Marrakech is less than four hours away from the UK and in the same time zone, but this colourful North African destination can feel like another world. Here are our top tips for making the most of a break in this fascinating Moroccan city.
- Go Now …or in Spring, or Autumn, but not in summer if you can’t stand the heat. Marrakech weather is lovely at this time of year but in summer, it can get unbearably hot. That said, it is one of the few destinations in the world where room rates are often reduced rather than increased in August, so you could get a bargain peak season getaway. Just make sure your accommodation is air conditioned and has a splash pool!
- Stay in a Riad, these beautiful, traditional houses are built within the bustling medina walls and designed to be a haven of peace from the chaos outside. Most have a central courtyard and a rooftop terrace, so there’s ample space to relax. Each room isintricately and individually decorated with the unique Moroccan aesthetic that uses bright tiles, hammered metal, s
umptuous fabrics and beautiful lighting. They usually serve breakfast and sometimes offer lunch, dinner and snacks as well. You’ll feel like you’re a guest in a particularly fancy house, as few riads have more than ten rooms. Expect a warm welcome and a totally different experience to that of a hotel. (See below for a special reader offer on a break at popular Riad Moullaoud.)
- Hone Your Haggling. Marrakech’s lively markets (or souks as they’re locally known) are packed with bargain gifts. Handcrafted jewellery, bright leather purses, handbags, pouffes and slippers, spices, mirrors and the kind of stunning lanterns you’ll become accustomed to seeing around town. Vendors usually start with a price two to three times higher than the article’s worth, so be strong and enjoy the traditional bartering. Ask for a deal if you’re buying multiple items from one place. Be good humoured and walk away if they demand more – they’ll soon call you back and give in! The further you get from Djemma el Fna (the main square), the cheaper things will be. There are some more affordable shops and stalls near the Bahia Palace. Djemma el Fna has to be experienced, with its lively drumming, fresh orange juice and date carts and smke cascading from the food stalls, but don’t expect to have your picture taking with a monkey or a snake charmer without having to pay for it.
- Book Your Transfer Ahead Especially if you’re staying in a Riad. Marrakech airport is located a convenient 10-15 minute drive away from the main city, but that’s not as simple as it sounds: The medina is a pedestrianised warren and very few of its streets and alleyways are named on maps. Many taxi drivers won’t be able to find the riad you’re looking for and you could end up being dropped off with a long way to walk and even paying someone to show you the way. Book your transfer when you book your holiday and state clearly the name of your riad when you do. It will save you a lot of hassle when you arrive.
- Eat Well Moroccan cuisine is aromatic and unique. International dishes are available in some restaurants, but the local food just has to be sampled. Enjoy delicious tagines, breads, salads, cous cous, olives and freshly squeezed orange juice. Mint tea is great after dinner and very refreshing. Eating at the stalls in the main square is an experience, but try to find a cafe or restaurant away from the tourist hotspots, where you’ll find dining out incredibly inexpensive. Follow the locals to the spots serving up the best food at the cheapest prices! Morocco is a Muslim country, so alcohol isn’t widely available, but you can buy it in some hotels and there
is a Pacha nightclub on the outskirts of town.
- Go to Jardins Majorelle There are two beautiful palaces in Marrakech and plenty of
sights to see, but theMajorelle gardens in the newer part of town are breathtaking. Originally owned by French painter Majorelle whose signature shade of blue features throughout, these relaxing gardens were taken over by Yves Saint Laurent in the 1980s. Wander past calm lily ponds and through towering cactus and bamboo and spot the YSL’s striking bright blue house, which now houses the Islamic Art Museum. There is also a memorial to the great French fashion designer, who was influenced by the colours and textures of Morocco. Taxis from the Medina cost around £4, or for a real treat, take a horse-drawn carriage for about £15.
- Get Out of Town Morocco is a beautiful country that begs to be discovered. Take a day trip into the Atlas Mountains, just an hour’s drive away from Marrakech. Often capped in snow, the second highest mountain range in Africa is home to Berber people, who still live very traditionally and make excellent hosts. Book in advance with a knowledgable guide, such as those at Berber Travel Adventures. If you’re in Morocco for longer, head to the hip coastal resort of Essaouria, or travel to the desert and join a camel train on an iconic voyage across the Sahara.
- Have a Hammam: Holidays in Marrakech are not complete without a pampering Hammam. These beautifully decorated, traditional bath houses have separate areas for men and women and many offer a range of affordable modern spa treatments as well as the ancient ritual bath.
- Take the Kids Marrakech isn’t a destination you’d immediately thinking of taking children to, but the bright colours, food and culture can be really interesting to them. Moroccan society loves children and your children will be made a fuss of. It’s not unusual to see families out eating dinner in the evenings. In summer, there’s a water park open between the Medina and the airport (although taking children in high summer isn’t recommended.) Many riads offer a warm and hospitable welcome to families, but choose one without a splash pool and be mindful of the fact that soundproofing in riads isn’t great, so if your young child is restless, they could be woken by the early morning calls to prayer from the mosque. If you’d prefer the hotel experience, there are plenty outside of the medina walls, many with outdoor swimming pools.
- Essentials Moroccan currency, the Dirham, can be difficult and expensive to obtain in the UK. Take English pounds and exchange them at the airport or at a currency exchange in town. There are plenty of cash points around Djemma el Fna. As with any city break, keep your cash in a money belt and your eye on your bag. You need at least six months left on your passport after the date you’re due to leave Morocco to be able to gain entry. This is one of the most visually exciting cities in the world, so don’t forget your camera! The flying time to Marrakech from the UK is around three and a half hours and there is no time difference whatsoever. Pack a good guide book and comfortable shoes and get ready to experience a unique city break in Marrakech.
Hays Travel offer city breaks in Marrakech from London and Manchester. They have a wide range of Marrakech riads and hotels to suit all budgets and can arrange private and shuttle transfers to your accommodation.
A four night bed and breakfast getaway at the luxury Riad Moullaoud costs from £209 per person, based on two sharing and including private return transfers and flights from London Gatwick. Call 0800 408 4130 or click here to book.
Prices are correct at the time of publication, but subject to availability and change.