Mythical Marrakech

During our first visit to Morocco we spent five days exploring Marrakech, a place that I had heard so much about and had dreamed of visiting for years.  Me being me, I obviously planned plenty in advance and gathered as much information and recommendations as I could before our trip.

I love getting advice from other people whether it’s through reading other blogs (you bloggers are the best!), browsing destination guides or asking people I know who have already been.  Everyone has their own style of travelling but when it came to getting tips for visiting Marrakech, my expectations differed quite a lot to the reality.

Here are five myths about Marrakech that we just didn’t find to be true.

Don’t stay in the Medina

When it came to deciding where to stay in Marrakech, I’m so surprised that a few people told us not to stay inside the Medina walls because it was far too chaotic.  Instead they recommended staying outside and just coming into the centre occasionally.  I am so glad I didn’t listen to this advice and we ended up staying right in the centre just a short walk from the souks and Jemaa el-Fnaa.

The Medina is the heart and soul of Marrakech and if we’d have stayed outside I know our experience of the city would have been very different. I loved being woken up each morning to the sound of the call to prayer and as soon as we stepped outside our door we were hit with the commotion and smells of the city.  At night the streets came alive in a whole different way and I found it a truly magical place.

Yes, it may be chaotic and noisy but the Medina is the essence of Marrakech and as long as you have a quiet and relaxed riad to go back to at the end of a long day, where the hustle and bustle outside fades away, like our luxurious stay at Riad Assakina, then you’ll have a wonderful Moroccan experience.

Where to stay in Marrakech

All you’ll eat are tagines and couscous

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating tagines and couscous all day every day because they’re obviously so delicious, but Marrakech has so much more to offer when it comes to the cuisine.  We ate as much as we possibly could (like, seriously, food was the main bulk of our itinerary) and tried lots of different styles of restaurants while we were there, from eating in the busy night markets in Jemaa el-Fnaa to romantic fine dining somewhere like Gastro MK.  Everywhere we ate the food was so good and I could eat it all again right now.

What to eat in Marrakech

There are also a lot of Westernised places to eat serving International food from Italian to Indian, so if you find that you’ve eaten so much Moroccan food that you need a break, you’ll still be able to get your fill somewhere.

What to eat in Marrakech

The souks are crazy

Okay this may not be entirely a myth – the souks are a little crazy and if you haven’t been anywhere like this before then it’s bound to be slightly overwhelming, but I didn’t find it anywhere near as crazy as I’d been told.

The narrow alleyways of the souks seem never-ending but one of my favourite things to do while we were there was to wander through them, taking in all the bright colours, stalls filled with shiny trinkets and souvenirs, and just soaking up the atmosphere.  The locals do call out to you and try to tempt you into buying something but of course they’re going to; this is their livelihood after all.  But I didn’t find it anywhere near as crazy as I’d been told.  Not a single local was unfriendly and I never felt pressured in any way.  In fact, every single person we came across was more than welcoming and even when we politely said no they still kept the big smiles on their faces, wished us a nice day and some even threw in a few jokes for good measure (“3 for 2!!  Cheaper than Boots!!”).

Souks in Marrakech

Some stall holders were perfectly happy for me to take photos of their colourful stalls without asking for anything in return, although make sure you ask first before snapping away.  As long as you’re polite, say no thank and give them a smile, you may even find yourself making friends with the locals.

Maybe we didn’t find it as crazy because we’ve travelled to similar places before (and I also kind of thrive on culture shocks) but it really isn’t somewhere to be hesitant about visiting. It’s somewhere you simply cannot miss when in Marrakech and I can guarantee you that the souks here are completely chilled in comparison to India’s craziness!

Souks in Marrakech

 You can’t drink alcohol in any of the restaurants

While the Islamic culture may not include alcohol, we didn’t find this to be a problem at all during our visit.  Most of the restaurants and riads we visited had a licence to serve alcohol and even though neither of us are big drinkers we were always able to get a glass of wine or a cocktail.  If you do decide to eat in the street markets at night – and you really should as it’s a brilliant experience – this is the one place that you can guarantee they do not serve alcohol.  A group of tourists who had clearly already had a few drinks sat down next to us at the food stalls and asked the cooks for some beer.  I’m sure you can imagine the look of stupidity that they were greeted with.

Where to eat in Marrakech

It’s an ancient city in the middle of the desert

With its dusty orange roads, the hustle and bustle of people everywhere and the noise of tooting horns, Marrakech reminded me a lot more of India than of anywhere else I’ve been in Africa.  It’s a city full of ancient palaces, grand mosques and donkeys pulling carts down the cobblestone streets, all set within the old walls of the Medina.

In part, Marrakech is an ancient city that’s surrounded by the beautiful desert and mountains but it was also a lot more modern and laid back than we were expecting.  We would see a group of women chatting in the street, covered from head to toe in the traditional clothing, and the next moment a local woman would walk by dressed in skinny jeans, high heels and a chic jacket.  There are luxurious hotels, plush gardens, fancy restaurants and classy nightclubs to keep both tourists and locals entertained.  It’s a city of contradictions where the old and new rub up against each other all with a mythical African vibe and this is what made me love Marrakech so much.

Tips for Marrakech

Have you been to Marrakech?  Was it everything that you were expecting?  Let me know in the comments below or at:

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25 thoughts on “Mythical Marrakech

  1. Lauren says:

    Love this post, Ayla! Definitely more to Marrakech than tagines on the cuisine front!! Have to say that I did find the souk more than a little crazy the first time I went – it was only on the second visit that I really felt able to enjoy it.

    Lauren xx | The Lifestyle Diaries

    • Ayla says:

      Isn’t the food just amazing?! I think the initial culture shock wears off and you quickly get used to it. Glad you weren’t put off on your first visit 🙂

    • Ayla says:

      Haha no problem with that! Although before we went I imagined I’d be eating tagine every day but there was so much other fantastic food to choose from so of course I had to give it all a try 😉

  2. Suzanne Jones says:

    I loved wandering through the souks – those stall holders are expert hagglers! If I’m lucky enough to go back I’ll definitely be staying in a riad in the midst of all the action 🙂

  3. Nita says:

    Oh wow! Marrakech sure seems fascinating, and I think you’ve done a great job capturing its essence. Although I haven’t been, I can imagine the craziness of the souks and the streets in general, especially since you compared it to India 😉 Wonderful pictures too!

    • Ayla says:

      Thank you Nita! I know you would love Marrakech – you should make it your next trip over to this side of the world. And of course stop off back in London so we can catch up 🙂

  4. Packing my Suitcase says:

    I wanna go there sooo bad! We thought about spending last New Year’s Eve there, but we ended up choosing diving again 😀
    I hope we can make it there sometime soon. I would love to combine it with Fez!
    When the time comes I certainly will ask you some tips, even though these ones are already very helpful 😀

  5. Ayla says:

    I would imagine NYE in Marrakech would be pretty special. Maybe this year for you! It’s a wonderful place Allane so you should definitely go 🙂

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