Nothing can really prepare you for your first visit to Marrakesh.
It’s everything you imagine.
It’s a place that can be magical. But, for many, it’s much less- chaotic, dusty, harsh. It’s definitely not a city for everyone.
Before heading to Marrakesh for a long weekend trip, I’d been warned by people who had been there that I may not like the city- they said it was too hectic, a total sensory overload. While it was undoubtedly a sensory overload, I loved the city and left eager to explore other parts of Morocco on future trips.
In total, I spent three days in Marrakesh- arriving early on a Saturday and leaving early on a Tuesday. Over the course of three days, I wandered the city, lounged at rooftop terraces, indulged myself at a spa and relaxed at the riads I stayed at.
As much as I loved relaxing at the riads I stayed at, I also enjoyed the peaceful rooftop cafes I found, and beautiful restaurants serving up Moroccan specialities. Tourists have long sought out Marrakesh in search of taste for the unfamiliar. I came to Morocco, excited to try tagine, couscous and fresh juices, and definitely didn’t leave disappointed.
Morocco is a beautiful country. Part of the joy in travelling is experiencing other customs and cultures different than your own. Be open to the experience, including moments where you may feel uncomfortable. If you keep an open mind, it won’t make your trip any less wonderful.
Why spend three days in Marrakesh?
I loved Marrakesh and left eager to explore other parts of Morocco on future trips (namely Fez and Chefchaouen). But, after three days, I didn’t feel like there was a lot more to do, per se.
Whether you’re visiting Marrakesh on a long weekend trip from elsewhere in Europe or making a stop in the city as part of a longer venture around Morocco, you don’t need very many days to see the highlights of Marrakesh. That said, I’m itching to return to check out more riads and wander the souks again- it’s the kind of place where things are a bit difference each time you visit, and there’s always something to explore.
What to Do
Part of the reason I loved my time in Marrakesh so much was because I took it easy. There were a few things I wanted to do, but mostly, I spent time in my riads or just wandering.
If you’re in Marrakesh for three days, I’d suggest a loose itinerary:
- Day 1: Relax at your riad (most serve tea and snacks upon your arrival); Wander the souks in the afternoon (don’t miss Rahba Kedima – the old spice market)
- Day 2: Go for a spa morning; visit Jardin Majorelle and wander the souks in the afternoon
- Day 3: Relax at your riad and wander as you’d like- I’d recommend popping in the Bahia Palace or stopping by Ben Youssef Mosque
Roaming Jardin Majorelle: Designed by the French artist, Jacques Majorelle, it took 41 years for the garden to to turn into the luxurious oasis that formed the foundation for what it is today. Years later, Yves Saint Laurent purchased the garden and redesigned it into a peaceful, colorful space filled with leafy plants, towering cacti and vivid-hued flowers.
Visiting Bahia Palace and Ben Youssef Mosque: Previously a 19th-century palace, Bahia is now home to the Moroccan Ministry of Cultural Affairs. The architecture is incredible- a must see for design aficionados. As the city’s oldest and most important mosque, Ben Youssef is a sight to behold. You’ve likely seen the mosque on Instagram- with zellij tile-work, gorgeous stucco and intricately carved cedar wood, every crevice is impressive.
Wandering the souks: Even if you’re not planning on buying anything, wandering the busy market streets is an experience in itself. Whether you’re after spices, antiques or Moroccan specialities, like a lamp or Berber rug, don’t forget to haggle- never accept the first offer.
Experience Jemaa el Fna: Marrakesh’s main square, Jemaa is always bustling. Packed with food stalls, snake charmers, magicians, musicians and acrobats, there’s endless entertainment. As interesting as you may find the square, be weary of your belongings and be mindful of supporting animal abuse (e.g. the snake charmers and caged monkeys) with tourism dollars.
Picking a spa for hammam: You can’t visit Marrakesh without getting a hammam treatment. Simply put, Hammam is a steam room, similar to a Turkish bath, where Moroccans habitually go each week to cleanse themselves.
Hammam treatment starts with a relaxing moment in a steam room, then the famous Moroccan black soap is applied all over the body to prepare the skin for an exfoliating scrub. After showering the soap off, a full body mineral clay wrap is applied before the treatment finishes with a calming massage. When deciding which spa to visit, there was no question in my mind- I’d seen photos of La Mamounia all over Instagram. It looked incredible.
La Mamounia is one of the most exquisite hotels I’ve ever been to. I thought attention to detail in the riads I stayed in was amazing, but they were nothing in comparison to La Mamounia. La Mamounia is regal. Every detail is beyond, it’s an intoxicating place. Known for its opulence, Winston Churchill was a fan in his time.
Luxury comes at a price though, and with rooms here beginning at £500 during the dates I’d be in Marrakesh, I decided to book a day pass for their spa and stay at more affordable riads in the medina. If you aren’t a guest of the hotel, arranging a day pass to the spa is easy- you just email firstname.lastname@example.org, and can either specify which treatment you’d like in your email, or inquire about their suggestions for the day/time of your visit.
The pass I bought included a hammam treatment and access to the spa facilities (indoor and outdoor pools, jacuzzi and gym). Post spa, I headed to the gardens in the back of the hotel to wander for a bit- they’re immaculate. I didn’t eat or drink at La Mamounia because I wanted to get back to the city, but there’s a beautiful patio lounge and swanky Le Churchill bar, both known for their great dishes and cocktails.
Where to Eat
Le Jardin: A multi-story garden restaurant with numerous terraces, Le Jardin felt like a dream. I came here twice during my stay in Marrakesh- once for lunch, and another time for dinner.
At lunch, I sat on one of the rooftop terraces in the sun and enjoyed a vegetable tagine with mint tea. Dinner was a completely different vibe- the gardens and tables were lit by flickering candles, it felt magical. At dinner, I ended up ordering the same thing I’d had for lunch- tagine and mint tea- super fresh ingredients, so great.
Cafe des Epices: Overlooking one of the busiest squares in the souks, Cafe des Epices is a lovely place to enjoy breakfast or a late morning mint tea and watch the city wake up. Here, I enjoyed fresh fruit and mint tea while waiting for Nomad to open for lunch.
Nomad: Directly opposite Cafe des Epices (and underneath the same ownership as the Cafe and Le Jardin), Nomad is a modern tranquil lunch spot. The roof terrace is expansive, overlooking the medina below, and the restaurant’s indoor seating is brightly and beautifully decorated. And, the food is great- I tried the courgette feta fritters and vegetable couscous. Of course, I had more mint tea, and spicy espresso to finish. If you’re visiting Nomad during the high season, make a reservation to guarantee a table.
El Fenn: Known for their roof terrace with great drinks, El Fenn is luxurious. I came here for dinner one night, and really enjoyed the vegetable chickpea couscous, and banana, mango and cardamom dessert. On a future trip, I’d make a lunch reservation for the rooftop.
Cafe Atay: Whilst wondering the souks one afternoon, I needed a break from the chaos and headed here on the recommendation of a ‘peaceful rooftop’ from a fellow traveller. Not only were the roof terraces (there are three outdoor stories, plus lots of indoor seating) the epitome of tranquil, but the views of the medina and Atlas mountains were incredible. Here, I only had honey crepes, fresh orange juice and spicy coffee, but everything was delicious.
Henna Cafe: If you’re a solo female traveller visiting Marrakesh like I was, this non-profit offering free languages ateliers for women is a good place to take a break from the city.
Before visiting, I’d heard it was unusual to find women eating alone at some of the city’s more traditional cafes, and intentionally marked a few places known for being ‘female friendly’ on my map. Henna Cafe, as its name suggests, offers beautiful henna services and great, affordable food. I came for dinner one night, and because everything was so inexpensive, didn’t realise how much food I was ordering- the hummus, tomato salad, falafel and pear juice were so delicious. And, I loved seeing local woman run the cafe.
Terrasse des Epices: Offering a wonderful view of city below and one of the few restaurants within the medina to serve alcohol, the Terrasse is a nice place to come and watch the sun set. I savoured a glass of Moroccan gris wine and read a book, while the sun set over the city behind me.
Place Jemaa el-Fna: The carts selling fresh orange juice are worth a walk through the square- so good and so cheap (less than £1 a cup).
Where to Stay
Riads in Marrakesh resemble authentic family homes, they’re similar to a bed and breakfast. Many of them are restored family homes.
During my trip, I stayed at Le Riad Yasmine for two nights and Riad beMarrakech for one night. When booking my trip last minute, I was at first disappointed no riad I was interested in had availability for my full-stay, but it was easy to walk between riads, and let me experience two different atmospheres.
The best thing both riads had in common? They were fantastic environments to relax.
Each day, I’d leave the riad to explore for a bit, and then return for the better part of the afternoon/evening to sit poolside or on the roof terrace. Taking time to stand still, do things that bring me joy (reading and writing), and appreciate my surroundings ensured I left Marrakesh in high spirits.
If you’re planning a trip to Marrakesh, I’d definitely recommend staying in a riad in the medina so you’re in the heart of the city. There are plenty to choose from, but my favorites: Le Riad Yasmin & Riad beMarrakech (reviews below), and El Fenn & Le Riad Berbere (popped in both, beautiful properties).
Staying at Le Riad Yasmin
Serene and spacious with a plant-filled courtyard, Le Riad Yasmin has become ‘Instagram famous” for its perfect environment to unwind. A boutique hotel in the heart of the medina, Yasmin is easy to find. Even though it’s right along a main road, the only noise you hear inside is the chirping of birds.
Like most riads, Yasmin is small to ensure every traveller has a personal experience. Seven Moorish style rooms and suites are built around a mosaic pool, and all guests have access to the roof terrace, which offers views overlooking the medina with the Atlas mountains in the distance, as well as plenty of space to lounge and cute reading nooks.
All guests are offered mint tea upon arrival and served a beautiful breakfast in the morning. If you want a fresh juice or mint tea in the afternoon while lounging, all you have to do is ask. Aside from breakfast, I didn’t eat at the riad- if you want lunch or dinner, they request you order it at least a day in advance because ingredients are sourced locally daily.
I loved lounging on the terrace and patio during my stay. Light and airy, both were a tranquil respite from the souks.
After two nights at Yasmin, I walked over to beMarrakech for my last night in Marrakesh. Much like Yasmin, beMarrakech is a home way from home. beMarrakech is actually composed of two riads, connected by a rooftop terrace.
Each riad has its own style, “The Oasis” is full of plants, patterns and colors, while “The Essence” breaks everything down to the essentials of life via traditional woodwork, graphical patterns and classical Moroccan color treatments.
I opted to stay at “The Oasis” in the only room left when I booked- the family room. Because the room is meant for 2-4 people, and I was a solo traveller, I got a great discount. As with the other riad I stayed at, beMarrakech is located in the heart of the medina but offers a slower side of the city. The attention to details and decor is exceptional.
The riad is filled with color, pattern and texture. And, in the heart of it, you’ll find a charming courtyard swimming pool. As the sun set, the riad lit candles and put on soft jazz, which created dream vibes.
I visited the riad in Marrakesh’s off-season, but in warmer months, they offer rooftop yoga and cooking classes. The morning I left, I enjoyed a lovely breakfast poolside before taking the taxi the riad helped arrange to the airport.
Solo Female Travel Tips
Before heading to Marrakesh for a weekend visit, I’d been warned I may not like the city- friends who visited before said it was too chaotic, annoyingly hectic. Coupled with the chaos of the city, I’d heard travelling as a solo female in Morocco could be tough.
At the end of my weekend trip though, I left feeling refreshed, eager to explore other parts of Morocco on future trips.
Looking back on my trip, I found Marrakesh is a safe city to walk around. But, you should take the same amount of caution you would in any other city. And, even I can’t deny there are some added precautions you should keep in mind if you’re traveling as a solo female.
Before Arriving, and Leaving the Airport: Before you leave the airport, take out enough cash to cover purchases on the trip- many places don’t accept cards, and ATMs can be tough to come by. When you exchange money, ask for a variety of notes and coins- some businesses won’t have change for larger bills.
Once you leave the airport, if you’re staying at a riad that offers a taxi service, accept their help. Negotiating price can be tough, a lot of drivers will try to up-charge or tell you their meter is broken. Taking advantage of the riad taxi service also means the drivers know exactly where you need to go, which is helpful in the winding medina maze. Once you book accommodation, ask if they offer taxi assistance and give them your flight details ahead of your trip.
Dress Conservatively: As an Arabic society, Moroccan men have different expectations of women. Remember Morocco is an Islamic society, where women are expected to cover their knees and shoulders.
If you want to avoid getting harassed to the best degree possible, you will need to cover up as much as possible. Yes, you can wear whatever you want in Morocco, but the less you wear, the more attention you’ll draw. If you dress in a way that’s respectful to the local population, you’ll likely be better off.
On my trip, in January, I wore full-length leggings and loose tops/long sweaters. I also wore sunglasses whenever I walked through the medina so shop owners couldn’t see where I was looking. If you visit Morocco in the warmer months, think airy tunics and long, lightweight skirts. I’d also bring or buy a scarf for when the temperature drops, or when you’re in a situation that warrants covering up.
Ignore Unwanted Attention: Besides being unwarranted, I found the harassment to be harmless. Never once did I feel unsafe- it just wasn’t ideal. If you ignore the harassers (mostly young men), they’ll be more prone to do the same in return.
You just need to be prepared to hear how beautiful you are, how much they want to marry you, how sexy they find you, etc. They’ll also make sucking/kissing noise as you walk by, but you have to pretend like you don’t notice. Don’t speak to them and they’ll move onto something else.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings: While this tip rings true for any solo trip, it’s even more necessary in Morocco. Pay attention to where you are and what’s going on around you. Carry a cross body bag and keep it in front of your body. Be mindful of the kind of people who know you’re traveling solo.
Walk with confidence, even if you’re lost. If you do get lost and need help, see if you can find a woman- they’re a lot more helpful than men or children who often think it’s funny to send you the wrong way or try to charge a ridiculous amount for their advice. One thing to note: Most women won’t speak English, so French will be your best bet if you don’t know Arabic.
Be Mindful of People Trying to Scam Money From You: Before heading to Marrakesh, I’d read about all of the typical scams locals try to pull over on visitors. There are so many- from people trying to ask you where you’re going and offering to show you the way, to telling you the road ahead is closed and you need to go a different route, to trying to point you in the direction of the “main square” at all times, to offering to show you the tanneries, and so on- don’t be fooled into thinking these offers are acts of kindness. They’re just attempts to get money. Your best bet is to ignore them or firmly say, ‘No’ if the person asking is persistent. Don’t feel bad about being rude, and walk away from a situation if you ever feel uncomfortable.
Extra Marrakesh Travel Tidbits
Language: In Morocco there are two official languages, Arabic and Amazigh, which are spoken in the streets and villages of Morocco. The use of French is a colonial legacy, and French no longer has officially recognized status in Morocco. It is considered a prestige language, and often used for business, diplomacy and government interactions.
Although not widely spoken, you’ll encounter transactional English most upscale places, and find it easy enough to barter in the souks.
Currency: Moroccan dirham. Always carry cash on you for small transactions, and vendors who aren’t equipped to handle card transactions.
Budget: In direct comparison to many places in Europe (or the United States), you’ll find Marrakesh affordable. More and more upscale places are popping up, but even those are good value for money.
Getting Around the City: Walk. You can take a taxi when covering longer distances, but if you visit during a time of the year (as I did) when the weather is pleasant, you’ll have no issue walking around the medina, or outside of it to places.
When to Visit: I visited in January, and thought the weather was ideal- sunny days meant warm daytime temperatures (~60 degrees F). At night the temperature dipped (~40-45 degrees F), which just meant I carried a jacked out with me if I left the riad after dark. I’ve heard the summer months are brutally hot, so if you’re like me and averse to extreme heat, chances are you’ll enjoy visiting in the off-season, as I did.
Tipping: For exceptional service, tip 10%. On service that’s quick or just okay, tip a few dirhams, but don’t stress about it.
WiFi Access: My EU phone plan worked in Morocco, so I didn’t need to pick up a sim, but if you don’t have international service, I’d definitely recommend it. Although Google maps only works so well in the medina, it is still a lifesaver when you’re lost and need to at least figure out the right direction to walk.
Have you ever been to Marrakesh? Is it on your list of places you’d like to experience one day?
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