Marrakech holidays

Experience Marrakech

Experience [destination]

Best Places to Visit

Marrakech was the most important city in the former Moroccan empire. Over the centuries, the city has seen a stream of camel caravans, snake charmers, desert nomads and all sorts of other colourful characters of northern Africa pass through. Each has left an indelible mark on the city.

The best place to see in Marrakech is the old quarter, the Medina. The labyrinthine streets of this historic district will treat visitors to traditional Moroccan houses, shops, restaurants and, if they gain access to them, exquisitely decorated internal courtyards which are closed off and hidden from the streets.

Inside Marrakech's Medina, one of the must-sees is the Djemaa El-Fna. A visit to this market at night is a quintessential Moroccan experience. Stall upon stall of exotic foods and knick-knacks, snake charmers, musicians, dancers and storytellers vie for the attention of tourists, who are bombarded with all manner of sights, sounds and smells.

Right beside the Djemaa El-Fna are several souks. The souk is a traditional Moroccan market selling all sorts of wares. Visitors here can bargain for shoes, clothes, traditional Moroccan clay pots called tagines, teapots, lanterns and a whole lot more.

Les Bains de Marrakech, a bath house, or hammam, is yet another place to visit if you want to experience an old Moroccan tradition. Here, tourists can be bathed and massaged by scrubbers following age-old traditions.

For a more relaxed Moroccan holiday experience, a day spent leisurely strolling or picnicking at the Menara Garden is highly recommended. The garden, with its orchards, groves and lake, has the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains as a backdrop. Another beautiful garden in the city is the Majorelle Garden.

Gueliz, Marrakech's Ville Nouvelle (New City), is also worth seeing. Here, visitors will get a taste of modern Morocco with its high-end stores, cafés, restaurants and shopping centres.

During the winter months, Oukaimden is an excellent place for skiers. Home to the highest ski lift in North Africa, there are plenty of places to rent boots and skis, at the bottom of the slopes. Snowploughs ensure that the roads can still be travelled, by car ' even after the heaviest of snowfalls.

Fes is widely considered to be the last remnants of the genuine Morocco. With twisting, medieval walls and distinct, Arabic architecture, Fes is something of a living museum. With labyrinthine networks of alleys, huddled houses and souks that are a veritable assault on all the senses, visitors could be forgiven for thinking they'd stepped back in time.

Top Landmarks

Being the most important part of the former Moroccan empire, Marrakech breathes life into its history with many landmarks and monuments, all of which are worth seeing.

Few markets in the world will assault a person's senses like the Djemaa El-Fna, the lively market that happens right in Marrakech's Medina. This Moroccan landmark has been declared a masterpiece by UNESCO.

Right next to the Djemaa El-Fna is a monument that should not be overlooked. The Koutoubia Mosque, with its tall minaret, can be spotted even outside the old town. The structure is best seen when it is lit up at night.

Another place to feel Marrakech's rich heritage is the Ben Youssef Madrassa. A former Islamic school its walls, windows, halls and doorways are exquisitely designed in beautiful Islamic aesthetics.

While in the area, visitors can quickly head to the nearby Marrakech Museum, which houses Arab, Jewish and Berber artefacts, and the Almoravid Koubba, the last remaining building in Marrakech which date back to the era of the Almoravids, the ruling dynasty that founded Marrakech.

One major attraction in Marrakech, discovered only in 1917, is the Saadian Tombs. The mauseoleum houses the remains of yet another one of the dynasties that ruled much of Morocco from the 1500s to the 1600s.

To get an idea of how royalty in Imperial Morocco lived, visitors can take a guided tour of Bahia Palace. Luxurious, grand and ornate are just some of the words that are used to describe the traditional Islamic and Moroccan architecture of this complex.

Entertainment

Nightlife in Marrakech is a combination of traditional restaurants, complete with traditional music and belly dancers, and the hippest and liveliest bars and dance clubs on this side of the Atlantic. But the highlight is perhaps the unique entertainment on hand at Djemaa El-Fna.

Those looking for traditional night-time entertainment in Marrakech can head to the Medina and immerse themselves in the Djemaa El-Fna. After dining on any of the exotic dishes sold at the food stalls, visitors can treat themselves to the street performances right at the square. There are musicians, lively dancers, acrobats, snake charmers, storytellers and all sorts of curiosities which are only found in this part of the world.

For a more modern form of music and dancing, or even a chilled night out in a quiet bar, visitors can head to the lounge bars as well as the hip and happening party venues in Gueliz and Hivernage. In particular, the cafés, bars, and bistros found along Avenue Mohammed V, in the area of Place Abdel Moumen Ben Ali, are worthwhile.

Tourists can enjoy a quiet night with beer or wine at Grand Café de L'Atlas, Café du Livre or Le Grand Café de la Poste. In the posh area of Hivernage, the most popular night-time entertainment venue is Comptoir Darna. This stylish bar is the place to be seen. Visitors are encouraged to dress up and prepare to spend on drinks. Also in Hivernage are some of the most exciting dance clubs in Morocco.

Dining Out

A good start for any visitor to Marrakech is the Djemaa El-Fna. Stalls in this historic market are lined up alongside each other each, with vendors assertively trying to get tourists to grab a seat at their stall and start digging in.

Available here are meat skewers, seafood, bread, couscous, soups, fruits and salads. Visitors who want a Djemaa El-Fna dining experience can head to one of the many cafés and restaurants right in the Medina. Most of these eateries have terraces and balconies overlooking the lively crowd at the Djemaa El-Fna.

Dishes worth trying in Marrakech are numerous. First and foremost is the tagine. The tagine is a dish consisting of meat, couscous and/or vegetables, slow cooked in a conical clay pot.

As a starter, a traditional harira is in order. This soup dish is made with tomatoes, flour, chickpeas, lentils, rice, eggs, onions and herbs. Another dish that is not to be missed is mechoui, a whole lamb roasted on a grill.

Tea, particularly very sweet mint tea, is a popular drink in Morocco. Indeed, drinking tea is somewhat a national pastime here. Tourists are welcome to have a seat in a café in the Medina and savour the national drink.

Parks

The parks of Marrakech are the best places to find respite from the narrow streets of the Medina. One good park to head to is the beautifully landscaped Majorelle Gardens in Gueliz. While here, visitors are advised to visit the Museum of Islamic Art, which is located nearby. The Menara Gardens is another peaceful, postcard-perfect park located in the western part of Marrakech.

Romance

Couples on holiday in Marrakech may find that in this city, they can combine old-world tradition and romance. Les Bains de Marrakech is a bath house which has services for couples who want his and hers spa treatments and massages. A relaxing stay at a riad, a home with a peaceful internal courtyard with a garden and a fountain―features of many homes in the Medina―is a good option for a romantic holiday.

Family

Parents will want to take their children to the city's souks to watch the little ones marvel in amazement at the colourful fruits and spices stacked like towers, the traditional pots and pans scattered all over shoebox-size shops, the row upon row of traditional slippers and other images they have only seen in fairy tales. A fun daytrip is a camel safari or a horse ride at Palmeraie.

Adventure

Marrakech lies near the foot of the highest mountains in North Africa, the Atlas Mountains. Thus, most of the adventure activities in Marrakech take advantage of the beautiful wilderness right outside the city. Visitors can take a hot-air balloon ride or a camel safari. They can also drive all-terrain vehicles out into the open spaces in the oasis areas of Palmeraie or ride four-wheel drive trucks along the Berber trails on the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.

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Need to know

Need to know [destination]

Language

The primary language spoken in Marrakech is Arabic, particularly Maghrebi Arabic, a dialect of Arabic which is spoken in Northern Africa and which is quite distinct from the Arabic spoken in the Gulf States. In the newspapers and written communication, however, Standard Arabic is used. In Morocco, a country that was once a French protectorate, French is widely spoken and is useful for foreigners. English is spoken by those involved in tourism. However learning certain phrases will endear you to the locals. For example, 'bismillah' is a blessing used when starting something, such as a meal. When the task is finished, the correct phrase is 'alhamdulillah'. There are some dos and don'ts when it comes to mixing with the populace, so visitors might be well advised to familiarise themselves in advance and carry a phrasebook.

Currency

The currency used in Morocco, and therefore in Marrakech, is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD, Dh). With Marrakech being a major city in Morocco and a major stop on the Moroccan tourist trail, ATMs are widely available and can be found close to most hotels and markets. Money can be exchanged in exchange bureaux and banks. Visa and MasterCard credit cards are accepted by big restaurants and hotels. Travellers' cheques are not recommended as finding establishments that will accept them or banks that will exchange them can be difficult.

Visas

The entry requirements for Morocco apply to those wanting to visit Marrakech. Citizens from most EU countries, the UK, the US, Canada and Australia only need to present a valid passport. This allows for a visa-free visit of up to three months. It is worth ensuring that your passport is stamped on entry, as there have been cases of tourists experiencing difficulty leaving the country, as their passports haven't been officially marked. Also, the condition of a passport can have some bearing on entry to Morocco, so it's worth checking that any passports to be used are in a good state. Nationals of countries that need a visa to enter will need to pay '18 for a single-entry visa and '27 for a double-entry visa.

Climate

Marrakech’s hottest months are June, July, August and September, making this period prime-time for holidaymakers. March, April, May, October and November are still lovely and warm, however. Just be careful of rainfall during November visits – this is by far the wettest month in Marrakech’s calendar.

Main Airports

The main gateway to Marrakech is Marrakech-Menara Airport, one of the major airports in Morocco. It is an international airport which receives flights from Europe and the rest of the Arab world, including from London-Gatwick, London-Heathrow, London-Luton, London-Stansted, Manchester and Birmingham.

Flight Options

Many flights connect major aviation hubs in Europe to Marrakech. Low-cost British carrier Ryanair has the most links, connecting London-Luton, London-Stansted and many European airports directly to Marrakech. EasyJet, meanwhile, flies from London-Gatwick, Manchester and Paris-Charles de Gaulle. British Airways served London-Gatwick. Charter airline Thomson Airways flies from London-Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester. Flights from across the Atlantic connect in Casablanca. Typical flight time from London to Marrakech is around 3 hours, 30 minutes.

Travel Advice

Those looking to save fares to Marrakech may consider flying into Rabat, Morocco's capital, and then hopping on a train or bus from there. It is best to fly in the middle of the week as Mondays and weekends tend to be busy with business and weekend travellers, meaning fares are at a premium. From the airport, travellers can hop on bus 19 or take a cab, a petit taxi, to get to the city centre.

Other Transport Options

Ferry services which have the capacity for vehicles depart from the Spanish ports of Algeciras, Tarifa and Malaga for Ceuta, Melilla and Tangiers, Morocco, taking just 40 minutes. There are also ferry connections from ports in France, Gibraltar and Italy. Trains connect the Moroccan port towns with Marrakech. Pullman du Sud, CTM and Supratours buses also connect with the capital.

Getting Around

The city of Marrakech is serviced by just one airport and one railway station. Getting around Marrakech, visitors will find a number of options. Buses are plentiful and the cheapest way to get around. Taxis are an effective means to get between sights, even if dealing with local cab drivers can be problematic. International and local car rental companies are available but driving is not advised.

Bus

There are plenty of buses plying routes in Marrakech. National coach company CTM runs most buses, which leave from the central bus station near Bab Doukkala, in northwest Marrakech.

Taxi

Taxis are an effective means to get around Marrakech. Tourists should insist on using the metre or agree on a price before setting off, or risk getting taken for a very expensive ride. Another option is the caleche, a horse-drawn carriage which can be used for sightseeing.

Car

Hertz, Europcar and Budget, in addition to many local car hire companies, are available in Marrakech. However, driving the streets of Marrakech can be dangerous for those not experienced in the local conditions. Roads are usually quite narrow in the medina and accidents frequently occur. It is better to hire a car with a driver.

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FACTS

  1. Morocco is only eight miles from Europe, if travelling across the Straits of Gibraltar
  2. It is considered impolite to handle food with the left hand, during meal-times, or to refuse the offer of meat
  3. Moroccan widows wear white for 40 days after the death of their husband
  4. Morocco has been visited by numerous celebrities and stars, including Winston Churchill, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Orson Wells.
  5. In 1786, Morocco became the first country to ever sign a treaty with the United States of America
  6. Football is Morocco's most popular sport and the national team is called The Lions of Atlas

FACTS

  1. Morocco is only eight miles from Europe, if travelling across the Straits of Gibraltar
  2. It is considered impolite to handle food with the left hand, during meal-times, or to refuse the offer of meat
  3. Moroccan widows wear white for 40 days after the death of their husband
  4. Morocco has been visited by numerous celebrities and stars, including Winston Churchill, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Orson Wells.
  5. In 1786, Morocco became the first country to ever sign a treaty with the United States of America
  6. Football is Morocco's most popular sport and the national team is called The Lions of Atlas

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