A Marrakech Guide for First-Timers

Last updated on November 1st, 2022 at 08:50 pm

The loud trills of the call to prayer strike your ears while the beckoning of merchants echoes in the background. Whiffs of foreign origin fill your nose, from hot tagines to fragrant spices and fresh mint tea. A chaotic web of intertwining streets and alleyways leads you this way and that way while the mysterious souks hypnotize you with their shining treasures.

No one, and no guide, can ever fully prepare you for Marrakech. 

It’s a city that dances along to its own frenzied beat.

It’s a shock to every bone in your body.

It will tingle every sense that you have.

Not everybody will fall in love with this city, but it will surely imprint on you a sensory experience that you won’t be able to shake for a long, long time.

Visiting Marrakech for the first time can be daunting, which is why I’ve put together this Marrakech Guide for First-Timers to help you prepare for your trip. This travel guide covers everything you need to know before visiting the Red City including where to stay, where to eat, and what to do when visiting Marrakech.

Now let’s dive into this Marrakech guide!


 A Marrakech Guide for First-Timers Pin


A Marrakech Guide for First-Timers

What You Should Know About Marrakech Before Visiting

  • The main languages spoken in Marrakech are French and Arabic, though you will be able to get by in the main tourist areas with English.

  • Morocco is a Muslim country, so ladies should dress modestly (this means covered shoulders and knees). Not only is it respectful, but it will also help minimize any unwanted attention.

  • Have cash on you at all times as ATMs can be difficult to come by in the Medina. 

    • It’s also a good idea to ask the staff at your riad to recommend the best location to exchange money nearby. They should point you to a trusted money exchange with a fair exchange rate.

  • Try to avoid taxis. The Medina is very walkable and you don’t even really need to take a taxi anywhere other than from the airport to your accommodation (more on that in the next bullet). However, if you do end up needing a taxi, ask the staff at your riad what the price should be to get from point A to point B so that you don’t get scammed. Depending upon what the driver tells you, you can try to negotiate the price down.

  • Book airport pick-up to your riad before you leave for Marrakech for two reasons: 

    • If you don’t, you’ll probably end up paying way more than you should (we paid 15 EUR for a pre-organized pick-up). 

    • Someone will be waiting for you at arrivals and will take you directly to your riad. Since there are no cars allowed in the old city center, your driver will park outside the Medina walls and lead you through the maze of streets directly to your accommodation. This is ideal as you won’t have to worry about getting lost the moment you step foot in Marrakech. 

  • Do not, by any means, accept directions spontaneously offered to you by a stranger. This is one of the tricks that the locals use to prey on lost tourists. Occasionally, locals will ask if you need help getting to the main square or will warn you that a particular street is closed and offer to show you another route. Be aware that if you do accept their unsolicited help, they will demand money in exchange for assistance. While most of the people we met in Marrakech were both sweet and kind, we were offered “help” several times.

  • You are not allowed to take any dirham (Moroccan currency) back home with you, so you should exchange or spend what you have left before heading to the airport. (You will be asked at security how many dirhams you are carrying with you.)

 Marrakech Jemaa el-Fna

Where to Stay in Marrakech

We stayed at the very lovely Ryad Boustane.

Our host, Oussama, was incredibly welcoming and definitely left us with a wonderful first-impression of Marrakech. The check-in process was not your typical exchange over a counter in the hotel lobby either.

Oussama sat us down in the riad’s beautiful atrium, brought us mint tea and cookies, and spent nearly an hour chatting with us and explaining everything we could possibly need to know about Marrakech. 

In addition to Oussama and his delightful staff, the riad was clean, had a gorgeous rooftop terrace and served a delicious Moroccan breakfast every morning in the atrium.

Ryad Boustane is located close to the medina wall, about 20 minutes walking distance from Jemma el-Fnaa (the main square). Although it is a bit further from the center, the riad’s location gives you the opportunity to experience a more local side of the city rather than just being surrounded by other tourists.


 Ryad Boustane Marrakech


What to Do in Marrakech

  • Explore the Medina – spend the day wandering through the old city walls and getting lost in the souks.

  • Koutoubia Mosque – the largest mosque in Marrakech whose minaret proudly stands tall, making it a perfect point of orientation in the hectic city. Though it is off-limits to non-Muslims, visitors can still admire the historic building from the outside as well as the surrounding gardens.

  • El Badi Palace – impressive ruins of a palace built by Saadian sultan Ahmed el Mansour. Very spacious, quiet and serene – a relaxing escape from the medina.

  • Bahia Palace – this 19th century palace is one of the main monuments of Morocco’s cultural heritage. Its name translates to “palace of the beautiful, the brilliant.”

  • Jardin Majorelle and Yves Saint Laurant Museum – often referred to as the “blue garden”, this place is truly magical and well worth a visit. Tickets to the Berber and YSL museums can also be purchased there. I’d also highly recommend spending some time at the YSL museum, even if you aren’t into fashion.

  • Maison de la Photographie – a beautiful collection of street photography offering a deeper insight into the culture and local life of Marrakech. 

  • Ben Youssef Madrassa – built in the 14th century, this historic building is the largest Medersa (Islamic school) in Morocco. Its intricate mosaics, sculptures and stained glass make it a remarkable place to visit.

 Jardin Majorelle Marrakech - A Marrakech Guide for First-Timers


Where to Eat in Marrakech

  • Le Jardin – a picturesque restaurant situated in a lush garden oasis. It was at this very place we tried our first Moroccan tagine!

  • Cafe Kif Kif – a small restaurant with excellent views, located near Jemma el-Fna and Koutoubia Mosque. They serve traditional Moroccan food but also offer burgers (if you’ve already eaten your fair share of tagines).

  • Henna Cafe – very friendly staff and delicious food. The henna artist does amazing work, and best of all, 100% of their profits go to supporting the local community.

  • Nomad – hands down the best meal we had during our stay. This trendy restaurant located in the heart of the Medina serves Moroccan food with a modern twist alongside spectacular rooftop views. I highly suggest reserving a table in advance (you can do so on their website) to ensure you get the best seat.

  • Cafe Des Epices – a great place overlooking the spice market to take a break from the souks and watch the world go by.

 Le Salama Marrakech Morocco


Day Trips to Take from Marrakech

If it’s your first time in Marrakech, you might find the city overwhelming. Luckily, there are several day trips you can take if you want a break from the chaos. Some of the more popular day trips from Marrakech are:

Atlas Mountains – a wonderful escape to the Imlil Valley nestled at the foot of North Africa’s highest mountain range. A day trip to the Atlas Mountains will allow you to see how the traditional Berbers of Morocco live and give you a deeper insight into their culture.

Essaouira – a port city on the Atlantic Coast, Essaouira makes for an idyllic day escape from the hectic streets of Marrakech.

Ait Benhaddou – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ait Benhaddou is a fortified city that once served as a major stop along the route between Marrakech and the Sahara Desert.

Ourika Valley – spend the day exploring the beautiful landscape of the Ourika Valley, visit a local market, and enjoy a riverside lunch just a 45-minute drive from Marrakech.

Sahara Desert – not actually a day trip, but if you have at least 2-3 days in your itinerary to dedicate to the Sahara Desert, I would highly recommend visiting. Due to the length of the trip, it is not possible to visit for just one day, so you’ll need to spend at least one night in the Sahara. While we didn’t have time to visit, I have heard that 2-3 days is more than worth it.


 Day Trip to the Atlas Mountains - Marrakech Guide for First-Timer


That wraps up my Marrakech Guide for First-Timers! If you plan on visiting Marrakech for the first time, I hope you find this guide helpful. For more inspiration on what to do in the Red City, check out my Four Day Marrakech Itinerary.

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