Marseille has a long history as a feisty place. Greeks founded it 2,600 years ago as a trading post. In 49 BC, it failed to back Julius Caesar, so his government dropped it from official trade routes. In the 1790s, Marseille supported the French Revolution, and 500 volunteers marched to defend Paris. They sang a new march later called "La Marseillaise," now the country's national anthem.
Must-see: The white Notre-Dame de la Garde, a combination fort, lighthouse and basilica, stands isolated on a hill 440 feet above the city's vermilion-tile roofs. The Musée des Civilisations d'Europe et Méditerranée, which opened a year ago, has 60,000 square feet of exhibition space (www.mucem.org/en). Dramatic turquoise inlets, slashed into stacked white limestone cliffs south of the city, can be explored by foot or, better, by boat.
The soccer scene: Home team l'Olympique de Marseille plays in the Stade Vélodrome, which is undergoing a three-year $365-million renovation that will include a roof. The remodeled stadium is to be completed this summer. Near the stadium, Restaurant l'Olympe (28 Boulevard de Sainte Marguerite; 011-33-4-91-26-02-60) has two large TVs for match-watching. It serves fish, shellfish, cannelloni and Corsican deli items. Brasserie OM (25 Quai des Belges; 011-33-4-91-33-80-33) has good food and wine as well as 13 large-screen TVs for watching games.
Beware: Women should wear conservative clothing and avoid walking alone. As in all large cities, be careful at automated teller machines and in train stations and port areas, especially after dark.
Best time to go: The soccer season takes place from the end of August through June. The city is known for 300 days of sunshine a year.