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Jaillan Yehia

My Marrakech Itinerary: 5 Must Do Activities in Morocco For First Timers

Written by Jaillan Yehia

Post Categories: Africa | Continents | Morocco | Opinion

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Being from a British Arabic speaking background myself, I’ve always favoured short breaks to Arab countries a bit more than the average English holiday maker.

Something about the atmosphere, the warm hospitality, the delicious food and the general sense of home I get from these countries really appeals to me when booking breaks.

As well as taking trips to Egypt and the UAE, as well as Tunisia in my time, I’ve been to Morocco on holiday more than once, and have particularly fond memories of my Marrakech short break with my trusty gang of girlfriends.

But I realised I never shared my tips on putting together a Marrakech itinerary on my blog, so I decided to compile everything I did in my own 3 days in Marrakech into a little guide to help fellow travellers who want the same things out of a mini break to Marrakech as me. Namely: good food, shopping, culture, relaxation and a little bit of excercise and nature (but not too much).

Why Marrakech Makes A Great Short Break

At just a 3 and a half hour flight from the UK via a selection of low cost and scheduled airlines, you can fly to Marrakech easily and cheaply from London Gatwick and Stansted as well as regional airports, so Marrakech is very accessible for a weekend away.

The heady mix of city plus beach, shopping and surfing, plus desert, mountains and urban landscapes mean there’s something for everyone in and around Marrakech and the culture clash makes it a real experience, even if only visiting for a weekend.

My Tips For A Relaxed Marrakech Itinerary

Marrakech is historic, it’s hectic, it’s usually hot  – and of course it’s a hell of a lot of fun. So it can be easy to feel a bit overwhelmed and stressed if you bite off more than you can chew.

The best thing to do is realise right off the bat that in such a big city, split into so many distinct areas, you can’t cover it all in a weekend.

And if you want to get a taste of Morocco, your best bet is to base yourself right in the Medina for your time in the city and then take 1 or 2 day trips out to the mountains, desert or sea.

Jemaa el-Fna Square at night from above

Basing yourself near Jemaa el-Fna Square is a good idea

On my trip to Marrakech with my friends we made sure we were took care of all the little things in advance, so we were relaxed from the get go.

We decided not to scrimp on transport so got a taxi to the airport in the UK, then had a driver pick us up on landing at Marrakech airport so we could arrive feeling refreshed and relaxed – and ready to shop!

Marrakech taxi sign

We also paid extra for hold luggage because we knew we’d be coming back laden with shopping and didn’t want to be stressed about cramming it all into our hand luggage.

A Word On Moroccan Currency

The Moroccan Dirham is a closed currency – that means it stays inside Morocco and can’t be taken out of the country in any large quantity. In other words while you’re not going to be arrested if you bring a few unspent Dirhams home with you, they won’t be worth anything.

This means that in advance of your trip you will have to think about how you intend to change your home currency into Dirhams. I would recommend bringing some cash to exchange on arrival, and doing the rest of your spending on a card that offers perfect interbank exchange rates for card payments and ATM withdrawals, like Revolut Card which is the card I use for all my overseas spending.

1. Book The Best  – and Most Atmospheric  – Riad You Can Afford

Riad outdoor seating area

The very first thing I did when booking a break to Morocco was find an amazing riad to stay in.

Yes there are plenty of modern and stylish hotel chains in Morocco, and no you will not be sitting in your room much anyway in an incredible city like Marrakech, but you can get check into a faceless chain hotel anywhere, while riads are unique to Marrakech, and the Medina in particular.

So my advice, especially if you’re hoping for a relaxed itinerary with friends, or a romantic break with your partner, is to really immerse yourself in Moroccan culture by booking a stunning riad close to Jemaa el-Fna Square – especially if it’s your first visit here.

If some shopping in the souks and indulging in the cafe culture of the Medina is high on your list of things to do in Marrakech this is the perfect place to be based.

Getting lost down the myriad of alleyways, and feeling like you’re surrounded by an ancient culture is why you’ve chosen to come to Marrakech after all, and not booked a holiday to Menorca.

I travelled in a group of 4, so we booked a private luxury riad which came with a dedicated staff of two – this means you have a driver and a cook on hand at all times.

This really makes experiencing the cuisine a lot easier whether because you can head to any restaurant of your choosing or you can have an authentic feast of Moroccan home cooking after a hard day of shopping.

2. Allow More Time Than You Think For Shopping at the Souks

Marrakech souk spices

Anyone who is planning out their Marrakech itinerary should allow at least a few hours for a poke around the souks – but if you are serious about shopping on your travels like I am, you will want to allow far more than a few hours, and more than one shopping excursion.

Remember, the shopping experience in Marrakech is a huge part of the fun of the destination, but when you factor in getting lost, browsing and of course all the haggling, as well as the heat, it all takes a while and can be quite a time consuming experience.

Add in all the walking involved and shopping here can be surprisingly tiring. A huge part of the fun is in browsing, and taking traders’ offers of a negotiation over a mint tea. Once while shopping in Cairo I was even offered to sit down with some stall holders and share their lunch with them (after I commented on how delicious it looked). So don’t stress yourself out by being in a rush.

Whether you’re looking to buy shoes, silk or spices, leather goods or lamps – or in my case a combination of all of the above – set aside more than one chunk of time in your Marrakech itinerary for browsing.

3. Take A Day Trip To The Atlas Mountains

bridge over the river in Atlas Mountains

On absolutely any city break I’d recommend a half day or full day trip out of the urban landscape to get a glimpse of the nature of the surrounding area, to see a different side of the destination.

This also means that for the nature lovers amongst us, we can use a city break to assess whether we would like to return to the country for a longer holiday, involving cycling, hiking or other more outdoorsy activities.

Morocco is blessed with one of nature’s most stunning mountain landscapes right on the doorstep of the country’s fourth largest city (after Casablanca, Fez and Tangier) so it makes it a no brainer to use the opportunity to enjoy a day trip to the Atlas Mountains.

I seem to make a habit of travelling with friends who are more fit and active than me: I once holidayed in South America with a friend who had just trekked up Machu Picchu, and on this trip I was with a friend who loves outdoor adventure and had done the climb up Mount Toubkal (the highest point in North Africa).

Unlike my travel companions I prefer a more leisurely and gentle climb, and there are plenty of those available near Marrakech and which you can do in one day.

socks drying in Atlas mountains

Our socks did get a bit wet on this hike, but we dried them in the sun! Fun fact: I still wear these socks.

We had a lovely day out which involved light trekking and included a stop at a waterfall plus a rest stop at a charming mountain pass for a (rather overpriced I will admit) mint tea. Our Atlas Mountains day trip remains one of my enduring memories of my holiday to Morocco so I wouldn’t skip this part.

4. Check Out The Yves Saint Laurent Garden: Jardin Majorelle

Sign for the Yves Saint Laurent Memorial at Jardin Majorelle

Sign for the Yves Saint Laurent Memorial at Jardin Majorelle

It’s one of the most visited places in Marrakech, and indeed the whole of Morocco, and if you visit for yourself you’ll certainly see why. Even in a pre-instagram era the Jardin Majorelle is one of the most photogenic places I’ve personally ever seen.

Designed by French painter Jacques Majorelle in the 1920’s the garden has been open to the public since the 40’s, but it’s the connection to renowned designer Yves Saint Laurent, who bought the garden to preserve it after Majorelle’s death, which has captured the imagination of the public.

There’s a riot of colour once inside and the variety of internationally sourced plants, trees and shrubs makes it a must-visit destination for garden enthusiasts. Yet anyone with an eye for detail and a love of architecture will be wowed by the signature blue walls and the tranquil ponds and fountains here, which create a peaceful haven from the craziness of the city outside.

There’s a small entry fee, and you’ll need to travel just outside the Medina to see the garden, but it is well worth the cost and effort.

And save some of your spending money for the shop – as you’d imagine from any attraction connected with Yves Saint Laurent, the boutique has plenty of beautiful treasures you’ll want to take home.

5. Spend an afternoon sunbathing at La Palmeraie

Murano Marrakech pool

The Murano Marrakech pool area is pretty spectacular

If you can’t fit in a trip to the Moroccan countryside  – or have a lot of time at your disposal on your Marrakech itinerary and want to do more than one excursion – then I’d very much recommend spending half a day at one of the city’s out of town hotel resorts in the Palmeraie area.

There are some breathtaking and palatial properties in the ‘Palm Grove’ region, but it is located a fair way outside the city to the north.  As an area it is lacking any real Moroccan character which is why I advise travellers to stay in the heart of the old city, and come for a few hours: it’s nice to get the best of both worlds by fitting in a visit here.

One option is to book a hotel with a day spa, or a resort which allows you to enjoy the facilities if you come for a meal, as I did at the stunning Murano Marrakech.

Bus blue sky and the old city

The Hop On Hop Off bus in Marrakech

Pro Tip: You can buy a 48 hour pass for the hop on hop off bus in Marrakech for under £14, this will allow you to travel to La Palmeraie as well as the new city, making it good value and help you avoid the hassle of finding transport. Yet because the Medina itself is not open to cars, it isn’t the answer to all your needs when sightseeing in Marrakech.

One option, if you have a flight booked from Marrakech later in the day, is to spend your final few hours relaxing at a hotel in La Palmeraie and make it the final stop on your Marrakech itinerary; that way you’ll come home from your short break in Morocco feeling completely relaxed.

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