Our Quick Guide To Marrakech
With a backdrop of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and only a few hours away from the Sahara Desert, Marrakech has become the must-visit destination in Morocco. From the intoxicating Djemaa el Fna with its snake charmers and street food to the mazes of the Medina, Marrakesh is one of Morocco’s most historic and mesmerizing destinations.
The city is split into two very distinct parts, the old historical city which includes the Medina and the new modern European district, Gueliz. The old historical city is where you will find all the character and charm of Marrakech with its maze of passageways and shops selling everything from locally made rugs to local remedies for all kinds of ailments. In contrast, the new modern side of the city is home to fast food restaurants, big brand stores, and city parks.
Marrakech can be visited all year round with winter being a popular choice for people living in Europe wanting to get away for some sun and warmth. Spring and Autumn are very popular times to visit as the sunshine is almost guaranteed and temperatures are bearable. The summer months can become too hot with temperatures reaching low 40’s and during the month of Ramadan, you’ll find shops and restaurants close. We’ve written this guide to Marrakech from our own personal experiences after previous visits to this great city, we hope you find it useful for any future trips you have planned.
Worried about getting scammed in Morocco? Then check out this post ‘7 Travel Scams of Morocco and how to avoid them’.
Getting around the old city can easily be achieved on foot but be prepared for a lot of walking depending on what you want to visit and plenty of cafe stops for a refreshing drink to cool down. We highly recommend downloading an offline map from Google maps to help you find your way round, you’ll more than likely get lost at least once but locals will be on hand to point you in the right direction.
An alternative way to explore the old city and Medina is to hire a Caleche, a small horse-drawn carriage which can be found towards the small park on the edge of Djemaa el Fna. It would be very wise to agree on a price before setting off and to haggle the best possible price. You should be looking to pay around 150 Dh per carriage per hour.
To explore further out of the old city and into Gueliz buses and petit taxis are widely available. If you do catch a taxi be aware that some drivers will be out to get as much money from you as possible. For example, they will say they don’t have change, refuse to use the meter and try and charge you for bags, if you’re not happy just walk away and find another taxi.
Marrakech-Menara Airport is situated about 5km out of the city. If you are on an extreme budget or enjoy walking then it is possible to walk from the airport to the city center, a path runs alongside the main road and the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque provides a great reference point to follow.
The Airport express bus, No 19 departs from outside terminal 2 and leaves every half and hour between the hours of 07:00 and 21:30. The bus travels between the airport and Djemaa el Fna and can stop anywhere in between, and costs 30Dh for a single and 50Dh for a return.
Petit Taxis are also available outside the terminal building to take you into the city center, make sure you agree on a price beforehand or even better get them to turn the meter on, expect to pay between 40 to 70 Dh. If you are wanting to head away from Marrakech to another destination like Essaouira, Grand taxis are available to take you to your required destination.
Accommodation in Marrakech…
Marrakech and its surrounding areas have a wide range of choice when it comes to accommodation, from cheap hostels in the Medina to luxurious kasbahs and the traditional Riads. If budget allows we definitely recommend staying in a Riad as you get the feel of staying in a traditional Moroccan home, based around a central courtyard the Riad’s are very welcoming and comfortable and a great place to stay. When we visited Marrakech we stay at Riad Tizwa and can’t recommend it highly enough, you can read our review here and if you want to stay there you can book online here.
The medina is home to the budget hotels and hostels, if you’re looking for something a bit more upmarket then Gueliz is the area to head to where it’s also quieter and not so manic. The areas surrounding Marrakech have some large all inclusive resorts with an array of activities and large swimming pools on offer.
Where to Eat & Drink…
If you love food then your love what Marrakech has to offer. Every night Djemaa El Fna transforms into a heaven of street food stall serving everything from traditional Moroccan tagines to boiled sheep heads. Understandably you may be a bit wary eating from these stalls due to the lack of hygiene, but don’t be put off as some of the food cooked here is delicious. Just look for the busy stalls were the locals eat and keep an eye on the cutlery not being reused with being washed.
If eating at the street food stalls doesn’t take your fancy then there are plenty of places to eat surrounding Djemaa el Fna and throughout the Medina. One of our favourite places to eat was Cafe Arabe, a 5-minute walk north of the square serving a mix of Moroccan and Italian food, we recommend booking a seat on the roof terrace where you get a great view over the rooftops which is amazing at sunset. Another couple places we recommend to try are Chez El Bahia and 16 cafe, which is in Gueliz.
Because Morocco is predominantly a Muslim country alcohol isn’t widely sold throughout Marrakech, but that’s not to say you won’t find any what’s so ever. You’ve got a higher chance of finding alcohol outside of the historical city and Medina but there are a select few places selling alcohol inside the media, cafe Arabe and Narwama are two of the most popular places.
While walking around Djemaa el Fna you will notice the street vendors selling fresh orange, this is some of the freshest juice your taste, expect to pay between 4-6Dh and ask for a plastic cup because the glasses tend not to be washed out thoroughly. You can read our post on tips and tricks on surviving the Medina, here!
What to do…
Djemaa El-Fna – the focal point of historic Marrakech during the day and night. Musicians, street performers, and snake charmers fill the square during the day and while it’s a still a great place to be Djemaa El-Fna truly comes alive once the sun goes down. The smoke from the street food vendors rise and the market becomes overpowered with all kinds of aromas, there’s an atmosphere found here like no other and it’s a place the should be experienced by everyone.
Tanneries – you will more than likely smell the distinct smell of the tanneries before you set sight on them. They can be found towards the east end of Avenue Bab El Dabbagh, upon arrival make sure to ask the workers if they are ok with pictures being taken, it’s respectful and polite. Be aware that some locals, mainly youngsters will try and lead you to the tanneries and explain you can’t visit without a local present, this isn’t true and they are just trying to make some money.
Majorelle Gardens – situated in Gueliz the 12-acre botanical garden was designed by the French artist Jacques Majorelle and then later owned by Yves Saint-Laurent. The garden contains 100’s of different plants and cactus surrounding a vibrant blue villa and pond complete with turtles. A good place to visit, to wander for an hour or so and escape the midday heat.
Koutoubia Mosque – towering above Djemaa El-Fna, Koutoubia mosque is named after a booksellers market which was previously on the same site. During the night the mosque is beautifully light up and can be seen from miles around. Like most mosques, non-Muslims aren’t allowed inside.
The Souks – depending on how much you like shopping and bartering this can be a highlight for tourists while visiting Marrakech. You can literally find anything for sale in the souks, spices, shoes, tagines and much more. There are also plenty of places to exchange your currency in case you run out of dirhams.
There, of course, many more things to see and do in Marrakech, some can be found in one of our previous posts here. Some of the other highlights are El Bahia Palace, Saadian Tombs, and Palmerale.
Have you ever visited Marrakech, what was your highlight? Was there anything you didn’t like? We’d love to hear you think, comment below and let us know.
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