Marseille is France's second largest and most ancient city. It was founded by the Greeks in 600 BC and was later conquered by the Romans after becoming a thriving port and centre for trade. Today it is littered with ancient sites and artefacts, mostly Roman additions to the original Greek settlement.
Marseille is down to earth and lacks the pretentiousness of most other French cities. There are plenty of attractions to explore, including the colourful harbour and pedestrianised squares. The city is also divided into arrondissements in the style of Paris, which makes it relatively easy to get around on the metro.
The Old Port area is filled with restaurants, bars, hotels, office blocks and a daily fish market at the Belgian Quay, giving it a lively and sophisticated air. There are also a number of decent museums, galleries, theatres and shops dotted about the city that are worth visiting. Marseille is also famed for its Opéra: an Art Deco opera house, situated in the heart of the city, which still hosts performances even though it was all but destroyed by fire in 1919. La Plaine is a trendy area filled with cafes, bookstores and fountains, with a bustling market on Thursdays and Saturdays, while Noailles' bazaar is a multi-ethnic area filled with Indo-Chinese and Arabic shops.
The outgoing, friendly inhabitants of Marseille are a cosmopolitan bunch, with diverse backgrounds including a number of Italian, Spanish and North African communities. There is far less of the style and image consciousness evident in the rest of the Cote d'Azur, creating a more North African flavour and a vibrant atmosphere. Marseilles also acts as a good base for exploring the nearby natural beauty of the calanques (or Mediterranean fjords) and some excellent beaches.