Aix-en-Provence city street, France

Marseille Cruise Port: DIY Day Trip to Charming Aix-en-Provence (& Lavender Fields During Summer)

Docked in Marseille and yearning for a taste of authentic Provence? Look no further than the charming city of Aix-en-Provence, a haven of centuries old fountain and vibrant markets. From strolling the iconic Cours Mirabeau to tracing the footsteps of renowned painter Paul Cézanne, Aix-en-Provence makes a perfect day-trip destination from Marseille cruise port.

Visiting during summer? From June to August, an added bonus is that you can walk in the lavender fields just a few miles outside of Aix-en-Provence.

If you’re already read my Marseille DIY Port Guide, then jump straight into my logistics section on how to travel from Marseille cruise port to Aix-en-Provence. If not, you may need to go read that, so you’ll minimise travel time from Marseille cruise port to Marseille city centre. My Marseille DIY Shore Excursion Guide is one of my most popular posts and it’s thanks to a reader’s question that reminded me that Aix-en-Provence is a wonderful day trip option from Marseille!

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Marseille Cruise Port to Aix-En-Provence: Is a DIY Excursion Easy? 😎😎😎 Needs Hustle

If you’re planning to visit Aix-en-Provence from Marseille Cruise Port on a DIY excursion, don’t let my 😎😎😎 (Needs Hustle) rating put you off. The trip itself is incredibly straightforward but it involves 2 changes of transport and I know that’s not for everyone. Here’s my rationale in more detail:

  • 2 Changes of Transport: Changing from the port shuttle to the metro to an express bus isn’t everyone’s cup of tea! For many, it’s just a bit too much hassle. But the journey itself is straightforward, with no detailed pre-planning needed or pre-purchase of tickets.
  • Very Frequent Express Coach services from outside Marseille St. Charles station means you can get to Aix-en-Provence in about 75 minutes from your ship. The non-stop coach itself takes about 40 minutes.
  • Walkable Aix-en-Provence: Once you get off the express coach, then Aix-en-Provence attractions are within walking distance. If seeing the lavender fields is your goal, then you do need to catch a bus to a few miles outside of town.

Most cruise ships will dock in Marseille for at least 10 hours, because there’s full day excursions to the Calanques and Provence wine tours being sold. If yours is one of them, there’s enough time to do a day-trip to Aix-en-Provence, provided you disembark early. I would rate the hardest part as getting out of Marseille port and into the city centre quickly, so avoiding crowds at the cruise port is crucial for a stress-free day trip.

Marseille Cruise Port Essentials: All You Need To Know

  • Marseille Cruise Port Address: Port of Marseille – Gate 4, Chemin du Littoral, 13015 Marseille
  • Currency: Euros
  • Language: French
  • Official Websites: Official tourism website for Aix-en-Provence has a good tourism map for Aix-en-Provence (PDF), downloadable to your phone. If you need free WiFi in Aix, then use the downloadable map for free WiFi access areas. Refer to my Marseille DIY Guide for official websites for Marseille.
  • Recommended Transport App: I prefer Citymapper while I’m in Marseille. In Aix-en-Provence, use Google Maps
  • eSIM for roaming in France: For a great data connection without the huge roaming fees, use an eSIM data pack from Airalo. I always recommend having a smartphone with a valid data connection when you’re at port touring independently. Get US$3 off your first eSIM data pack from Airalo when you use ROXANN1666 when you sign up or apply it at checkout

How to Easily Get From Marseille to Aix-en-Provence

There are two main options to get from Marseille to Aix-en-Provence – the express coach service or the train. Unless you’re likely to get unwell on a coach, the coach is my preferred option, as it runs frequently and it’s a non-stop service.

From Cruise Ship to Marseille St Charles: To do this day trip, refer to my detailed description on getting from Marseille Cruise Port to City Centre, using either the free port shuttle or the public bus. Once you’re dropped off at Joliette station, take the M2 metro line (Red) for 2 stops to Marseille Saint-Charles. You then can choose between the express coach or the train.

1. Marseille to Aix-en-Provence Express Bus (“Le Car” Coach) – Recommended

The easiest way to get to Aix-en-Provence from Marseille city centre is via the Express Bus #50. The “bus” (cutely branded “Le Car”, as it’s meant to replace commuter cars), is in fact a motor coach. So you’re guaranteed a seat for the ride.

  • Marseille Bus Stop: Express bus starts from “Pôle d’échanges St Charles“, the central bus hub outside Marseille St. Charles train station.
  • Frequency: Bus route #50 (express bus) runs as frequently as every 5 minutes during peak hour on weekdays (yes, five minutes, not a typo!). On weekends, it runs every 10 minutes. This is a very popular route for locals who commute as the monthly subscription ticket is quite cheap.
  • Timetables: Download Marseille to Aix-en-Provence Bus Timetables here
  • Tickets: One-way tickets cost €7. There’s ticket machines on both stops at Marseille St Charles and at Aix-en-Provence – purchase before boarding the bus. Otherwise, you can also download the La Métropole mobile app and purchase online.
  • Journey Time: Around 40 minutes – this service takes the highway and is non-stop until Aix-en-Provence. (This bus drives on reserved bus lanes on the highway, so minimal traffic even during peak hours.)
  • Don’t catch Bus #51: #51 is the all-stops service. While the ticket is cheaper, you’ll lose valuable sightseeing time.
  • Where to Get Off in Aix: The final stop is “Gare routière” (central bus station) at Aix-en-Provence. This is very centrally located and you can walk around once you get off the bus.

2. Marseille to Aix-en-Provence By Train (Backup Option)

From Marseille St. Charles metro station, follow signs to the main train station for trains to Aix-en-Provence. The train ride itself offers picturesque views of the Provençal countryside, with vineyards, rolling hills, and charming villages passing by your window.

  • Timetables: Check train schedules at www.sncf-connect.com/en-en/ – the regional services is a stopping service.
  • Tickets: €9.50 for second class ticket – note most services do not have a first class train section. Buy tickets from machines at station.
  • Journey Time: Regional trains take 40 minutes

Aix-en-Provence DIY Shore Excursion Map

  • On Desktop | Laptop? Use buttons on bottom left to zoom in/out. Click on the upper right hand corner to see a bigger version.
  • On Tablet | Mobile? Pinch your screen to zoom in/out and use two fingers to move map around. If you have Google Maps installed on your tablet/mobile, my map will open in your Google Maps app if you click on the upper right hand corner.
  • If map is not loading correctly, click here to see it directly on Google Maps

What to See & Do in Aix-en-Provence in a Day

If you’re visiting between June and August and wish to see the famous lavender fields of Provence, then jump straight to my section on DIY Lavender Trail from Aix. I would recommend that you head out to the lavender fields first, followed by sightseeing at Aix-en-Provence, rather than the other way around.

Morning in Aix: Fountains, Markets and Cours Mirabeau

Fontaine de la Rontonde in Aix-en-Provence, France
Image by falco from Pixabay

Start your Aix-en-Provence adventure with a stroll along the iconic Cours Mirabeau, a wide tree-lined avenue created in the 1650s that’s still the heart of the city today. From the Aix central bus station, it’s about a 5 minutes walk. There’s elegant mansions, bustlings cafes and countless fountains. (Aix-en-Provence is known as the “city of a thousand fountains”.) Here’s a few must-see sights around Cours Mirabeau:

  • Fontaine de la Rontonde: This grand fountain at the end of Cours Mirabeau was built in the 19th century, features three impressive statues representing Agriculture, Justice and Fine Arts. Each statue faces a different direction, symbolising the city’s connection to Marseille, Avignon and the surrounding countryside. This is one of the largest fountains in France!
  • Fontaine Du Roi René: On the other end of Cours Mirabeau, is a tribute to King René of Anjou, a beloved historical figure who ruled over Provence in the 15th century. The fountain features a statue of King René holding a bunch of Muscat grapes, a nod to his efforts to introduce grape cultivation to the region. The statue stands on a pedestal surrounded by allegorical figures representing Justice, Fortitude, Prudence, and Charity.
  • Fontaine des Quatre-Dauphins: At Place des Quatre-Dauphins (Four Dolphins), just around the corner from Cours Mirabeau, is this 17th century fountain with four playful dolphins spouting water.
Cheese for sale at Aix-en-Provence food market, France
Image by Arkadiusz Förster from Pixabay
  • Places Comtales (Daily Food Market): The food section of the market is open daily. Come here and grab yourself munchies for lunch. On Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays, there’s a lot more than just food being sold here. The flower market is open Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Lavender Fields Visit (June to August only)

Lavender Fields in Provence, France
Image by Ra La from Pixabay

If you’re in Aix-en-Provence between June to August, then you must not miss the opportunity to see the lavender fields in full bloom. The closest one is at Terre Ugo, about 3 miles (5 km) from Aix’s city centre. Terre Ugo is a family run business and grows the lavender organically. Note that outside of June to August, it’s not open as there’s not much to look at!

  • How to Get There: Bus #12 from Aix-en-Provence Mouret bus station; this is about 3 minutes walk from Gare Routière d’Aix-en-Provence, where you would have gotten off the bus from Marseille. Bus #12 starts from this bus stop.
  • Frequency & Timetables: Bus #12 runs every 40 minutes or so. Download timetables here – make sure you look for buses heading towards “Couteron Église“. Journey time is approx 25-30 minutes. Alternatively, Google Maps will give you correct departure times too.
  • Bus Tickets: One-way tickets €1.20 – pay with a contactless card onboard (New since July 2023). Only Visa and Mastercards; Amex doesn’t work! If you’re traveling with a group, it’s possible to pay for multiple people with just one card but in my experience, it’s easiest if each person use one card.
  • Where to Get Off: “Madeleine” stop, right outside Terre Ugo. Best to track your progress on your phone, or tell the driver where you’d like to go. It’s technically 26 stops but as the bus doesn’t always stop in every stop, it’s difficult to track otherwise.
  • Entrance Fee to Terre Ugo: €7 adults, free for kids under 12

Afternoon Delights: Art, History and Paul Cézanne

Caumont Centre D'Art Museum exterior in Aix-en-Provence, France
Caumont Centre D’Art | Image by djedj from Pixabay

1. In the Footsteps of Paul Cézanne

Aix-en-Provence was home to the renowned Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, and his presence can still be felt throughout the city. While the Atelier Cézanne (his studio) is currently closed for renovations, in June 2024 when I’m writing this, you can still wander around a few places around Aix where Cézanne frequented. Use the official tourism trail here.

There’s also a “In the Footsteps of Cézanne” app to admire the painter’s works in augmented reality and geolocate the places that marked Cézanne’s life and career. Links to download the app is here.

2. Musée Granet

Housed in a 17th century mansion that once belonged to the Knights of Malta, the museum has 10 of Cézanne’s oil paintings. There’s also many works by Picasso (known as the Granet XXe collection), which is housed in a separate building (within walking distance away), at the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs.

  • Opening Hours: During summer, open Tuesdays to Sunday from 10am – 6pm, closed Mondays. From October to mid-June, open Tuesdays to Sunday from 12 noon – 6pm. Closed Mondays.
  • Tickets: €9 adults, free for kids under 18 and students under 26 (with student ID)

3. Caumont Centre D’Art

As an alternative to Musée Granet, head to Caumont Centre D’Art where the building is as beautiful as the art it houses. Housed in an 18th century private mansion, there are French gardens to walk through and a cafe (with a terrace) overlooking the gardens. If you fancy having afternoon tea, then this is a great place to do it – you don’t need a museum ticket to go to the cafe. Lunch for around €30-35 per person and afternoon tea from €20 per person.

  • Opening Hours: 10am to 6pm daily from May to September, 10am to 6pm daily from October to April
  • Tickets: €15.50 adults, €10 for kids aged 7+ and young adults to 25

4. Cathédrale Saint Sauveur

In the edge of town is the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur Aix-en-Provence. I’ve left it last because if you’re short of time or keen to return to Marseille, then you can skip the walk to the Cathedral. The most famous part of the cathedral is the collection of 16th century Flemish tapestries depicting the scenes from the life of Christ. Open daily from 9am to 6pm. Free to enter.

Featured Image by RD Law from Pixabay

With a blend of history, art and culture, Aix-en-Provence is a wonderful day trip option if your cruise is stopping in Marseille. If you have any questions or have Aix-en-Provence experiences to share, please do leave a comment below. And if you found this post helpful, I’d be grateful if you can share it with your fellow cruisers in your roll-call groups.

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