Marrakech has been on my bucket list for a very long time and I found it to be completely unlike anywhere else I have ever traveled to before. I loved every inch of it, the architecture, the luxury, the people, the food, the souks, the vibe, everything! One of the first things that attracted me to visiting Morocco was the mix of European, Middle Eastern and African cultures and flavors.
Marrakech is one of the most amazing places you will ever visit. Bursting with color, history, and welcoming locals, this eclectic city has something to offer to everyone. It’s perfect for any type of traveler; from the luxury traveler to the budget backpacker, to families and seniors. If you’re interested in visiting Marrakech, keep reading because I am sharing my travel guide to this intoxicating Moroccan city to help you enjoy your experience that much more.
First things first, before you arrive, be sure to have your hotel or riad arrange airport transfer for you. Cabs are available, but after a long flight, the last thing you want to do is negotiate with a foreign driver. Many riads and hotels have transfer services available. Sometimes it is included and other times there is a charge. Even if you feel like the price of the transfer is high, just book it.
While Marrakech is a pretty walkable city, busses and taxi’s are easily available. Just be sure to negotiate the price before you get in to make sure you’re not over paying and being taken advantage of as a tourist. I would ask someone at your riad or hotel what is an average price to pay to where you’re headed so that you have a general idea.
THE SPOKEN LANGUAGES AND CURRENCY
Moroccans speak a mixture of Arabic, Berber, English, and French. You’ll be fine with English in most of the larger cities, but you’ll probably need a translator in the rural parts of the country. In order to get around and have a conversation, I recommend practicing your French and learning some common Arabic phrases.
The Moroccan currency is the Dirham. Definitely withdraw a portion of what you think you will spend from the airport. In Morocco, it’s vital to always have cash. You CAN NOT take Moroccan currency out of the country, nor can you exchange your dollars, euros, etc for Moroccan currency in your home country ahead of time. There are ATMs just about everywhere, so you can always stop at another time if you are running low on cash. If you plan to go to more remote areas, plan ahead and get enough cash in the city before you go. Ideally, you want to calculate exactly what you think you will spend throughout your trip so that you don’t have to exchange your money back to your own currency again. Depending how much cash you have left over on the last day of your trip, either spend or exchange it before you leave Morocco.
WHERE TO STAY
When in Marrakech, you can stay in a riad or resort-style hotel. Both options are great and offer a completely different experience, so if possible, I recommend splitting your time between the two.
Riads have much more of a local and homey feel. They’re set in the heart of Marrakech, so are perfect for the days that you want to do less relaxing and more exploring. They also tend to be significantly cheaper than the luxurious hotels, but still have great guest services, food and staff. Here are some recommendations:
Riad BE – a hidden gem with a stunning indoor courtyard and the cutest rooftop terrace to escape the madness of Marrakech. The indoor courtyard is a dream and has so many cozy spots to relax. Classic Moroccan breakfast is served every morning, and trust me you don’t want to miss out on it.
The resort-style hotels are perfect for more relaxation and pampering, ideal for days that you’d like to spend less time in the medina and more time enjoying the decadent amenities. If you’re looking for that touch of luxe then this might be more your style. Here are my suggestions:
Royal Mansour – a luxury hotel with 80% being handcrafted. You will find top-notch restaurants, breathtaking gardens and a jaw dropping spa, it provides everything you could possibly desire. Designed to host heads of state and visiting royalty, the property is extravagant in the best way.
La Mamounia – a stunning Marrakech hotel offering beautiful gardens, four restaurants, and Moroccan style rooms, near the Medina and Jemaa El Fna square.
WHAT TO DO
Plaza Jemaa El-Fnaa – Plaza Jemaa El-Fnaa is the main square in Marrakech. In the early evenings it transforms into one of the most hectic markets I’ve ever been too. Due to the square being such a tourist hub, we were pestered most of our time there as the locals tried to get us to come into their store and purchase something. I strongly recommend you say “La Shukran” (No, Thank you) and keep it moving. I believe watching the square come alive from a rooftop bar might be a little more enjoyable after you’ve made any necessary purchases.
Bahia Palace is a nineteenth century palace that was built for Si Moussa, vizir of the sultan at the time and showcases beautiful Arab and Islamic architectural styles. The Bahia Palace is vast and richly decorated and includes gardens, fruit trees and fountains. Take in all of the intricate ceilings, colorful tiles, and beautiful chandeliers.
Shop the Souks – Souks (also known as shops or markets) literally fill the entire streets of the Medina. Just north of the Jemaa El Fna, you will find a maze of alleyways filled with shops. You’ll find everything from everyday goods, to shoes, clothing, carpets, to souvenirs. Be prepared to do some serious bargaining! The souks of Marrakech are quite an experience. If you’re going to shop in Morocco, do it in Marrakech, there’s something for everyone. I’d recommend bringing an empty suitcase just to with items you purchase during your trip.
Indulge in a Hammam – Hammam, or public bathhouses, is a great way to experience the local culture and relax at the same time. It is a spa ritual, an experience, and above all a place to socialize. This archaic treatment involves being scrubbed with Moroccan black soap. You can choose to experience high-end hammams at a spa or a more authentic experience like at a riad or a public hammam. Experiencing a hammam is a MUST when in Morocco. If you decide to splurge, I highly recommend Royal Mansour.
La Mamounia Gardens – If staying at this swanky hotel is out of your budget, then just visit to admire it. The hotel is steeped in history, and the gardens are a big part of this history. Stroll through the gardens and the hotels grounds at your leisure. Follow with a refreshing cocktail on the terrace or inside listening to the live band. If you would like to enjoy more than the gardens and spend the entire day at La Mamounia, you can purchase a day pass for a spa treatment and lunch for 165 USD per person. I recommend booking this months in advance as they only offer several passes a day to non guests. Click here for more booking information.
Jardin Majorelle – A 12-acre botanical garden, where Yves Saint Laurent is buried. It’s filled with many types of cactus, gorgeous flowers and towering palm trees. It’s connected to the YSL Museum, a museum dedicated to all things Yves Saint Laurent. Arrive early or later in the day before closing to avoid the crowds.
Koutoubia Mosque – A beautiful mosque standing tall in the heart of the Medina, this muslim only mosque is the largest in Marrakech and worth viewing from the outside.
Ben Youssef Madrasa – Totally hidden in the narrow streets of the medina you will find this beautiful architectural building. A Madrasa is the Islamic version of a Sunday school for muslims to learn about Islamic scripture, and religious beliefs. The Ben Youssef Madrasa was once the largest quranic school in the North Africa. While it is no longer an active school, the beauty of the now restored building is open to visitors. I would recommend going at the very start of your day to catch it in absolute silence. The Ben Youseff Madrasa is currently closed for renovations until 2020.
WHERE TO DRINK
Morocco is a Muslim country so alcohol is a little more difficult to come by. Larger hotels for the most part do have bars and some have rooftop terraces that double as bars. Some riads serve alcohol, but you should inquire before booking if having cocktails during your vacation is important to you. I suggest purchasing alcohol at the airport and placing it in your luggage, so that you can enjoy a cocktail at your accommodation. I personally purchased some wine at the airport so that I could enjoy wine on the roof top of my riad and also during our stay in the Sahara Desert.
Note: I visited Morocco during Ramadan and many places would not sell alcohol at all. Having my own wine in my luggage worked out perfectly. Only drink in moderation, in private or where alcohol is being served.
WHERE TO EAT
At Your Riad – Eating at a riad is an experience in itself. Typically each riad has a chef or staff that cook traditional Moroccan dishes and most of the time they are better than any local restaurant! It’s so pleasant to arrive, settle into your room and stroll up to the roof terrace for practically a private dining experience. I highly suggest you have at least one meal at a riad, whether it’s your riad or a random one you find while getting lost in the many alleys of Marrakech. Keep in mind, if you intend to have dinner at your riad you need to order the night before. This gives the staff time to shop for fresh ingredients at the market to prepare your meal.
Nomad – located in the medina and known for its delicious modern take on Moroccan cuisine. The food portions are plentiful with a nice view. No alcohol served here. Make a reservation for dinner or you most likely won’t be able to eat here.
Le Jardin – A sister restaurant of Nomad, Le Jardin is known for amazing Moroccan infused bites in a huge lush courtyard. It’s quite hard to find and looks very unsuspecting from the outside, like most places in Morocco, but is delicious. Be sure to make reservations in advance and call to ask for directions.
Le Salama – located in the medina by the famous Jemaa EL Fna aSquare, offering classic dishes in the tradition of Moroccan cuisine. The décor and stunning view of the medina is worth a visit alone. This was my favorite restaurant and meal in Marrakech. Don’t forget to visit the skybar that overlooks the Atlas mountains and has happy hour.
Bazaar Café – Offers a large selection of tasty tapas from Morocco, Lebanon, Spain, Italy and Greece. Ideal to be shared, to accompany drinks or as appetizers before the main dish. For lunch and dinner you can order à la carte or you can try the menu of the day. Moroccan and foreign wines, beers, spirits and cocktails offered.
Dar Cherifa – Traditional Moroccan cuisine served in an authentic setting which creates charm. Difficult to find but worth it. You can call the restaurant to send a staff member to pick you up. Otherwise, you will walking around for hours. Be mindful, no alcohol served here.
La Maison Arabe – an established luxury riad to go for elegant dining with a swanky bar. La Maison Arabe has two restaurants, one which serves only Moroccan cuisine and the other offers both Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisine.
La Terrasse des Epices – In the heart of the medina of Marrakech is the restaurant of the Terrace of Spices Marrakech, known to travelers from all over the world for its atmosphere and its warm and welcoming decoration.
WHAT TO WEAR
As it is a Muslim country, Morocco is more conservative than Western countries. That said, from my experience traveling to many different areas of Morocco, Marrakech is a fairly liberal city compared to much of the rest of the country. While I wouldn’t go baring it all, you won’t have any issues wearing a medium length sleeveless dress. A very safe bet would be a maxi dress with short sleeves. Tourism in Marrakech has been on the rise for a number of years now, so seeing tourists in ‘western’ clothes isn’t exactly a shock to the locals, but it is considered to be disrespectful to reveal too much skin.
Most hotels and riads in Marrakech cater for western tourists, so they don’t expect their guests to dress traditionally on their properties. When you’re by the poolside, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear regular swimwear, and within the hotel itself, sundresses and shorts are fine.
Here are some useful tips & tricks that might help you along the way:
- Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. The first price any vendor in the medina will give you will be at least 3x higher than what the product is worth. When bartering with store owners, offer a price 1/3 of the original.
- Get used to saying “NO THANK YOU” constantly as the haggling WILL BE overwhelming
- Drink the fresh orange juice. You will see orange trees all over Marrakech and Moroccan oranges are famous all over the world. Better than Florida oranges!
- Before buying something at the first shop you see, have a look at a few others. You’ll see differences in both quality and prices
- Maps on iPhone don’t recognize many of the streets and alleys so expect to get lost. Download the app “Maps.Me”, which is more helpful.
- Before jumping in a taxi, agree to a price with the driver first
- Woman dress appropriately – Cover your shoulders and knees when in public
- Do not walk around as a woman at night. I’ve never personally done it, but I’ve heard from locals that it can be dangerous and should be avoided!
- Bring hand sanitizer
- Drink the mint tea! Whether it’s at your hotel or when entering a shop, there are plenty of places that will greet you with a glass of mint tea. Each place has their own recipe and can taste quite different.
- Do not accept help or guidance from a strange on the streets. They know you are a tourist and sometimes they will act like a friend, but in the end you will be charge for an outrageous amount of money.
- When tipping simply give what you feel appropriate or can afford. In general tipping a few Dirhams is standard. If you receive excellent service at a high-end restaurant, you can tip 10%.
- Only drink bottled water
Marrakech was a magical experience! With so much more to see and do during your visit, I hope this guide gives you some excitement for your upcoming trip or just some inspiration to one day visit!
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