We went to Marrakech last year in August 2016 (original post is HERE) and it is still to this date the favourite destination I have ever been to. I am still to this date being asked over on social media what I recommend doing there, where to stay and where to eat, so I thought a complete guide would perhaps help a few others too.
Essentially, this guide is for people wanting to spend a few days in Marrakech, especially the old medina part. We were 3 adults and a 3 year old boy. I have also included 10 main tips that I hope will be helpful in preparation for a trip.
Where to stay :
1 - We chose to stay at Riad Azzouna 13 for the first 4 days because it is located in the very heart of the medina, meaning we could do everything on foot. We were able to book the 2 rooms next to each other at one end of the riad. Our suite, Menzeh Jouj, included a very big bath which came in very handy to cool down after a morning spent walking around the hot streets of the old city. The spacious rooms were very tastefully decorated, had air conditioning and we were able to have a homemade breakfast on the roof top terrace every morning (think crepes mille trous, honey and delicious bread!). The staff was absolutely lovely, Saadik the manager was always helpful, joyful and full of good advice. As were the lovely ladies looking after the bedrooms and in charge of the cooking. We will definitely book again at Riad Azzouna 13.
2 - If you do not need to be in the heart of the medina and wish to have a swimming pool, the owners of Azzouna 13 also have another riad Riad Zaouia 44.
3 - We spent the last 3 nights of our stay at the Beldi Country Club, a heavenly quiet hotel 15 minutes from the town centre. It was an ideal way to end the holiday, after having spent 4 days pacing around the busy streets of the medina. The Beldi Country Club was a welcoming, restful spot with large swimming pools, restaurants, a potager, roseraie, glass house with classic music playing and the option to take a pottery class or bread making class for children. It also houses the Beldi glass factory.
The bedrooms were extremely comfortable as were the large bathrooms. We were able to book connecting bedrooms with a small lounge area, private courtyards and direct access to the swimming pool. I had made a video of the Beldi Country Club, here it is below again.
Where to eat :
- Le Café des Epices, 75 Rahba Lakdima in the medina. It is a bit of an institution... amongst tourists that is! but still well worth a visit, the food is delicious, affordable and the location is right onto the Place des Epices, offering a very cool view of authentic marrakech life.
- Atay Café, 62 rue Amsafah Sidi Abdelaziz. We were never able to find this cafe but apparently it has beautiful terraces!
- La Famille, 42 Riad Zitoun Jdid. A beautiful quiet courtyard with a daily set vegan/vegetarian menu. The owners have tastefully decorated the restaurant using local makers and artists, there is even a shop area with some locally made artifacts.
- Le Jardin, 32 souk Sidi Abdelaziz. One of our favourites as the entrance is located on a very busy street and entering Le Jardin was such a quiet and peaceful contrast in comparison. It is a large open courtyard, paved in traditional green zelige tiles, the tables offer a welcomed sheltered and restful spot in the shade. The waiter also brought Charles a leaf of lettuce along with the house small turtle, she was very cute and provided great entertainment whilst we were waiting for our meal.
- Nomad, 1, Derb Aajrane, Rahba Kedima. Another favourite that we chose for most of our dinners as the rooftop terrace could only be enjoyed during the evening in August. Overlooking the city, the Mosk and the Place des Epices, being seated on the highest terrace is a must to really enjoy the incredible location that Nomad provides. Not to mention the delicious traditional food and pleasant atmosphere, especially as the night falls and candles are lit. I recommend you book at lunch time for the evening to secure your spot.
- Zwin' Zwin' cafe, Riad Zitoun Lakdim n4. We had lunch there and it was very pleasant, with good food and a good atmosphere.
- We also went for a very traditional dinner with a show one evening near Place Jemaa El Fna. I cannot remember the name of the restaurant but there are a few in that area and I would think they are all equal and worth an evening for a fun experience. Dar Essalam, 170 Riad Zitoun Kedim, has a great reputation.
What to do :
- Place Jemaa El Fna, it is the main square of the old city, it is a very busy crossroad where you will find fresh juice stalls, monkey shows and snake charmers. You will end up on Place Jemaa El Fna at one point or another, be prepared to be hassled, kindly decline when you do not want to buy something.
- Fresh juices on Place Jemaa El Fna. No one can resist a freshly squeezed orange juice in the scorching sun. On some stalls you can even select the fresh fruits you want in your juice.
- Place des Epices, the Spice Square. This area was quite close to our riad so we walked through Place des Epices several times a day. It is a lot quieter than place Jema El Fnaa, there are many spice and medicinal shops around the square, along with a few good cafes and restaurants and a lot of basket merchants. Place des Epices is also where you can access most of the souks from.
- The souks. The markets where you will find all the beautiful objects, shoes, clothes, rugs and artifacts made locally. It is not as enormous as I thought it would be but you can very easily get lost there that is for sure. Most of the merchants are grouped in areas so you will find all the rugs in one spot, all the baskets in the same corner, all the shoes in one area, and so on.
- Horse cart ride as the sun goes down. Find all the horse carts at the bottom of Place Jemaa El Fna, for 15 to 20 euros (150 to 200 dirhams) you will get to be taken on a small tour for about 30 minutes. Just tell the driver what you would like to see. We did this twice, once to be taken on the outskirts and see the Mosk and surrounding gardens and another time to visit the new city.
- Camel ride, a must do. Our taxi driver took us to find some camels in the Palmeraie where we had a quiet walk on the camel backs for about 30 minutes. Again, preferably do this in the evening if it is summer as there is no shelter from the sun.
- The Mosk and the Koutoubia Minaret. You cannot enter the mosk if you are not muslim but it is still beautiful from the outside. Try to fit this sight during a horse cart ride.
- The Majorelle Gardens, they were designed by French painter Jacques Majorelle. Probably our least favourite thing we did but many people love it. It was far more touristic and busy than the other activities we did. There is a cafe and restaurant in a lovely sheltered spot of the gardens.
- Medersa Ben Youssef, is a must do. It is an ancient school and lodge for science and theology students. There you will get to see the tiny bedrooms the students were sharing and the beautiful courtyard where they studied.
- Bahia Palace is a nineteenth century palace that was built for Si Moussa, vizir of the sultan at the time. It is vast and richly decorated and includes gardens, fruit trees and fountains. Another must do.
- Saadian tombs, a 15 to 20 minutes visit to see saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour ed-Dahbi 's tombs. He spared no expenses and the visit is yet another must do.
- Dar Si-Saïd museum. This museum was being renovated during our trip but it is definitely a place I would have liked to have visited. Oldest museum of the city, it houses the biggest collection of moroccan artifacts, furniture, weapons and musical instruments.
- Douiria Mouassine Museum, is 17th century renovated small house displaying stunning original woodwork.
- Maison de la Photographie, original black and white photography. An invitation in images into the daily life of Moroccans from 1880.
- If you do not want to stay at the Beldi Country Club you can still get to enjoy this heavenly place which offers a visitors' restaurant and swimming pool during the day for only 20 euros (around 200 Dirhams).
1/ Traveling to Marrakech in August is great because it is much quieter with far less tourists BUT it is one of the hottest month of the year as well, so if you are heat sensitive be mindful of your traveling dates, we were easily getting to 40°C daily. Surprisingly, Marrakech also gets very cold in the winter, so that is another thing to consider when choosing your dates.
2/ Do not wait to be thirsty to get water and drink plenty! The little shops where you can find bottled water here and there shut and open at very random times, so buy bottled water from your hotel before leaving for hours of exploration.
3/ Be mindful of your travelling dates, visiting Marrakech during the ramadan, mid may to mid june, means that the medina shops and restaurants will most likely be shut during the afternoon and evening. It would also be kind to behave in accordance with muslim religion if you visit Marrakech during the ramadan and not smoke, drink or wear inappropriate clothing.
4/ The Moroccan Dirham is a closed currency, it can only be obtain in Morocco and cannot be exchanged back into your currency, so do not change too much cash at once. There are plenty of ATMs and currency exchange offices, and the exchange rates are the same everywhere. Euros are also commonly accepted in many places (I bought a rug from the souk in euros) but do check with the seller or waiter before completing your purchase.
5/ Some locals will try to take you places saying there is a special event on that is only happening today... There is no special event, you will most likely be taken to the leather dyeing area, where they will then ask you for a tip. We knew this so never took the bait and visited that part of the city. In general you should not follow a stranger under any pretext, you will usually be hassled for a tip at the end.
6/ Female travelers should be mindful of their outfits, this is a muslim country where women are expected to be covered. It is inappropriate to wear above the knee shorts or skirts, spaghetti straps and low decolletes. A light silk scarf is an easy option to throw over your shoulders if needed.
7/ haggle... but not everywhere! It would be very inappropriate to haggle at a restaurant for example. Do haggle in the souks, for a taxi ride, for a camel ride or horse cart ride. We found it helpful to ask the riad's manager what we should be paying for the taxi ride we were going to take that day for example. Haggle with a smile, you should be able to get an item for at least 50% of the original price. Do not be offended by a persistent seller, always remain polite and just walk away with a smile if you are not agreeing on a price.
8/ 3 basic words that will take you a long way : Salam Alikum (hello), hafak (please) and shukran (thank you)
9/ The streets are very busy with scooters everywhere and life does not really stop in the medina. The streets are still buzzing late in the evening, meaning that you can do a spot of shopping well after 9pm. We felt completely safe walking the streets at any time of the day or night.
10/ Not all restaurants or cafes serve alcohol.