Marrakech is a vibrant, colourful, enticing, and sometimes a little overwhelming city in Morocco. This Marrakech travel guide will tell you everything you need to know, with information on what to do, see, and eat, as well as other useful tips to help you make the most of your trip.
Marrakech is easier to get to than ever, with several budget airlines offering cheap flights from Europe.
Marrakech Menara Airport
Airport security and border patrol is tight in Marrakech, and it can take considerable time to get through. Make sure you receive a stamp in your passport as you enter the country, otherwise this will create problems when you try to leave. You will need a full blank page for the stamp.
Getting to and from the airport
The city of Marrakech is approximately a 20 minute drive from the airport. There are three ways to get to and from the airport: public shuttle bus, taxi or private transfer.
Make sure you have enough Moroccan dirhams to pay for your journey. There are official exchange offices or several ATMs at the airport that you can withdraw money from. The ATMs are somewhat unreliable; they are often not working or ‘do not have sufficient funds’, so take some of your local currency to exchange.
Public Shuttle Bus
For travellers on a tight budget, the airport bus service (line 19) goes directly to Jamaa el Fna from outside the airport terminal building. It operates every 30 minutes from 06:30 to 23:30, and costs 30 dirhams one way or 50 dirhams return. Ignore the locals that may try to convince you that the bus is not running.
A taxi is a convenient way to get to the city. They can also be cheaper than the public bus if you are travelling as a group. There are two types of taxi: a petit taxi (seats up to 3 people) or a grand taxi (seats up to 6). The fare should be around 70 -100 dirhams during the day, or up to 150 dirhams at night. Be prepared to bargain though, as taxi drivers will often try to overcharge you.
If you’re not interested in dealing with public transport or negotiating your taxi ride, opt for a private transfer. It’s only slightly more expensive than a taxi and removes the extra hassle. Contact your hotel or tour provider directly to arrange.
Where to stay in Marrakech
Old town or new town?
There are two main options for visitors looking to stay in Marrakech. You can either stay within the medina, known as the old town, or in Gueliz, the new town.
The medina is the heart of the city. It’s what most people think of when they picture Marrakech, with winding souks and the hectic Jemaa el Fna. Perfect for visitors who want to be in the thick of things, the medina is exciting, fast-paced, and occasionally overwhelming.
Gueliz, the new town, lies just beyond the historical walls of the medina. It’s much more modern and relaxed. There are leafy parks, shops with price tags and therefore no need to haggle, and art galleries showcasing Moroccan and international artists. There is also a wider variety of food, with many European-influenced restaurants available.
Both areas are worth visiting, no matter which part of the city you choose to stay in. You could even spend time staying in each. It is relatively easy to get between the two – it’s a pleasant 30 minute walk, or a short taxi ride. Again, watch out for taxis trying to overcharge you.
Riad or hotel?
Stay in a riad for an authentic Moroccan experience. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house, built around a central courtyard. here are hundreds of riads in Marrakech, often dating back to the 17th century, that have been converted into spectacular guesthouses.
Most riads are small and tricky to find, hidden deep within the maze of winding alleyways, but it all adds to the experience. Once inside, you will find beautiful architecture, tranquil courtyards with trickling fountains, decorative archways and doors, gorgeous roof terraces, and an abundance of leafy green plants. Staying in a riad gives you the full Moroccan experience while enjoying some genuine Moroccan hospitality.
Picking the right riad can be an overwhelming choice. There are over 500 to choose from in the medina! We opted to book our trip with Intrepid Travel, who sorted everything out for us from accommodation to transportation. It was a great way to experience what Morocco has to offer without the fuss.
Alternatively, if you want to book everything yourself, take a look at the riads on Booking.com and keep an eye on the reviews. Or if you have a few thousand to spare and you want to rub shoulders with your favourite instagrammers, check out La Mamounia.
Things to do in Marrakech
Jemaa El Fna Square
Jemaa El Fna is the beating heart of Marrakech. It’s a lively, bustling square filled with street performers, tourists, stalls and shops, and cafes. You’ll walk past musicians and dancers, fire-eaters, sword-swallowers, acrobats, and henna tattoo artists.
It’s not all fun and games in the square though. If you’re like us, you’ll hate to see performers leading chained monkeys through the crowds. There are also plenty of scammers and pickpockets out to prey on the copious number of tourists.
A visit to the square is a must, but the best place to enjoy it from is a cafe terrace overlooking the square. Sip a freshly squeezed orange juice or sweet mint tea while you observe the madness below. We stopped at Cafe de France before we left and loved the view.
Shop at the souks
The souks in Marrakech are the largest in Morocco. You’ll probably get lost while exploring them. In fact, it can seem like the souks were designed to disorientate visitors and trap them there forever – but don’t worry, all paths will eventually lead back to Jemaa El Fna. And you just might find the perfect rug, tagine, glass of orange juice, or other untold treasures along your way.
Be prepared for a wide variety of sales techniques in the souks. Some vendors will be very polite, other will heckle you to try and get your attention, and some are downright aggressive. You will be quoted ridiculously high prices at first, so be prepared to haggle.
Jardin Majorelle is the creation of French painter Jacques Majorelle, and subsequently belonged to Yves Saint-Laurent. A perfect sanctuary from the busy streets outside,the exquisite garden is full of rare desert flora. Enchanting lanes and tranquil streams and fountains surround the blue-painted buildings. Also situated within the garden is the excellent Berber Museum.
It can get busy, with queues often trailing all the way down the street. Opening hours are from 8am, so head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
Bahia palace is a masterpiece of Moroccan architecture. Originally built in the 1860s, the well-preserved palace is rich in history. It was embellished and lived in by the legendary slave-turned-vizier Bou Ahmed, along with his 4 wives and 24 concubines.
The palace is decorated with intricate details, expensive cedarwood carvings, exquisite paintwork, and artful mosaics. Within the palace walls are lush gardens, courtyards, and riads to explore.
A visit to a hammam (local bath house) usually involves stripping down and scrubbing layers of dirt and desert sand from your skin. It’s often coupled with a sauna and massage. There is a variety of options available to suit every budget, from cheap scrub-it-yourself bath houses to a all-encompassing luxurious spa experience.
Eat & Drink
Marrakech is full of sensory delights, and that is certainly extended to the cuisine. There are lots of traditional Moroccan meals to try, from tagines to couscous to pigeon pastilla. Head to the medina for the restaurants serving the more traditional meals, or to Gueliz for Moroccan food with a modern twist.
Be wary of the street food vendors in Jemaa El Fna. Best case scenario: you’ll be disappointed when the food is of lower quality than what you find elsewhere. Worst case scenario: it will make you violently ill and ruin the rest of your time in Morocco.
For a rundown of where to eat in Marrakech, check out this great post by MarocMama (a useful blog when researching our own trip).
Day trips from Marrakech
If you have strict time constraints, you may not be able to take a full tour around all of Morocco. But you don’t want to miss out on some of the fantastic landscapes and scenery the country is known for. Fortunately, there are some excellent day trips from Marrakech that will show you another side of Morocco.
Here are our picks for the best day trips from Marrakech.
Visit the Atlas Mountains to see Berber villages, home to the indigenous people of Morocco. The best place to start a hike through the mountains is Imlil. It’s impractical to get to using public transport so we recommend booking a tour.
Either book a tour such as this one online, or head to one of the many tour operator booths in Marrakech if you are comfortable haggling on price.
Essaouira is a fishing port on the coast of Marrakech. We spent two days there and absolutely loved it! It can be visited in a day if you are short on time, but we would definitely recommend spending longer there if you can.
No need to take a tour to get to Essaouira; there are multiple bus departures everyday between the two cities. The two main operators are CTM and Supratours, and the buses are modern and comfortable. Both are roughly the same price, but Supratours is the better option because the bus stop at Essaouira is just a few minutes from the centre of the city.
Essaouira has a more laid back vibe than Marrakech. Spend some time wandering through the medina and souks, which are smaller than those in Marrakech. You can normally haggle for a better price due to the less touristy nature of the city.
Stop by the fish market and pick out some fresh fish for lunch, and take it to one of the many nearby restaurants who will happily cook it for you for a small fee.
Relax by the beach, but be prepared for the wind. Essaouira is often known as Morocco’s windy city.
Head up Skala du Port, the tower on the outskirts of the city, for excellent views across the medina. The tower and ramparts were used as a filming location for Game of Thrones, so keep your eyes open for Daenerys strolling around. We suggest heading there in the late afternoon, when it is less busy and the lighting is better for taking photos.
Aït Benhaddou and Ouarzazate
Aït Benhaddou was one of the highlights of our trip. It’s a fortified village, recognisable as the filming location for several blockbusters including Gladiator, Prince of Persia, Lawrence of Arabia, and Game of Thrones. Cross the river and head to the top of the village for incredible views of the surrounding kasbahs and valleys.
Sadly, the Sahara Desert is probably too far from Marrakech for it to be worth doing just a day trip. The next best thing is the Agafay Desert, a stone desert. Just 40 minutes from Marrakech, there is nothing to see but stone for miles and miles. Many tour operators in Marrakech offer a variety of options, including hiking or quad biking through the desert.
However, the Agafay Desert does not compare to the Sahara Desert. Unless you really can’t make it, spending a few days in the Sahara is definitely worth it and will not disappoint.
Other things to remember
Taxi drivers will often try to take advantage of tourists. Make sure to negotiate a fair price for your journey upfront, and don’t accept the first price quoted. Most taxi drivers will drop their fare pretty quickly; if they don’t it will be easy to find another.
Avoid faux guides
Local guides are a great way to get to know a new place. However, many guides will have relationships with certain local stores and will likely be getting a cut from any sales. Use local guides for their knowledge and tip them if they provide good service, but don’t let them pressure you into buying from a particular place.
Be even more wary of people that approach you on the streets to offer you a tour or even just directions. A good rule of thumb is if someone approaches you with an offer to help, they probably want something. They may intentionally disorient you and lead you to a friend’s shop, or demand money for their service. You may end up completely lost and feel pressed to spend money. It may feel rude, but the best thing to do is to avoid engaging with them.
Despite this,he majority of the Moroccan public are genuinely friendly and helpful. If you are lost, ask a local for help and they will usually be happy to assist you. If in doubt, ask someone you can trust such as your hotel staff or your tour operator.
Morocco is a Muslim country, so you should wear clothes that respect their culture. Dress modestly, covering your knees and shoulders as a minimum.
We visited Marrakech as part of a group tour with Intrepid Travel. It was an excellent way to experience the culture with the perspective of a local. The tour explored lots of other areas in Morocco, including a hike through the Atlas mountains and a camp in the Sahara desert.
Read our full review of the tour here.
Are you ready to start planning your trip to Marrakech?
We thoroughly recommend Intrepid Travel’s South Morocco Discovery Tour.
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