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

As a result of this enormous and rapid growth, the historic Old Port could no longer cope with the marine traffic, in particular steamships. So a new complex of docks and warehouses was constructed along the coast north of the city.

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, this whole port area has undergone a huge fresh bout of renovation as part of the Marseille-Provence 2013 European Capital of Culture programme and the Euroméditerranée Project, the largest State-financed operation since La Défense in Paris.

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, things have much improved. The Joliette area in particular, with its wide, 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.

FERRIES OPERATING OUT OF MARSEILLE

Four ferry companies run routes out of Marseille and offer scheduled services to Corsica, Sardinia, Algeria and Tunisia.

ferry marseilleThey are: 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). All of them have ticket offices in the general port area.

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 "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

The ferry terminals in Marseille are scattered at intervals along the northern coast of the city. They stretch all the way from the Gare Maritime de la Major, near the Cathedral, to the Porte Béausejour 5 km / 3 miles from the Old Port.

Which one you need will depend on whether you are on a domestic / European Union route (Corsica or Sardinia) or an international one to North Africa, and on whether you are travelling on foot or in a car. The best way to check is with your ferry company or on the website for the Port of Marseille-Fos

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

And all the terminals are well-served by public transport (except the Porte Béausejour): check the Port of Marseille website and/or 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.

For drivers, exits to the ferry terminals (gares maritimes) are clearly marked from the motorways - the A7, A50 and A55 - serving the area. Note that there are two exits, one for the southern (sud) terminals and one for the northern (nord) ones. Here again, the Port of Marseille website will help with instructions for your specific ferry.

If you are planning to rent a car in Marseille, please consider our comparison search engine for all grades of hire car from Smarts to 4x4s and limousines.

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

Near the foot passengers' entrance, at 61 bis boulevard des Dames, is the Art Deco former SNCM building. Currently closed, it has been sold to developers, who are in the process of transforming it into an upscale hotel, apartment, office and shopping complex.

Terrasses du PortWhere 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 budget and mid-range places to eat. Les Voûtes de la Major, the vaults of the Cathedral, have several restaurants and a gourmet food hall / brasserie.

Towards the northern end of the ferry terminal area, many dining options can be found in Les Docks and the panoramic rooftop terrace of the Terrasses du Port shopping mall, pictured, is a great place to hang out if you have a little time to spare.

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