La Canebière is a pretty, tree-shaded boulevard lined with majestic buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. It climbs straight up the hill from the Vieux Port in Marseille's historic center. Canebière comes from the Provencal word for hemp, inspired by the ropemakers who made sailing rope here in the Middle Ages.

On Marseille's most famous commercial street, you'll find a mix of clothing boutiques, French bookstores, patisseries, sidewalk cafes, and beauty shops selling locally made soap. Every year in December, Marseille's Christmas market is held here, featuring plenty of santons (traditional Provencal figurines). Consider your Marseille visit incomplete without a stroll down this charming and elegant boulevard.

La Canebière in Marseille - one of the highlights of 11 Best Things to Do in Marseille and 10 Best Markets in Marseille (Read all about Marseille here)

photo by Patrick Nouhailler (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

A brief history of La Canebière

La Canebière was first built in the 17th century on the orders of Louis XIV and then expanded down to Vieux Port after the Grand Arsenal was demolished in the 18th century. The street boomed in the 19th century, with many fashionable cafes, stylish department stores, and luxury hotels frequented by high society. Chic drinking establishments like Café Turc and the luxurious Café Riche became famous across Europe.

The stretch of the street at the top of the hill near the Church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul was added in the early 20th century. However, La Canebière's fortunes started to decline when King Alexander I of Yugoslavia was assassinated here in 1934, and the Nouvelles Galeries store was decimated by a fire in 1938. In recent years, the avenue has been refurbished and new businesses are gradually setting up here.

What are the highlights and features of La Canebière?

La Canebière's shops offer a good mix of familiar brands and independent boutiques. The west end of the street, near Vieux Port, is the best place to look for clothes and accessories, with fashionable establishments spreading from La Canebière down Rue de Rome and Rue Paradis. As you climb the hill, these give way to cheese shops, cafes, and bakeries. Try navettes, which are traditional Marseille pastries shaped like boats and flavored with orange blossom.

You can admire the gorgeous 17th and 18th-century architecture, wrought-iron balconies, and colorful shutters. A small plaza at the bottom of the street, Place du Général-de-Gaulle, has a brightly painted carousel. Live music often takes place on weekends. At the opposite end, the beautiful facade of the Church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul adds some neogothic glamor, with its beautiful stained glass and mosaic floors.

Good to know about La Canebière

You can reach La Canebière by taking the M1 subway line to Réformés Canebière station or the M2 line to Noailles station. The T2 streetcar line runs up and down the street, with stops between Cours Saint Louis and Réformés Canebière. This gives you more of an opportunity to admire the scenery along the way.

Once you've covered the street itself, it's worth exploring the roads branching to either side. There's a lively food market where Rue Longues-des-Capucins heads south off La Canebière. The famous department store Galeries Lafayette is just north of the street on Rue de Bir Hakeim. At the bottom of the street, around the Vieux Port, you can check out the public sculpture L'Ombrière de Norman Foster or visit the intriguing Marseille Soap Museum.

photo by Yuichi Shiraishi (CC BY 2.0) modified

La Canebière in Marseille

Location: La Canebière, 13001 Marseille, France

Victoria Hughes | Contributing Writer