I recently left Marseille after a 2-night stay (Sep 22-24, 2013) with my girlfriend. The people are that of any big city and were overall pleasant. There were beggars who were more aggressive and persistent than the norm, a lot of litter and urine/feces smells along the busiest streets near the port in the middle of the day. It was not unlike other large city in the US and abroad, but it did have an "edgy" feel to it that was clearly unique.
The D'If and surrounding islands made for a fantastic half-day boat excursion and the Calanques Du Sugiton national park provided an all-day hiking and swimming experience that was very beautiful. Enjoying the sunset at the Notre-Dame de la Garde was the perfect end to our day, and many locals had adult beverages to partake in the sunset and it was a friendly, social atmosphere.
However, things did take a turn for the worse. I ventured out for some night-time photography along the port, which is very vibrant during the day, around 11 pm. I fully realize there is inherent risk in walking around at night in any city -- US or abroad -- but what I encountered is far from the norm in my 15+ years of traveling throughout the world. I had just taken some photos of the Bouches-du-Rhône. While taking photos I noticed a couple groups of young-looking locals that were socializing and did not appear to be doing anything unusual. I left the Bouches-du-Rhône and began walking towards the Vieux Port. I was 2-3 blocks southeast from the Vieux Port and there were a few pedestrians every few blocks, so it was not necessarily a deserted city street.
Before I knew it someone ran up behind me and put me in a "sleeper hold" headlock and a second person began spraying pepper spray in my eyes and ears. They kicked and punched me and tried to get my backpack (small day pack), but I managed to fight them off and they ultimately ran away after wrestling with them on the ground. I was carrying 40 euro, a couple credit cards, and an iphone in my pockets, and I had an "semi professional" DLSR camera in my backpack and I was holding a 10-year-old $80 tripod in my right hand. I suspect my backpack and the tripod were what attracted them, but in the end having the tripod worked out to my advantage -- it served as my weapon when they attacked me. I managed to not lose anything. I assume they followed me after taking pictures of the Bouches-du-Rhône.
This was not just a "bag snatching" attempt you read about in other reviews about Marseille. This was a violent robbery that could have easily ended worse than it did. Thankfully I only suffered minor injuries in addition to the effects of the pepper spray. After they fled I realized that I was unwilling to walk back to my hotel alone -- which was the first time I ever felt unsafe in any city. Two young locals kindly offered to walk back with me, and they mentioned violent robbery happens more regularly even in popular areas of the Marseille like the old port.
I have walked alone in large cities throughout the world late at night (specifically for photography) and experienced nothing remotely similar to what happened to me last night in Marseille. Perhaps it was my time. It certainly served as a strong reminder that the worst can happen at any time, in any city. This is not another "don't visit Marseille" post, but for those of you who are planning your trip please be very careful walking about Marseille.
I, a woman travelling alone, was assaulted by a large gang of teenagers on the night bus, number 519, on Rue des Mousses, Marseilles on 21.6.13, at 21.50pm. They wouldn't let me off the bus, so I missed my stop. Two seated women kindly tried to intervene told the youths that I wanted to get off. The boys starting pulling my hair and poking me, and I thought I would be mugged. I managed to squeeze my way to the doors when they opened, and as I was stepping off, a girl pushed me off so I fell hard towards the pavement. I turned around to confront them, and was met with a wall of hateful abuse, then a girl hit me in the face and my glasses went flying, and I couldn't see. The bus doors must have closed and gone on its way, while I was searching for my glasses.
I have reported the incident to the British Consulate. The police were mainly attending to a music festival in the centre of the city. I am concerned about other tourists or local people travelling in Marseilles in the evening, unaware, or even very aware of bullying cowards on public transport.
I decided it was best to return to the UK, as my hotel was quite far from the main station and centre of town, and I would need to use public transport a lot. Since there were so many youths on the bus who were part of this group, I thought I was better off leaving.
I think there is a disenfranchised group of French people of Arab origin in Marseilles, where hatred grows unchecked. If you feel you have to fight people who have done you no harm, you are a victim, and that's how I perceive these young people. They need help.
In the meantime, be warned, Marseille late evening transport could be problematic to tourists travelling alone. Cowards tend to stick with their group and pick on people on their own.
We disembarked from the MSC Splendida on a Sunday, and took a shuttle bus into the city. We spent all of 15 minutes in the Old Town section before my pocket was picked, apparently by a gang. An old woman with a scarf over her head came up and aggressively begged for money - - grabbing my arm. As I said to her "no" and jerked away, someone on the other side of me picked my pocket - - the front pocket of my jeans!
We returned to the ship and cancelled the cards, but lost a bit of cash as well as a few identification cards (driver's license, etc.) .
Advice: NEVER wear a baseball cap. It marks you as an American tourist. AND don't wear white tennis shoes/sneakers/walking shoes. That also marks you as a tourist. Finally, keep your money securely in one of the money belts or a neck wallet! Stay in groups and don't let strange people approach you if you can avoid it. (Beggars may NOT be beggars!)
In the 15 minutes I was in that part of Marseille, I noticed a strong stench in the streets, and lots of garbage on the streets.
I saw nothing that was worth my time while traveling to and from the Old Town area.
I will not return there.
I am a woman and spent 5 days in the city on my way to Italy. I just stopped and parked the car (underground) and went walking around after dark. One old cafe gave me internet, but I found no good hostel. The nice guy working gave me a little hotel not far off and then I walked from the room to my car and back all at night. I stayed two nights there till I meet a great women from Germany that let me stay on her couch for 3 nights. I went out alone for the first two nights .. going to bars..walking down streets, I do not know if they where "back streets." I had a great time and even went to 3 house parties with people that lived in the city. I was out one night till the sun came up. I was alone some of the time and with some other people of all kinds (Spanish, German, French, and more Americans like me) at other times. I talked to people on the street and in Cafes and even ran into someone else from Brooklyn. Sure watch your stuff, never flash cash, keep your mind on your well-being, but if you act like your afraid you might bring the bad to you. And if you think France has big dirty city's, come to America and see New York, Philly, Pittsburgh, and even more big scary city's in the West. I would just like to say it would be a hard life walking around scared to talk to people and "staying in the train stations" I would not want to live like that. But Just your car park underground, even in places like Rome, Paris and Barcelona and you might just keep you windows together.
On Sept. 30, 2012, my companion and I were robbed on the beautiful Route des Cretes. We parked our rental car by a path and walked up a short hill. Thirty minutes later we returned to find the car passenger window broken and a purse and bag taken containing several valuables. Note that the area we parked in was just off the main road but far from any habitation or shops (20 minutes to Cassis, 30 minutes to Marseille). It was just road and hills. While we were previously aware of the dangers of Marseille and kept a watchful eyes on our valuables while in the city, it did not occur to use at all that the beautiful Route des Cretes would also have thieves. So for future travelers to this very beautiful route, watch your belongings carefully!
Location: Gare De Marseille-Saint-Charles Train Station. When traveling to Marseille by train, wether passing through to catch another train or to visit, take caution when walking outside of Station to get some fresh air or to overlook the view, no matter what time of day. February 2012 I arrived to the Station by train from Paris CDG Airport, immediately walking outside to get some air, I walked to the surrounding near the steps to relax until I was to catch the train to the City of Aubagne, and I was approached by a young man asking for a lighter to light his cigarette, he was well dressed and well groomed and came across as polite, I noticed that he was Caucasian and spoke with an Eastern Block accent, so I asked him " are you Russian"? he said "yes", right away he seemed very interested in my being in Marseille; where I was from, where I was headed etc...anyway he was very intuitive. Now as I was standing there I made sure to keep my travel pack to my side and in view, as we were engaged in conversation another young man approached and asked for a lighter to light his cigarette, anyhow I felt as if these two fellas were working in conjunction to Robb me; call it instinct! Anyway my advice to those traveling to Marseille Train Station; take caution when passing through, if you are traveling alone and are not familiar with the area, stay close to the Station and don't venture off to far, be cautious of engaging in conversation with passer bys whom seem to willing to engage in conversation, as this could very well be a set up! If you do not have long to wait at the Station, best to hang out inside, there is a Mc'Donalds and a walk in Deli and several Cafe's, keep your belongings on you at all times, if you have luggage, there is a secure luggage storage unit next to the restrooms and Police Station next to the Train platform, when you walk in the door there is Security, they will ask you to put your luggage through the machine to be scanned and then they will let you through to choose a secure locker, It costs 2 Euro to open the bin and there you have it, you are free to roam the Station without the burden of lugging around your belongings, just use good sence! Whenever I arrive to the Station, it is for a short layover till my next train arrives, although I am usually a little weary from traveling from CDG Airport, I maintain my awareness by being attentative of my surroundings at all times. Now if you are staying in Marseille, when you head out the doors, you will be facing the long steps in front of you, you will see a line of Taxi's to take you where you need to go, oh and if you miss your train or it has been cancelled and you need to rest, there is a fine Hotel next door, just head out the Station door, walk to the side walk where the Taxi's park, turn left and you will see the Hotel, it's a 3 minute walk, "and there it is; Hotel ibis", stones throw from the Station! So be safe and "Happy Travels".
Marseille is extremely dangerous to travel to, expecially for women or unseasoned tourists, The local police is undermanned and there are many districts that are not patrolled at all since the police themselves could get into some real troubles there.
Marseille was a truly wonderful city half a century ago, things took a turn for the worst in the early 80's dues to wild and uncontrolled immigration, now Marseille is a hotbed of activities for thugs of all races hiding often behind moslem fundamentalist values, they are very dangerous and will rape and steal what ever they can get away with... with the police afraid in most cases to act, it is best to altogether avoid going there at least until the local authorities have restored order, the local government rep was fired recently and the French president has endeavoured funds to make the city safer, really at this stage they should bring in the army and shoot on sight as it cannot be really worst.
Unfortunately for Europe, Marseille is a very accurate example of what is happening to Most European cities especially in France, the radical moslems are taking hold everywhere and crimes is flourishing most often unpunished.
I was only in Marseille for 24 hours but, in daylight and on my first night, I was wrestled to the ground by two North African looking individuals outside my hotel near the Vieux Port. They tried to go through my pockets but I managed to fight them off - luckily they were fairly small blokes so it wasn't too dangerous. A really dirty, unpleasant and crime ridden city. Would never go back.
I came across this website today, and was pleased to read about all the warnings, and dangers that travellors have written about. I have re-located to Marseille from another country, and walk everyday between districts in Marseille. I am lucky not to have come across any mugs.
I do however, want to bring your attention to the city that I come from, would have worse episodes than this. Before leaving, I was attacked at an ATM machine in broad daylight, they arrived well dressed when they attempted to take my bank card. We had badly dressed beggars at each traffic robot. There were hi-jacking hotspots, and constant robberies which often ended in death.
I feel safe in Marseille and being able to walk freely. It is common sense that where ever we travel to keep our possessions away from the eye of thieves; not to walk were there is no other human life; and be aware of our surroundings.
I can confirm the smelly streets (that is the side streets we told not to walk in). Ive witnessed street cleaners washing the main streets with water hoses, and a car like machine picking up the litter. Dustbins are in place, and cleaned regularly.
Marseille is the 2nd largest city in France; is very metropolitan and in my opinion, is like any other city when related to crime or misfortunes.
we spent a three day weekend in marseille spending most of the time doing the flaneur, eating out and wandering freely and enjoyably. marseille is a fascinating old city and we have travelled extensively independantly so we were 'taking all sensibe precautions'...except one:
ALWAYS KEEP YOUR CAR LOCKED EVEN WHEN THERE ARE THREE ADULTS IN IT AT 3.30P ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON!!!! we were helping a friend locate a hostel and while he rushed in to check availabilty two young guys (on a scooter) attacked us in the car. Firstly they pulled up behind and fortunately one of us (a big guy) noticed the attacker sneaking alongside the side of the four door car. when the attacker opened the rear passenger door he went to attack one of us in the back (22yr old female) - luckily big guy was ready for him and a tussle began - the attacker was pushed out of the door and then quick as a flash opened my front passenger door, grabbed me around the throat and stole my handbag (fortunately not passport!) he took off on the motorbike and that was that. we chased him on foot calling for help from the passer bys (men) who did nothing - one of us speaks fluent french by the way. women in a neighbouring apartment tried to help and call police and said this type of attack had got worse and worse since 'le crise'. we then went to the police station and filed a report which you would need to get insurance and you would also need a french speaker. as one of us can speak french the police were able to understand and very helpful sympathetic.
after this we went to drive out aix-en-provence for the night and the gps was incorrect due to roadworks so we wound up in an every shadier part of the city with people trying to get us to wind down windows etc and pointing *** at you etc as night fell - we crashed a red light to get the hell out of there....
so in short i would go to marseille again because marseille is what it is and it probably always has been however no amount of 'just take reasonable precautions' will do - you need to take extra care here and be on guard at all times - even for a few seconds - the french hotel owner in aix said this is now really common and often women are punched in the face or badly beaten (probably the red tourist number plates don't help) and whenever he goes to marseille, ANYTIME OF DAY OR NIGHT, he always keeps his car locked when he is in it or obviously when away from it.
the silver lining. we have travelled throughout europe, independantly with eurodrive cars, 3 times now and I wouldn't say we thought we were bullet proof but having eaten humble pie and come out reasonably unscathed I would say if you haven't been mugged you have simply been lucky and a place like Marseille is no place to be thinking you are bullet proof - even if you are french and live there.
so if you are a true adventurer you will go anyway, leaving a bit to providence and i fully intend to return on this basis - however don't glibly post 'take reasonable precautions and you will be okay' - you may not be - i say take extra precautions and be extra vigilant!
I feel absolutely compelled to reply to some of the comments below. My wife and I returned yesterday from a fabulous 6 days in Marseille. A fantastic city and I'm delighted that I did not let many of the negative comments deter me from going.
With any big cities - don't take un-necessary risks. In crowded streets (which they are, especially around the Vieux Port area) then pickpocketing is going to be a risk. Therefore, watch your valuables. As much as I would in any large, crowded city. My wife did not "cover up" completely and we did not have any problems at all in any of the areas of the city we visited. The tourist guides and offices will advise that certain districts should be avoided, especially in the evening (the area lining and south of the main railway station) - as a tourist there is not much to see there anyhow, so we deemed it an un-necessary risk and didn't go. The main areas, Vieux Port, Cours Julien, Prado etc were all fine - with a good selection of restaurants and bars and no problems as far as we saw. Yes, we were approached at tables with the odd rose seller and beggar - a simple "non, merci" and we were left alone.
We are not great French speakers, but learning a simple phrase such as "do you speak English" will get you everywhere - they like you to make the effort, but this is the same of France in general, not just Marseille. We did and they enjoyed the banter of attempting their English as much as we enjoyed the humour of trying our French. Don't be put off by the bad reviews. The sights are worth seeing, the art and music scene is incredible, the bar and restaurant scene are foodie and drink lovers paradise. It's a big city, yes and like all big cities is has it's problems. Keep it in perspective and go with an open mind. You will love it. We did. Plus go now - it's European Capital of Culture in 2013 and prices will rocket because of this in the next few years. You'll love it and you'll see a totally different side of French culture that you really shouldn't miss.
We are just back from Marseille yesterday, and I can honsetly say I was not Impressed one bit. The streets are filthy with litter and the smells of sewage etc is disgusting. Although we never expercenced any trouble there where lots of beggers and drug users about which was very off putting.
The only decent part (if you can call it decent) was where the designer shops were situated but again there were plenty of beggers about. The men made me feel very uneasy and if you want any advice for the women - cover up, dont wear anything revealing.
To sum the whole trip up would be fair to say - nightmare:(
ps If you dont speak any french then be prepared to be ignored, they wont help you at all!!
I moved to Marseille 8 months ago and it is now officially the worst place in the world, in my opinion. Within those 8 months, I have been shouted at more or less everytime I left my apartment. 3 months ago, my apartment got broken into, and everything valuable was stolen. Apparently, sunday afternoons is their favourite time because the majority of people go to the beach at this time. Myself and 2 female friends were walking home from a night out, and got followed home by a group of teenage boys, 1 of whom ran into us and tried to steal my bag. Luckily, we were holding on tightly so they ran off with nothing. And last night, to top all of this off, as I was at my friends front door, with the key almost in the lock, we turned around to see a guy pointing a gun at us, shouting at us in french. We didn't understand what he wanted, so he took the safety off the gun, which is when I gave him my bag, with my passport, purse, phone, iPod, keys... everything inside. He ran off. We called the police, asking to speak with an English speaking officer, but when I told him what had happened, he replied, with, 'Yeah...?' as if it was nothing and then hung up on me.
I strongly recommend that you don't travel to Marseille unless absolutely necessary. Women should definitely NEVER walk alone, and even in the daytime, be on your guard. If these people see any opportunity, they will take it. I'm leaving as soon as possible and I will never ever return.
After reading all the tips here i decided to throw in my two cents. I moved to marseille when I was 21. I didn't speak french and had never even left my country! ( american). Bright blond, pale and completely ignorant of the world around me. It was one of the most liberating but toughest things I have done on my life so far. I would say to all women travelling, more so if you look '' western'', be very careful about how you talk to the men, try not to make eye contact on the street with any man as this is almost an invitation. I made the mistake even after three years. My openess as an american would just suddenly pop out and I would regret it later.
It is a VERY dirty city. Urine and fecal matter is everywhere, watch where you step!. If you are blond I suggest wearing some head gear, a scarf maybe. I felt more comfortable.
Avoid side streets and back streets. Men are aggressive so assert yourself if you have to.
watch out for theives. Everyday, even after walking the same market everyday i was mistaken for a tourist and almost pickpocketed ( i almost made a shirt that said " I am NOT a tourist)
On the upside, the food is AMAZING, the water is AMAZING the culture, music and art scene is amazing and I have marseille to thank for giving me this american/marseille accent when I speak french :)...ohhh, excuse me, when i speak marseille :)!!!!
I feel obligated to write something here after my short stay in Marseille. I went with a friend for the weekend after finding a flight . I was harassed and grabbed by some older man who was yelling things at me in French near the Viex Port. Later that night I was attacked by a random women in a nightclub and my wallet was stolen. The next day at dinner, we witnessed a stabbing while we were eating at one of the nicer restaurants in the Viex Port. We watched the fight break out and 2 men attack another with punches and a fork. There was blood all over the restaurant window, which the restaurant staff didn't even bother to clean up! I wish we had known how dangerous the city is before traveling there. We certainly would have changed our plans. The city itself is dirty and full of poverty. It was an eye-opening experience for me but I hope that my experience there will help someone else avoid a similar one.