Travellers looking for an exotic weekend away just a stone’s throw from Europe should look no further than Morocco. This North African country is located a mere 15km from Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar, but with Arab, Berber and European influences, it feels like another world.
French and Arabic are both widely spoken in Morocco, and most of those in the travel industry speak a smattering of English as well. I thoroughly enjoyed having conversations with locals that included snippets of all three languages.
This post will take you through everything you need to know for a stopover in this majestic country, from where to stay to the best dishes to try, and the best things to see and do.
Where to stay
If you want to soak up Moroccan culture and stay somewhere incredibly affordable, book into a Riad in Al Kasbah. Riads are small, traditional guest houses, most with just a handful or rooms, run by locals and decorated in traditional Moroccan style.
I stayed at Riad Bjoujna, a lovely little spot with just seven rooms that cost me just €25/night. It has rooftop terrace that captures the sunshine and a plunge pool if you fancy a quick dip. On the ground floor, daylight streams through to an indoor courtyard where you can have breakfast, or chill out in the classic Arab-style majilis (a sitting room with low, comfortable couches).
Al Kasbah is a popular tourist area that is famous for its street food. Located within the old city walls of the medina, close to the old mosque and walking distance from the souk.
FOOD AND DRINK
Almost immediately on arrival, you’re bound to be offered a glass of Moroccan tea. A mint tea made with water boiled in the teapot over a stove, it is usually sweetened with a cube of sugar. Remember that the teapot is going to be hot after coming off the stove, so use the tea cosy!
Morocco’s most well-known dishes are kofta (skewers of minced lamb, beef, or chicken), couscous (steamed semolina which can be served with vegetables or meat) and tajine (tender meat stewed in an earthenware pot). Don’t worry if you’re a fussy eater, these meals are full of flavour but they are not usually hot or spicy .
Must-do activities in MOROCCO
1. TAKE A HORSE AND CARRIAGE RIDE AROUND THE MEDINA
The Medina of Marrakech is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates from 1072. It’s home to a number of landmarks, including the Koutoubia mosque, which is over 1000 years old, the souk and on old Islamic university called Midersa Bin Youssef.
If you want to see as much of it as possible but you’re short on time, a horse and carriage ride is a pretty magical solution. The horses are friendly, beautiful creatures that look extremely well cared for.
2. BECOME A SHEPARD!
By the side of the highways outside Marrakech, goats climb the Argan trees to eat their fruit. It’s quite an incredible sight.
On a pitstop between Marrakech and Essouira, one of the goat herders let me take a photo with one of the baby goats, and even put his scarf on me to finish out the shepherdess look!
He asked for some money in exchange for taking some pictures and on the advice of my tour guide I have him MAD50 (€4.68).
On a second stop on the road to Essouira, we visited a cooperative where we saw how the nuts found in the fruit of the Argan Tree are harvested and turned into soaps and beauty products.
3. PLACE YOUR BETS AT CASINO DE MARRAKECH
The Casino de Marrakech is an elegant old-school casino with a good mixture of machines and live games.
I turned up hoping to play in a €50 poker tournament, but unfortunately they were playing a €250 game that night, which was a little too rich for my blood, so I just played a few hands of BlackJack and went on my way.
Technically it’s against the rules to take photos in a casino, but I snuck this one just to show you!
4. INDULGE IN A LUXURIOUS MOROCCAN HAMMAM
As I mentioned after my last hammam in Istanbul a couple of months ago, being washed by a stranger is a surreal and kind of beautiful experience. There are lots of choices in most spas, but I recommend going for a traditional Moroccan Bath.
You’ll be brought into a steamy, marble room and rubbed up and down with black Moroccan soap. You’ll be given a few minutes to lie there and relax, before being scrubbed all over with a deeply exfoliating mitt that removes all your dead skin.
Then it’s a quick shower and the obligatory cup of Moroccan tea and you’re on your way again, feeling blissfully relaxed and incredibly soft-skinned.
5. EXPLORE THE SOUK AND FIND HAGGLE FOR COLOURFUL SOUVENIRS
Visitors to Morocco are absolutely spoilt for choice. Ladies can choose silver and gold jewellery or a leather handbag, while men can go for a traditional Arab dagger!
If you’re decorating your home, there are beautiful ceramics, rugs, and lamps to choose from. A silver tea-pot and glasses for Moroccan tea are souvenir essentials! For the foodie in your life, don’t miss out on the opportunity to pick up some aromatic spices.
If you want to read more about the fabulous souvenirs you can pick up in Morocco’s souks, click the link below!
6. TAKE A DAY TRIP TO THE HISTORIC PORT OF ESSOUIRA
The Port of Essouira is known as Africa’s Windy City, and it lived up to its name on the cold and blustery November day that I visited on.
There is an old castle at the port complete with cannons looking out over a rugged shoreline. It’s where the Khaleesi’s scenes from Game of Thrones in Season 2 and 3 were filmed. I’m sure it has a fascinating history of its own, but unfortunately I didn’t get around to learning about that on this trip.
Essouira gets good waves, so it’s known for water sports. It also has a medina of its own, and inside you can find a good selection of restaurants and lots more street vendors ready to sell you their wares. Learn to say a polite but firm no if you’re not interested in what’s on offer; in Arabic “La, shukran” means “No, thank you”.
7. SNAP A PHOTO OF THE IMPOSING KOUTOUBIA MOSQUE
The Koutoubia Mosque looks down over the other buildings in the medina, with the tower standing at 253 feet tall.
Unfortunately non-Muslims can’t go outside, but it’s well worth a walk around the outside to snap a quick photo and see the plaza.
It was built by the Almohad’s between 1184 and 1199, who torn down the mosques build by the previous rulers because they considered them to be heretics.
The currency in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD). For reference, MAD100 is equal to €9.38 or US$9.90.
It is totally normal to bargain as you make your way around the souks, starting at about 50% of the original asking price.
Make sure not to be taken advantage of, but remember that those last €4-5 you’re haggling over probably mean a lot more to them than you… there’s no need to go hardball.
Reasonably priced flights from Ireland and the UK to Marrakech are available with Ryanair. I booked about a month in advance and paid €110 for my flights. If you’re flying in to Marrakech, the international airport is about 15 minutes away from the city.
A taxi from the airport to the Medina should cost MAD100-150 (€9-14). It will cost more in the evening, advance booking is highly recommended as there is no taxi rank at Arrivals, and taxi drivers will expect you to have the right change.
To get to Essouira, you can book a day trip through your Riad.
So that’s all from me on a weekend trip to Morocco. This first quick visit barely scratched the surface of this truly majestic country. There is so much more to see and do, and I can’t wait to go back!
Have you been to Morocco? Leave me a comment with a recommendation for my next trip. Would you like to go?
Katie Harrington is a 28-year-old travel and lifestyle blogger from Galway, Ireland.
“I’m passionate about seeing the world and meeting people from different countries. I love noticing the similarities and differences between people around the world. In a divided world, I genuinely believe that experiencing other cultures first hand is one of the best ways to combat prejudice.
“In between travel, I write about Irish events, restaurants, and news, as well as opinion pieces on topical issues.”