Holidays in Marrakech can leave one fully immersed in the wonders of the Orient, whether meandering through the endless passages of the Medina, or discovering ancient palaces and architectural treasures in the Old Town. But that’s not all there is to Marrakech. Morocco’s bustling metropolis has plenty to offer anyone planning a Marrakech holiday. Here are some important hints and tips for planning your visit.
Optimal travel time for a Marrakech holiday
Marrakech is just a four hour flight away from many European cities. No other destination within such easy reach of Europe can offer such stark cultural contrasts. Holidays to Marrakech won’t require any exhausting long-haul flights, and thanks to countless daily connections from Europe the city can be reached very easily.
Marrakech is an attractive travel destination all year round. Visitors in the summer months should be prepared for very high temperatures, although the cool courtyards of the Riads and shady walls within the Medina will help you to forget the dry heat outside. However, the most pleasant time for Marrakech holidays is either spring or autumn.
In the Medersa Ben Youssef, experience the perfection of Moorish craftsmanship
Ideal length of stay
As with any large city, it is difficult to pin down the ideal number of days that holidays to Marrakech should consist of. Some visitors will happily fly into the ‘Red City’ for a short break or long weekend. Others may devote a fortnight to their Marrakech holidays and still feel that they haven’t had a chance to see everything. Although the latter sort of tourist will rarely be visiting for the first time.
My rule of thumb: Depending on how much time you are prepared to spend on your feet, 2-3 days will usually be long enough to discover Marrakech’s most popular sights and to get a feel for what the city has to offer.
If you are able to spend a whole week in Marrakech, it’s well worth exploring the possibility of an excursion outside of the city, to provide some contrast and to offer a glimpse of Morocco’s fascinating landscape. For many, a detour into the iconic Sahara desert is an absolute must. Such desert tours generally last 2-3 days, and feature, after a road-trip into the desert, an unforgettable night under the desert stars. A sample tour with a detailed itinerary can be found here.
Unforgettable: Desert camp near Merzouga
Combine a Marrakech holiday with excursions into the fascinating landscape of Morocco
Nature lovers might enjoy a trekking tour through the fascinating landscape of the Atlas Mountains. Located just an hour’s drive from Marrakech, this mountain range can be sighted from some of the city’s roof terraces. As such, an excursion is perfectly manageable, even with children. More details are available in my report on a trekking tour in the Atlas Mountains.
During a week-long visit, I have also had some success combining a holiday in Marrakech with a three-day break in the picturesque harbour city of Essouria. Best known for its sun, sea, surf and wind, it offers the pleasure of swimming in the winter months, which, when it is still cold back at home, can satisfy one of the most basic holiday goals. And Essaouira is a real place to be.
The cheapest and simplest way to reach Morocco from Europe is by plane. Numerous direct flights are scheduled each week from European cities. The cost of the flight will often be the biggest expense associated with Marrakech holidays. If you are keen to economise here, it’s worth considering a so-called Open Jaw flight, with a stop en route, somewhere like Milan or Madrid, for example. Open Jaw flights will get you to Morocco, or back, on any day of the week.
Upon arrival at Marrakech’s Menara airport, most visitors will need to travel into the city centre. An Airport-Shuttle or taxi are both good options. If this is the first of your holidays in Marrakech, it may be worth booking a private transfer from the airport in advance. This will spare you the inconvenience of looking around for taxi ranks or grappling with cash-machines, making your arrival as stress-free as possible. There are more than enough new sights and sounds to take on board, as it is.
Sightseeing: What are the must-sees in Marrakech?
Tourists on Marrakech holidays will quickly establish that most of the city’s main sightseeing highlights are located within the Medina, and within easy walking distance of one another.
The heart of the Medina is the Jemaa el-Fna. Anyone who hasn’t spent an evening strolling across this square, with its exotic assortment of stall-holders, story-tellers and musicians, cannot claim to have seen the real Marrakech. From Jemaa el-Fna, a walk of a few hundred metres will bring you to the Koutoubia-Mosque. This is the city’s main landmark and an essential inclusion in any photo album of holidays in Marrakech.
The Jemaa el-Fna
The Bahia-Palace, located in the southern part of the Medina, offers an unparalleled insight into the magnificent living conditions enjoyed by the city’s former rulers. This contrasts with the humble sleeping quarters of the Ben Youssef Madrasa, a former Koranic school and another the city’s greatest architectural treasures. The exquisite detail of the Madrasa’s Moorish craftsmanship has proven a source of endless wonder to generations of visitors.
“You haven’t been to Marrakech, until you have seen the blue of the Jardin Majorelle.“
The internationally renowned Jardin Majorelle is unquestionably the city’s finest garden. Yves St. Laurent and his partner Patrick Berge bought the garden in 1980 and fully restored it. St. Laurent’s ashes were also scattered here, and a memorial tablet in the garden serves as a reminder of his legacy. The Jardin Majorelle is most famous for the magical blue colour of the Villa Oasis. Although the garden is an obvious tourist-magnet, it is fair to say: You haven’t been to Marrakech until you have seen the famous blue of the Jardin Marjorelle.
The Jardin Majorelle is among Marrakech’s most popular attractions
Whilst the above are the most important ‘must-sees’ for anyone planning a holiday in Marrakech, there are a number of other attractions, particularly in the southern and northern parts of the Medina, which certainly merit a detour. Recommendations include the El Badi Palace, the Saadian tombs, the Maison de la Photographie, the Museum of Marrakech and the Dar Si Said Museum.
Other things to experience in Marrakech
The best known attractions invariably attract large numbers of tourists, and it is therefore best to plan your visit for early or late in the day. Of course, Marrakech also offers much to discover in between, particularly in the Medina with its various market-halls, foundouks and countless mosques. The Secret Garden near the Jemaa el-Fna is also worth a visit, as is the Jewish cemetery and the NGO Amal Women’s Training Centre.
If time allows, try filling your holiday scrap-book with a smattering of more unusual adventures: Have you ever been under the knife of an Arabian barber? Or taken part in a cookery course for foodies? Perhaps you’d prefer to just amble into the La Mamounia and linger over an expensive coffee amidst Morrocco’s high society? Or to spectate in the market-hall, as a chicken is carefully relieved of its breasts? What about viewing Marrakech from an eagle’s perspective, high up in a hot air balloon, as the sun rises gently over the horizon? Two hours spent haggling over 100 Dirham, and a little later, embraced into the heart of an extended family? Well, why not.
Cookery course for foodies at the House of Fusion
One thing is certain: as long as you are prepared to go with the flow, neither children nor adults should expect to be bored during a holiday in Marrakech. Holidays here mean experimenting with new cuisines, taking off on interesting excursions and losing yourself in a shopping mecca of almost-endless souks.
Accommodation: Recommended places to stay?
Marrakech has no shortage of accommodation options, with an array of hotels, riads, guesthouses und hostels to cover every price bracket. Backpackers and luxury travellers alike will find plenty of choice when it comes to choosing a place to stay for holidays in Marrakech, whatever the budget. And yes, Marrakech is home to some breathtakingly beautiful Riads, which are worth the visit alone.
If you are still uncertain about where to stay, the Riad Guide offers a carefully curated list in every price bracket. The Riads it recommends are not just extraordinarily beautiful, but are also well situated in convenient locations for exploring the Medina.
Use the Riad Guide if you are still looking for a place to stay
Travelling with children: Marrakech for families
Anyone who travels to Morocco with children will be overwhelmed by the kindness and affection shown by the locals display towards them. Children generally find it a great thrill to wander through the Medina, admiring the various goods on display. To glance over a carpenter’s shoulder, or to marvel at the storytellers. Strange animals, unfamiliar smells, strange noises, the Muezzin, a desert which is effectively the world’s biggest sandcastle– here adventure is lurking behind every corner, just waiting to be experienced.
Nevertheless, the crowds, bustling and assault upon the senses of Marrakech’s inner city can sometimes prove too much for children. As such, it is important to plan plenty of breaks and include sufficient down time into the holiday routine. The air in the Medina is not particularly fresh, and if travelling with toddlers in particular a hectic schedule will quickly become exhausting for all concerned. If you would like to include children in your Marrakech holiday, do them (and yourself) a favour, and find accommodation with a pool. Alternately, you could visit the public pool on the outskirts of the city, or fit in a couple of days in Essouria. Trekking tours in the nearby Atlas Mountains would be a highlight for older or more active children. As always, whatever keeps the children entertained, will ultimately appeal to parents as well, making the holiday a pleasure for everyone.
Children can discover adventure behind every corner in Marrakech
In logistical terms, Morocco is fairly uncomplicated for families and young parents. Many shops sell nappies or baby food, and fresh fruit, vegetables and couscous are readily available. The pharmacies in Marrakech stock a wide range of local and international medications, many of which are available without a prescription and much less expensive than in Germany. The city is also equipped with a number of state hospitals and private clinics, so good medical care is within easy reach.
How much do Marrakech holidays cost?
The cost of a holiday to Marrakech will depend on various factors, so it is difficult to predict the exact price with any accuracy. Costs to consider include the flights, which will usually start from somewhere between 50 and 250 Euros, depending on individual requirements and travel preferences.
Backpackers travelling will find a bed from 5 Euro a night at a cheap hotel und could manage on as little as 10 Euros for three good meals a day.
With a budget of between 20-40 Euros a day, you can easily enjoy your Marrakech holidays without giving much thought to money; including a couple of meals a day and entrance fees. A double room in most Riads will cost – depending on the season – around 40-70 Euro per night. Numerous more expensive Riads offer a more luxurious ambience. Other expenses to consider are obviously shopping expenses and the cost of tours and activities.
Approximate costs for 2 people
The average holiday in Marrakech will last about a week, with seven days and six nights. Two of these may be spent on a round-trip to the Sahara. The costs for this sort of holiday will probably look something like this:
|Expense||Estimated price (per person)|
|Flight||ca. 150 EUR|
|Riad (4 nights)||ca. 120 EUR|
|Food & drink (4 nights + 3 days HP)||ca. 100 EUR|
|Desert tour (3 days)||ca. 110 EUR|
|Entrance fees||ca. 15 EUR
|ca. 495 EUR|
This adds up to less than 500 euros a week, so Morocco is still very cheap as a travel destination. Not included in the estimates above are the costs associated with getting to and from the airport, or other personal expenses.
Naturally this is just a very rough overview of the sorts of costs you can expect from a holiday to Marrakech. However, it serves as a reasonable guide. A more concrete estimate will depend on various factors, such as the sort of hotel and meals chosen, participation in organised activities and levels of self-discipline when it comes to shopping excursions etc
Morocco is an appealing and economical travel destination, located just a few short flight hours away. Despite this, the cultural contrasts with Europe could scarcely be more pronounced. One should therefore always bear in mind that a number of things are done very differently to the way we may be used to at home.
If you want to return from your holiday with fond memories of the time spent in Morocco, it is essential that you are prepared to engage with the country and its inhabitants. This approach will be richly rewarded, because the Moroccans are a very friendly people, who appreciate it when one takes the time to stop and talk and get to know them.
A night in the Sahara as holiday highlight
This Northern African metropolis is a fairy-tale destination, with much to offer any tourist. Anyone wishing to explore the idea of holidays in Marrakech is highly unlikely to regret their decision, irrespective of whether they are on a City Break with a cultural slant, a backpacker trip, or simply treating Marrakech as a stepping off point for excursions further afield. Marhaba!
(All photography: Travelguide Marrakech)