Marrakech City Break
Top Tips for your Marrakech City Break
- Book a Taxi from the Airport in Advance
- Get a Door to Door Service from your Riad
- Don’t eat in the stalls on the main square
- Ask your Riad or see TripAdvisor for restaurants
- The best views of the square are up high – try one of the cafes overlooking it
- Spring or Autumn is the best time of year to visit
- Get your holiday money in advance
- Avoid the Ramadan festival
Ok, you’ve booked a Marrakech City Break but are you wondering what to do while you’re there? Are three days enough to see the city? Gather round and I’ll give you some Marrakech City Break ideas.
You see, myself and my chum John set ourselves this task. This is my Marrakesh City Break guide to help you get the most out of Marrakech. But which is it, Marrakech or Marrakesh? I’ll use Marrakech.
I was flying from London and John from Bordeaux, we were to meet up at the airport in Marrakech and take it from there.
However, things didn’t go as planned…
I’d arrived at the airport with plenty of time but, due to the snow of the past few days some flights were delayed and the knock-on effect was still in force. So, a slight delay but I wasn’t that bothered, as I just hid away in the BA First lounge as I always do.
One of the benefits of being a Gold member of the BAEC (British Airways Executive Club) is that I get access to the First Class Lounge even though I was only flying Business Class and would normally just have access to the Business Class Lounge. (One way to annoy my other half, I’ve found, is to call the First Lounge the ‘Flounge’).
One of the many reasons I fly in Business Class mostly – cost permitting – is that it feels that the holiday has started when you get to the lounge. Also, that carries on through to the plane. It also mitigates the sad feeling as you return from holiday. As you queue up at the airport you are not thinking
‘Well, that’s the end of the holiday and now I have to suffer being cramped in a plane for four hours’
You tend to think
‘Well, the holidays over but at least I get to spend the next 4 hours being pampered and feeling human’
Anyway, I digress, back to the lounge. I had a bite to eat and a nice Margaux in there to while away the time…
Click on any of the pictures to make them bigger
My flight was delayed by an hour in the end but boarding was smooth and my seat was 2C. As this was an A320, I didn’t choose my usual seat, 1C, as I do when travelling in Europe. Most British Airways Europe flights I have been on tend to be on A319’s.
But now you’re saying “Europe? Marrakech is in Africa!” Yes, of course, it is in Africa. But British Airways class it as a European Route. Just one of their quirks, you know?
Pick a seat
My seat choice is because on an A320 there is no bulkhead between the first row of seats and the entry door. You kinda feel like a bit of a goldfish, as everybody looks at you as soon as they come through the door. As can be seen in the photo below.
The short moral of the story is, know the type of aircraft you are flying on so you can get the seat you prefer. If you want to see what seats are best for you, and don’t know the aircraft, visit Seat Guru. There you can put in your airline, flight number and they show you the layout of the plane and you can choose the best seat for you.
As always, I have a solid plan to while away the time on the plane, otherwise you just spend the time hitting the drink! As it’s BA Club Europe, the drinks are free although now they do charge in Economy Class when flying in Europe.
My solid plan while on my flight to Marrakech was to update my ‘Overcome your Fear of Flying‘ article. I used to have a fear of flying and, to be honest, I still have a drink before getting on a plane. As can be seen, above and below!
If you are looking for tips on planning and how to survive a flight, see my Top 10 Long Haul Travel Tips for more information.
Have Bear, Will Travel
But, one bit of good news, Fluff, my travelling bear, got a new sticker for his sky Flyers logbook on the flight to Marrakech! The logbook is something for kids, so the fact Fluff and I got one is ideal! After all, I’m the biggest kid out there. Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional! You give the book to the crew and they fill in all the flight details.
Date, flight number, mileage and more go into the book and you get to keep a record of your child’s, or in this case your bears, flights. It will keep children and bears, amused for a little while on the plane. See the British Airways Cabin Crew for details.
If you don’t fly BA you can always buy one on Amazon, they have a junior one as well as an adult one. I’ve put links to these as well as Marrakech guidebooks at the bottom of the page.
The Bear has done 75,247 miles since he got the book two years ago, including the longest flight in the world.
Arrival at Marrakech
As well as the flight being delayed, customs at Marrakech were abysmal, also adding to my late arrival. I think I was over an hour getting through customs and worryingly, not once did I go through an obvious metal detector even though my bag did.
John was getting worried with the delay for very obvious reasons and I couldn’t get on the airport WiFi to let him know! Fortunately, he was able to spot my yellow top hat bobbing along through customs while he was waiting patiently in arrivals.
Now things got better!
Once united, we headed out to our taxi. A short drive through the rain and we were deposited at the main square and were met by our porter. We were staying in a Riad very close to the main square and it was impossible to get a car there so this system of being met by a porter was a great idea. Thanks to John for that!
I’d advise anybody to get a door to door Airport Transfer when arriving at Marrakech as it is incredibly easy to get lost in the rambling alleyways and souks. And Google or other electronic maps are not great due to the building blocking out your GPS signal. Ask your Riad to organise the door to door service.
The porter had a little handcart which our luggage went in and we followed him to our Riad. Crossing the main square at night, in the rain, following a man with a handcart is a bewildering experience, John and I both found it so. The Riad we were aiming for, in this case, was Riad Villa Wenge.
I can thoroughly recommend this Riad for you city break Marrakech, check it out on Riad Villa Wenge TripAdvisor. It is ideally situated near to the main square. As always, check your Marrakech hotel on TripAdvisor first before booking and read the reviews from real people. While no hotel will please 100% of the people as everybody has different expectations, a general consensus can be obtained from the reviews.
Sightseeing on your Marrakech City Break
So, let’s start off with a cliche.
Marrakech is an assault on the senses.
And speaking of cliches, there are many to be seen on a Marrakech City break. Snake charmers? Check. Souks? Check. Spices? Check. Monkies dressed in human clothing? Check. (Disturbing and so wrong). The sounds, smells and life of the city can be quite overwhelming. The main square is busier than an Ant-Eater at a free ‘all you can eat’ termite buffet.
Honestly, it’s like someone got the life and vibrancy knob and turned it all the way up to 11.
Main Square Jemaa el-Fna
The Main Square or, as it is called, Jemaa el-Fna is the centre of the action in Marrakech. The square is where the tourists congregate, with cafes and terraces surrounding the square on all sides. Street traders, mopeds and tourists all add to the cacophony. During the evening food stalls join the hawkers.
However, I had dire warnings about the food from my Riad, so eat there at your own risk! Check out the TripAdvisor reviews for the square, it’s a case of either love it or hate it!
Hated this bit!
And, some bits I hated. The ‘animal acts’ were the thing I was not keen on. The snake charmers and monkeys with chains around there necks and even some dressed up in human clothing were a real low point. Yes, I am judging from western standards and my western sensibilities.
Also, I know, for the owners of the acts it is very literally, their meal ticket, but I did not like it at all. You pay money and get a picture of the snakes or the monkeys. I guess it wouldn’t happen if there wasn’t a market for it. I shot this video from a rooftop with a long lens so I wouldn’t have to give them any money.
It is every cliche you’ve seen in every hackneyed film. A man blowing into a pipe, which sounds like he’s blowing into an uncooperative weasel, sitting in front of an Asp/Cobra and usually some Puff Adders scattered about.
A cobra when annoyed will rear-up and stand hood spread. A Puff Adder will stay still and just lash out if you get too close. Most deaths in Africa due to snake bites are from Puff Adders.
Here is a video to illustrate what I am talking about. If you are offended by what I have talked about, please do not watch
The snakes are defanged and often have their mouths sewn shut with just a little hole for the tongue, as I am very sure you couldn’t nudge a Cobra with your foot normally without it taking extreme umbrage and bitey revenge.
That aside, the main square is a must see! All human life is there, do go see it!
‘England is a nation of shopkeepers’ Napoleon once said.
One walk through Jemaa el-Fnaa and you could think it had been said about Morocco too! All manner of tat, what I will charitably call ‘souvenirs’, can be bought in the main square and the souks leading off it. I lost count of the number of iPhones and Samsungs I was offered! Certainly, it was mainly Jemaa el-Fna where the majority of the pestering took place.
In the souks leading from the main square, it was relatively pester-free and you can look and browse the shops in relative peace and only talk to the shopkeeper. Then you can start to haggle! If you do want to buy something, never accept the price. You can usually get about 30% off if you try hard! John was desperate not to go home with a carpet so we didn’t tarry in the souks!
Eating out on your Marrakech City Break
We went with the Riads recommendations for two nights and then picked a restaurant of trip advisor for the last night. The first two nights at the restaurants we had a Tagine. For lunch the third day we had a Tagine. On the third night, we were ‘tagined’ out and went for an Indian!
The three restaurants were first night Al Baraka, second night Dar Essalam and finally the Les Jardins de Bala. On our day in the Atlas Mountains, we had the best tagine of the whole trip. And the view! As can be seen below, the view was spectacular!
I found myself in need of a little peace and quiet occasionally in my Marrakech city break as Marrakech can be a little full on! There are a surprising amount of green open spaces and one such is Cyber Park. I was equally surprised how much my eyes needed to see some green after a morning in the medina and the main square. Yes, you can tell I’m a country yokel at heart!
However, Marrakech is a city of contrasts. There is a new part of the city which looks as western as any other. As can be seen above, The Cyber Park was a welcome quiet spot amongst the hustle and bustle. A stroll through the topiary and the orange trees can restore your sanity!
The Park was built in the 18th Century and, I suspect, it did not have the word Cyber in the title in that day and age! It fell in to disuse but it was reopened in 2005. Maroc Telecom pays for the upkeep of the park and is allowed to use it as an exhibition area.
The minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque stands 77 metres high and was completed in the 12th Century. It is located 200 metres west of Jemaa el-Fna, The Main Square. It is really easy to find, head to the main square and it dominates the skyline.
As seen in the previous picture in the restaurant section, it is lit up at night and due to the westerly position from the main square, there are some great sunsets behind it!
To hear the call to prayer coming from it is so evocative. With the sight and hints of spice in the air and, let us not be coy about this, sewage, it makes your Marrakech city break everything you thought it would be! If you have never travelled in North Africa / Middle East before this amazing city will be an eye-opener!
Les Jardins de la Menara
And, speaking of green spaces, Les Jardins de la Menara is a popular spot for both tourists and locals alike. Established in the 12th Century the artificial lake in the gardens is supplied by water from an old hydraulic system, from the mountains 30km away. A stroll through the olive groves listening to the sound of the locals making music with drums and singing is a real authentic taste of city life.
As can be seen in the two pictures above, the Railway Station and Theatre are great buildings in their own right and well worth a look. The Railway Station was remodelled and reopened in 2008. If you are of a certain age, you may know the Crosby, Stills and Nash song!
As can be seen below, the donkey and the car photo sums up nicely the old and new aspects of the city. Yes, there are camels on some street corners for the tourists but it is a brilliant mixture of old and new.
Marrakech City Break – Conclusions
Marrakech is ideal for a city break. I think I would struggle with a week-long Marrakech City Break. But, a 3 or 4 night break in Marrakech, with a trip to the Atlas mountains in the middle of that would be just the right amount of time.
Spring or Autumn are the best times to visit as in summer it can get hot in Marrakech. Really hot. While talking to our guide for our Atlas mountain trip, he said the locals head to the Mountains in the height of summer as it can reach 40 – 45 degrees Celsius in the city. I remember experiencing those temperatures and hotter in Egypt one summer and it’s just too hot to do anything except staying in airconditioning and therefore your trip is wasted.
The souk areas and Marrakech Medinas to the east of the main square do have opening times. John and I walked through the medina early in the morning and every 10 metres the locals kept saying ‘close’, ‘closed’ or ‘no square here’. Then they would try and guide us back to the main square. They were polite about it but you certainly got the impression that they didn’t want you to be there. Go after 10.00 and before 19.00.
Marrakech can offer very cheap city breaks and holidays. There is enough to see and do for free with only a few Dirhams for coffees needed here and there. Do get you Moroccan Dirhams in advance. They are not always in stock at the airports and not every foreign exchange company holds them.
Marrakech is very geared up to tourism in the old bits but I urge you to have a look at the new areas of the city too.
Cheap Flights to Marrakesh
There are loads of Marrakech flights from the UK and Europe. I chose British Airways as I enjoy there Europe Business Class. John chose EasyJet. Below are Economy and Business Class year prices based on a 3 night break to Marrakech on British Airways, you can use their Low Fare Finder tool to find the cheapest deal. If you are not sure how to use it, see my ‘How to use British Airways Low Fare Finder’ page. Also, you can use Avios to bring the price down.
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