Marrakesh is always magical and exotic, and December is a great time to go. Follow our 2 day itinerary and get the most out of your trip.
Living in central Europe, Jim and I were always looking for ways to escape the winter cold. One winter we decided that a Moroccan Road Trip would be just the fix. We expected warm and sunny weather, and even though it wasn’t quite as warm as we thought it would be, it was a sweet respite from Germany.
We packed up, grabbed some friends, and flew off. We landed and started in Marrakesh! What a magical city. From watching the food stalls go up at the Jemaa el Fna Market to the stunning sunsets of El Jadida and Essaouira, Morocco is a fantastic place to wash away the mid-winter blues.
In this article, we’ll tell you all about Magical Marrakech and these 4 things:
- Where to stay
- The Best Time to Go
- What to do and when on our 2 Day Itinerary
- How to Get to Marrakesh
Maybe It’s Not a Carpet-ride, But Marrakesh is Magical!
Low cost airlines are delivering a steady stream of travelers, tourists, and expats to Morocco every day. With the fares so cheap, it was impossible to pass on a trip of our own. Without much more thought than finding the ticket that worked best for our timing, we were on our way to Marrakech, our magical introduction to Morocco!
Heading to a new country, it’s a great idea to follow a good Morocco itinerary, but one where we leave room to be a little spontaneous. We’ve learned that it’s always smart to at least have the first night’s stay planned and booked.
Our plane arrived in the evening with little time to find a place to spend the night, and with four of us traveling together, it would be that much more difficult to find something last minute.
Where to Stay in Marrakech
Going through the usual online booking sites, we found what seemed like the perfect place just inside the medina. But when we contacted the riad owner, Nicole, asking about transportation options and parking (if we had our rental car), she let us know that parking would not really be advisable and that one night in the medina just wasn’t enough.
If we only had one night we should stay nearer to the airport in the new town. The medina experience was what we were going to Marrakesh for, so we instead asked Nicole to extend our stay to two nights and arrange for transfer from the airport. Of course, if we had more time for our Morocco adventure, a longer stay in Marrakech would have been fantastic, but the two nights worked out beautifully.
Additional Reading: The Best Food Tour of Marrakech
Our first night in Morocco was a kaleidoscope of color and sound. Nicole’s van picked us up at the airport during one of the busiest times of the evening. There were buses, vans, trucks of all sizes, horse drawn carriages, donkey carts, bicycles, motorcycles, scooters and mopeds of every imaginable variety.
At one point we had to wait at the intersection onto the main boulevard. All traffic came to a stop and did not move for 15 minutes. Finally we asked Jamaal, our driver, what was happening.
He told us some big wig was coming through. But there was no way of knowing who it was as the motorcade with sirens and flashing lights screamed past at top speed.
In the medina, we soon realized Nicole was right, there was no way we’d have found the riad or parking for even a tiny car. Jamaal parked at the end of an alley that had been getting smaller and smaller the longer we drove it.
I was wondering what he would do when it finally got too small to continue when it finally opened up into a small square. We parked and walked a confusingly winding path through narrow passageways for about three minutes that eventually led to our oasis in the center of the medina.
We went out, after checking in, for an evening stroll with Nicole so she could show us around her little corner of the old town. Although it was getting into evening now, it seemed like the city was just coming alive.
The crowds were growing thicker and closing in as we tried to make our way through the narrow streets and alleys past shops selling everything from eggs to foam padding for mattresses while watching out for the mopeds and donkeys coming through at a haphazard pace.
Nicole’s place was small and she took good care of us, but there are plenty of other choices as well. You can compare Marrakesh hotel prices here.
Here are some riads we would recommend in the medina, all beautiful places that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into the rich and exotic world of the past.
- Riad des Arts – In the center of Marrakesh, this riad with its impeccable Moroccan interior and friendly staff is perfect.
- Riad Puchka – Located only 10 minutes from Jemaa el Fna, this stunning riad has both pool and spa.
- Riad Palais Calipau – A 5 star option, this riad pampers you with two on site restaurants, spa and hamam facilities, and a pool.
- Riad Ambre Et Epices – Treating you with the utmost Moroccan hospitality, this riad is all about comfort and relaxation.
When is the Best Time to Go to Marrakech?December?
You could go to Marrakesh at any time during the year and be extremely happy. It’s always best, price-wise, to try and not go in mid-summer since that is a high season and it can get very hot.
Probably the best months to go are September through November. The weather is warm, and if you combine it with a beach stay, you can still swim in the Mediterranean.
We chose to go in December for a couple of reasons. The price is right. It cost us less to travel all around Morocco for a couple of weeks than it would going out to dinner in Germany. It was cheap. And better yet, the weather was warm to chilly.
We never really felt cold. If we did get into the shade or a little wind, putting on our wind-breaker or fleece took the chill right off. It was very comfortable for walking and sight-seeing. If you are not beach people, December is a great month to visit.
2 Days in Marrakesh Itinerary
Most of the sites and places to visit in Marrakech are in or near the medina. Because of this, it really is a walking city. If your lodging is outside of the medina, or farther from the center, then you would want to take a taxi to and from your hotel or riad. Otherwise, be sure and have some good walking shoes and get ready to get out and explore by foot.
Historical Sites and Must-sees in Marrakesh
As with most larger cities, there is enough to keep you busy for weeks in Marrakech, but we only had these two days before we hit the road. We had ancient tombs, grand palaces, and towering mosques to discover and photograph! Here is a list of things that we wanted to see:
- The Medina and Jemaa el Fna
- Koutoubia Mosque and garden
- Saadien’s Tombs
- El Badii Palace
- Ben Youssef Madrasa
- Bahia Palace
- Jardin Majorelle
Arrival and 1st Night
We arrived in Marrakech in the mid-afternoon and by the time we got settled into our riad, evening was upon us. Our main reason for choosing Marrakesh as a starting and stopping point was to experience Jamaa El Fna, the daily market, and even though we knew we’d go again, we wanted to see it first hand right away. We just had to go both days.
The evening stroll through the medina and the nighttime Jamaa el Fna was exhilarating and exciting, all of the senses were involved and it was nearly impossible to take it all in.
After a lemon chicken tajine dinner and a nice hot mint tea we managed to find our way back to the riad without Nicole’s help and settled into our warm, comfortable beds. Nicole had turned the heat on for us about an hour before she expected us, so the rooms were nice and toasty.
Day 1 – Marrakesh Itinerary
We woke to the mesmerizing sounds of the medina coming back to life around us. A mother calling to her child, the braying of mules somewhere in the distance, neighborhood dogs competing for a scrap or bone, and the gentle echo of the call to prayer from a nearby mosque.
Nicole put on a nice breakfast spread, but we wanted to get out into the daylight so we ate quickly and were soon on our way to do some sight-seeing.
Frenetic Jemaa El Fna and the Marrakech Medina
The very center of the city, in the medina you can really feel the pulse of the old town as everything comes together at this great square of touts, food carts, cafes, fortune tellers, fruit carts, dancers and buskers, you name it.
If it is to be found in Morocco, you can bet you’ll find it in the Jamaa El Fna. We easily spent an hour or two just wandering around the massive square taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the late morning.
Nicole had told us about a place, Zeitoun Café, with an outdoor rooftop that would be perfect for watching the sunset over the medina and seeing the square transform from day to night. As it turned out this was also a prime spot for people watching during the day.
The whole plaza opened up in front of us as we sat and sipped mint tea or fresh squeezed orange juice. At one point we spotted a mother and children selling fruit laid out on a blanket spread on the ground. The little boy went off by himself with a tiny stool and a small box of pastries.
We never saw him sell one, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. When his box fell over and spilled its contents on the ground, he ran crying to mom. She scolded him gently but then quickly scooped the goodies back into the box and, with a furtive glance, shooed him off back to his selling grounds.
We could have sat in the cafe for hours watching the magical world of Morocco on stage around us, but there are more sights to see in Marrakech than the Jemaa El Fna. So we paid for our teas and promised to return later in the day to sit and watch the square transform from day to night
Koutoubia Mosque and Garden
As you make your way through the Medina and around Jemaa el Fna, you can’t help but notice the towering minaret of the Koutoubia mosque. While it might not be the oldest mosque in the city, it is the largest and perhaps the most magnificent.
The striking minaret, with blue and white ceramic tiles and pointed merlon crenallations, is distinct and evocative. Construction was completed in the 12th century and the mosque has changed very little since.
While non-muslims won’t be able to enter the mosque, everyone is free to walk the grounds. This is the perfect place to stroll through the beautiful gardens and enjoy a quiet, calm tranquility away from the hustle and bustle of the medina.
Ride in a Calèche to the Jardin Majorelle
Walk out to the main street between Koutoubia and Jemaa el Fna to find the ranks of horse drawn carriages, or Calèche. It will take some bartering–what doesn’t in Morocco?–but you should be able to arrange a decent price for a ride to the Majorelle Gardens (expect to pay about 250 dirham).
Enjoy the hour long ride as your horse and driver take you through the streets and alleys of Marrakesh. This is one of the best ways to see the city if you have the time. We wouldn’t recommend it for all of your transportation needs (it’s just too expensive for that) but everyone should take at least one carriage ride in Marrakesh.
The gardens themselves are a beautiful oasis in the heart of the city. The villa and garden were designed and built by the French Orientalist painter, Jacques Majorelle, in the 1920s. Later, the property was bought by fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent. Today, the beautifully restored villa and botanical gardens are a must see when in Marrakesh.
There’s more to do here besides enjoying the perfectly manicured gardens and gorgeous bubbling fountains. Visitors should plan on spending time in the Yves Saint Laurent museum, the Museum of Muslim Art, and the Berber heritage museum. If you have even more time, stop for a snack or soothing drink in the shaded garden cafe.
Shopping and Eating in the Medina
Jardin Majorelle is less than a kilometer walk to the Bab Mousoufa gate in the old Marrakesh city walls. If you’re up for the walk, this is a great way to explore the medina. However, it is about three kilometers to Jemaa el Fna, so if walking is not your thing, then consider catching a taxi from the Gardens back to Jemaa el Fna.
What can you buy in the Marrakesh Medina and souks? What can’t you buy is more the question. Regardless of the treasure you’re going after, just remember to barter for anything and everything you intend to purchase. Here are just a few of the things you can find in the souks and shopping stalls in Marrakesh Medina:
- Berber carpets
- Silver jewelry
- Moroccan lamps
- Leather goods
- and of course, much, much more!
As day turns to night, the great plaza in the center of the medina transforms into the largest open air food court on the planet. Find the food cart that has the most tempting dishes and give it a try! Of course, you shouldn’t miss out on the traditional snail soup, but other than that you will have a dizzying array of options from seafood to vegetarian.
Day 2 – Marrakech Itinerary
Our second day in Marrakesh was devoted to visiting the Kasbah district. Marrakesh was originally the capital of the Kingdom of Morocco, but the capital has shifted a few times between Marrakesh, Fez, and now Rabat. As a result, the Kasbah went through periods of growth and neglect.
Today the Kasbah is still a a large government complex with parts of it closed to the general public. For example, the king still maintains a palace here. However, most of the district is open to the public and this is where some of the most stunning examples of Moroccan architecture can be found.
Located south of Jemaa El Fna, these incredibly magnificent royal tombs had fallen out of use in the eighteenth century. Luckily, they were rediscovered in 1917. After a period of reconstruction and restoration the tombs were reopened to the public.
Today visitors can walk through the sprawling tomb complex, a stunning example for the best Moroccan art, architecture and design. Richly painted ceramic tile, lustrous marble columns, and ornate stucco designs can be found throughout the mausoleums. With all of this beautiful artwork and incredible design, you can easily spend an hour in the tombs.
El Badii Palace
From the Saadien tombs, head east through the Kasbah to El Badii palace. Originally designed to impress royal visitors with the Sultan’s wealth and strength, it served primarily as a reception hall instead of living quarters. As the Saadien influence ended, so did the relevance of the palace and it fell into disrepair.
Walking through the palace grounds today, it takes some imagination to view it in its original splendor. Most of the complex is more ruins than otherwise. However, there is enough remaining to impress the visitor with its massive walls and interesting architecture.
After leaving El Badii palace, walk north east through the spice market. Take your time here, this is one of our favorite souks in the city. Here you’ll find Berber products, carpets, and, of course, spices piled high in colorful arrangements. This is also a good area to stop for lunch or a snack in a cafe or restaurant.
The Bahia Palace entrance is only a few meters past the spice market plaza to the east. If you are using google maps, be sure to follow directions to the entrance, and not to the palace itself. This is also one area where a guide can be extremely helpful.
The palace has an interesting history, despite its short life. However, there’s very little signage inside the complex, and without a guide it is easy to miss some of the more important aspects. Originally built in 1860, the palace underwent several growth spurts with additions and renovations expanding the complex without any clear underlying plan.
The result is a fascinating labyrinth of stunningly decorated chambers that open into beautiful courtyard gardens. Naturally, the entire palace is beautifully decorated in ornate geometric patterns, richly carved wood, and painted ceramic tiles. Plan on spending about two or three hours here.
One thing we noticed, as we toured the palaces, was that there just isn’t much inside these architectural masterpieces. To see the artwork, furniture, and treasures you really need to visit a museum or two. Depending on your particular interests there are several to choose from as you walk from Bahia palace back into the heart of the medina.
From Bahia palace, walk north up Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid. This is a wonderful street for shopping, but there are also a few great museums along this route. For example, this is where you’ll find the Moroccan Culinary Arts Museum, Museum Tiskwin with Morrocan Arts and Crafts, and the Dar Si Said with regional handicrafts.
A little further north, you’ll find the Heritage Museum, Musee Boucharouite rug and carpet museum, and the Marrakesh Museum which is located right next to the spectacular Ben Youssef Madrasa. While all of these are definitely worth a visit, we usually just pick one or two per day. Otherwise, it’s easy to get burnt out on museums.
Getting to Marrakesh
Getting to Marrakesh by air from Europe is simple and cheap. Ryanair flies from Dublin, London, Frankfurt (Hahn), Eindhoven, Dusseldorf, Brussels, Paris, Madrid, Milan, Pisa, Rome, and a few other smaller locations. Easyjet will fly you in for cheap as well, they have flights from Glasgow, London, Manchester, Berlin, Paris, Basel, Geneva, Nice, Bordeaux, and more.
Marrakesh is a magical city. It transports you back in time where you can experience a busy souk, some amazing foods, and great historical sites. Bring your sense of adventure, and good pair of shoes. Don’t be afraid to wander around the twisting, turning back alleys of the Medina and be ready to be stunned by beautiful architecture and Moroccan artwork at every turn.
Have you been to Marrakech? Which part was the most magical for you?