Hello, fellow traveler – the Marrakech travel guide is here! In this post I’ll take you along on a virtual tour into the curved pink streets of Marrakech. It’s the result of years of research and treasured tips from fellow colleagues and friends. Mikkel and I visited Marrakesh for the first time five years ago, and it was love at first encounter. For some reason I feel calmer there. Despite all the hustlers, pick-pockets, and loud master-hagglers, it somehow feels like an honest and somewhat authentic place. The old medina is mostly inaccessible to cars, and you’ll find that donkeys and wooden carts are still used to haul everything from everyday produce to building materials. It’s a place where I want to get lost. I’ll wander for hours through the souk and narrow alleys, imagining what’s hidden behind the mystic 11th and 12th century wooden doors. Some hide abundant courtyards, some hide poverty. It’s all there, unpretentious and real.
Marrakech is the perfect place if you never grow tired of street food. You’ll find food stalls all over the old medina, and it’s a great way to meet the locals. Don’t miss out on msemen (a square shaped pancake/flat-bread) drizzled with honey in the morning, a bowl of harira (tomato soup) or bessara (fava bean soup) accompanied by a cup of Berber tea (fresh mint tea sweetened to the strong side). The smoking hot tanjine (clay-pot stews) comes in a bunch of variations, and so does the couscous (pasta granules with spices), of which I’m a sucker for the ‘royale’ edition. And don’t forget to hit the central square, Djemaa el Fna, in the night-time for flame-roasted Moroccan barbecue with harissa (chili and garlic paste) on the side and the sweetest freshly squeezed orange juice you’ll ever taste.
After a busy day eating your way through the medina there’s nothing better than to relax at one of the many hammams (Turkish-like baths). But if you truly need a break from the noise of the souks spend a night or two in a Berber tent in the Agafay Desert at the foot of the Atlas mountains, or go on a day trip to one of the neighbouring harbour cities.
Below I’ve created a carefully curated collection of the places we’ve visited and loved. If you’re planning a trip there I’ve created a downloadable guide for you to bring when you’re on the go and away from wifi.
Marrakech Travel Tips
- Visit in shoulder season. The temperature will reach inhumane heights during May-August. Early March is highly recommendable, as the temperatures are mild and tourist crowds minimal. If you visit during Summer time, try to get all your exploring down in the morning or late afternoon.
- Stay at a riad aka. a traditional Moroccan house with a courtyard. The old medina is abundant with these locally run guest-houses, and some of them are true gems. But book well in advance: They usually hold no more than 4-6 rooms.
- Learn the basics. Many merchants speak and understand English to some extend, and if not, hand gestures and smiles will get you a long way. However, learning a few basic Arabic or French lines may come in handy.
- Learn how to haggle. When you go shopping in the souks there’ll be no price tags. Ask for the price only if you are truly interested – the ‘game’ starts early and it is usually considered rude to act interested just to abort the game right away. Expect a ridiculously high asking price, and know that the ‘right’ price is typically somewhere around half of that. Now it’s your turn. I always propose an offer a bit lower than what I’m willing to pay to save a little room to increase the price when the real bargaining begins. Reaching the right price might take some time, so don’t be in a rush. And don’t be afraid to walk away if you can’t agree.
- Don’t trust the self-appointed guides. The kind who shows up out of nowhere stating that “this street is closed, my friend” or “this is the road to the main square, just follow me”. Those are best dealt with by simply rejecting the offer right away and ignoring them. Keep walking and don’t respond to their continued offerings. At worst, it could end in an unpleasant situation where you’ll feel forced to pay a ridiculously amount for their guidance. If you actually do get lost, ask in a local shop, or seek directions from an elderly person.
- Don’t explore the medina by yourself at night. Even as a boy-girl couple you might experience a bit of hassle, and I would never go out alone for dinner. Team up with fellow travellers or guests at the riad, if necessary. That said, don’t deny yourself a dinner at one the cafés or stalls at the main square. Just don’t stay out until too late, and make sure you know your way home.
- Taxi fares. Always agree on the price beforehand.
- Clothing. Moroccans are relatively relaxed about this bit, but you’ll still draw an awful lot of unpleasant and unwanted attention should you choose to venture out in anything too revealing. Keep the swimwear for the riad pool and stick with something that reaches beyond your knees and covers your shoulders when exploring the streets.
- Avoid tap water. Remember, this also applies for ice cubes and raw vegetables/salads washed in it.
- Le Riad Berbere. Everything you dream of a home away from home. Make sure to book well in advance.
- If Riad Berbere is fully booked, we would check out these places recommended by friends; La Maison and Riad Yasmine.
- Street food. You’ll find some of the best food at one of the many food stalls in the medina.
- Dinner by the fireplace at Le Riad Berbere.
- Djemaa El Fna. At night the place will be covered in food stalls offering all types of street food.
- Nomad. Moroccan bistrot with a good view of the city.
- Café des Épices. Another Moroccan bistrot, just off the woven basket market.
The souk is the perfect place to go treasure hunting for something for unusual souvenirs and decorative findings for your home. We always bring an empty suitcase, because we never know what we’ll find.
- Woven baskets.
- Leather slippers.
- Argan oil. Be aware of fakes – buy at one the pharmacy’s.
- Le Jardin Marjorelle. A beautiful garden and cubist villa famous for its bold cobalt blue colour, majorelle blue. It was bought by fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé in 1980 and became their home during their time spent in Marrakesh.
- Ben Youssef Madrasa. A Koranic School founded in the beginning of the 14th century. Today, it’s been transformed into a museum popular for its beautiful courtyard lined with mosaics and wooden carvings.
- La Maison de la Photographie. A must visit for anyone interested in the history of Marrakesh and photography. Also, treat yourself to a mint tea at the rooftop terrace.
- Palais de la Bahia. One of the major monuments of Moroccos cultural heritage.
- Hammam at Le Riad Berbere. There’s nothing better than relaxing with a hammam after a busy day.
- Scarabeo Camp in the Agafay dessert. Spend the night in a luxurious Berber tent and wake up to a view of the Atlas Mountains. It’s only a 45-minutes drive by car from Marrakesh
- Essaouira. Plan a day-trip to this charming harbour town painted in white and pale blue colours. Just stroll away, visit the local fish market, and enjoy the fresh-as-can-be seafood for which the town is famed. It’s a 3 hour drive by car from Marrakesh.