Celebrating Heritage Days in Marseille, France

It’s an annual tradition in Europe to take one weekend in September to celebrate Heritage Days, or “Les Journées de Patrimoine” in French. What exactly is this weekend event? According to Creative Desks, Heritage Days is an initiative to not just promote Europe, but also the a country’s history, culture, and diversity.

Celebrated in 50 countries all around Europe, museums are free. Administrative buildings and other sites that are normally closed to the public are open during the 2 days for everyone! Promoting culture to citizens and visitors is just one goal. This initiative also aims to highlight the importance of protecting the cultural heritage to the government.

In 2017, France celebrated Heritage Days on 16-17 September. After much research online, my partner and I discovered that Nice and the surrounding towns weren’t offering enticing sights that caught our eye. We then decided to look at nearby Marseille.  What caught our attention was the ability to visit Le Marégraphe de Marseille which studies the sea levels. What we hadn’t realized was that we needed to book our visit online well in advance due to the high demand. Unfortunately, we started our research on the 15th of September so all of the slots were taken. In the end though, we thought Marseille was still worth a visit!

We were able to visit 10 sites in less than 2 days, having arrived in Marseille on the Saturday at 2pm. The sites were closing at 5pm, so we managed to visit as much as we could and then resumed Sunday morning.

Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MUCEM)

For those familiar with museum visits in Europe, you know that there’s a fee to enter except under special conditions, such as free entry on the first Sunday of the month. Thanks to Heritage Days, they’re all free!

There are two entrances to this Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations. One is street level from the port and the other entrance is on the rooftop. Wait, the rooftop!? Yes! To get to the rooftop, we had to walk through [and up] Fort Saint-Jean.

Marseille’s MUCEM is fairly new, and is often visited due to its design. As soon as you step foot on the museum rooftop, the architecture, sea, and sunset stop you in your tracks.

Palais de la Bourse

The Palais de la Bourse houses the Chambre de Commerce, or Chamber of Commerce, in Marseille. We stumbled into this gem while strolling on La Canebière, a historic street in Marseille. It was close to 5pm and there was no queue so we went inside. Talk about majestic!

La Vieille Charité

La Vieille Charité was a hospital originally built for the city’s poor, and became a hospice soon after. Now it is home to several museums: Mediterranean Archeology and the Amerindian, African, and Oceanic Arts. It also houses temporary exhibits, so we were able to experience “Jack London dans les Mer du Sud”, or Jack London in the South Seas. On display until January 2018, the exhibit showcased his journey to Hawaii, the Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands.

Les Iles du Frioul (Frioul Islands)

We decided to make time to visit the Frioul Islands as the Caroline Hospital was open as a part of Heritage Days. The Frioul Islands are a set of 4 small islands right off the coast of Marseille, and a part of Les Calanques de Marseille.

Due to the heavy wind that day, the boats were only running to one of the islands that make up Frioul: Ratonneau. It worked out well as the Caroline Hospital is located on Ratonneau. From the Marseille port, you can take a short 20 minute boat ride for around 11 euros round-trip. 

Notre Dame de la Garde

For those who are unfamiliar with this church, it sits on top of a hill – probably, the highest point in Marseille. Honestly speaking, we came up for the views! We began our 25 minute hike from Marseille’s port with ice cream in tow. Probably not the best idea to eat ice cream while walking on a steep incline, but why not! For those not able to make the hike, there is a bus that takes you directly from the port to the church.

The church closed at 5pm so we couldn’t go in, but since we mainly went for the view, we weren’t disappointed.

L’abbaye Saint-Victor et de ses cryptes

The Abbey of Saint Victor is one of the oldest buildings in Marseille – built around the 5th century as monastery for men. 1,000 years later, the abbey was unfortunately used as a prison and warehouse with important documents getting lost, relics being burned, and gold and silver melted.

Heritage Days Tips

No matter what country or city you visit:

  • Most, if not all sites are open until 6pm during the 2 days, so start early and time your visits accordingly. For more information, you can check out the general Heritage Days website here. You also have the option to check each country’s own Heritage Days website. Check out France’s website here.
  • Check online for reservation information as early as possible. Most administrative buildings and museums do not require a reservation. However, if you’re interested in a unique experience such as visiting Le Marégraphe, then reserve as early as possible.
  • In major cities like Paris, be ready to stand in long queues. You run the risk of not visiting as many places as you’d like for this reason alone. Therefore, prioritize and choose the sites that you really want to see.
  • Be prepared for some majestic eye candy! Some administrative buildings are true palaces. 😍 Take the Luxembourg Palace where the French parliament is located or the Élysée Palace where the French president works and resides as examples. 

Have you participated in any Heritage Days? Which city/country did you go to?

Bisous! 💞

57 thoughts on “Celebrating Heritage Days in Marseille, France”

  1. We missed Heritage days in Belgium last year and won’t be around this year for it either ugh! By the way Marseille looks lovely, Paris may receive the majority attention from international tourists but the rest of the country is beautiful as well!

  2. Your photo are lovely! I went to Marseille once, just for a day, and didn’t have the best experience.
    Your post makes me want to give it another shot 🙂

  3. What great tips. It’s so nice that they open up all these historical buildings and museums for this
    special day. I’ll definitely have to take advantage of this!

  4. Well you’ve taught me something. I had no idea they did this and I will most
    definitely be planning a trip around the heritage dys in the future (anything to make
    a trip to France cheaper is a very good thing). I only had a few hours in Marseille
    and I wish I’d seen half of things you have!

    1. That makes me so happy to read, Rosie! Yes, France can easily become a pricey trip so Heritage Days is an awesome concept to take advantage of. 🙂 You could always make a Euro trip out of it. For instance, this year, Heritage Days in France and Italy were one week apart so it would have been possible to visit two destinations!

  5. I studied abroad in Lyon and it was a major regret for me not visiting Marseille. It’s so awesome
    that Europe celebrates Heritage Days as I definitely think it’s important to keep in touch with your
    own roots. And of course it’s a beautiful way for visitors like us to learn more about the history and
    culture of a country – especially when museums are free!

    1. Oh how awesome! I studied in Grenoble. Lyon is beautiful – did you enjoy it? I completely agree with you, Jas. No matter where you’re from, learning the history is so important.

  6. Such a great idea for when to visit a place! I didn’t know about Heritage Days,
    but I definitely would love to visit during them.

  7. Yesh Sewdayal

    I come from a very diverse country – South Africa, and Heritage Day is a big celebration where
    everyone showcases their heritage, culture and traditions! So very interesting to read about how
    you spent the day in Marseille! Your pictures are amazing!

    1. Thank you! Yes, I actually came across some info on South Africa’s. It’s very cool that many countries do this.

  8. Wow, I had not heard about heritage days, it sounds like such a great initiative. I am sad that I
    missed it for 2017, but I am going to make plans to make the most of it next year. Sounds like you
    really got a lot out of it.

    1. Thanks, Anisa! 🙂 I do try to make the most out of events, especially when it’s cultural and only occurs once a year. What’s awesome about Heritage Days is that different countries hold it different weekends so you could visit a few if t interests you!

  9. BeeTravelista

    Beautiful region and beautiful coverage! I love this coast of France. Didn’t go south yet but would
    love to.

    1. Thanks for reading! The south is very different than the other regions, for sure. There’s a bit of a calmer pace to life, although it can be quite a bit expensive.

  10. I’ve never known they do this in
    Europe, even though I am from Europe.
    But some countries do free museums
    every Sunday & it’s a great day to
    walk abouts and see more for cheaper!

    1. Yeah, I think it’s great to offer free museum days! You should see what weekend in September 2018 your country will have this weekend 🙂

  11. This looks like a great thing to do.
    I love it when you get to visit
    unusual places or get in free 🙂 And
    your viewpoint pictures are amazing!
    I’m gonna put French Heritage Day on
    my travel wish list. In London I
    really love Open House (every year
    one weekend of September) where you
    are allowed to visit buildings that
    are normally closed to the public.
    You should look it up if this is
    something that interests you!

    1. Thanks a ton, Rianne. Oh, London has an amazing selection of museums so I can’t even imagine how great it is to be there! I’ll definitely look into it. Thank you!

  12. It’s amazing that so many beautiful
    buildings open their doors to be
    visited during the Heritage Days. I
    have never been to Marseille but I
    like how the old architecture blends
    with the modern one. The location of
    the city is stunning as well,
    especially that you can easily go out
    of town and be surrounded by nature
    on the nearby islands.

    1. Thanks for checking this out, Joanna! I think it is such a great idea too and, in a way, you get to play tourist even if you’re a local. 🙂

  13. We have a similar doors open day in Scotland too. You managed to see so much, I particularly
    loved the photos of MUCEM!

  14. Heritage Day is such a lovely concept! Wish we had something similar in the Netherlands, the
    closest I can think of is “Museumnacht” – museum night.

  15. That hilltop view from the church looks stunning!! I’ve been to Nice but skipped Marseille. Perhaps I
    should go there next time 🙂

    1. Ah yes, I can see why you’d pick Nice. The view of the sea is out of this world! Definitely check out Marseille if you have the chance. You could even do a day trip from Nice as it’s only a 2hour bus/train ride.

  16. Beautiful photos! I am not much into the museums but Marseille’s MUCEM looks amazing, I would
    definitely go there, thank you for the great tips!

  17. Great pics! Lucky you were in France at the right time 🙂
    Such a shame that it’s only 2 days though, I’m sure there are countless places to visit!

  18. Marsaille looks beautiful! I just moved to France and I’ll definitely be visiting it!

  19. Arggh! Love love love the photos. The Les Iles du Frioul looks absolutely stunning. I really want to
    visit Marseille, looks totally different from the norm in Paris. Definitely considering it. One day.

    1. Thank you so much, Ufuoma! I really appreciate it. Les Îles du Frioul are absolutely worth it, especially if you only have a short time in Marseille. Life is very different down in the south compared to Paris so it’s nice to get a mix of French life.

  20. I’m super impressed with all of these photos but that water is out of this world!! I’d definitely want
    to dive right in. Thank for sharing!!

  21. I’ve never heard of Heritage days but they sound like a great opportunity to explore France! I loved
    reading about your time in Marseille – I haven’t been before, but it looks beautiful! The architecture
    and all the museums look like so much fun!

  22. Love the photos! I vaguely
    remember this when I lived in
    France but sadly I don’t think I had
    the time to take advantage of it.

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