Destinations

Marrakech, Morocco

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Read our Telegraph Travel expert guide to Marrakech, including the best places to stay, eat, drink as well as the top attractions to visit, flights and all of the key information that you need to know before you go

Expert guide to Marrakech

Red baked-mud medina palaces beneath the snow-capped High Atlas and a powder-pink ring of ramparts around 19 kilometres of seething souqs, Marrakech is Morocco’s most memorable experience. Founded almost 1000 years ago on the edge of the Sahara, this southern market town grew to become one of the great cities of the Maghreb and a Unesco Heritage site to boot. But Marrakech isn’t some petrified piece of history that tourists come to gawk at, it’s bursting at the seems with an intense density of life and a modern entrepreneurialism that puts Manhattanites to shame. This isn’t a place where you can gracefully glide through. Instead you’ll find yourself telling jokes with snake charmers, dining outdoors in the Djemaa el-Fna, hankering after the latest henna tattoos and getting a hands-on scrub down in the local hammam. Pause for unexpected beauty and banter often with multi-lingual locals, because what are the chances you’ll come this way again? 

When to go to Marrakech

The most pleasant time to explore Marrakech is spring (mid-March to May) when the roses bloom and the days are fresh and sunny. Next best is autumn (September to November), when the summer heat has subsided. Winter can be idyllic in the day time, but nights are chilly enough to warrant booking that bedroom with a fireplace. Don’t underestimate the extreme heat in the summer, when daytime temperatures can hit a sweltering 45C. Also bear in mind that during Ramandan, the traditional month of fasting and purification, some restaurants and cafes close during the day and general business hours are reduced. 

Where to go

Marrakech is a city of moments: gazing on the iconic Koutoubia as the call to prayer rings out at sunset, wandering the Bab Doukkala market buying armfuls of fragrant mint, and ducking under dripping yarn drying to a shade of imperial purple in the Dyers Souk. The focal point of the city’s rambling morphology is the Djemaa el-Fna, its finest sights the sculpted Bahia Palace, the Medersa Ali Ben Youssef and the green cacti garden of the Jardin Majorelle. Come 2016, Marrakech will also have its first piece of museum architecture: a new David Chipperfield-designed Museum for Photography and Visual Arts (mmpva.org).

Getting there
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Know before you go

Local laws and etiquette

While Marrakech is one of Morocco’s most liberal cities, a degree of modesty in how you dress will be greatly appreciated by your hosts. Both women and men should avoid revealing clothing and keep knees and shoulders covered.

Marriage in Morocco remains a highly respected institution. For this reason it is not in the least rude to enquire about marital status and new acquaintances are questioned early on in a conversation. Solo women travellers, in particular, may be prone to questions as to why they would travel unaccompanied. In addition, Moroccan laws still prohibit extra-marital sex, drinking in public and smoking kif (hashish).

Mosques, zaouias (saint’s shrines) and cemeteries are not open to non-Muslims. Also, the left hand in Muslim society is used for personal hygiene and should not be used to handle food. 

Although Marrakech has largely eliminated the problem of faux guides (false guides) some still linger around the Djemaa el-Fna offering help with directions or recommendations for shops and restaurants (from which they get commission). Be firm, but polite when declining unsolicited company, and don’t feel embarrassed to ask for directions when lost. In such situations its best to ask the nearest hanout (shop owner).

Official guides can be hired through hotels and riads or at the tourist office. The official rates are £12 for half a day and £30 for a full day, but private operators and riads can charge up to £50 for a half-day tour and £90 for a full-day tour. 

Essential information

British Embassy: Rabat: 00 212 537 63 33 33; gov.uk

British Honorary Consulate Marrakech: 00 212 524 42 08 46; 47 Boulevard Abdelkrim El Khattabi, Gueliz

Tourist police: 00 212 524 38 46 01

Ambulance: 150

Polyclinique du Sud hospital: 00 212 524 44 79 99

Tourism Office: 00 212 524 43 61 79; Place Adbdel Moumen ben Ali, Gueliz

The basics

Currency: Dirham (abbreviated to MAD or Dh)

Telephone code: dial 00 212 if calling Marrakech from the UK. From inside Morocco, substitute 00 212 in all the above numbers with 0

Time difference: +1 hour

Languages: Darija (Moroccan Arabic); French; Tashelhit (Berber)       

Flight time: London to Marrakech is between 3hr 30min and four hours