Which city is for you? Marseille or Biarritz
Marseille or Biarritz – two stunning cities on the French coast with a lot to offer visitors. In this guide, we’ll compare the local culture, history, and cuisine of each city to help you choose the perfect destination for your next French holiday.
Marseille, the vibrant port city in Southern France, is a melting pot of culture. This port city sits on the Mediterranean coast and is world-renowned for its architecture and cuisine.
Located in the Basque region of France, Biarritz is a small coastal town known for its beautiful beaches and world-class surfing. It’s no wonder Biarritz is a popular destination for surfers, sun-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Pro’s and Con’s of Marseille and Biarritz
- Rich history: Founded by the Greeks, Marseille has a long and storied past, offering visitors numerous historical sites and museums.
- Vibrant food scene: Marseille is famous for its delicious seafood, including its signature dish, bouillabaisse, and lively markets.
- Diverse neighbourhoods: Explore the unique character of each district, from the colourful Le Panier to the picturesque seafront village of Vallon des Auffes.
- Access to Calanques National Park: The stunning park features dramatic limestone cliffs, turquoise waters, and hidden coves for hiking and swimming.
- Multicultural atmosphere: As a melting pot of cultures, Marseille offers a unique and diverse atmosphere, with influences from North Africa, Italy, and other Mediterranean regions.
- Old Port (Vieux-Port): This historic harbour is the heart of Marseille, filled with boats, restaurants, and lively public spaces for people-watching and relaxation.
- Street art: Marseille is known for its vibrant street art scene, with many impressive murals and graffiti throughout the city.
- Sporting events: Home to the Stade Vélodrome and the popular football team, Olympique de Marseille, sports enthusiasts will have plenty of opportunities to catch a game.
- Safety concerns: Some areas of Marseille have a reputation for higher crime rates.
- Traffic and parking: Navigating the city by car can be challenging due to congestion and limited parking.
- Limited public transportation: The city’s public transportation system is not as extensive as in other major cities, making it less convenient for tourists.
Best for: History buffs, foodies, nature lovers, and sports enthusiasts.
- Beautiful beaches: Biarritz is famous for its stunning coastline, with sandy beaches and picturesque rocky cliffs.
- Surfing paradise: The city is a popular surfing destination, offering excellent surf conditions and numerous surf schools for beginners and experts alike.
- Elegant architecture: Biarritz boasts a mix of Belle Époque and Basque architecture, including the iconic Hôtel du Palais and the Russian Orthodox Church.
- Relaxed atmosphere: The city offers a laid-back, resort-like atmosphere, with luxury spas, upscale shopping, and a slower pace of life.
- Proximity to the Basque Country: Biarritz is an excellent base for exploring the French and Spanish Basque Country, with its unique culture, cuisine, and beautiful landscapes.
- Golf courses: The city and its surroundings are home to several top-notch golf courses, attracting golf enthusiasts from around the world.
- Expensive: Biarritz can be relatively pricey, especially for accommodations, dining, and shopping.
- Limited cultural attractions: The city has fewer historical sites and museums compared to larger, more established French cities.
- Seasonal crowds: During the summer months, Biarritz can become quite crowded, with packed beaches and limited availability for accommodations.
Best for: Beach and surf lovers, luxury travellers seeking a relaxed atmosphere, golf enthusiasts, and those interested in exploring the Basque Country.
How long to stay in Marseille
As France’s second-largest city, Marseille has plenty to see and do. You’ll want a minimum of three days here, but four days would be better. This should you give you enough time to see the main attractions. If you’re planning day trips or exploring nearby towns, maybe it might a good idea to stay for a little longer.
How long to stay in Biarritz
Biarritz is a relatively small town and can easily be seen in two to three days. However, there are plenty of other cities in the Basque country that are definitely worth a day trip to.
How much is food and drink in Marseille?
Marseille has a wide range of dining options, from budget-friendly street food to high-end restaurants. Here are some estimated average prices for food and drink in Marseille:
Beer: A beer in a typical bar or restaurant in Marseille will likely cost between €5 and €8.
Glass of wine: A glass of wine in a typical bar or restaurant can range from €4 to €10, depending on the quality.
Coffee: A cup of coffee in a typical café in Marseille will likely cost between €2 and €4.
Meal at a midrange restaurant: A meal at a midrange restaurant in Marseille will likely cost between €20 and €40 per person, depending on the restaurant and the menu.
How much is food and drink in Biarritz?
Biarritz is home to a variety of restaurants and cafes catering to all budgets. Here are some estimated average prices for food and drink in Biarritz:
Beer: A beer in a typical bar or restaurant in Biarritz will likely cost between €4 and €7.
Glass of wine: A glass of wine in a typical bar or restaurant can range from €4 to €10, depending on the quality.
Coffee: A cup of coffee in a typical café in Biarritz will likely cost between €2 and €4.
Meal at a midrange restaurant: A meal at a midrange restaurant in Biarritz will likely cost between €20 and €40 per person, depending on the restaurant and the menu.
How much is it to stay in Marseille?
The cost of accommodation in Marseille can vary greatly depending on the time of year and location. Here are some estimated average prices for accommodation in Marseille:
Luxury hotel: A room in a luxury hotel in Marseille can cost anywhere from €150 to €500 per night, or even higher for the most exclusive properties.
Midrange hotel: A room in a midrange hotel in Marseille will likely cost between €80 and €150 per night, depending on the location and the amenities.
Budget hotel: A room in a budget hotel in Marseille will likely cost between €40 and €80 per night, depending on the location and the quality of the hotel.
Hostel: A bed in a hostel in Marseille will likely cost between €20 and €40 per night, depending on the location and the amenities.
How much is it to stay in Biarritz?
The cost of accommodation in Biarritz can vary greatly depending on the time of year and location. Here are some estimated average prices for accommodation in Biarritz:
Luxury hotel: A room in a luxury hotel in Biarritz can cost anywhere from €200 to €600 per night, or even higher for the most exclusive properties.
Midrange hotel: A room in a midrange hotel in Biarritz will likely cost between €80 and €200 per night, depending on the location and the amenities.
Budget hotel: A room in a budget hotel in Biarritz will likely cost between €50 and €80 per night, depending on the location and the quality of the hotel.
Hostel: A bed in a hostel in Biarritz will likely cost between €20 and €40 per night, depending on the location and the amenities.
When is the best time to visit Marseille?
Marseille is a great city to visit all year round. But, like most tourist destinations, there are certain times of the year that are busier and more crowded than others. Here are a few things to consider before planning your trip:
Weather: Marseille has a Mediterranean climate, meaning hot, dry summers and cool winters. Summers here get hot, reaching up to 30°C so make sure you pack accordingly. Spring and autumn are mild. Winters can be cold but you’ll rarely see temperatures below freezing.
Festivals: Marseille has a number of festivals that are worth checking out. Marseille Jazz des Cinq Continents festival is fantastic for jazz lovers. Fiesta des Suds is also a good festival for music fans. The city also hosts a number of cultural and sporting events throughout the year, so it’s worth checking the calendar before you go.
Crowds: Like most popular destinations, Marseille can get very busy during the summer and school holidays. Try visiting in the off season if you can, or visiting through the week.
When is the best time to visit Biarritz?
Biarritz is a popular destination all year round. But, the best time to visit all comes down to personal preference really. Here are a few things to consider before booking your trip to Biarritz:
Weather: Biarritz has a mild oceanic climate, winters are cool and summers are warm. There’s usually a sea breeze so even in summer it’s a good idea to pack a light jacket or sweater. September and October are good months to visit, the temperatures are mild and the summer crowds have gone home.
Festivals: Biarritz hosts a number of festivals throughout the year. The Wheels and Waves Festival is worth a visit and brings together bikers, surfers and skateboarders for four days of fun!
Crowds: Biarritz gets very busy during the summer months as it’s a popular holiday destination for the French. To avoid the crowds visit during spring or autumn.
Average Monthly Temperatures
The average monthly temperatures for Marseille are:
January: 9°C (48°F)
February: 9°C (48°F)
March: 11°C (52°F)
April: 14°C (57°F)
May: 18°C (64°F)
June: 22°C (72°F)
July: 25°C (77°F)
August: 25°C (77°F)
September: 22°C (72°F)
October: 17°C (63°F)
November: 12°C (54°F)
December: 9°C (48°F)
The average monthly temperatures for Biarritz are:
Getting around Marseille:
Marseille has a good public transportation system, including buses, trams, and a metro system. Taxis are also available but can be expensive. Walking is a great way to explore the city centre, but if you want to cover more ground, consider renting a bike or taking a boat tour. The Marseille city pass is worth getting if you’re planning on using public transport.
Getting around Biarritz:
Biarritz is a small town so you can get around easily on foot. If you’re looking to explore the surrounding areas, it might be a good idea to hire a car. There are also buses and trains that run between Biarritz and the nearby towns and cities.
Top things to do in Marseille
Vieux-Port: This bustling marina is one of the main attractions in Marseille. Boats come and go all day. There are cafes and restaurants along the waterfront to visit. It’s a great place to relax with a beer or wine and watch the boats come in.
Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde: A must-see when visiting Marseille, this beautiful basilica sits high above the city and offers staggering views. The walk is really quite steep so make sure you wear some comfortable shoes. You can get a bus to the top if you can’t be bothered walking.
Le Panier: This is Marseille’s oldest neighbourhood and definitely worth a visit! A maze of narrow streets, colourful buildings and charming squares. Perfect for a relaxing afternoon wandering around.
Calanques National Park: Just outside the city, the Calanques is an area of stunning natural beauty. Spanning 20km of coastline between Marseille and Cassis. This national park is great for hiking and kayaking across the coast.
MuCEM: The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations is dedicated to the history and culture of the region. The building is an architectural masterpiece and definitely worth seeing, even if you don’t fancy going to the museum.
Palais Longchamp: This impressive palace and park is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Home to a botanical garden and several museums, it’s worth a visit. The grounds are really pretty and a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon.
Château d’If: Made famous by the novel “The Count of Monte Cristo”, this fortress can be reached by boat from Marseille. It’s very interesting to learn about the history of the fortress. The views out over the Mediterranean and Marseille are pretty spectacular too.
La Corniche: The coastal walk is well known amongst tourists and locals alike. It stretches for around 5kw and has some amazing views along the way. There’s even a little beach you can stop at for a quick swim!
Les Terrasses du Port: Located at the port of Marseille, this shopping centre is full of shops and restaurants to explore. There’s also an outdoor terrace you can sit out in and enjoy views over the Mediterranean.
Cours Julien: Marseille’s ‘hipster district’, this neighbourhood is home to lots of street art, independent shops and cool cafes. Perfect for experiencing Marseille’s creative side.
Top things to do in Biarritz
Visit La Grande Plage: This beautiful sandy beach is a must-visit when visiting Biarritz. Swimmers, surfers and sunbathers all love this beach and for good reason! There are showers to use and lifeguards so you can swim safely.
Go to the Aquarium de Biarritz: Built into the side of a hill, this aquarium features a wide range of marine creatures from the Bay of Biscay and beyond. It’s a great afternoon of entertainment for adults and kids alike.
Explore the Rocher de la Vierge: The rock formation is connected to the mainland by a footbridge. It offers amazing views of the ocean and coastline and also has a statue of the Virgin Mary. Try to visit at sunset for a spectacular view.
Musée Asiatica: This museum features an extensive collection of Asian art from China, Nepal, Tebet and the rest of the Asian subcontinent. It’s crazy to find such a collection in a small beachside resort in France. It €10 to enter and is definitely worth spending a couple of hours there.
Take a stroll around the Port des Pêcheurs: The little fishing port is nice for a relaxing afternoon watching the fishermen unload their catch and listening to the sound of the sea. There are little restaurants so you can grab a bit to eat while you unwind.
Walk along the La Côte des Basques: This scenic coastal path runs along the cliff tops between Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. It’s a relatively easy route and offers plenty of good spots to get amazing photos of the sea and the coastline.
Enjoy some local produce at Les Halles de Biarritz: This covered market is a food lover’s paradise. It is packed with stalls selling fresh local produce, such as cheese, seafood, and charcuterie. It’s the perfect place to snack on local food whilst taking in the ambience.
Visit the Église Orthodoxe: This Russian Orthodox church is located on a hill overlooking Biarritz. The building itself is beautiful but could do with a renovation.
Play golf at Le Phare Golf Course: Located right in the heart of Biarritz, this stunning golf course offers spectacular views of the ocean. It’s actually one of the oldest courses in France and has hosted plenty of prestigious tournaments.
Relax at Les Bains de Biarritz: This luxurious spa is located on the beachfront and offers a range of treatments and facilities, including a heated seawater pool, sauna, and hammam. It is the perfect place to unwind after a day of sightseeing.
Take a day trip to Bayonne: This charming town is known for its picturesque streets and delicious Basque food and is only a 30-minute bus ride away.
How to spend three days in Marseille
Morning: Begin your holiday with a visit to Vieux Port. This bustling marina offers plenty to do and plenty of photo opportunities. Walk along the waterfront, visit the daily fish market and maybe stop off for lunch at one of the amazing restaurants here.
Afternoon: After lunch, head to the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. This 18th-century church is stunning inside and out. The views over the city are breathtaking too!
Evening: Head over to the Cours Julien area, a trendy neighbourhood known for its street art and independent shops. There’s an abundance of restaurants here so there’s plenty to choose from!
Morning: Visit MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations), overlooking the old port, it showcases the history and culture of the region. The exhibits are interesting and engaging. It opens at 10 am so you can stop off and get a coffee before it opens. The building is spectacular too!
Afternoon: Go on a boat tour of the Calanques National Park. These tours take you along the stunning coastline, you’ll see plenty of crystal-clear water, rocky cliffs and little coves. Some tours even stop off so you can swim and snorkel!
Evening: Try out some Bouillabaisse at a local restaurant, this famous fish soup originated in Marseille. Best enjoyed with a glass of cold white wine!
Morning: Take the ferry to the Château d’If, a 16th-century fortress located on a small island off the coast of Marseille. It’s very interesting learning about the history of the fortress. The views are amazing too! Pay attention to the weather before visiting, sometimes they close the castle if the weather is really bad.
Afternoon: Grab some lunch at a local restaurant, then spend the afternoon exploring the colourful streets of Le Panier. There are lots shops, cafes and cute squares to explore.
Evening: For your last night in Marseille, go out for drinks in the trendy La Plaine neighbourhood. It’s a great spot for a night out, try not to drink too much though. There’s nothing worse than flying home hungover!
How to spend three days in Biarritz
Morning: Start your day with a walk along Grande Plage and take in the views of the ocean. Maybe go for a morning swim if the weather is nice.
Afternoon: Head to Biarritz Aquarium to the marine life of the Bay of Biscay. This aquarium has over 150 different species of fish and 7 species of shark. If you get there for 10:30 or 17:00 you can see them feeding the seals, very cute!
Evening: Enjoy a drink and some pintxos at one of the many bars in the Old Port area. It’s a great place to relax and watch the sunset.
Morning: Biarritz is one of Europe’s most famous surf destinations so why not give it a go? There are plenty of surf schools along the coast that cater to all levels, so there are really no excuses!
Afternoon: After lunch and drying off! Go for a walk along the Rocher de la Vierge. A rock formation that sits in the sea, connected to the land by a bridge. This is a great spot for photos of the ocean and the Biarritz coastline.
Evening: Wander down to the Port des Pêcheurs, this charming fishing port is filled with seafood restaurants. It’s a perfect place to spend the evening eating and drinking whilst looking out over the harbour.
Morning: Get an early start and visit Les Halles de Biarritz. This market offers a great range of local produce, from cheeses to meats there’s plenty to choose from. You could grab a coffee and nibble on some bits from the market.
Afternoon: Catch the bus to Bayonne. Located just 30 minutes from Biarritz, the charming town of Bayonne is a beautiful little city. Known for its picturesque streets and Basque cuisine it’s a great day out. Make sure to try some of the famous Bayonne ham!
Evening: Get dinner in Bayonne’s old town before heading back to Biarritz for a few drinks overlooking the ocean.
Food and drink: 8
Culture and history: 8
Total score: 55
Food and drink: 9
Culture and history: 6
Total score: 59