Marrakech was a city that had been high on my bucket list for the last few years and after images of its iconic red walls kept popping up on my Instagram feed I knew I just had to book flights for myself and my husband. And boy was I glad that I did, Marrakech totally exceeded my expectations and I’m already trying to plan a trip back to explore more of the Morocco.
Marrakech is a charming city and like the snake charmers in Jamaa El Fna its sights, sounds and smells will just suck you in from the moment you arrive, encouraging you to get immersed in its traditions; from haggling in the souks, drinking mint tea in quaint riads to getting lost in the medina’s narrow streets.
Visiting Marrakech is truly a wonderful cultural experience (and shopping experience, but more about that later), I felt like we were wandering around a movie set the entire time we were there, and honestly nothing can really prepare you for it but I’m going to try with my first timers guide to Marrakech.
Things to know before you go
Marrakech is gaining a reputation as a winter sun destination and rightly so! We were there in late February and the weather was perfect. While it got cooler in the evenings and we did experience some rain it was perfect during the day for exploring – sunshine and highs of about 20/21 degrees. It probably wasn’t warm enough for sunbathing (we didn’t really have time anyhow) but it was still nice to feel the sun on our faces after the long Irish winter. March, April, May, September and October seem to be the best months to visit weather wise as supposedly temperatures can reach up 48/49 degrees in the summer months!
Morocco is a Muslim country so you should be careful of how you dress, short skirt/shorts and sleeveless tops are out and long skirts/dresses, trousers and t-shirts are in for both men and women. While Marrakech is relatively easy going it’s still nice to be respectful of Morocco’s culture and traditions.
You will almost certainly always need cash in Marrakech (especially in the souks) and luckily there are plenty of ATMs available, especially around Jamaa El Fna. They use the Dirham in Morocco and €1 is roughly worth 10 dirham.
Haggling is common place in Marrakech and the sellers in the souks are well aware of this, so don’t pay the asking price. We paid about 1/4 – 1/3 of the initial selling price and that seemed to be the norm everywhere. Also if you feel that you are been harassed just politely say no and walk away, those annoying you will quickly get the picture and leave you alone.
Before we arrived in Marrakech I had read a lot about scams to be aware of and I was happy I did as we did experience a few first hand. On the first night we were there while searching for a place for dinner a guy came up to us saying he worked in our Riad but neither of us recognised him and politely refused his offer of help in finding us the ‘best place’ in Marrakech for dinner. On another occasion a guy offered to ‘help’ us find the way to Cafe Arabe and we accepted (it was dark and the souks look very different at night) fully aware that we would have to give him a few dirham for his ‘help’, however he wasn’t happy with the amount we offered him and began to demand more, 100 dirham! We just said no and went inside the restaurant as he walked off to ‘help’ more tourists.
Getting there and around
We flew on a direct Ryanair flight from Dublin. The flight took just over 3 hours, about the same time it would take to get to the south of Spain. Irish people visiting Marrakech don’t need a Visa but you will have to fill out a landing card before going through immigration.
We arranged a driver from the airport through our riad. I’d actually recommend this. It’s easy to get lost in the narrow streets of the medina and not all taxi drivers will know exactly where your riad is (usually down a side street) so rather than getting lost and confused organise your transport before you arrive.
The medina is very easy to explore on foot as everything is close by. The only time we needed a taxi was to visit Jardin Majorelle which I will discuss further below. Tuk-tuks are also widely available throughout the city.
Where to sleep
A riad is a must in Marrakech and there are numerous one’s dotted throughout the medina. We stayed in Riad Viva located within the walls of the medina close to Kotoubia mosque and about 10 minutes walk from Jamaa El Fna. This quaint riad with a rooftop pool was great value for money, the staff were more than helpful and we enjoyed a delicious Moroccan style breakfast every morning.
Where to eat
The one thing that surprised me the most about Marrakech was the abundance of amazing cafés and restaurants and I mean amazing, from the delicious food to the spectacular rooftop locations. Here is a list of some of my favourites –
Nomad – this is a must! It’s in all the guide books for a reason!
Café D’Espices – go for the decor and views alone and the coffee isn’t bad either.
Café Arabe – Alcohol isn’t freely available in Marrakech and Café Arabe is one of small number of places where you can get a drink. Try the Moroccan red wine, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Café Glacier – this great little coffee or Moroccan tea spot is the perfect place to watch the sunset. The rooftop terrace provides a great vantage point over Jamaa El Fna.
Café Kessabine – come here for the tajine, delicious!
Kasbah Café – this is another rooftop restaurant with fantastic views and great food.
Boulangerie, Patisserie Ben Tachfine – this little pastry shop was located near our riad and I popped in everyday to sample their yum pastries.
*We also ate in one of the market stalls in Jamaa El Fna square, no 22. It was a fun experience and while the food wasn’t the best we had in Marrakech, it did seem to be one of the better options available for those of us who like to give local street food a go.
Things to do
There is so much to do in Marrakech. We were there for 4 days and we were kept busy from morning until night. Check out my Marrakech must-dos below.
- Get lost while wandering the streets of the Medina. It’s a fact that you will get lost in Marrakech, so you should just embrace it and lose yourself in the narrow streets, you never know what treasures await you around the corner!
- Watch the sunset from one of Marrakech’s many rooftop restaurants or cafés while sipping on Moroccan tea or enjoying a delicious tajine.
- Master your haggling powers in the many souks throughout the city. Marrakech is a treasure trove of unique souvenirs, from lanterns to cushions covers, to ceramics to rugs you are certain to find something you will want to haggle over. I’ll be honest, I loved shopping in the souks so much that I ended up checking in a bag on our return journey!
- Soak up the atmosphere in Jamaa El Fna. It’s like an open air theatre with acrobats and musicians attracting crowds every night and the perfect place to try a great orange juice during the day.
- Marvel at the stunning architecture and details in Ben Youssef Medersa and Museé de Marrackech. My advice would be to visit Ben Youssef Medersa in the afternoon, it will be much quieter then and you will be able to get some stunning photographs in this iconic location.
- Soak up some history at the Bahia Palace and the nearby Saadian tombs. The Saadian tombs are jaw droppingly beautiful, if you have a thing with tiles like me then you must visit but try to avoid the crowds by visiting in the early morning or late afternoon. The unmarked hard to find entrance to the tombs is directly across the road from the Kasbah Café.
- Relax with a traditional Morrocan hammam body scrub and argan oil massage after a day of exploring. There are various Morrocan spas located throughout the city where you can get a traditional Hammam but we just organised one through our riad for about €30 each.
- Stroll through the beautiful gardens of Jardin Majorelle. Located in the new part of the city, Ville Nouvelle, Yves Saint Laurent’s garden is the perfect oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the medina. You will have to get a taxi here from the medina but it shouldn’t cost more than 45 dirham, I think we paid 40 dirham. When you are leaving Jardin Majorelle you will see a line of taxis waiting to bring you back to the medina, just keep walking by them as they will try to charge you at least double and just flag down taxi further down the road.
- Make the journey to the Agafay dessert about one hour from Marrakech and if you feel like really treating yourself stay the night at the Scarabeo camp. Waking up to views of the dessert and the High Atlas mountains was one of the highlights of our trip to Marrakech and I will write more about our time there in a separate post.
So there is my first timers guide to Marrakech. I hope you found it helpful. If you have any questions or recommendations, please feel free to leave your comments below. Thanks, Eva