Getting Around Marseille: Guide to Public Transportation

Underground Metro and subway train in Marseille, Provence, France, Europe

Robert Mullan / Getty Images

While it's one of France's largest cities in terms of population, Marseille is relatively easy to navigate. The Mediterranean hub has a much less complex and sprawling public transportation system than Paris does, with just a few metro, tram, and bus lines that are generally efficient and reliable. At the same time, the city can feel a bit daunting for first-time visitors, as it comprises several neighborhoods and areas that can be difficult to access without a car. Before your trip to the ancient port city, familiarize yourself with public transport options, and consider buying a pass to make getting around and exploring Marseille easier and more economical.

How to Ride the Metro

The Marseille Metro (subway) system is one of the best ways to travel between popular tourist attractions, shopping areas, and some of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Marseille.

Made up of only two lines that traverse the city center and certain outer districts, the Metro serves popular sites and areas including the Vieux Port (Old Port), Notre Dame du Mont Basilica and viewpoint, Canebière shopping district, and Prado beaches district. We recommend using one or both lines when you're exploring the city's centermost districts and sites, and to enjoy an afternoon out in the surf and sun.

Hours of Operation: The Metro operates daily between 5 a.m. and 1 a.m.

Fares: Tickets for the Metro can be used on buses and tramways. A ticket purchased at a train station costs 1.60 euros for the first purchase and 1.50 euros for subsequent trips. (The ticket costs 1.90 euros on the bus.) One ticket is valid for a free transfer within an hour, but the ticket must be validated upon transfer. Two-trip passes cost 3.10 euros and 10-trip passes cost 13.50 euros.

Routes: The two lines serve a total of 30 stations, including the following popular areas and attractions:

  • Line 1: Running mostly east to west, this line serves 18 stations, including the Vieux Port (Old Port)/ Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), Marseille Saint-Charles train station, Canebière shopping district (at the Reformés stop), and Cinq Avenues district (which harbors sites such as the Natural History Museum and Museum of Fine Arts).
  • Line 2: Running north to south, this line serves 12 stations, including the Rond Pont du Prado (offering access to the Prado beaches area), Notre Dame du Mont and Cours Julien district, and the Noailles stop (for access to the popular Marché des Capucins food market). This line also stops at the St-Charles train station.

How to Ride the Tram

Marseille's tram system is more extensive than its subway, and can offer another good way to get around the city once you familiarize yourself with how it works. One advantage of taking the tram is that you'll see how places connect above ground and get a better sense of the city as a whole.

There are a total of three tram lines (T1, T2, and T3). These operate daily from 5 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Line T2 is probably your best bet for seeing popular attractions, including the Old Port, Canebière shopping district, Cinq Avenues (museum district), and Joliette (near the Terrasses du Port Shopping Centre on the waterfront).

Other Practical Tips

  • Be extremely cautious when navigating by foot around trams and their tracks. Make sure to only cross busy intersections used by trams after looking both ways, and watch out for signals that a tram will soon be crossing.
  • Accessibility: All trams in Marseille (as well as most buses) are accessible to passengers with wheelchairs, and are either fitted with ramps or level access points.

How to Ride the Bus

While it may be unnecessary to use Marseille's bus system, it may be useful in certain cases. This is particularly true if you want to take a day trip to areas that extend beyond the Metro and tram system, including many of the city's beaches and the Calanques National Park. There are more than 100 different bus lines (including night services), which can be a bit tricky for visitors unfamiliar with the city to navigate. If you think you may need to travel by bus, you can check the Marseille Transport Authority (RTM) website for an overview of lines and schedules (in French only). If in doubt, use Google Maps or another navigation app to plot your trip.

Marseille Ferry Boat

The Ferry Boat is a fun, inexpensive, and quick way to shuttle across the Old Port (Vieux Port), from the Quai du Port (Mayor's Office) to the Place Aux Huiles on the other side. This is also a good way to get a closer look at some of the prettier boats moored in the harbor. It's operated by local transport authority RTM.

How to Buy and Use Tickets

Ticket machines can be found at most metro (subway) and tramway stations, and are also sold at various points around the city. Bus tickets can be purchased onboard from drivers.

Tickets are also sold at tourist information offices, train (rail) stations including Saint-Charles, and tabacs (tobacco dispensers/convenience stores).

Make sure to validate your metro, tram, or bus tickets/passes before each ride by placing them on the orange digital readers. They are valid for an hour after validation and you can make as many transfers between buses, trams, and metro stations as you wish during this period. You may be subject to fines if you do not follow these guidelines.

For more details and advice on how to get around the city, visit the Marseille Tourist Office website.

Car Rentals

Renting a car isn't generally necessary if you plan to focus most of your attention on areas around the city center. However, if you wish to embark on several day trips to destinations such as the Calanques National Park, Cassis, or other regional highlights, driving is probably the easiest way to go. If you do decide to rent a car, we recommend that you avoid the center if possible, and carefully study French driving laws in advance.

Taking Public Transportation To and From the Airport

From Marseille-Provence Airport, there are a couple of ways to get to the city center using public transportation. You may board a bus from the airport to the Marseille Saint-Charles train station; the trip takes roughly 25 minutes and tickets can be booked online.

Alternatively, you can take a free shuttle from the airport to the Vitrolles-Aéroport train station, then another train to the Marseille city center. Free shuttles depart 10 to 15 minutes from the bus station, platform 5, and the trip takes around 5 minutes. The train onward takes roughly 20 minutes.

Tips for Getting Around Marseille

  • If you want to enjoy a bit of Marseille nightlife, the Metro operates until 1 a.m. Night buses are also available, but can be tricky for tourists to use, and may pose potential safety issues in certain areas. Consider taking a taxi back to your hotel if it's too far away on foot, or you have any doubts about personal safety.
  • Taxi rides are not generally recommended outside of certain airport transfers or late-night transport, since heavy traffic in the city center can considerably inflate fares and travel times. An exception might be if you plan a single day trip outside the public transportation network's reach, but don't wish to rent a car to get there.
  • In the spring and summer, we recommend navigating the city center and Vieux Port area on foot as much as you feel comfortable with. If you're staying near the center, this can also be the most time-efficient way to get around—but do make sure you wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes, and bring along a bottle of water on hot days.
  • Even in our digital world, it's always a good idea to have a print map of the city on hand in case your phone battery dies.
  • The city center is not considered especially bike-friendly, although efforts are currently underway to install more dedicated bike paths. In the summer, cycling around the beach areas (such as the Plages du Prado) can be very pleasant. A city bike rental scheme exists, but be aware that helmet rentals are not on offer.
  • Consider purchasing the Marseille City Pass, which offers unlimited trips on city public transportation lines, discounted entry to several museums and attractions, a ride on Le Petit Train (an old-fashioned tourist rail line), and other perks. You can choose between cards that are valid for 24, 48, or 72 hours (special rates for children).