around a minute sand and gravel beach, but the real reason to go here is to eat a bouillabaisse at Chez Aldo, a seaside restaurant favoured by locals. Bus 19.

Mont Rose

Just after Montredon, Mont Rose - a rocky stretch of coast rather than a beach proper - is a nudist beach and one of the oldest-established (male) gay beaches in this part of France. Click here to read more about Marseille's gay and lesbian scene. Bus 19, then walk.

Les Goudes

At the very end of a narrow, winding road, Les Goudes, pictured, a scruffy, picturesque, isolated fishing port snuggled in a rocky creek has stunning views across to the islands and, inland, to craggy limestone rocks.

Les Goudes, near MarseilleYou'll also find a small gravel and sand beach and a marina with lots of bars. It has a homely, no-nonsense, authentically Marseillais ambiance that seems a million miles from the tourist traps nearer the city.

The detective hero of the novels by the popular thriller writer Jean-Claude Izzo had a summer cabin here and the name, apparently, is a corruption of "l'aïgo", or "water" in provençal.

Look out for the rusty remains of the pulleys for the téléscaphe, a bizarre underwater cable car that offered ten-minute rides along the sea-bed here for a year in the late 1960s.

Continue a little way along the coast and you're in Cap Croisette, a wild, remote, craggy bay. There's a minute, rocky beach and, opposite, the imposing mass of the Île de Maïre. This is an excellent starting point for hikes.

Or visit La Baie des Singes, a quirky fish restaurant that's another local haunt. Note that this involves a ten-minute walk up steps over the rocks to a promontory and is not suitable for people with limited mobility (though it's easily accessible by boat).

Metro line 1 or 2, stop Castellane, bus 19 to the end of the route (Montredon), then bus 20. In summer you can also take the boat shuttle from the Old Port to Pointe Rouge and from there on to Les Goudes.


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