Everything you need to know before going to Marrakesh


I lived in Marrakesh full-time for almost 10 years with no intention of leaving. My life in Morocco was colorful, diverse and endlessly inspiring for a curious, creative soul like me. And today the city’s intrigue and magic continues to pull me back. 

I will never tire of wandering the tiny alleyways of the Marrakesh medina, stopping for a nouss nouss at Cafe des Epices or gazing at the art deco architecture throughout my Gueliz neighborhood, stepping inside to discover independent art galleries. 

Picture-perfect guest houses, and chefs putting a creative spin on local cuisine, are also part of the charm. The design scene in Marrakesh is second-to-none, and in my opinion unique in Morocco as traditional artisans sell their wares alongside contemporary designers, putting a new touch on the traditional techniques and crafts.

A visit to Marrakesh is not about ticking sites off a must-see list but rather meandering – stumbling upon a historic site and watching the world go by from a street-side cafe – the city itself is a sight. Allow three days to see the main historical sites, sample local cuisine and take in a bit of shopping, but design lovers could easily spend a week here.  

Prebook for popular experiences like visiting the Jardin Majorelle © Explora_2005 / Getty Images

1. Plan your days prior to arrival

While there is something to be said for spontaneous wanders and chance encounters, Marrakesh is the country’s leading tourist destination and guides, experiences and restaurants book up days, weeks and months in advance.

Jardin Majorelle and the nearby Musée Yves Saint Laurent require online advance bookings via their website. To ensure a table at popular restaurants like +61, La Famille and Nomad, book prior to arrival for best availability. 

2. Book an airport transfer or catch the local bus

It’s best to organize an airport transfer via your accommodation provider for a smooth arrival. Taxis have a reputation for overcharging clients, despite posted rates. A city bus departs frequently from the airport to Djemaa el Fna and destinations throughout Gueliz for Dh30 (cash only). Find the bus stop beyond the waiting taxis, near the car rental offices. 

3. Hone your negotiation skills in advance

From haggling in souqs to negotiating fares with taxi drivers, bargaining is commonplace in Marrakesh. Shopkeepers often state an offer and the buyer is expected to negotiate a price they are prepared to pay. I say: pay what the goods are worth to you. You may find the same item cheaper (or more expensive) elsewhere, but is that worth worrying about? It’s all part of the Morocco experience.

Prior to hopping in a cab, negotiate a price in advance if the meter is not activated, or if it (notoriously) doesn’t work. The price within Marrakesh city limits shouldn’t cost more than Dh30 if the meter is activated. Daytime rates start at Dh1.70 – Dh2.40 at night – and increase based on distance. If the meter does not work, negotiate the price in advance and make sure you have small bills and coins to pay the exact amount agreed upon (the amount will already include a tip).

A cook at a food stall in Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square of Marrakesh, Morocco. Street food stalls in Marrakech’s Djemaa el Fna square Glen Berlin shutterstock_1893472411 rfc.jpg
Opt for food stalls where locals queue, and the food is prepared in front of you © Glen Berlin / Shutterstock

4. Be wise about the street food you eat

Some of the best food is served up street side in Marrakesh. When deciding where to eat, consider how many locals are pulling up a seat to tuck into the local delicacy like msemen (pancakes), harira (soup) or a tajine. In Djemaa el Fna, opt for stalls where the food is prepared in front of you. 

5. Stay current

Morocco’s Dirham is a closed currency, and visitors are permitted to arrive and leave with a maximum of 1,000 Dirhams. Most ATMs distribute up to Dh2,000 per transaction to a daily maximum of Dh4,000 per bank card, though this varies by international bank. All banks will charge a fee.

For the best currency exchange, head to Hotel Ali in Djemaa el Fna or Hotel Farouq on Avenue Hassan II near the train station. 

6. Dress like a local for a comfortable experience 

For women, I suggest ditching any belly tops and short shorts while wandering in the Marrakesh medina, one of the city’s most traditional neighborhoods. Instead, opt for dresses that fall below the knee or trousers and a shirt that covers your shoulders. For men, knee-length shorts or trousers are advised. For traversing the cobblestoned and uneven footpaths, flats are best, ideally close-toed.

7. Don’t avoid visiting Marrakesh just because it’s Ramadan

Don’t put off a trip to Marrakesh during the month of Ramadan. It provides an insight into another aspect of this rich culture. Locals will expect that visitors will want to eat and drink, even while out in public. Guides may join you at the table and won’t want you to feel guilty about eating or drinking. During this holy month it is even more important that you’re mindful about alcohol consumption. 

Dish at Adwak restaurant, Rue de Tétouan n°2? Avenue Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah.
Know your table manners when eating with others in Morocco © Chris Griffiths / Lonely Planet

8. Local table manners

When accepting a sample of olives or dates in the souqs, or sharing a tajine with locals, always use and eat with your right hand. If invited into a local’s home, arriving with some sweet treats will be graciously received, and bakeries – Amoud, Pâtisserie Amandine and Café 16 – are local favorites. 

9. When it comes to love, discretion is key 

Sexual relations between non-married Moroccan men and women are not typically flaunted in public. It is illegal for an unmarried Moroccan to book a hotel room or self-catering apartment with a non-Moroccan. Discretion is recommended when it comes to flaunting one’s affection for their partner, regardless of nationality or sexual orientation.

10. Knowing a few words of Darija will earn you points

Though folks working in tourism often speak several languages, with English becoming increasingly common, learning a few words of Darija (Moroccan Arabic) will earn respect. Walking into a shop, it’s common to greet fellow customers and shopkeepers with an “Assalaamu alaykum” (peace be with you) and respond with “Wa alaykum ssalaam”. “Chakrun” for thank you, “la chakrun” for no thank you, and “afak” for please are also key. 

Markets of the Marrakesh medina at night
Getting a little lost in the Marrakesh medina is to be expected © Geoff Stringer / Lonely Planet

11. Problems you may encounter in Marrakesh

Stumbling upon a faux guide either on foot in the medina, or a man on a bike who claims to work at your hotel with offers to visit the Berber market or another special, can’t-miss event may result in being led to a family member’s carpet or spice shop. A firm, but polite “no thank you” is often sufficient as you walk confidently in the direction you plan to go.

While it may cause frustration, getting lost in the Marrakesh medina is part of the fun – until it’s not. If and when this happens, remain confident in where you’re going. Ask an older gentleman in the souqs for directions if necessary. If engaging a local lad to show the way, expect to pay for their assistance (Dh20 is reasonable).

Plain-clothes police officers roam the medina frequently and are there to help, taking tourist concerns seriously. A central police station is located in Djemaa el Fna.

Also note: Although Morocco experienced a magnitude seven earthquake in September 2023, with the area surrounding Marrakesh heavily hit, natural disasters within the city are rare.

12. Keep these must-have items in your day bag 

Brushing one’s teeth with tap water is not likely to cause any health issues, but bottled or filtered water for hydrating is recommended. You’ll also want to pack hand sanitizer and wet wipes for days spent wandering, shopping and eating. Always keep a pack of tissues on hand for bathrooms which may not be stocked with toilet paper. 
 



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