I hope you’re prepared to be entertained, overwhelmed and confused like never before! Marrakech (Marrakesh in French) can be as amazing or awful as you choose, what’s most important is to have the proper mindset.
Marrakech isn’t the most relaxing destination, however it is possible to relax while visiting. At the same time you won’t be short of activities and things to do in Marrakech. Whether you want to wander the souks, trek in the Atlas Mountains, relax in the desert or eat your weight in couscous, Marrakech won’t disappoint!
This guide is here to help you plan your trip to Marrakech, no matter what demographic of traveller you identify with. Unlike many cities, where you stay isn’t as important in Marrakech, as it isn’t that big and is really divided up into three areas; the Medina, Nouvelle Ville and the Palmeraie. No matter where you choose to stay it’s relatively easy to visit the other parts of town, but more on that later.
I’ve included insider tips for each neighbourhood below, as well as some of the best accommodation in every price category. In addition I’ve detailed transportation, sim cards and safety tips.
In this Guide:
2. Where to Stay?
Map of Marrakech
Marrakech is divided into three main areas.
The Medina is the old medieval walled city and what most people probably picture when they think about Morocco.
The Nouvelle Ville, also known as the European area, is the second major area of Marrakech. It was created after the Europeans (i.e. the French) arrived and deemed the Medina too uncivilised.
The third area – the Palmeraie – is the stuff of desert dreams, an oasis reminiscent of times past. It’s far from the centre of Marrakech, almost like a separate town, but often included in Marrakech guides.
Today the dynamic of these areas continues to change from more traditional times. Many Moroccan families are selling their homes in the Medina to foreigners (many Europeans now find the Medina trendy) for high prices, and moving into the initially European-heavy Nouvelle Ville. Meanwhile foreigners living in both the Medina and Nouvelle Ville are converting their homes into Riads for tourists. It’s almost like history happening in reverse, bringing a whole new layer of cultural change to the city.
In the section below, I’ve chosen a handful of neighbourhoods to stay in Marrakech which I believe are appropriate to travellers. Even within these neighbourhoods, finding suitable areas to stay can be confusing. Addresses are used loosely in Marrakech (and Morocco as a whole); something might be labeled as “Medina” but in reality is located in an odd or unsuitable area of the walled city.
To help you plan your trip, I’ve detailed these areas with the help of some Marrakech experts. General overviews, things to do, what to expect, plus vetted accommodation suggestions for every budget. Of course if you still have questions, just comment below. I’m here to help!
Say hello to the wonderfully confusing, sometimes overwhelming but always intoxicating walled city of Marrakech; truly the stuff of Moroccan dreams, and the perfect location for a Marrakech adventure.
Just a note – “the Medina” actually can refer to two things; the entire old walled city and the touristy neighbourhood near the big square. In this section I’m referring to the neighbourhood.
The Medina is definitely the most touristy area of Marrakech. Pros and cons; one major pro is the convenience to Jemma-el Fna (the big square and market in the old city), as well as most primary tourist attractions. Being close to the big square means you’re always in the heart of the action, daily local markets and nightly performances. The cons are the swarms of sellers and hustlers, offering everything from new accommodation to tours to souvenirs, which will get frustrating after the first few minutes.
If you’re staying in the Medina, my best advice is to come with an open mind and patience. The Medina is historic and beautiful and if you can look past all the people trying to sell you stuff, you’ll see the city’s soul and certainly leave inspired.
You should stay in the Medina if:
- It’s your first time in Marrakech
- You’re on a budget
- You don’t have a car
- You don’t mind constant noise and chaos
Where to stay in the Medina?
For the backpacker:
Stay at the Kammy Hostel. Situated the heart of the Medina, you can’t beat the location or the price (50 dH in low season…in the center of the Medina!). In addition to being amazing value, it has a reputation for exceptionally friendly staff and sparkling cleanliness. Best rates here.
For the budget traveller:
Riad Arbre Bleu is an amazing choice for an equally amazing price. The stylish riad is located walking distance to all the main sites like Ben Youssef, Dar Si Said Museum and Jemma-el Fna. The riad provides continental breakfast, additional Moroccan meals on demand, aircon, cozy fire place (for those chilly months) and a multilingual staff. Best rates here.
For the luxury seeker:
Should you have the budget, you’ll find no shortage of luxury options in Marrakech’s Medina. However for guaranteed lavishness, choose Hotel Palais Dar Is Aissa. The beautiful hotel has an outdoor swimming pool and garden with the option of a room with a private terrace. Best rates here.
Insider tip: If you’re in the mood for something authentic and want to live like a local for a day, visit a hamman! These public bathhouses have been around sometimes for centuries and are where many Marrakeshis go to bathe as most living quarters in the Medina still lack bathroom facilities.
In the Medina you’ll find a mix of traditional hammans, some intended for locals and some for tourists. If you want a local experience, ask around or just wander and look for a sign. You’ll need to bring a towel, bucket and roughly 10 dH plus a tip for the waiting area staff to watch your stuff. Don’t bring any valuables, just enough cash for the fees and a change of clothes. And also be prepared for a few confused stares wondering why you’re not down the street getting massaged at the tourist hamman.
For a more luxury (and expensive) experience geared towards foreigners ask your riad for the nearest hamman. They’ll recommend facilities more geared towards tourists. These facilities will likely have private bathing areas, plus the option for a massage, facial or other spa treatment. If you’re staying in luxury accommodation there might be one onsite.
Located in the Nouvelle Ville, this part of Marrakech is ideal for the young, hip, and progressive. Guéliz was created by the French when they invaded and to this day is noticeably more westernised than other parts of the city. This can be seen by the high number of European expats who inhabit the neighbourhood as well as younger Moroccans looking for a change of pace. If you’re looking for a fun night out, look no further than Guéliz.
While there is lots going on in this neighbourhood it is noticeably easier to find a quiet retreat in Guéliz and Nouvelle Ville in general. If you’re a solo female traveller, you’ll find it easier to relax alone sans stares of locals here as well.
Stay in Guéliz if:
- You occasionally want some peace and quiet
- You’re a solo female traveller
- You want a decent nightlife scene
- You have a less strict budget
Where to Stay in Guéliz?
For the budget traveller:
While you won’t find anything for backpackers in Guéliz, those on tighter budgets can rest easy at Hotel Almas. It perfectly illustrates the feel of the Nouvelle Ville; contemporary convenience with Moroccan accents and style. The hotel offers aircon, buffet breakfast and a terrace with views of the neighbourhood. Best rates here.
For the luxury seeker:
There might not be a better place in Morocco to indulge in luxury than Guéliz, and there may not be a better hotel to do so than 2Ciels Boutique Hôtel. Located near the Carré Eden, there is an onsite pool, outdoor terrace and restaurant. You’ll be catered to every second of the day from the gourmet breakfast to the bathrobes and slippers in private bathrooms to the top-notch staff. You’ll never want to leave. Best rates here.
Insider tip: If you’re looking for a beverage of the alcoholic variety, then Guéliz is probably your best bet. You’ll find an abundance of bars that double as coffee shops during the day. I recommend Le 68 Bar a Vin Marrakech, where you’ll find the city’s largest selection of wine and a European food menu, providing you a nice break from tajine and couscous. Another good choice is L’auberge Espagnole, where you can indulge in some Spanish tapas and live music.
In the mood to take some wine or beer back at your hotel? Stop by one of the large supermarkets in the neighborhood, such as the Carrefour which typically have bottle shops around the back.
Often overlooked for the Medina, the Kasbah is one of the most underrated neighborhoods in Marrakech. Located in a less touristy part of the old walled city, you’ll have the same conveniences of the Medina without the constant hassle. Don’t misunderstand, there will be plenty of noise and chaos, just a bit more authentic in this step-back-in-time corner of the walled old city.
Stay in the Kasbah if:
- You want to witness everyday life of Marrakeshis
- You’ve been to Marrakech before
- You’re on a budget
Where to Stay in the Kasbah?
For the budget traveller:
Stay at Riad El Noujoum. Located close walking distance to the Medina proper, the road offers traditional Moroccan decor with modern conveniences such as air con, room service and spacious rooms. Awesome value for money. Best rates here.
For luxury seekers:
Relax like a royal at the Riad Shemsi. Close to all the tourist sites but far enough away to truly find relaxation, Riad Shemsi will provide the perfect setting for the vacation of your dreams. Equipped with a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy unrivaled views of Marrakech, there’s even free parking, a fireplace and indulgent breakfast. If you’re going to do the Kasbah, best to do it in style. Best rates here.
Insider tip: Markets abound in the Kasbah any day of the week, no need to wait until Sunday for a trendy farmer’s market here! Wander down most side streets anytime before the evening and you’ll see residents selling everything from chickens to bread to clothing. You’ll need to dodge donkey carts, motor bikes, stray cats and mud puddles, so stay alert! Sure you may not be able to purchase some generic souvenir like the Medina, but it’ll be a fun memory to take back with you.
While not considered a “traditional” neighbourhood of Marrakech, the Palmeraie is where travellers go to truly “get away from it all”. An area of hundreds of thousands of trees outside the city, covering an area of 140 square kilometres. While you may not want to spend weeks and weeks out here, it’s popular for visitors to take one or two nights of their trip to enjoy the serenity before heading back to the big city. If you really want to relax, sunbath and possibly not talk to another soul, the Palmeraie is what you’re looking for.
Stay in the Palmeraie if:
- You want something more romantic
- You’re after some peace and quiet after visiting the big cities
- You want to experience a few nights in the desert
For the budget traveller:
If you want to relax away from the city, surrounded by palm trees and luxury, but not empty your wallet, look no further than Villa Al Assala. Each room has a private terrace and sparkling cleanliness. The property has an outdoor pool, garden, private hamman and lounge. Best rates here.
For the luxury seeker:
Relax in isolation at the Palais Aziza & Spa. All rooms feature aircon, private balconies (or patios), and amazing views of the Palmaerie. You’ll feel like you’re in your own palace complete with Egyptian cotton sheets, bathrobes, fully equipped kitchens and hot tubs. The property also houses a full spa and hamman! Luxury. Best rates here.
Insider tip: Typically the best time to visit Marrakech is either fall (September to early November) or spring (March to May). The weather is pleasant, not too hot and not too chilly as it can be during winter. However, if you want a truly secluded experience I recommend escaping to the Palmeraie during off season. If you can stomach a scorching summer you’ll enjoy low rates, empty pools to cool off and a desert reminiscent of forgotten days. Winter can be nice as well, providing views of snowy mountains and budget friendly rates as well. Just bring warm evening wear!
How to get to your accommodation:
From Marrakech airport public transport isn’t available. This leaves you at the mercy of taxi drivers or your riad. Check with your accommodation first; most hotels and riads offer airport pick up (sometimes included in the price of your room), which saves you the hassle upon arrival.
If you can’t or don’t arrange a pick up, don’t just go with the first taxi you see! It helps if you’ve researched the price of a taxi ride from the airport to your neighbourhood of choice first. Use that as a starting point to barter, ask at least three different drivers before you get in a taxi. Always agree on the price first. You can expect to pay 50 – 80 Moroccan dirhams for a ride from the airport to most parts of town.
If you’re arriving at the Marrakech train station you have two options. Taxi, or if you’re staying in Nouvelle Ville, you may be able to walk. Just be prepared for constant offers for rides if you walk.
If you’re arriving by bus you’ll arrive at one of the two main long-distance provider stations. Supratours is located just behind the train station. CTM is about a 5 minute walk away from Supratours. Again, judge whether or not a walk is feasible (usually okay if you’re staying in the Nouvelle Ville) or negotiate a taxi fare before jumping in.
You can also ask your riad or hotel if they’ll pick you up at the bus or train station.
If you’re arriving by car from another location in Morocco ask your accommodation the easiest route by car. Also clarify whether or not parking is close by. Please note driving in the Medina can be exceptionally stressful and confusing, I’d recommend avoiding this experience if possible. Most hotels in the Nouvelle Ville have better parking and are significantly less stressful to drive to.
Things to do in Marrakech
Marrakech is filled with souks, museums, ruins and parks that you will undoubtedly hear about as soon as you land in the city. Some of these famous sights that should be on your list are:
- Souk Semmarine – Perfect for a day of browsing rugs, clothing and trinkets; bring your best bartering game!
- Jemma el-Fnaa – The main square of the Medina, perfect for browsing Moroccan crafts and produce, all while catching a performance or two!
- Jardin Majorell – The botanical garden in the Nouvelle Ville is ideal for relaxing in the shade among a variety of plants, flowers and modern art.
- Saadian Tombs – The mausoleum of the Saadian Dynasty is a must visit, marvel at ancient Morocco architecture and tombs.
- Ben Youssef Madrasa – This ancient Islamic college is probably the most beautiful site in the Medina, with a long and important history.
- Maison de la Photographie – Browse a diverse collection of Moroccan photography.
- Le Jardin Secret – This 19th century palace is now a large garden and museum, perfect for a relaxing afternoon while you learn about the city’s history.
But there are also a lot of other groovy things to keep yourself busy in Marrakech. Did you know it’s a wonderful city to be active? And not just for trekking in the Atlas mountains! Let’s take a look:
Yoga has recently become quite trendy throughout Morocco, possibly due to foreigners buying up riads and offering yoga retreats. It might seem bizarre to consider on a Moroccan vacation, but many rave about the experience. Morning sun salutations on rooftops as the sun rises over the desert city, followed by mint tea and a poolside afternoon downward dog, can you really go wrong? Click here for a list of the best yoga retreats in Marrakech.
Sure you’ve probably considered trekking in Morocco, but what about a four legged adventure on Arabian horses? Les Cavaliers de l’Atlas arranges wonderful equine outings, either in the Palmeraie location for a desert experience or an Atlas mountain excursion if you prefer. There’s also an onsite guesthouse if you want a multi-day visit.
How to get around Marrakech
Earlier I mentioned the various ways to get to your accommodation; walk, taxi, bus and car. All can also be used to get around the city.
If staying in the Medina, you should be able to walk to numerous restaurants as well as most tourist sites. The exception being anything located in the Nouvelle Ville, such as the Jardin Majorelle and Musée Yves Saint Laurent. It’s still walkable if you’re into “urban hiking” and don’t mind long walks in the sun, but for most people I’d recommend a cab.
If you’re staying in the Nouvelle Ville, you’ll probably be walking distance to numerous restaurants, albeit more Western and European types (think Starbucks and PAUL bakery), as well as all the popular sights within the Nouvelle Ville. But again, walking to the Medina will be tiresome for most.
Taxi is the primary way to get around any Moroccan city, there are technically two types of taxis. The “petit taxi” (small taxi) is smaller, operates only within city limits and is color coded for each city. In Marrakech petit taxis will always be yellow (in Casablanca, they are red). Petit taxis will be your primary way of navigating Marrakech after walking.
Petit taxis are supposed to charge based on a standard metered fare, however, this is not always the case. Check as soon as you start your journey that the meter is running, if not ask for the driver to turn it on (you should also insist on this before you get inside). Many drivers won’t speak English, and some just minimal French but all should understand the intent behind “le compteur” (meter) if you ask.
Grand taxis (big taxi) are primarily for travel between cities or villages. You probably won’t use them if you’re staying within Marrakech city, but if you want to visit one of the nearby villages or towns less serviced by buses, grand taxis will be a good option.
In Marrakech and surrounding areas these can be yellow or white. All have a set fare for each route, so make sure you look up or ask someone the proper fare so you know what you should be charged. Your riad should also be able to arrange a grand taxi transfer to another destination if you ask, in fact riads are generally very good at arranging most things like this.
Grand taxis pick up and drop off multiple passengers along the initial route. You may start the journey alone or with one other passenger headed in the same direction but make more stops along the way. This is perfectly normal, don’t panic. Also note grand taxis usually won’t depart until most seats have been filled.
As with petit taxis, many grand taxi drivers won’t speak English, so it helps to know some French or Arabic. If you don’t, another multilingual passenger may offer to translate. This is a kind offer and is usually purely to be helpful, but keep in mind the “translator” may ask for a “fee”, which you don’t have to pay.
You should also know addresses aren’t really used in Marrakech or Morocco as a whole. You’ll typically be giving a driver a landmark or gate name if entering the Medina. Even if the driver doesn’t speak a bit of English or French they should know the names of popular place markers.
The cheapest, but also most challenging way to get around Marrakech. There are numerous routes and you’ll definitely need the help of a local to translate and explain. However, if you’re up for the adventure it’s always exciting to hop on and see where it takes you, all routes will eventually lead back to the city.
The long distance providers mentioned above (Supratours and CTM) are only to be used when travelling between cities (i.e. Marrakech to Essaouira). So don’t get on one of these coaches unless you’ve purchased a ticket to leave Marrakech!
If you’ve rented a car chances are your Moroccan travels include more than just Marrakech. So once you’ve arrived at your destination and sorted parking it’s not necessary to use your car during your Marrakech visit. The exception being to head out to the Palmaerie or the mountains.
How to get a SIM card in Marrakech
SIM cards are highly recommended for travellers in Marrakech. Wifi is common but not always reliable. Having a SIM card will save you many headaches, especially when navigating the city. Marrakech can be confusing, GPS will come in very handy.
There will be tons of touts at the airport, train station and Nouvelle Ville shopping area offering “free” SIM cards. Don’t take them, they’re likely to be duds.
Head to a friendly kiosk in the Medina with an Orange or MarocTelecom sign. SIMs will be sold with varying amounts of data, typically 2GB, 5GB and 10GB and cost between 20 and 100 dH. Remember most accommodation and cafes will have Wi-Fi, it’s just not always reliable.
If your card runs out of data you can return to any similar kiosk and ask for an additional amount of data. Again this’ll cost between 20 and 100 dH depending on how much data you’d like.
Safety tips for Marrakech
While Marrakech can be hectic and even irritating, I never felt unsafe. In fact, the government in Marrakech has put out very strict guidelines for locals, and crimes against tourists have particularly severe punishments. Tourism, especially from Europe, is extremely lucrative for the city and there are strong deterrents for targeting foreigners. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can just walk around waving cash and jewels, and normal precautions are required.
Common sense will go far – don’t carry a bunch of money on you, have a safe place to carry the money you do take, don’t flash all your cash when you want to buy something. Don’t walk down an abandoned alley in the Medina by yourself at night, don’t get into confrontations with locals. These common-sense things will keep you safe.
Follow local etiquette and dress. This doesn’t mean you need to cover your face and neck but dress modestly. Remember this is northern Africa, not California. Shorts and tee shirts are fine, but keep as covered as possible, especially if you’re female. Also remember in Islam alcohol is forbidden. Alcohol consumption is tolerated by foreigners, but drink responsibly and respectfully (i.e. don’t walk in front of a mosque carrying a beer – again, common sense).
Scams and Touts
If you’re well travelled in this region, you may already be expectant of potential scams and touts awaiting you. Marrakech is no different, however it might be a bit more aggressive than you’ve seen other places, especially if you’re travelling alone.
Touts will be common; the train station, the bus terminal, every souk, walking through cafes. Some restaurant owners will chase them away, some won’t. If you do want to buy something, barter confidently. If you’re not interested, most will go away after a few firm “no’s”.
Scams are also common and often seemingly innocent. At bus/train stations, or the entrance to the Medina, you’ll have people offer to show you to your riad or a restaurant. Sometimes this is genuine, and sometimes they’re just after a tip. In fact, as the Medina can be confusing sometimes, one guy did actually help me find something difficult, and I did tip him. But often you will also hear “oh that hotel/restaurant is closed, let me show you a different one”.
If it’s not obvious to you (and it may not be to the infrequent traveller, don’t be ashamed!) this is typically a tactic to take you to their cousin’s/friend’s/neighbour’s business in exchange for a cut on the side. Usually a firm “no thank you” is enough to send them on their way.
Special Tips for Female Travellers
Obviously I’m not female, however I’ve had many female friends travel the country. One of them has kindly compiled this section of tips from her experiences:
Solo vs. Group
Obviously everything is easier in numbers. If you don’t have much solo travel experience, Morocco might be a country best experienced with a friend or two. However Marrakech in particular is totally doable solo!
Take your usual precautions – don’t go out at night alone, consider staying in the more progressive Nouvelle Ville, and be aware of your surroundings.
While it’s not necessary to wear a headscarf or local dress, you should dress conservatively especially in smaller towns or less touristy neighborhoods. This means covering your shoulders, legs, chest and midriff. Opt for t-shirts over sleeveless tops, jeans or looser pants over skirts or shorts and make sure to carry a light sweater around. Looser fitting clothing will be more comfortable both in the climate (shielding from the sun but not too suffocating) and eliciting less stares.
As a solo female you will stand out, especially in Morocco. Mentally preparing yourself for this will help immensely. Expect a large amount of invitations and the occasional follower.
A common occurrence will be an invitation for tea at their family’s home, coffee at a cafe or to some sort of “site”. Some are genuine and harmless. If you’re not interested, many will go away after a firm “no thank you” or “non, merci” or “la shukran”.
If you do decide to take a local up on his offer, go to public cafes or restaurants rather than a private house. Always trust your gut, if something feels off, just make an excuse and leave.
You will be frustrated with guys who don’t understand what “no” means. Often, women are followed down by men on motos, who often slow down to walking pace while asking questions about where you’re headed. Typically they’ll eventually go away, just express your disinterest.
If you do ever feel unsafe, duck into a store or restaurant and hang out. You can also look to local women for help (more on that below) and more often than not a good samaritan will tell the guy to get lost if you are truly looking uncomfortable. Also be assured that there are plenty of undercover “tourist police” in the Medina looking out for foreigners. Like I said earlier, crimes and harassment against tourists is strongly discouraged and policed.
Local women will help!!!
If you are ever in a tough spot, whether it be a follower or just being a bit lost, your first instinct should be to ask a woman. They will look out for you and not expect anything (tea, money or a date) in return. They understand the gender differences, and will offer accurate directions and might even escort you to your destination if it’s not too out of the way.
Cafe/Restaurants (don’t go to bars alone, don’t go to “men only cafes” alone
Another oddity are “men only” coffee shops, truly unique in this part of the world. They aren’t hard to spot, and exist outside the tourist hotspots. While there isn’t an official rule deeming certain cafes “men only”, it’s clear by the lack of women and tourists. Do not attempt to have a coffee at one of these cafes unless you are comfortable being completely stared at the entire time. And then possibly followed home by at least one of the other patrons. If you are with a guy then it’s okay, although you may still get a few stares.
In saying all this, Marrakech is full of honest and respectable people, just like any other major city. It may take some behaviour adjustments, but don’t let these cultural challenges stop you from visiting and enjoying this great city!