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PLUS: Your guide to the ancient city of Marrakesh
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January 11, 2023 | View OnlineSign Up

Marrakesh is divisive.


Built across the millennia, the Imperial city offers an unquestionably unique experience, serving as a gateway to the vibrance of the Islamic world while retaining cultural ties to both nearby Europe and the African continent on which it resides.


Visitors are, in equal parts, enchanted and overwhelmed by its discordant clash of old and new, light and dark, calm and frenetic. But they never forget it.


Take a deep breath. Embrace the chaos.


Welcome to Marrakesh. 


But before you read on… We’re giving you a chance to head off on the ultimate solo adventure. The lucky winner will receive a ten-day trip to Marrakesh, including 9-night accommodation, breakfasts and dinners, a full itinerary with expert guides, and air-conditioned transport. For a chance to win, all you have to do is…click here. Seriously, that’s it.

| FUN FACTS

It’s a trilingual city

Marrakesh and greater Morocco have a long and complex history. Over the course of a thousand years, the region has fallen under the power of dozens of differing empires. Without these historical moments, the city’s culture wouldn’t be as vibrant as it is today. Nor would its languages.


While a form of Arabic is still the official language (thanks to Arab invaders 1300 years ago), Amazigh is also spoken within the majority Berber population. French also has a significant influence in the region, thanks to France’s occupation of Morroco at the beginning of the 20th century.


You better start brushing up on all three.

| KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

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Embrace the chaos

If resort towns and all-inclusive are your typical speed, Marrakesh will be a rude awakening for you. The minute you step outside your hotel, you’ll be bombarded with unfamiliar sights, smells, languages, and cultural norms.


Winding your way through a labyrinth of alleys and busy markets could be intimidating, but remember it’s all part of the experience. Accept that it will be a culture shock and dive into it with an open mind. It might end up being the best experience you’ve had in a while. 


If you’re worried about embracing so much change at once, book a hotel with a familiar western brand name. That way, when you return frazzled from a day exploring, you know you can relax in comfortable surroundings.

Marra-cash only, please

Morroco still relies heavily on cash, so make sure you can withdraw a reasonable amount. Some hotels and fancier restaurants will probably accept cards, but that’s not where you want to spend all your time.


But, you have to guesstimate carefully. The Morrocan tender, the Dirham, is a closed currency, so you won’t be able to exchange it when you leave. If you take out too much cash and don’t spend it all before you go, you’ll be left looking for a last-minute exchange or blowing it all on unnecessary souvenirs. 

Brush up on your bartering

One of the highlights of any visit to Marrakesh is the markets (souqs in the Arab world). These lively commercial centers are the best place to experience the culture and grab unique souvenirs yourself or someone at home.


While fixed-price shops in Morocco are growing in number, bartering, or haggling, is commonplace, and it’s encouraged to help you get the best price. But there are some things to be wary of.

  1.  Never barter if you have zero intention of purchasing something. It’s rude and wastes a seller’s time.

  2. Be reasonable. Find out how much something should be sold for, and start a bit below that. Ridiculous offers are a disrespect to the seller.

  3. Only accept the mint tea they offer if you’re interested in buying something. That’s a sign they will try the hard sell on you.

| CREDIT CARD POINTS

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Here’s everything you need to know about the Capital One Venture, its welcome bonus and how you can maximize its miles for a ton of free travel.

| THINGS TO DO

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Explore the Medina and Ancient City

The focal point of any visit to Marrakesh should be the Medina.


The Medina functions as the city's ancient heart, dating back a thousand years and marking the original city walls. While the modern metropolis has far outgrown the pinky-red fortifications, it’s still the most atmospheric area to explore.


Set aside some time to get lost in the labyrinth of alleyways. There’s no telling what you’ll stumble across as you wander the 19km walled city. Towards the center, things are more lively, but as you venture outwards, you’ll find a quiet that many claim is the best part of the city.


At its core is the Djemaa El Fna, the legendary night market that’s been a permanent fixture in the city since the 11th century. Unesco named it a 'Masterpiece of World Heritage' for its significance in preserving Morocco’s culture. An evening exploring the large central square is an enthralling one, with snake charmers and henna women rubbing shoulders with the endless lanes of stalls. While it’s moving with the times and not quite the Arabian wonderland it once was, it remains an unmissable aspect of Marrakesh.


Beyond the market square, it’s a good idea to jump on a tour. There are countless historically significant sights in the maze, like the Saadian Tombs, the stunning resting place of the former Morrocan sultans. The Kutubiyya Mosque is another iconic — almost thousand-year-old — landmark within the city, while Souk Semmarine is your number one stop for a bit of haggling.

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Embrace the royal treatment at Bahia and Badia Palace

Few sights embody the former extravagance of Marrakesh’s sultans than Bahia Palace. The sprawling 8,000-square-meter residence is remarkable.


Despite being built in 1860, the site has seen a number of important historical moments in Morocco’s history take place within its walls. Impeccably designed and decorated down to the tiniest detail, Bahia is an explosion of color and opulence that is more than worth spending a few hours exploring.


Not to be confused with the former, Badia Palace is an older ruined royal residence from the 16th century. The dramatic sandstone building’s name means “The Incomparable,” in reference to one of the ninety-nine names for Allah in the Islamic religion.


While the centuries have stripped the palace of its former splendor, the barren walls now provide a unique atmosphere, possibly more in-line with traditional images of the region. The underground chambers are a particular highlight and feature photographic displays of the surrounding Kasbah area as it developed in the 20th century. 

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Get out of the city

Staying in Marrakesh is an engulfing experience. To keep yourself sane, head outside the city and experience a piece of Northern Africa’s astonishing natural beauty.


For the adventurous, head to the Atlas Mountains. You can get there yourself, but jumping on an organized tour is easiest. You’ll find day trips and multiple-day tours. Some will be culture focused, visiting the terraced Berber villages, while others will lean into epic mountain passes and treks.


In Marrakesh, you’re relatively close to the Sahara desert. While it’s still a few hundred miles away, it might be your best chance if you’re not sure when you’ll be back in Africa. It’s always recommended to take a two or three-day trip so you can experience as much as possible. You’ll likely stay in Bedouin camps, dune surf, or even ride camels during your trip. But just seeing this world-famous desert is an experience in itself.


You might not expect it, but if you’re an avid skier, there’s even the chance to hit the slope near Marrakesh. Just 80km away, the Oukaimeden Valley is home to several ski resorts, with six lifts, multiple hotels, and lessons available. Not where you’d imagine learning how to ski, huh?

| WHERE TO STAY

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Affordable opulence

We did suggest earlier that if you’re a little intimidated by the prospect of Marrakesh, a good old-fashioned Hilton or Marriott might do the trick. But, frankly, if you can muster it, it’s best to go boutique. The Medina is filled with stunning centuries-old riads that have been converted to excellent tourist accommodations.


Riads were once home to the wealthy inhabitants of the city and are characterized by their extravagant rooms centered around an interior courtyard. Now, many of these courtyards may feature pools. They’re an integral piece of Moroccan culture and offer an intimate stay, as most only boast around ten rooms maximum.

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Our Top Pick: Riad Kniza

Marrakesh, Morocco 
$$$ | See inside

Set inside an impeccably restored mansion, the Riad Kniza is currently owned by one of Morrocco’s most renowned antique dealers. He’s also operated as a tour guide for decades, with the likes of Brad Pitt and former US presidents signing up for his guidance.


The space itself is breathtaking. The central courtyard pool is a picture of serenity, while the guest suites are warmly decorated and rooted in Moroccan art. The spa is a highlight, where you can enjoy a hammam experience, and the restaurant will spoil you with Moroccan-style breakfasts in the morning and crafted cocktails and local delicacies in the evening.


The fact that you can grab a room for under $200 is nothing short of amazing.


Of course, if you enter our giveaway, you’ll already have nine nights of accommodation paid for.

Book Your Stay

Other Top Picks

| WHERE TO EAT

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Broaden your horizons

Food is an integral part of any visit to Marrakesh. Moroccan cuisine is as spectacular as the rest of its culture, so make sure you carve out some time to enjoy all it has to offer.


At the top of the list is the country’s most iconic dish — tagine. The flavorful stew is served in a conical clay pot where it is also cooked. While the pot is a quirk in itself, the dish shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Our Top Pick: Amal Center

Marrakesh, Morocco
Menu

Doubling as a restaurant and education center for disadvantaged women in Morocco, Amal Center has become an immensely popular spot. Serving up local dishes at affordable prices, visitors can enjoy the local culture while helping the young women become trained chefs and in turn, broaden their prospects for the future.


If you feel like a more immersive experience, you can sign up for a cooking experience with the women and learn how to cook traditional favorites like tagines or couscous. 

Reserve a table

The Best of the Rest

  • Al Fassia, another women-run restaurant, is the place to eat in the city

  • Pay by the pound on Mechoui Alley, where whole lamb is cooked underground

  • Nomad is an exciting restaurant breaking from Moroccan traditions

| WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING IN MARRAKESH

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