Marseille or Biarritz? – Which City Will You Visit?

Marseille or Biarritz

Marseille or Biarritz? Which city should you visit?

Struggling to choose between Marseille or Biarritz for your next French getawat? Look no further; this guide will settle the debate for you. Here’s how the two cities stack up based on interests.

🏛 History Buffs: Marseille has an abundance of historical attractions, from Roman ruins, Medieval castles and its ancient port. Biarritz’s glamorous past as a royal holiday resort can’t compete here.

🏖 Beach Lovers: Biarritz is famous for its Atlantic beaches, particularly for surfing. Marseille’s beaches are Mediterranean and calmer but can get crowded. If surfing and fewer crowds are your thing, Biarritz takes the prize.

🥐 Foodies: Marseille is famous for its seafood and light Mediterranean dishes. Situated in the Basque country, Biarritz offers incredible local dishes like Marmitako (a tuna stew) and Axoa (a veal stew). If you’re tastebuds are longing for seafood, head to Marseille. But, if you’re fancying incredibly diverse Basque dishes, make your way to Biarritz.

🌳 Nature Enthusiasts: Whilst Biarritz has incredible coastlines to explore, it can’t match the Calanques’ dramatic cliffs, turquoise waters and hidden coves.

🏢 Urban Explorers: If you want to spend a few days exploring a new city and getting a feel for it, head to Marseille. There’s much more to see and do than Biarritz.

🍷 Wine Lovers: Whilst Biarritz isn’t too far from incredible wine regions like Bordeaux or the Basque wine region. It can’t beat Marseille’s location in the middle of Provence and it’s access to fantastic local vineyards.

🎒 Backpackers: Both of these cities aren’t the cheapest, with Marseille being the bigger city it does have more to offer in terms of budget-friendly options. But, that doesn’t mean Biarritz should be discredited, there are plenty of hostels targeted at the surfers that come to visit every year. This one all boils down to which city you’d prefer to visit.

👵 Over 60’s: Biarritz’s laid-back seaside feel is perfect for the older generation, it’s small and easy to get around unlike the bustling Marseille which is full of hills and steps.

👨‍👩‍👦 Family-Friendly: Known for its relaxed atmosphere and safe beaches, Biarritz is a great choice for families. Marseille is exciting and diverse but can be a bit hectic for a family holiday.

If you’re looking for iconic seafood dishes, numerous historical locations and incredible outdoor activities head to Marseille. But, if you’re looking for a laid-back city with a family-friendly vibe, incredible surfing and unique food, make your way to Biarritz.

If our little rundown still hasn’t helped you decide, keep on reading to find out more about these incredible cities.


Marseille might not boast the romantic feel of Paris or the glamour of the French Riviera, but its unique charm is undeniable. Perched on the Mediterranean coast, Marseille is a melting pot of cultures, an attribute reflected in its vibrant streets and diverse cuisine. With a history dating back to ancient Greece, it’s a paradise for those who love delving into the past.

Vieux-Port de Marseille
Vieux-Port Marseille – Photo by shakrea

Its old port, Vieux Port, bustles with fish markets and boats, while the iconic Notre Dame de la Garde basilica watches over the city from a hilltop. But there’s more to Marseille than just history and picturesque views. It’s also a city of dynamic cultural life, with a myriad of museums, art galleries, and music festivals. If you’re in search of a city that combines rich heritage, gastronomic delights, and a laid-back seaside atmosphere, Marseille is the place to be.


Often referred to as the ‘surfing capital of Europe’, Biarritz is a stunning seaside city located on France’s Basque coast. It’s a place where the glamour of the old world seamlessly blends with the laid-back vibes of a surf town. Known for its grand, Belle Époque architecture, pristine beaches, and world-class surfing conditions, Biarritz is truly an ocean lover’s paradise.

Not to forget the city’s vibrant food scene that boasts a unique mix of traditional Basque specialities and innovative fusion cuisine. And if that wasn’t enough, the city also offers plenty of cultural attractions, including museums, art galleries, and historic sites. In short, Biarritz is a delightful mix of elegance, culture, and adventure – an ideal destination for any traveller!

Miramar Beach
Miramar Beach – Photo by moderneform

While we’re comparing Marseille and Biarritz in this post, we’ve also looked at how Marseille stacks up against other cities like Montpellier, Cannes or Toulouse. We’ve linked to those articles below if you want to take a look!

Marseille or Montpellier

Marseille or Cannes

Toulouse or Marseille

Pros and Cons of Marseille and Biarritz

Marseille Pros:

  • 🏛 History: France’s oldest city, packed with historic spots.
  • 🏖 Beaches: Direct access to Mediterranean beaches and coves.
  • 🍴 Cuisine: Seafood haven, especially famous for Bouillabaisse.
  • 🌳 Nature: Calanques National Park for outdoor activities.
  • 🌞 Climate: Mediterranean weather, generally warm and sunny.

Marseille Cons:

  • 💶 Cost: Can be on the expensive side.
  • 👫 Crowds: Gets busy, particularly during the high season.
  • 🌄 Terrain: Some hilly areas might be hard to navigate.

Biarritz Pros:

  • 🏄 Surfing: Known for its big waves, a surfer’s paradise.
  • 🏖 Beaches: Beautiful Atlantic beaches.
  • 🌊 Oceanic Vibe: Less busy, relaxed atmosphere.
  • 🍴 Cuisine: Offers excellent seafood and Basque cuisine.
  • 🌲 Scenery: Close to the Pyrenees for more outdoor activities.

Biarritz Cons:

  • 💶 Cost: Also leans toward the expensive side.
  • 👫 Seasonal: Gets crowded in summer and during surf competitions.
  • 🌦 Weather: Atlantic climate, can be more unpredictable.

Which City is Safer? Marseille or Biarritz?

Marseille records a crime index of 54.87, which places it in the moderate-to-high range for crime. The city’s problem areas often relate to property crimes like theft and vandalism, particularly in certain districts in the North. However, the central tourist locations in Marseille are generally better policed and are considered safer for visitors.

On the other hand, Biarritz comes in with a lower crime index of 49.12. The types of crimes reported in this coastal town are usually minor, such as pickpocketing, and they most commonly occur in tourist-heavy areas. As with any city, keep an eye on your possessions and don’t wander around alone late at night.

How long to stay in Marseille

Deciding on the ideal length for your Marseille visit can be a bit complex, given the rich cultural, historical, and natural attractions the city offers. The city has an abundance of experiences that can keep you engaged for days on end, but how long to stay will largely depend on your personal interests.

If your primary goal is to experience the unique Mediterranean vibe of the city, sample local seafood, and explore the historic district, a 2 to 3-day visit might suffice. This should give you ample time to wander through the narrow streets of Le Panier, the city’s old town, take a leisurely walk around the Vieux Port, and indulge in authentic bouillabaisse at a seaside restaurant.

For travellers drawn to Marseille’s rich history and culture, a stay of 4-5 days would be ideal. This gives you enough time to visit the iconic Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, explore the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MUCEM), and take a ferry to the historic Château d’If, without feeling rushed.

Mucem Marseille
MuCEM – Photo by chaacqc

However, if you’re like me and prefer a deeper immersion into the local culture, you might want to consider staying longer. A week in Marseille would provide ample time to not only explore the city’s attractions, but also to enjoy its beautiful beaches, take day trips to the nearby Calanques National Park or the charming town of Cassis, and truly soak up the laid-back Marseille lifestyle.

How long to stay in Biarritz

Three to Four Days: A 3-4 day trip can cover the highlights of Biarritz. You’ll have enough time to stroll around the city centre, visit the main landmarks such as the Rocher de la Vierge and the Biarritz Lighthouse, and soak in the atmosphere of the Les Halles market. Of course, don’t forget to spend some quality time at the Grand Plage, the city’s famous beach. You may also squeeze in a visit to the Aquarium de Biarritz or the Asiatica Museum if you’re interested.

Rocher de la Vierge
Rocher de la Vierge – Photo by lewislau2046

Five to Seven Days: If you’ve got a week in Biarritz, that’s even better! You can take your time exploring the city at a leisurely pace, trying out various water sports, or indulging in the renowned thalassotherapy for which Biarritz is famous. With a few extra days on your hands, consider making day trips to nearby locations like the charming town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz or even cross the border into Spain to explore San Sebastian.

Of course, the length of stay in Biarritz depends on what kind of trip you’re looking for. If you’re seeking a relaxed beach holiday with a sprinkling of city exploration, a longer stay would be suitable. However, if you’re on a whirlwind tour of France or trying to cover multiple cities, a shorter stay would work too. Regardless, Biarritz promises a fantastic holiday!

How much is food and drink in Marseille and Biarritz?

Category Marseille Price Range (€) Biarritz Price Range (€)
🍺 Beer €5 – €8 €4 – €7
🍷 Glass of Wine €4 – €10 €4 – €10
☕ Coffee €2 – €4 €2 – €4
🍽️ Midrange Meal €20 – €40 per person €20 – €40 per person

These are estimated average prices for food and drink in both Marseille and Biarritz. Actual prices may vary based on the specific establishment and location.

How much is it to stay in Marseille or Biarritz?

Accommodation Type Marseille Price Range (€) Biarritz Price Range (€)
Luxury Hotel €150 – €500 or higher €200 – €600 or higher
Midrange Hotel €80 – €150 €80 – €200
Budget Hotel €40 – €80 €50 – €80
Hostel €20 – €40 €20 – €40

These are estimated average prices for accommodation in both Marseille and Biarritz. Actual prices may vary based on the specific hotel or hostel, time of year, and location within the city.

When is the best time to visit Marseille?

🌼 Spring: From April to June, the weather in Marseille is comfortably warm, with temperatures averaging between 15-23°C (59-73°F). The city isn’t too crowded, and the beautiful Calanques (rocky inlets) are perfect for hiking and picnicking.

☀️ Summer: July and August are the hottest months, with temperatures reaching 30°C (86°F). It’s a great time for beach activities, water sports, and enjoying the vibrant nightlife. However, it’s also peak tourist season, so it can get crowded, and prices for accommodation can be higher.

🍂 Autumn: September to October is another lovely period to visit. The weather remains warm but becomes more comfortable. It’s an ideal time to explore the city and its surrounding countryside without the summer crowds. Also, the sea is still warm enough for swimming.

❄️ Winter: From November to March, Marseille experiences mild winters compared to other parts of France. While it isn’t beach weather, it’s a good time to explore the city’s museums and historical landmarks. There are fewer tourists, and you might find some great deals on accommodation.

However, always remember to check the local weather forecast before your trip, as weather conditions can change unexpectedly.

When is the best time to visit Biarritz?

🌼 Spring (March to May): Spring in Biarritz is an ideal time for surfers as the waves are just right and the weather is becoming warmer. It’s also less crowded, offering an intimate experience with the city. This is a great time to learn surfing if you’re new to the sport as many surf schools open their doors for the season.

☀️ Summers (June to August): Summers in Biarritz are vibrant and sunny, making it the perfect season for beach activities, from sunbathing to swimming. The city buzzes with tourists and locals alike, creating a lively atmosphere. Keep in mind, that this is also peak tourist season, so be prepared for larger crowds and higher prices.

🍁 Autumn (September to November): Autumn brings a peaceful charm to Biarritz. The summer crowds thin, and the city regains its tranquillity. The weather remains pleasant, and the Atlantic Ocean is still warm enough for swimming and surfing. This season is also ideal for leisurely walks to appreciate the changing colours of nature.

❄️ Winter (December to February): Winter in Biarritz is relatively mild and quieter, with fewer tourists. It’s the perfect time to explore the city’s museums, like the Biarritz History Museum or the Asiatica Museum, without the crowds. You could also take this time to enjoy the city’s renowned thalassotherapy centres for a relaxing spa experience.

Average Monthly Temperatures

Certainly, here’s the combined weather data for both Marseille and Biarritz in a single table:

Month Marseille (High / Low °C) Marseille Rain Biarritz (High / Low °C) Biarritz Rain
January 12° / 5° 6 days 13° / 5° 13 days
February 13° / 6° 4 days 14° / 5° 12 days
March 16° / 8° 4 days 16° / 7° 12 days
April 18° / 9° 5 days 17° / 9° 13 days
May 23° / 13° 4 days 20° / 12° 11 days
June 26° / 17° 2 days 23° / 15° 10 days
July 29° / 19° 1 day 25° / 17° 8 days
August 29° / 19° 2 days 25° / 17° 9 days
September 26° / 16° 3 days 24° / 15° 9 days
October 21° / 13° 6 days 21° / 12° 10 days
November 16° / 9° 5 days 16° / 8° 12 days
December 13° / 6° 5 days 14° / 6° 11 days

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, being a compact town, offers multiple easy travel options. The local bus system, Chronoplus, provides regular services around town and to nearby areas.

For those wishing to venture further, car rentals are available, although parking can be tricky during peak season. Within the city, walking is a popular choice due to the town’s small size, allowing you to reach most places on foot.

Bike rentals offer an active alternative for getting around, and of course, taxis and rideshare services like Uber are always at your disposal for convenient, direct transport. However, these might come with a higher cost compared to public transportation.

Top things to do in Marseille

  1. Old Port (Vieux Port): This bustling harbour is the heart of Marseille. It’s lined with cafes and restaurants, and it’s the perfect place to enjoy a bouillabaisse, the traditional Provençal fish stew. Don’t miss the fish market that takes place every morning at the port.
  2. Le Panier: Just north of the Old Port is Marseille’s old town, Le Panier. Wander through its narrow, winding streets to discover charming squares, art galleries, boutiques, and cafes.
  3. Notre-Dame de la Garde: This iconic basilica sits on the city’s highest point and offers panoramic views of Marseille. Its interior is equally stunning with beautiful mosaics.
  4. The Calanques: These rocky inlets with crystal clear waters are perfect for hiking, swimming, and boating. They can be found along the coastline between Marseille and Cassis.
  5. MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations): This museum is notable not only for its comprehensive exhibits but also for its stunning architecture and sea views.
Notre dame de la garde
Notre Dame De La Garde – Photo by jumpermikko

Top things to do in Biarritz

  1. Biarritz’s Beaches: Famed for their beauty and surf-friendly waves, Biarritz’s beaches are the heart of the town. Grande Plage, the largest beach, offers plenty of room for sunbathing and swimming, while Côte des Basques is the surfers’ choice.
  2. Musée de la Mer: This sea museum offers insight into marine life with numerous aquariums housing everything from sharks to sea urchins. It’s an ideal destination for families and marine enthusiasts.
  3. Phare de Biarritz: The Biarritz Lighthouse stands tall on the town’s northern cliff. You can climb the 248 steps to the top for a panoramic view of Biarritz and its surrounding areas.
  4. Rocher de la Vierge: This iconic rock formation is accessed by a bridge and offers stunning views over Biarritz. Named for the statue of Virgin Mary placed on top of it, it’s a picturesque spot worth visiting.
  5. Les Halles de Biarritz: To taste the flavours of Biarritz, visit Les Halles, the town’s vibrant food market. Here, you’ll find a fantastic assortment of regional produce, cheeses, pastries, and seafood to savour.
Phare de biarritz
Phare de biarritz – Photo by fabiennecorbiot

How to spend three days in Marseille

Day 1: Exploring the Heart of Marseille

Kick off your visit to Marseille by exploring the vibrant Vieux Port (Old Port). Watch fishermen selling their catch, enjoy a cup of coffee at one of the numerous waterside cafés, or simply admire the hundreds of moored yachts. Next, stroll to Le Panier, Marseille’s old town, with its charming cobbled streets, colourful houses, artisan shops, and inviting cafés. After lunch in one of the local bistros, take a ride on the tourist train or climb the hill to visit Notre-Dame de la Garde, the city’s iconic basilica, offering panoramic views of Marseille. End your day with a delicious seafood dinner back at the Vieux Port.

Day 2: Discovering Culture and History

Start your second day at the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations), known for its exhibits as well as its stunning architecture. Then make your way to the Palais Longchamp, home to Marseille’s fine art museum and natural history museum, surrounded by a grand park. After lunch, consider visiting Château d’If, a former fortress and prison on a small island off Marseille’s coast, famously featured in Dumas’ ‘The Count of Monte Cristo.’ Wrap up the day with dinner at one of Marseille’s excellent restaurants, perhaps trying the city’s signature dish, bouillabaisse.

Day 3: Nature and Leisure

Devote your last day in Marseille to the Calanques National Park. Depending on your preference, you can hike, kayak, or take a boat tour to explore these stunning limestone cliffs and turquoise waters. Make sure to pack a picnic to enjoy by the sea. After returning to the city, enjoy a leisure stroll along La Corniche, a scenic seaside boulevard, or visit Prado Beach for a more relaxing time. End your trip with a farewell dinner, relishing the flavours of Provençal cuisine.

Calanques National Park
Calanques National Park – soso.hgm

How to spend three days in Biarritz

Day 1: Embrace the Ocean’s Call

Begin your day with a leisurely stroll along the Grande Plage, Biarritz’s main beach, perhaps even braving a morning dip. Later, explore the marine life at the Musée de la Mer Aquarium, where the seal feeding sessions are a highlight. As the day mellows, find a cosy spot in the Old Port area to enjoy some local pintxos and a picturesque sunset.

La Grande Plage
La Grande Plage – Photo by alexou_gls

Day 2: Ride the Waves and Revel in the Views

Kick off your second day by diving into Biarritz’s renowned surf culture with a lesson at a local surf school. In the afternoon, wind down with a scenic walk along Rocher de la Vierge, an iconic rock formation offering breathtaking views. Cap off your day with a fresh seafood dinner at the charming Port des Pêcheurs.

Day 3: Explore Local Flavours and Neighbouring Charm

Start your final day early at Les Halles de Biarritz, sampling fresh local produce from the bustling market. Later, venture out on a short bus ride to the neighbouring town of Bayonne. Absorb its picturesque streets, try the famous Bayonne ham, and let the city’s Basque charm captivate you. Finish your trip back to Biarritz with a farewell drink overlooking the ocean.




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