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Marrakech is the tourist capital of Morocco. Since the early 2000’s when budget flights to the region became popular, travellers have been flocking to Marrakech to experience the best the city has to offer.
Getting to and from Marrakech
Marrakech Menara Airport is located just outside the city. It has links to a number of cities across Europe and is very well connected with budget airlines. Easyjet and Ryanair have countless flights to Marrakech from various cities in the UK and Europe. A lot of legacy carriers also fly from major European capitals such as British Airways and Air France.
If you are already in Morocco, you can fly into Marrakech from Casablanca on Royal Air Maroc. You can also travel by train using the rail service that links to Casablanca and other cities in the north of the country. There are also buses that run to all parts of the country.
Getting to and from the airport
Money changers and getting a SIM Card in Marrakech Airport
When you arrive at the airport, you can get a local SIM card just after passing through immigration, opposite the baggage carousels. There are small stores from both and Orange and Inwi. However there were large queues each time I have walked past them (as you would expect with hundreds of tourists arriving at the same time) so I got my SIM card in the city centre from Orange with no problems. It cost 100DH for 20GB of data for one month.
There are also a few money changers and some ATM’s in the airport, watch out for the extortionate fees from the ATM’s. They actually had good rates for exchanging Euro’s when I was there.
To get into the city, you can arrange an airport pick up if your accommodation can arrange it, take one of the numerous taxi’s that wait outside. Expect to pay between 70-110 Dirham to the Medina.
Getting from Marrakech Airport to the centre with public transport
At the far side of the car park is the number 19 city bus which runs every 30 minutes to the Medina, bus station, train station and back to the airport. This costs 30 dirham but you can use the ticket as a return to the airport anytime within two weeks. Make sure you have some small notes in change if possible.
An even cheaper option is to walk out the airport onto the main road. 100m further on is a local bus stop for the 12 and 18 Alsa bus routes which also go close to the Medina and to other parts of the city. They run up to every 15 minutes and cost only 4 Dirham. These definitely won’t be able to exchange large notes and coins are preferable.
Where to stay (Best Neighbourhoods in Marrakech)
Many travellers will want to stay in the Medina in a traditional riad, a Moroccan courtyard with rooms coming off it. And why wouldn’t you! There are hundreds of Riads to choose from in the Medina ranging from basic family owned riads to luxury riads costing £100’s per night.
Looking for somewhere even more upmarket but outside the Medina? Check out the Hivernage neighbouhood just to the east of the Medina. It contains international big name hotels such as the Savoy, Four Seasons and Sofitel, and is also home to some of some very desirable shopping districts. M Avenue is the new luxury shopping Marrakech. The street is mostly pedestrianised but I did see plenty of Porsches when walking to it!
Gueliz is another option to stay if you are looking for a more modern liberal side to Marrakech. Home of university’s, bars and modern coffee shops, Gueliz would be considered a hipster neighborgood in other European cities but it still maintains its Moroccan charm. Gueliz is also a great option if you are exploring other parts of the country using public transport as it is close to the train and Supratours bus station.
What to see in Marrakech
Jemaa El Fna Square
When you picture Marrakech, you are probably picturing the Jemaa El Fna square. One of the largest squares in north Africa, it is in the heart of the Medina. During the day there are juice sellers and a smattering of guides, but at night is when it really comes alive.
As the sun sets, the previously empty square becomes abuzz with noise as musicians, snake charmers and street food sellers fill the square as they would have done for centuries. Choose one of the bars or cafes around the edge to watch the place come alive.
Note: As a tourist heavy place watch out for the usual scams and pickpockets. I didn’t experience anything bad but I have heard stories. Keep your wits about you and it is fine to say no to anyone that wants to be a bit too friendly. If you want a photo with anyone in traditional dress, be prepared to cough up a few dirham for the privilege.
From the Jemaa El Fna,you can see the Koutoubia Mosque and its stunning minaret. Over 850 years old and still in use as a mosque today, it is the largest and oldest mosque in Marrakech. It is set close to some beautiful gardens and is well worth a stroll around. Non muslims are not allowed inside but it is still just as beautiful to see the traditional style architecture from the outside.
There are a few gardens dotted around Marrakech such as the vast Menara Gardens near Hivernage and the Cyber Gardens near the Medina but the number one thing to do in Marrakech according to TripAdvisor is to visit the Jardin Majorelle-Yves Saint Laurent Mansion or names after the French fashion designer Yves St Lauren who designed and built it.
The cost to get into the YSL Gardens is 120DH for foreigners (about £10, $12USD) which I personally think is extortionate for what you see. I walked around the entire gardens twice and walked around the gift shop and I was still done within 30 minutes. It’s full of people posing for their Instagram photos meaning sometimes you may have to queue to walk along a walk way. After reading reviews, others seem to love the gardens, the peace and quiet and the shade to avoid the heat. If that is what you like then go for it, but I personally didn’t think it was worth it.
The Atlas mountains can be seen from the centre of Marrakech. This mountain range runs the length of Morocco and has a traditional Berber culture as opposed to the more Arab culture in the rest of the country. The easiest way to visit the Atlas Mountains, especially if you are short on time, is to take a day tour. There are plenty that depart from Marrakech such as the ones found on GetYourGuide, AirBnB experiences and even through your hotel.
Best bars and restaurants in Marrakech
Where to eat and drink in Marrakech is often a subjective experience depending on your likes and dislikes and even what you feel like eating at the time. It also depends on where you stay.
The best place to go if you want views over Jemaa El Fna is Le Marrakchi or Cafe Glacier.
Cafe Glacier is further south and has better views of the entire square on their entirely open rooftop terrace however there is no table service and the drinks are pricey. Le Marrakchi is one of the only places with rooftop views of the square that serves alcohol but you’ll have to try and book ahead if you want a meal with a view at peak time (sunset and just after). The tables are quite cramped in but having a beer or cocktail with a view after a day of sightseeing makes it worth it.
You must try a tagine whilst in Marrakech and various restaurants have their own variety. Almost all meals come with plenty of bread and the most amazing olives as appetizers. For breakfast, many places have a Le Morrocain breakfast, a fusion of French and local, eggs cooked with olives in a tagine pot with a coffee and bread, a must have to start your day!
For those wanting to stay up a bit later, head to Gueliz and Mix Marrakech, a bar/ restaurant that turns nightclub. It has an exclusive vibe without being pretentious. I never expected to have such a good night out in Marrakech!
Opposite Mix is another restaurant that deserves a mention. Dar Ima is a kosher restaurant that caters to small population of Jews in Marrakech and their lamb tagine deserves a special mention.
Since Marrakech became a major destination for European budget carriers, its tourism has exploded.
I would highly recommend heading to Marrakech for a long weekend period from Europe or using it as a jumping off point to explore the rest of Morocco and hoping this guide has helped you make the decision to pack your bag and take the plunge!
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.