Located on the coast of Provence between Marseille and Saint Tropez, Toulon is a relative newcomer to the world of tourism. Its main role for many years has been as home to one of France’s largest naval bases standing next to an old town which has suffered decades of decay. In recent times, thanks partly to the success of its local rugby team, the city has seen a growing number of visitors and significant investment has seen the rebirth of this historic centre.
Cruise ship passengers arriving in Toulon or across the bay at La Seyne-sur-Mer shouldn’t expect anything as sophisticated as the glitzy resorts of the French Riviera but something more akin to down-to-earth Marseille. Visitors can easily enjoy a few hours wandering around the streets of the old town with a lunch at a seafood restaurant supplied by the catch of the local fishing fleet. Alternatively, there are a number of interesting shore excursions made available by cruise lines.
Port of Toulon
Most small cruise ships visiting Toulon will dock at the Quai du Président Pierre Fournel which lies in the heart of the city within a short walk of the Old Town. The main attractions of the city centre are easily accessible on foot otherwise there’s a Petit Train de Toulon which departs from Quai Cronstadt at the port. It has two itineraries which include a city tour or a visit to the naval base. It’s also a good way to get to the Mourillon beaches to the south-east of the city.
Larger ships dock across the harbour in La Seyne-sur-Mer which lies 7km away by road. Excellent transport facilities have been made available from its new cruise terminal including free shuttle buses which run to the centre of Toulon. There are also public water buses and private boat shuttles which travel across the bay to Toulon.
Airport Transfers to Toulon
Passengers who are meeting cruise ships in Toulon or La Seyne-sur-Mer will most likely be arriving or departing through Marseille Provence Airport which lies 90km along the coast to the north-west.
There’s a free shuttle bus from the airport to Vitrolles Aéroport train station from where there is just one direct train to Toulon each day. Taking a train to Gare de Saint-Charles in Marseille is a better option with frequent departures to Toulon. In addition, there is a limited bus service from the airport but plenty departures from Saint-Charles in the city centre.
Far more convenient is to pre-book a private transfer from Marseille Airport to Toulon and have a driver waiting for you on arrival. Transfers can be arranged to the Port of Toulon or to La Seyne-sur-Mer.
Another gateway to the region is Toulon–Hyères Airport which lies just 23km south-east of Toulon. Apart from Air France arrivals from Paris this airport is only served by a few seasonal arrivals during the summer months so is unlikely to be an option for most cruise ship passengers.
Main Tourist Attractions
In spite of its role as a major naval base and a long-term decline in its historic centre the city of Toulon is now reaping the rewards of significant urban investment which is proving conducive to local tourism. The Old Town which is bordered by the port, Cours Lafayette and Boulevard de Strasbourg has experienced a new lease of life as a new wave of tourists arrive to wander its pedestrianised streets which are home to a number of charming squares.
The main tourist attraction in the old quarter is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Seds (55 Place de la Cathédrale) which was built between the 11th and 17th centuries and is recognised as a national monument. It displays a variety of architectural styles from its long period of construction. Another building of note is the Opéra de Toulon (Boulevard de Strasbourg) which dates back to 1862 and is the second largest opera house in France.
Insider Tip: Restaurant La Place and Brasserie L’Oasis are nice places for lunch on Place de la Liberté which is the main square of the old town. There are plenty other cafés and restaurants surrounding the square.
Cruise ship passengers who enjoy a visit to a local market during their day in port will not be disappointed in Toulon. Beginning at Place Louis Blanc and running along Cours Lafayette just a few minutes walk from the cruise dock is the Marché Provençal which is one of the largest regional markets in Provence. It is open every morning (except Monday) from 8am to 1pm selling a vast selection of fresh produce to a mainly local clientele.
Standing on the waterfront, the impressive Musée National de la Marine (Place Monsenergue) is a maritime museum dedicated to Toulon’s naval heritage. From within the harbour boat tours are available which take passengers on a short tour around some of the vessels docked there including the Charles de Gaulle Aircraft Carrier.
Standing at 584 metres and overlooking the port from the north-east is Mont Faron which is the main attraction outside the old town. Visitors can take a cable car from the Départ Téléphérique (2 Boulevard Amiral Vence) which lies 3km from the port. The number 40 bus runs there from Place Louis Blanc. As well as offering panoramic views over the city, the top of the mountain is home to the Zoo Fauverie Du Mont Faron which runs a successful breeding programme for big cats including tigers and leopards.
Shore Excursions Beyond Toulon
Whilst the city of Toulon continues to work hard to raise its tourism profile it inevitably retains a certain ‘earthiness’ which won’t appeal to some visitors. As such, some cruise ship passengers may prefer to plan a trip out of town during their day in port.
The nearest place of interest is La Seyne-sur-Mer which lies just across the harbour from the Port of Toulon. This charming town with easy access to some lovely beaches is where larger ships visiting Toulon will actually be docked so passengers on these vessels can avoid visiting Toulon altogether if they so wish. Another lovely spot is worth visiting is the fishing village of Sanary-sur-Mer which lies just 20km west of Toulon’s port. A little further along the coast is the popular beach resort of Bandol whilst 12km inland is the beautiful village of Le Castellet.
One of the most popular shore excursions offered by cruise lines and local tour operators takes visitors to the resort town of Cassis which stands on the edge of the Parc National des Calanques some 44km west of the Port of Toulon. This ancient port is well known as the home of Provence’s finest white wines where visitors can enjoy a winery tour as part of their excursion.
Other destinations which lie further afield which and may be offered as official excursions include Marseilles (67km), Aix en Provence (84km) and Saint Tropez (69km). Passengers who prefer to travel independently can get to both Marseille and Aix-en-Provence by train from the Gare de Toulon (Place de l’Europe).
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