Are you planning a trip to Marrakech? That’s amazing because there is so much about this city. Marrakech is one of the most iconic cities in the world. It is the jewel of Morocco with centuries of history and culture.
Walking through Marrakech today is like journeying into a whole new world of unique sights, sounds, smells, and wonderful tastes. This post contains everything you need to know on your first trip to Marrakech.
Why visit Marrakech?
Marrakech is the 4th biggest city in Morocco. Located just in the northern foothills of the Atlas Mountains, Marrakech is one of the most famous and important cities in Morocco as it was once an imperial capital. Like many cities in Morocco, Marrakech has an Old Medina (Medina Quarter) that is surrounded by red walls that date back to the 12th century. In fact, that is the reason why Marrakech is now not called the Red City.
Being the busiest square in Africa, Jamma El Fena is the main attraction in Marrakech’s old Medina. Edged along one side by the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco, Jamma El Fena square offers its visitors both Entertainment and shopping. Located just outside the square, there is the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest in the city. A few miles away you will find the tanneries, a unique experience. As you can see Marrakech has a lot of interesting touristic offerings and yet this is just the start.
Marrakech serves as a major economic and tourist destination in Morocco and it is hard to cover in one section of the post. This extensive Marrakech guide highlights everything you need to know about the city and its surroundings.
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Top Things to Do in Marrakech
Visit the Old Medina
The Medina Quarter in Marrakech is a densely packed and busy area. Home to a large souq (Marketplace). The souq contains hundreds of maze-like streets where it’s almost impossible NOT to get lost at some point. In the Souqs, you can find all sorts of traditional Moroccan products and souvenirs including rugs, clothes, paintings, and pottery. Getting lost in the Souq is one of the greatest and most daunting experiences you can have visiting Marrakech. It can be quite challenging to get out of the maze at first but the colors, people, and scents bring the whole area to life magnificently. So, get lost but look like you are having a good time.
Pro travel tip: if you are lost, be aware that some people who offer to guide you out of the souq will expect to be paid. Be sure to negotiate with them beforehand, or instead, ask one of the shopkeepers to give you directions.
Wander at Jama El Fena square
Moving on to the immense square of Jemaa El Fna, with its vibrant and amazing animations and entertainment shows. This place alone is worth visiting Marrakech for. Visit Jemaa El Fena at night and surrender yourself to a magical experience of culture, Moroccan music, and songs. From a giant hub of trading, selling, and buying, at night, Jamaa El Fena is surprisingly transformed into an open-air restaurant, a concert, and a caravan where everyone is having fun, chanting and enjoying tasteful Moroccan street food.
Marvel at Marrakech Gardens
Another way of enjoying the charm of Marrakech is to visit its gardens and Riads. In Islam, Heaven is a garden, and Marrakech gardens are a part of heaven on earth. You can easily find your inner peace strolling around the trees and plants of the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech. Even better, The Secret Garden is another escape from the busy and hectic life of Marrakech Medina. If you visit The Secret Garden, order Moroccan Mint tea while enjoying the smell of lavender and orange trees.
Go Back in Time at El Bahia Palace
Many places in Marrakech feature Arabian-Andalusian architecture, magnificent interior decoration, and garden arts. However, Al Bahia Palace combines them all. Bahia Palace has more than 150 rooms and multiple gardens with orange, palm, and pomegranate trees. The center of the palace features a 1500 sqm square decorated with beautiful mosaic (Zellige). There are currently only 2 parts of the Bahia Palace open to the public.
Saadian Tombs is where over 60 members of the influential Saadi Dynasty were buried. For those unaware of their history, the Saadi Dynasty ruled Morocco in the 16th and 17th centuries. Their tombs were discovered in 1917 and the site is now open to tourists. The Saadian tombs is a lavish Mausoleum with marvelous structures that include Italian marble, opulent Zellij (tilework), and gold-decorated plasterwork.
Marvel at Al Koutoubia Mosque
Al Koutoubia Mosque is the largest and highest mosque in Marrakech. It is located in Medina and is easy to spot from far away thanks to its 253 feet (77m) tall Minaret. The Koutoubia mosque was built in the 12th century. Hence, it was an inspiration for other prominent buildings in Morocco including the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca.
Al Koutoubia is an active mosque where Muslim prayers are performed 5 times a day. However, non-Muslims cannot enter the mosque but it would be nice to wander around it and also the garden surrounding it.
Visit the Historical Tanneries
Marrakech is famous for its traditional leather tanneries where all the Moroccan leather goods are produced. In fact, leather bags, leather shoes, and other products commonly sold in the Medina Souqs are all made of leather produced in this pre-industrial process.
The main tanneries you need to visit are located in Bab Debbagh quarter on the north end of the medina. To witness the whole process of making leather, you should go early in the morning when the tradesmen start.
Take a Cooking Class
Eating isn’t the only way to experience traditional Moroccan cuisine. Taking a cooking class will take you on a culinary and gastronomic journey through the different savory dishes of Morocco. Cooking workshops in Morocco are provided by experienced chefs in local Moroccan food.
You will learn how to make different Moroccan recipes such as Tagine and couscous. In addition to the cooking class, a shopping tour can be included in the package. After deciding on the menu, you will take a walk to the Souq (market) nearby to carefully pick the fresh veggies and fruits you’re going to use.
Finally, the cooking classes end with a cozy setting to enjoy the Moroccan food you just cooked by yourself!
Go On a Food Tasting Tour
It’s all about food still! Food tours and tastings in Marrakech are one of the most memorable things to do when you visit the city. With a food tour, you will get valuable insights into Moroccan culture and cuisine.
Marrakech has always been a renewed Moroccan destination for tourists to taste and sample delicious dishes. Generally, food tours in Marrakech happen in Medina with a small group of people.
The experience includes several tasting stops in the alleys and back streets of Medina, sometimes in places only locals eat in. I really enjoyed the experiences in Marrakech and I also learned our way in Medina. Keep in mind that there is lots of food to try so you’d better be hungry!
Enjoy a Hammam Experience
Similar to the Turkish culture, Hammam rituals are a part of Moroccan daily life. Locals go once a week to spend about two hours in a traditional Hammam where all the magic happens.
Hammams in Morocco are steamed bathhouses with several rooms, usually three. The rooms are heated at different degrees from low to high for different preferences. During a Hammam, you will apply different Moroccan beauty products to your skin and then scrub it with a cloth called (Kessa).
There are both public and private Hammams. Private ones are usually in Hotels and they tend to be more luxurious than the public ones. However, the result is the same, a relaxed body, soft skin, and a smile on the face.
Best time to visit Marrakech
Like most of Morocco, Marrakech experiences cold temperatures during winter and scorching heat in summer. The cold months are from December through February while it starts to warm up from March and goes until October. However, for convenient weather reasons, the best time to visit Marrakech is during dry and warm months when Marrakech benefits from enough sunshine and low crowds.
March-May (Best time to visit): March to May is the spring season in Morocco and the best time to visit the Red city. Temperatures are mild ranging between 17 and 37 and the climate is warm and at the same time cool. Hotels are relatively affordable.
June-August (High season): June through November are the hottest months in Marrakech, not to mention the busiest. This time is considered a high season when people are lined up in front of the main attractions and hotel prices are sky-high.
September-November (Best time to visit): September through November is the second best time to visit Marrakech. This is the time when the temperatures start to drop and tourists start to leave.
December-February (Low season): Don’t let the sun fool you! Even though the sun is shining, winter in Marrakech is very cold and relatively wet. Temperatures during this season usually range between 6 C to 20 C.
How to get to Marrakech?
Morocco has a reasonably well-developed transport system that includes a variety of options from planes and trains to taxis and buses. Depending on where you are traveling to Marrakech from, you can choose the best and most convenient transport to get to your destination.
There are two ways to get to Marrakech, by plane or by road. If you are coming from abroad, it means you will be flying but if you are traveling to Marrakech from other cities in Morocco, the most common way is by land. Keep in mind that you can fly also if you are coming from one of the Megacities like Casablanca.
There is one airport in Marrakech, Marrakesh Menara Airport. It is located just 15 to 20 minutes frım the city center. With multiple national and international airlines linking the beautiful city of Marrakech to the outside world, the fastest, and sometimes, the only way to travel to Marrakech is by plane from Europe, the U.S, Canada, or Australia.
Traveling from the U.S: If you’re traveling from the United States, the only direct flight from the U.S. to Morocco is with Royal Air Maroc from New York JFC to Casablanca. The flight takes around seven hours. The connecting flight from Casablanca to Marrakech is only 50 minutes long.
Traveling from Canada: Since June 2016, Air Canada rouge offers non-stop flights from Montreal to Casablanca. From other Canadian cities, the cheapest alternatives are to fly to London, Madrid, or Paris and then get a direct flight to Marrakech (this can be with a low-cost carrier like Easyjet or Ryanair).
Traveling from Australia: There are no direct flights between Australia and Morocco. The biggest airlines that fly between the two countries with at least one connecting flight are:
Traveling from Europe: If you are flying from the United Kingdom, the most popular airline companies that fly to Marrakech are:
Other airlines that fly to Marrakech from other European cities are:
Note: If you live in Europe, and are scared of flying, you can drive down to Spain and cross to Tangier in Morocco by boat. But keep in mind that the drive is super long and exhausting.
Getting to Marrakech from other cities in Morocco
If you are already in Morocco and trying to get to Marrakech, Moroccan Airlines (Royal Air Maroc) arranges local flights from different cities in the country with a connection stop in Casablanca the main and biggest airport in the country. However, the easiest and hassle-free way to get to Marrakech from other cities in Morocco is by train, intercity bus such as CTM, grand taxi, and a rental car (driving yourself).
Where to exchange currency in Marrakech?
The currency used in Morocco is Dh (Moroccan Dirham) also referred to as MAD. At the time of writing this post, one Moroccan dirham (1 MAD) costs 8.87 US dollars, 10.75 Euros, and 12.39 Sterling Pound and it is quite stable as it does not fluctuate a lot. Moroccan Dirham is a closed currency and it is normally unavailable outside Morocco. If you do find it in your home country, it will be at a much lower rate than in Morocco. Therefore, better exchange your currency once you get to Morocco.
In Marrakech, like many places in the world, you can always find reputable and shady places to exchange your money so the best and safe way to do it is through authorized exchange offices (called Bureau de change in French) or banks. I would recommend that you go with the exchange offices as they usually provide a slightly better rate than the banks.
I know it may feel strange to travel to a destination without currency, however, it is a very straightforward process and you can obtain dirhams easily when you arrive in Morocco. There are several banks and bureau de change offices at Marrakech airport. If you don’t exchange your money at the airport for some reason, worry not! There are hundreds of banks and exchange offices in the city and you will not have to go far to find one.
Another way to obtain dirhams is through your Riad (Moroccan hotel) if you are staying in one. They sometimes exchange for their clients and at a good rate even.
If you don’t like bringing large sums of cash on trips, you can always withdraw Moroccan dirhams from an ATM. However, the rate won’t be as good as bringing cash and exchanging it.
Pro Travel Tip: Make sure to always bring new notes and good-quality ones that are not damaged.
Where to stay in Marrakech?
Best Neighborhoods to stay in Marrakech
#1 Old Medina // The Old Medina is certainly the first and best place to stay in Marrakech. Located in the heart of the city, this vibrant neighborhood is literally within walking distance of the most famous attractions in Marrakech including Jama El Fena, Koutoubia Mosque, Bahia Palace, and many more. The Old medina is also home to various Riads, hotels, souks, museums, and restaurants.
#2 Kasbah // Because the Kasbah neighborhood in Marrakech is very close to the Old Medina, it is my second recommended place to be close to the top attractions. However, accommodation and hotel options are very limited to one area in the Kasbah. Kasbah is where the Saadian tombs are and it is also possible to walk to other main attractions as well.
#3 Mellah // Mellah is the old Jewish district in the city. This area is great for history buffs. If you stay in Mellah you can visit the Jewish cemetery, the spice bazaars, and Heritage Museum. Plus, Jama El Fena is within just 20 minutes on foot.
Best Riads to say in Marrakech
The best places to stay in Marrakech are Riads. The word Riad means garden in Arabic. Mostly found in imperial cities, such as Marrakech, Fez, and Meknes, Riads are a type of traditional Moroccan house with Andalusi architecture with a beautiful garden centered around a fountain.
Riads were only owned by wealthy people in Morocco. Now, these mansions are for everyone. Most if not all of the Riads in Marakkech are now transformed into luxurious and traditional boutiques/ Guesthouses to accommodate tourists from around the world. People stay in Riads not to spend the night but for the luxurious experience, reminiscent of the good old days. These are the favorite Mid-Range Riads in Marrakech.
Located in Marrakech’s old Medina, the hotel retains the authentic old Moroccan layout, charm, and beauty reflected in all its rooms. Our experience in Riad Kniza was amazing and the food was really delicious.
Riad Maison Belbaraka
Maison Belbaraka is a charming little place situated just a few steps away from the famous Jama El Fena. It’s a great accommodation option to enjoy both an authentic Moroccan experience and the surrounding city treats.
Riad La Sultana Marrakech
La Sultana Marrakech is a luxury hotel with magnificent rooftop views. La Sultana Riad puts you just moments from the royal palaces, museums, and souks of the magical city of Marrakech.
What to Wear in Marrakech?
Depending on that time of the year, you will have to consider what to pack for your trip to Marrakech. In addition to the climate reason, respecting Morocco’s culture and traditions is an important factor that women carefully choose what to wear. Morocco is a Muslim country where people are religiously ordered to dress modestly for both men and women. However, for tourists, there is no specific dress code. You may want to dress more modestly so that people around you feel more comfortable and you don’t receive any unwanted attention from weird people.
While men can get away with shorts and t-shirts, women visiting Morocco are advised to cover their shoulders and legs. Wearing revealing clothes such as shorts, skirts, and dresses above the knee could result in unwelcomed looks and comments from locals, especially men.
How to get around in Marrakech?
You will be able to explore Marrakech on foot and sometimes the only way to get around is by walking. Once you land in the city, you will quickly notice the high number of bicycles and motorcycles in the city and they drive quite fast so be careful.
Most attractions you want to see are centered around the Medina neighborhood. So, if you stay around Medina, you will enjoy short walks to get to your destination. However, navigating the narrow streets in the old Medina can be tricky and confusing, especially because most maps feature names and addresses that don’t always correspond to the layout on the ground.
To get around Marrakech easily, you will have to rely on asking for directions (Check our Moroccan Arabic post to learn a few Moroccan Darija sentences). In addition to the crazy motorcycles in the city, there are multiple public transport options to consider for longer trips such as Taxis, buses, and the popular horse-drawn carriages.
Public buses are to be avoided. They are usually fully packed and not really safe to take. The taxis are a good alternative. There are two types of Taxis in Marrakech, white big ones called “Grand Taxi” and yellow small ones called “Petit Taxi“. Grand Taxi is for far-away destinations and day trips outside the city, and the Petit Taxi is the one you will be using around the city center.
When you take a Small Taxi, make sure to ask the driver if he uses the taximeter, if not he does not, look for another taxi or negotiate the price of the trip before you jump in. To get around Marrakech Medina, the price is usually between 15MAD to 25MAD ($1.67-$2.79)
Although horse-drawn carriages are more like a tourist experience than reliable transport to navigate the city, you should not miss out on the experience. You can enjoy a 30-minute city tour on a four-wheeled buggy ride. Like everything in Marrakech, the ride’s price is negotiable but it should generally cost you between 200MAD-250MAD ($22.33-$27.91)
What to eat in Marrakech?
Marrakech is the best place to try authentic Moroccan food. Moroccan cuisine is rich in surprisingly delicate flavors and culture. With the unlimited food options that the country has to offer, I’ve written a detailed Moroccan food guide that lists more than 30 different dish samples. If you are new to Moroccan cuisine and not sure what to eat in Marrakech, check it out.
Important Marrakech travel tips
Some people are spontaneous when it comes to traveling, I like planning! It is not bad to be adventurous and spontaneous with your traveling decisions, but if it’s your first time in Morocco or Marrakech, I believe you should be a little bit prepared.
Your first step toward planning for your trip to Marrakech is you reading this post which is good. Planning your itinerary activities and things you want to do or see in the city will give you freedom and time to explore more.
Worrying about where to go and what to see while in Marrakech is a huge waste of time. I’ve been there so trust me you don’t want to experience it. So, plan ahead!
Read more: How To Spend The Best 3 Days In Marrakech?
Pack for the weather
Make sure to check the weather in Marrakech before you start packing your bags. Marrakech is super hot in supper and extremely cold in winter. You want to make sure you pack the right closes for your trip. If you have n idea what to wear for your trip check our Morocco Packing Guide for an idea.
Buy travel insurance
Although it’s not always needed, I feel more comfortable buying travel insurance when on the move. Our favorite one is from World Nomads, a trusted insurance company used by most travelers and nomads.
You can choose not to buy one for your Marrakech trip. However, if you are planning on some physical activity like mountain climbing or horse riding, I highly advise you get a quote from Word Nomads or any other company you prefer.
Bring a power adapter
Morocco uses power outlets and plugs of types C & E. If you are not sure what these plugs look like, check this plug guide website. Also, the standard electrical voltage in Morocco is 127V with a standard frequency of 50Hz.
Buy a sim card and internet
Unfortunately, WIFI is not available everywhere you go in Marrakech. So, unless you have international internet credit on your mobile, buying a SIM card and internet is so important.
A SIM card and a 10GB internet package will cost you around $17.
Once you land in Morocco, you will soon notice that bargaining is something very common and welcomed, especially among locals. Also, being a tourist in Morocco often means you will be overcharged. That’s why you should not be shy to haggle with shop owners and taxi drivers.