Once again welcome back to ToscaTravels
It’s time for a brand new city guide! This time we’re heading to a new continent: Africa.
I’m going to share with you my experience in one of Morocco’s major cities: Marrakech!
Here’s what you’ll find in this guide: useful and concrete information about the city, how to get there, what to see/do, where to eat and where to stay. Marrakech is not a city, it’s a life experience, let’s discover why.
– USEFUL INFORMATION ABOUT MARRAKECH –
Let’s begin with some basic information, so you can find out how to approach Marrakech:
- Location: Marrakech is one of Morocco major cities and it’s located in the south-eastern part of the country, 550km (341 miles) from the Sahara desert (12+ hours drive, often split in two days).
- Population: 1 Million.
- Language: the official language is Arabic, even though most of people speaks French and few people out of hotels, restaurants and riads speak English.
- Weather: July and August are the hottest month in Marrakech with an average temperature of 35-40°C (85-104°F), the coldest month is January with an average temperature of 13°C (55°F).
- Marrakech is frequently referred as the “Red city” because of the shade of the walls surrounding its old town district.
- In general, non-Muslims aren’t allowed to visit mosques around Marrakech and Morocco in general.
Moroccan Dirham is Morocco’s currency. When it comes to exchange your money, you need to pay the right attention to avoid scams. Here’s couple tips:
- Current exchange rate is: 1€ ≅ 10 Moroccan Dirham (1£ is exchanged for 12 Moroccan Dirhams and 1$ for 9.5 Moroccan Dirham).
- Do not change your money at exchange offices or at least leave this as your last option. They won’t give you the rate displayed and when you’ll notice you’ve been ripped off, it will be too late.
- If you have any kind of credit/debit card, use it as much as you can in order to avoid cash.
- Some attractions in Marrakech don’t accept cards, so the best thing to do is to withdraw from a bank ATM, which will charge the smallest fee.
- Always check your change after paying with cash, a quite common scam is to give fake money as change.
- Nothing out of restaurants and hotels has a fixed price, you need to bargain in order to avoid getting ripped off and pay 5 times more than what you should (especially taxi fares and local shops).
– HOW TO GET THERE –
Marrakech Menara Airport is an international airport located 5km (3.1 miles) south-west from the city centre. The airport is served by many European and international airlines including low cost flights operating by Ryanair and Easyjet.
Passport checks could take a while, we waited almost half an hour, but it could be faster or slower depending on air traffic.
It’s now time to head to the city centre, but how?
You basically have to choose between taking a taxi or a bus, but the best choice is to take a taxi, here’s some info:
- Cost: 50-100 Moroccan Dirhams (5-10€), depending on vehicle’s capacity.
- Journey time: 15 minutes.
- Where to find taxis: just outside arrivals.
- Tip: Always ask the cost of the journey before the ride and try to bargain if you think the price is too high.
Otherwise you can take a bus (No. 19), but it definitely takes a longer time (30 minutes) and it’s just a little cheaper compared to a private taxi (30 Moroccan Dirhams = 3€).
– WHAT TO SEE AND DO –
As I’ve already told you before, Marrakech is more a life experience rather than a simple city, that’s why I preferred to put together both what to see and what to do. In Marrakech you won’t find a lot of attractions, but the city offers an endless range of things to do and a unique labyrinth of alleys to get lost in. Here’s my personal list:
1. Saadian tombs.
- Saadian tombs are a series of sepulchers and mausoleums built by the Saadi Dynasty, which ruled Morocco from 1549 to 1659. The tombs have been rediscovered just in 1917, as consequence of being hidden shortly after the fall of the dynasty. The mix of Moorish architecture, mosaics and imported Italian Carrara marble are something your eyes won’t forget.
- Cost: Adults 70 Dh ≅ 7€, child 30 Dh ≅ 3€. (Cards are not accepted, cash only)
- Opening times: 9am – 5pm.
2. Place Rahba Kedima (Places des épices).
- Are you ready to buy your own flying carpet? Just kidding, but in Place Rahba Kedima you’ll find plenty of carpets shops, as well as spices shops, which will easily catch your eyes because of their colorful and very photogenic cones; a huge variety of spices are sold here and the color of these cones indicate the type of spice each container is holding.
- Cost: Free.
- Opening times: Shops usually open mid morning to late night.
3. Bahia Palace
- Built in the late 19th century for personal use of sultan’s grand vizier, Bahia Palace is one of the most important buildings in Marrakech. This palace is huge and counts more than 150 rooms, different gardens and patios. Despite its quite “young” age and the lack of decorations in many rooms, Bahia palace is one of the best attraction to visit in Marrakech.
- Cost: Adult 70 Dh ≅ 7€, child 30 Dh ≅ 3€.
- Opening times: 9am – 5pm.
4. Drink mint tea on a rooftop.
- Mint tea is something I personally miss every day from Morocco, it’s usually offered as sign of hospitality and trust me, it will be a sort of addiction during your whole trip. There are many rooftop bars and hotels where you can sip your mint tea and have a break by the hustle and bustle of the Medina, maybe while enjoying the sunset over the Red City.
- Cost: We payed 30 Dh (≅ 3€) at our Riad (Ksar Kasbah, from where the picture is taken) for a big teapot and local sweets.
5. Ben Youssef Madrasa.
Photo credit: @grazialovesitaly
- Ben Youssef Madrasa is considered by a lot of people the best attraction in Marrakech. Unluckily at the time of our visit and until spring 2020, this 14th century Islamic college is closed for renovation. The word “Madrasa” indicates an islamic school specialized in religious studies and Ben Youssef Madrasa is the largest one in Morocco and also the most important, with more than 130 rooms and a magnificent interior patio.
- Cost: 50 Dh ≅ 5€.
- Opening times: 9am – 6pm. (Ben Youssef Madrasa is currently closed for renovation and scheduled to open again in spring 2020).
6. Get lost in the Medina.
- It’s not something you’ll do on purpose, but it’s someway natural to get lost in Marrakech Medina. Most of times Google maps won’t be there to help you, that’s because a lot of alleys are not mapped or maybe they are, but in a wrong way. Wandering in the Medina is a unique way to explore the city and it’s safe enough if you pay the right attention: showing off valuable items is obviously the worst idea you can have and accepting directions from strangers is a thing you should politely refuse (most of them ask for money right after giving you directions and in the worst case those directions will be wrong).
- Cost: Free.
7. Majorelle Garden.
- Created by the French artist Jacques Majorelle, Jardin Majorelle or Majorelle garden is a botanical garden but also home of the homonym artist until 1950s. In the 1980s Jardin Majorelle was purchased by the famous French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, which restored the garden and made it as a public museum dedicated to Berber culture.
- Cost: Adult 80 Dh ≅ 8€, students 20 Dh ≅ 2€.
- Opening times: 8am – 6:30pm.
8. The souk
- The first thing that come to my mind when I think of Marrakech is definitely the Souk. The souk is like the soul of this city, an open-air market made by labyrinthine alleyways, dust, colors and the loud voices of merchants. You can basically find everything here, from clothes to food to traditional moroccan products; it could become a bit stressful because of the constant mess, but it’s definitely something you should experience if you want to say you’ve been to Marrakech for real.
- Cost: Free (Be sure to bargain the price if you’re buying something, it’s usually considered a success paying one third of the asking price).
- Opening times: From mid morning to late night.
Last tip: If you’re visiting Jemaa El Fna, the main square of Marrakech, avoid taking pictures of monkeys handlers or snake charmers, they always ask you for money and they could be very insistent if you refuse to pay.
– WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK –
Morocco has an incredible food scene made of delicious local food, from Tajine (slow-cooked meat or vegetables in a conic clay pot) to traditional sweets and, of course, Couscous, probably the most famous dish of Morocco. Let’s see where to try this mouth-watering food in Marrakech:
- Probably the most insta-famous place to eat in Marrakech, Nomad offers a wide range of local dishes that you can taste both inside or on their beautiful terrace; the restaurant is located close to Place Rahba Kedima (n.2 in things to see section). I strongly advise you to book your table in advance (1 or 2 days), especially if you’re interested in dining on the terrace.
- Cost: €€€
2. Kasbah Café.
- Located in the southern part of the Medina (close to Saadian Tombs), Kasbah Café offers a relaxed atmosphere where you can taste different types of Tagine, traditional and international food. I obviously have to mention their terrace, with a spectacular view of Moulay El Yazid mosque; the staff is very welcoming and the prices are reasonable.
- Cost: €€€
3. Café Des Épices.
- Located in Place Rahba Kedima, Café Des Épices is the perfect place to enjoy local food or drink some good mint tea. It’s the perfect stop if you’re visiting the souk and need some refreshment: food and drinks are served at any hour and, of course, the Café has a lovely panoramic terrace.
- Cost: €€€
- Shtatto is one of the best rooftop bars in Marrakech, where you can both enjoy a drink or taste their delicious food; with a modern but cozy design, this place will give you a break from the hustle and bustle of the Medina. The staff is very friendly, the atmosphere is great and there’s also some nice music to relax and chill.
- Cost: €€€
– WHERE TO STAY –
We stayed at the beautiful Ksar Kasbah, a “one thousand and one nights” Riad located in the southern part of the Medina; I really think this has been the best stay of our whole trip to Morocco: an oasis of peace where you can feel home away from home. Stepping into the Riad, you breath a kind of peaceful and relaxed atmosphere you’ll barely believe to be real, especially after walking through the loud streets of Marrakech Medina.
I’ll let pictures speak for myself to describe the beauty of this Riad; the service given by the staff is superbe and every room is decorated in a unique moroccan style: we have been lucky enough to have our room at ground floor, just couple steps from the pool.
I hope this guide will help during your trip to Marrakech or maybe inspiring you to book your next trip here.
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See you next time with a new city guide!