Looking for tips on things to do in Marrakech, Morocco?
As part of our city guides series we interviewed Amanda who has been traveling to Marrakech since 2004 when she met her Marrakechi husband. And unlike many visitors to the red city her trips have a distinctly local flavor.
Amanda share’s with us her insider tips on things to do in Marrakech including where to eat, stay, shop, drink, and play.
Take it away Amanda…
Why Visit Marrakech?
Marrakech is the city of legends. One of the first things that attracted me to visiting Morocco was the mix of European, Middle Eastern and African culture and flavors. Marrakech epitomizes this.
It’s also perfect for any type of traveler; from the luxury traveler to the budget backpacker, from families with young children to senior citizens. While Marrakech is known for it’s lively markets there is so much more to the city.
Things to Do in Marrakech?
At the top of any visitors list is a trip to Djem L’Fna or the central souk and market.
Over the years it has been commercialized more and more. The layout can be confusing however it is divided into different sections such as the woodworking souk, the clothing souk, the spice souk etc.
My best advice is to go as deep in as you can and then start shopping. Anything on the perimeter will be the most expensive and odds are very good that you will find the same things for less money further inside.
Historical Sites such as the Badi Palace, Saadian Tombs, Ben Yusuf Madrassa and Bahia Palace are great to experience just how old this city is.
Try to visit a hammam. The traditional Moroccan bath is an experience in and of itself. You are welcome to visit any of the neighborhood baths but may feel more comfortable in a more resort like setting. La Bain Bleu and Les Bains de Marrakech are two suggestions though many hotels also have a hammam on the property.
Oasiria Waterpark – Visiting with kids? Oasiria is a fun family day to relax. This waterpark is located slightly outside of Marrakech but has a free shuttle service running from Gueliz. Make sure to bring your own towel and snacks are allowed though there is a café and pizza restaurant on site.
Best Neighborhoods to Explore in Marrakech?
This is the old residential center of the city and for the most part still inhabited by families who have lived here for decades. There are side shops down the main thoroughfare and small markets off to some of the sides. You’ll find some great food stalls set up here as well.
The new city and boutique shopping epi-center. Gueliz has fashionable shops and restaurants as well as art galleries.
The old city. The medina winds off of all sides of d’jem al fna and stretches back to residential areas.
Where to Eat in Marrakech?
I truly believe the best food you will eat in Marrakech will be street food. I say that with a nod of caution because any intrepid traveler has been told not to do this. I’ve never gotten sick eating anything in Morocco but that’s not to say you won’t.
Street vendors offer a variety of foods; from fresh fruit, cookies, stews and tajines, grilled brochettes, sandwiches, and soups.
Eat at least once in djem l’fna at the open air stalls. Try the snail soup. Stop for breakfast at a hole in the wall shop. Pick up a string of sfinge (Moroccan doughnuts) for a snack.
I know there are some nice upscale restaurants in the city but street food is the heartbeat of the city. A quick note about water. Marrakechs’ water is filtered and safe to drink however bottled water is cheap and accessible. Brushing your teeth might be alright in tap water but stick to bottled water for drinking.
You Can’t Visit Marrakech Without Eating?
Tangia is the signature dish of Marrakech. You won’t find it anywhere else in Morocco (and if you do you shouldn’t eat it!) It’s traditionally the “bachelor” meal because of the easy preparation, but I promise you’ll never eat lamb so tender and full of flavor.
Where to Drink in Marrakech?
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.
Bo-zin is a restaurant/bar located a bit outside of the city center but very accessible by taxi. It features a restaurant, bar and beautiful outdoor garden area with traditional tents. (located on Rue de l’Ourika)
Le Comptoir is another good option if you’re looking for a meal or nightcap. It is similar in ambiance to Bo-zin but a little more expensive. (located on Rue Echouada)
Best Place for a Night on the Town?
The Marrakech Royal Theatre. The Royal Symphony plays throughout the year as well as this space hosting many other cultural performances. Check with the Marrakech tourist office (Office National Marocain du Tourism) to see what’s on when you’re there.
Djellabar – I really like the modern bohemian feel of Djellabar. Come for dinner and drinks, check out the shopping for some really unique art, books, and fashion items, and enjoy a good glass of wine. (Villa Bougainvillé 2 rue Abou Hanifa, Hivernage
Where to Stay in Marrakech?
To be fair I’ve stayed in very few Marrakech accommodations because I stay in our family home, however I have spent a good deal of time connecting with travelers and visitors to make a few recommendations.
One note worth mentioning, prices no matter where you stay in Marrakech will be much higher in the summer months. If you travel during the off-seasons you will find accommodations at a fraction of the summer rates.
- Peacock Pavillions (Kilometer 13 Route de Ourzazate) If you want to have a relaxing vacation in Marrakech outside the hustle and bustle of the city center you must stay here. Peacock Pavillions is a guest house built by an American expat family and matriarch Maryam (who is a fantastic designer!) creates unique charm in each and every corner of this boutique hotel. Some unique features include an outdoor theatre, a dining tent and an outdoor gym. Shopping trips, babysitting, and spa reservations can also be arranged.
- Hotel Mamounia – I would really be remiss if I didn’t mention this shining beacon of Marrakech. Recently remodeled and updated the Mamounia is a landmark in Marrakech. The price is on the higher end but if you visit in the off season it’s really worth it to spend at least one night here.
- Riads are bed and breakfasts that offer a handful of rooms. In Marrakech many riads are traditional homes that have been repurposed for renting rooms. Prices range from $20 a night to $200+ a night
- Dar Najat (Dar Graoua Derb Lala Chacha #18) I have heard fantastic raves about this riad and the price is very good. Meals are provided on site. The one comment I have heard over and over about this riad is the service provided to guests is exceptional.
- Riad Layla Rouge (Rue el Ksour Derb Rokni 23) This is a riad/hostel located just off djem l’fna. If you’re hunting for a bargain this might be your stop! Hostel accommodations can be found for under $20 a night (depending on season) and a private room for around $60. The colors of Marrakech will surround you during a stay here!
A last option to consider, especially if your visit will be longer term is apartment rentals. There are numerous furnished apartments available at anytime in the city.
When Moroccans travel in the country this option is one they usually use. Often this will put you in more residential neighborhoods but the price is much more bearable than a hotel stay. I like this option the best for families that are traveling to Marrakech.
Markets and Shopping Districts?
Aside from visiting the souks of the medina (off of d’jem l’fna) there are a few other locations to get your shopping in.
Gueleiz is known for its boutique and specialty shops. This is not the rough and tumble haggling/shopping but higher end. Some of my favorite shops in this district are;
Moor (7 Rue de Liberte) – traditional Moroccan clothing updated and with a modern feel. They also have lovely home décor items.
Scenes de Lin (70 Rue de Liberte) gorgeous textile boutique featuring natural linens from Morocco and around the world as well as offering other cloth goods. Fabrics can be made into custom products.
Naturelle (5 Rue Sourya) Argan based products are all the rage and that’s what you’ll find at Naturelle. High quality products that are acquired through a commitment to helping the producers of argan in southern Morocco.
The mellah is the Jewish Quarter of Marrakech (though the Jewish population itself is waning). Here you’ll find some great gold and jewelry as well as a wonderful spice souk. Remember to haggle for the best price.
In recent years gold has not been such a bargain. Sellers for the most part are looking for market rates or close to them. Nearby you’ll also find Place Ferblantier where metalwork is for sale. This is the place to get Moroccan lanterns and lights as well as other metal furnishings.
Major Events and Festivals in Marrakech?
There are two major festivals with many many smaller festivals through the year.
Getting Around Marrakech?
Marrakech has two types of taxis, the grand taxi and the petit taxi. Grand taxi’s tend to go from point to point (i.e. you can’t really tell them easily a specific point you want to go to) They also tend to cram as many people in as possible. Imagine 7 passengers in a 1970’s Mercedes sedan.
The petit taxi is the best way to get around Marrakech. They are reasonably priced and run on a meter, whereas with a grand taxi the price is agreed on ahead of time. They also will take you point to point.
Marrakech does have a bus system but the times are not very reliable and they are overcrowded. Let’s just say in nearly 8 years of visiting I’ve never taken a bus ride.
Is Marrakech WiFi friendly?
Marrakech is becoming more and more wifi friendly. There are some restaurants, cafes and hotels that offer free wifi but your best bet might be purchasing a 3G USB modem.
Ask or look around for the purple Inwi shops that dot the city. Inwi is a mobile phone and internet provider and prices are very reasonable. In browsing recently I saw that a current promotion is 3 months of service for 300 dirham (close to $35). If you’re traveling around Morocco the service will work anywhere.
Best Time of Year to Visit?
Fall (mid- Sept until early December) and Spring.(March to May).
Summer in Marrakech is very, very hot and chances are you won’t want to be outside very much. Winter tends to be rainy and cool.
Ramadan is another month out of the year that you might not want to visit. During the Muslim holy month shop and restaurant hours are often changed and there is less activity as most of the country is fasting from dawn to dusk.
Favorite Side Trip?
Getting There and Away?
Many major and discount airlines fly into Marrakech and Morocco’s train system runs a few times daily to the city. If you’re coming from Europe I would fly a low cost carrier like EasyJet or RyanAir.
Major airlines that fly in include Royal Air Maroc, Air France, Iberia, BMI and TAP. I have found that it’s often easier to get much cheaper flights to Casablanca and then take the train to Marrakech. It takes more time but the cost difference often makes up for it.
If you’re looking to visit other parts of Morocco the train runs to major cities but no further south than Marrakech.
Morocco does have a fairly good coach bus system to access small cities off the train line. Supratours and CTM have the best reputation with Supratours being my preferred coach bus. Recently they have commissioned the old train station as their depot.
Any taxi driver will be able to know the difference if you tell them the bus company you are looking for. CTM buses pick up near Bab Doukkala.
Best “insiders” tip for travellers?
I feel like Marrakech is written about all over the place so my best tip would be to make friends with a local. This will help you experience the real Marrakech and not the tourist packaged version.
Hopefully your friend will also invite you over for a meal because that’s where the best food is to be found! Also just enjoy yourself. In Morocco people aren’t ever in a hurry so don’t try and keep a strict schedule just let what happens happen!
There’s a Moroccan saying when someone asks you when something will be done. The answer is “tomorrow after tomorrow” or it will happen when it happens!
I love Marrakech because _______?
It’s always changing! Visiting from year to year I feel like there is always something new and exciting happening. I do miss some of the old charm that has been erased in just under a decade but am excited for the new possibilities as well.
BIO: Amanda is the owner of MarocMama a food and travel website focusing on Moroccan food, culture and traditions as well as living in a bi-cultural family. In 2004 she met and fell in love with her Moroccan husband in fairy-tale fashion on the streets of Marrakech and their journey hasn’t slowed down since.