I had Marseille on my radar for a while, but for some reason, I never managed to visit the French city until this summer. I first got interested in visiting Marseille, when it hosted the Manifesta Biennale in 2020. And my interest only grew after reading Jean-Claude Izzo’s novels, which a friend of mine gave me as a present for my last birthday. 

So when, a few months back, I got an email from a Marseille art center, I took it as a sign it was time to visit the French city. And as expected, I fell completely in love. Marseille is a Mediterranean city, where different cultures clashes and coexist, making it rich and diverse. It is beautiful in its own way, much like Naples or Athens: some areas can be rough, some streets can be dirty, but you just have to walk to the Old Port and your eyes will be filled with beauty. 

The city has a romantic type of beauty. It is not a shiny new city, nor a gloomy northern capital, but it has the warmth and the light of the sea and the smell of summer. 

All this to say, Marseille completely stole my heart in itself, even before I started digging into its contemporary art scene. And believe me when I tell you, it is absolutely the cherry on top! 

I am already planning a much longer trip to the South of France for next summer when hopefully the contemporary art museum will be reopened. But in the meantime, to catch a last glimpse of summer or fill up an autumn weekend, here are some of the things and contemporary art destinations you can enjoy in Marseille, besides beautiful beaches, amazing food, and stunning national parks. 

Friche Belle de Mai

La Friche is THE place to visit. If you only have time for one place, if all you want to do is bathe in the blue waters of Frioul and hike the Calanques, but you still want to squeeze in one or two exhibitions, then head here. I am 100% sure you won’t regret your choice. 

 Friche Belle de Mai, more commonly La Friche, has been at the forefront of Marseille’s cultural scene for 2 decades. Hosted in a former tobacco factory, it comprises exhibitions spaces, a bookshop, a cafe, a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy a drink, and take part in all sorts of events, from DJ sets to movie nights, and it is also a place for artists, kids and local people alike, that all gather here to find something they like or need. 

Closer to a village than an art center, La Friche will serve you amazing exhibitions by both local and international artists, while also immersing you in an urban environment, where graffiti, French rap, and politics are discussed on a daily basis. It is a stimulating place, not just a destination for a quick contemporary art fix, so give it the time it deserves. 

Friche Belle de Mai
41 Rue Jobin, 13003 Marseille

Info and opening hours: lafriche.org

marseille contemporary art - FRAC
Le Frac Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur © Agence Kuma Associates – Agence Toury Vallet. Crédit photo : Frac Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur / JC Lett.

FRAC Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

A much more standard space, FRAC PACA (Fonds régional d’art contemporain) is a public regional collection of contemporary art located in La Joliette. The art center is located in a building designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and opened in 2013 as one of the interventions of the Euroméditerranée urban renewal project. 

It hosts temporary exhibitions of both pieces of the regional collection, as well as artworks and full exhibitions on loan, which are on display on the different floors of the building. Les avant-garde than La Friche, it is still worth a visit in you are in La Joliette, especially for the beautiful terrace overlooking Boulevard de Dunkerque and the surrounding shiny new buildings. 

FRAC Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
20 Bd de Dunkerque, 13002 Marseille, France

Info, tickets, and opening hours: frac-provence-alpes-cotedazur.org

Daniel Arsham — Le Modulor du Basketball | Photo Courtesy MAMO – Centre D’Art de la Cité Radieuse

MAMO – Centre D’Art de la Cité Radieuse

If you love architecture just as much as contemporary art, Marseille is immediately associated with one of the masters of contemporary architecture, the one, and only Le Corbusier. And in that case, the destination for you is MAMO. The exhibition space is located inside the Unité d’Habitation de Marseille, one of the modular buildings that Le Corbusier designed and built. The location itself is well worth a visit (despite it being a little bit outside of the city center). It has all the characteristics of Le Corbusier architecture, with its beautiful lines, and colored panels and it makes for the perfect location to take amazing architecture photos for your Instagram feed. And while you are there, you can enjoy exhibitions and stunning views over Marseille. The center is right at the top of the Cité Radieuse and the entrance is free, in case you needed more reasons to visit.

MAMO – Centre D’Art de la Cité Radieuse
80 Bd Michelet, 13008 Marseille
Located inside the Unité d’Habitation 

Info, opening hours, and general information (in French): mamo.fr

La Traverse – Exhibition view of “Blauregen” Constantin Nitsche | Photo Courtesy La Traverse

La Traverse

If you are wondering why I am already planning another trip to Marseille, this is the reason. I didn’t have the chance to visit La Traverse this time, because it was already closed for its summer break. But it was recommended to me by someone that really knows well the contemporary art scene in Marseille, and it definitely looks like one of the places I would love. 

La Traverse is several different things together: it is a gallery, a residency program, it hosts events and talks, and it also has rooms to rent, in case you want to sleep immersed in beauty and art. Founded by Catherine Bastide, and located in a residential area overlooking the cove of Malmousque, La Traverse is hosted in a Mediterranean house renovated in 2020. Its organic shapes and interiors are the perfect backdrops for exhibitions and special events, and the gallery has a particular focus on social and environmental projects, making it one of my top destinations for 2023. It is only opened by appointment unless you rent one of their rooms, so make sure to write them in advance and book your visit. 

La Traverse
16 Traverse Ste Hélène, 13007 Marseille

Info and reservation: www.latraversemarseille.fr

Nir Altman, Munich, Art-o-rama 2021 © Margot Montigny | Photo Courtesy Art-o-rama & Fræme


Last but certainly not least, Art-O-Rama is not a destination or a physical space, but definitely something you should plan your trip around. It is in fact an art fair, hosted inside La Friche, that usually takes place around the end of August. 

This year, the fair will be open to the public between August 26th and August 28th (vernissage and VIP preview on August 25th) and will host more than 60 galleries and publishers. Produced by Fræme in collaboration with Friche Belle de Mai, the fair is a unique occasion to get to know the vibrant contemporary art scene of Marseille, as well as the rest of the South of France and Europe. It hosts international galleries, often bringing interesting projects and site-specific artworks, as well as publishers and independent bookstores. The fair is the first of the new season and the perfect way to kiss goodbye to summer. 

Hosted inside Friche Belle de Mai (41 Rue Jobin, 13003 Marseille)

Info, opening hours, and public program: art-o-rama.fr

Did you enjoy this article? Are you planning a trip to France or to Europe? Check out our other articles and destinations in Europe, or send me a direct message here.

Cover Image by Lara Schipperen on Unsplash