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MARRAKECH WITH KIDS
Introducing children, whether they are quite young or teenagers, to a different culture is an experience they can get so much from and this trip was one of the most rewarding we have done, probably the best from all of our viewpoints. Marrakech with children is an exciting, historic city with so much to do.
We loved our time in the city and the kids easily became accustomed to haggling, snake charmers, acrobatic displays and the buzz of the Medina and souks.
Spending enough time in Marrakech to really get to know the city is highly recommended. I went solo as a parent for 12 days with our 12-year-old and 9-year-old daughters. It was a fun ‘girls trip’ and may seem a long time to be in a city with kids, but it included a 3 day High Atlas and the Sahara Desert Tour and we could easily have stayed longer, just soaking up the atmosphere.
One of our regular Marrakech activities involved finding a new ‘favorite’ cafe or street stall to try and the girls became accustomed to the habitual haggling and ‘pestering’ of shopkeepers keen to sell anything we cast a glance at. Simply looking at an item for sale is regarded as a serious intent to buy. Asking the price of an item will almost always result in an expectation to haggle and purchase.
Marrakech in December, January or February are, from our experience, the best times to visit, the days are cooler but not freezing, the nights are ok and it is less crowded than during the summer months.
We visited in the winter. Return fares from London were less than $100U.S. accommodation cost us about $50 a night, with en-suite and at times we ate for as little a few dollars for the three of us.
Daytime temperatures were around 20 degrees in February and we were free from the busy holiday crowds. Bliss.
WHERE IS MARRAKECH?
Situated in the south of Morroco, Marrakech (sometimes spelled as Marrakesh) is a good base for exploring further into the Sahara Desert and the High Atlas Mountains of Northern Africa. Founded in 1071, it is the second oldest and second largest city in Morocco, Fez taking the number one spots.
The Atlantic Ocean is a 3-hour drive away, Casablanca about 3 hours away and the Erg Chiguga dunes of the Sahara Desert are about 10 hours drive to the south of the city.
IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL TO MARRAKECH WITH KIDS?
Is Marrakech good for families? Yes, we believe it is. There is so much to see and experience in the city with kids. I had absolutely no problems at all and felt safe traveling alone as a mother with young daughters. Once the kids became accustomed to constantly being approached by a multitude of sellers, they felt comfortable and relaxed. Care does, of course, need to be taken in any big city but we felt more open friendliness towards us than the contrary.
Marrakech is definitely a fabulous place to travel with kids. Let them experience the food, the people and the life of the markets and souks. Give them (and yourself) time to soak up the atmosphere and feel relaxed here.
Scammers and pushy sellers, like the ‘Henna Lady’ who insisted on doing a tattoo on my daughters’ arm whilst saying ‘because I like you’ and then demanding a silly amount of money (which was not forthcoming) could be exhausting if you allow it to be. We accepted the reality that everyone needed to make a living and we tried to be fair as well as not look like we were worth preying on – once we perfected looking happy and like we knew where we were going at all times, the hassling mostly stopped. At no time did we feel threatened.
Always read any travel advice your country may issue regarding travel to Morocco or any foreign country and do not put yourself in danger by hiking to remote areas without thorough research of any dangers. Hiking with a group or official guide is the safest option.
Morocco with children is an incredible experience, a family holiday in Marrakech will be remembered for many years.
THINGS TO DO IN MARRAKECH
With so many things to do, it is easy to spend a week exploring this ancient city. There is so much for kids to learn and it is an easy place to visit with a baby too.
1. DJEMMA EL-FINA
In the Medina (old city) this huge square and market place is the heart of the city, there is so much going on from dawn to dusk that a day could be spent just watching the action and the change from the markets during the day to when the small food sellers set up in the afternoon and operate till late in the evening.
Djemma el-Fina is a magic place full of everything weird and wonderful that Marrakech can throw at visitors. Monkey men, as the girls called them, were quick to put a little Barbary Macaque on the shoulders of passers-by and then make a request for money in return for the experience and photos. Fair enough, this is their way of making an income, though the process of these native animals from the Atlas Mountains being captive on chains and used in this way is unsettling. The same goes for similar scenarios the world over.
Henna tattoo ladies are everywhere, some using a mixture of henna and a chemical that can irritate the skin and not stay on for long. We were approached by a lady on our first morning there who said ‘because I like you’ to my youngest daughter… and quickly began a tattoo on her hand, proceeding then to my other daughter. She was quite miffed at the measly offering of coins that I had available and became quite irate – the outcome was that we walked away from the lady who was demanding about 10 Euros each! The ‘henna’ was not pure, resulted in a little itching and faded within a day or so!
2. HENNA CAFE
A very popular place to have a henna tattoo applied is at the Henna Cafe. Bookings need to be sure of getting in. It is a three-minute walk from Djemma El Fna. This is a special little business, quality henna tattoos, two cafes, and an art gallery.
3. EXPLORING THE SOUKS AND LANEWAYS
The girls became very relaxed with our daily Marrakech excursions, haggling in the souks and laneways of the Medina ( A medina is a section found in many North African cities, typically walled with narrow, maze-like laneways. The word simply means city or town in modern-day Arabic.) Almost everything imaginable can be found in the souks, our favorite buys were a wooden box with a secret way to open it up and our silver teapot that was used as we traveled around Europe and the UK.
4. YVES SAINT LAURENT JARDIN MAJORELLE
A family friendly place to visit, the Majorelle Garden is a shady oasis set on 2.h acres and created by the artist, Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s. Purchased in 1980 by Yves St Laurent, the gardens were restored and very popular with tourists. They are pleasant place visit if you have the time.
5. BEN YOUSSEF MADRASA
This place is well worth seeing. It was a religious school for 400 years and was the largest Morrocan Islamic College. The building is stunning, and a walk through learning the history and seeing how the students lived and learned is a step into the past.
6. KOUTOUBIA MOSQUE
With the highest minaret in Marrakech, the mosque is easy to spot. Non-Muslims cannot go into the building but a stroll around the outside and through the gardens is worthwhile.
7. BAHIA PALACE
The Palace of Bahia (palace of the beautiful) is a 19th-century palace on eight hectares. It is an incredible example of Moroccan architecture and a must-see in Marrakech.
8. El BADI PALACE
El Badi Palace (meaning The incomparable palace in Arabic) is mostly a ruin but still worthy of a visit if you have time. Built for the Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur sometime after his accession in 1578, gold and onyx were used in parts and the colonnades made from marble brought in from Italy.
9. HAMMAM MARRAKECH WITH KIDS
Two types of hammam (Moroccan bath) experiences can be found in Morocco, the traditional neighborhood ones and those set up more for tourists. We recommend opting for a neighborhood hamman, make sure to ask specifically if you want to do this too. They are generally a basic experience, but authentic and very special. Your Riad or hotel staff can recommend a local one if you ask, sometimes there will even be one within the accommodation. Hammans are single-sex, so boys will go with their dads and girls with their mothers. It is possible to find hammans that offer a family experience, read this lovely article by Journey of a Nomadic Family.
10. SAADIAN TOMBS
The Saadian Tombs are a must see in Marrakesh. An opulent and extravagant memorial to members of the Saadian Family and their favorite people who advised and looked after them.
“Anyone who says you can’t take it with you hasn’t seen the Saadian Tombs, near the Kasbah Mosque. Saadian Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour Ed Dahbi spared no expense on his tomb, importing Italian Carrara marble and gilding honeycomb muqarnas (decorative plasterwork) with pure gold to make the Chamber of the 12 Pillars a suitably glorious mausoleum”. Source: Lonely Planet
11. KASBAH MOSQUE
The largest mosque in Marrakech, the minaret of the Kasbah Mosque can be spotted from quite a distance. Located in the medina near Jemaa el Fna, it is only accessible to Muslims but visitors can still appreciate the building from the outside. Mosques are places of worship and not tourist attractions, this needs to be respected and kept in mind. Walking the perimeter of the Mosque and watching the sunset behind it is a wonderful way to finish a day in the city.
12. THE TANNERIES
The great Tannery scam of Marrakech! This is where leather is died and processed, it’s open air, smelly and fascinating. This must be at the top of the list of scams in the country as so many travelers complain about it. You might be on your way to one particular place or simply mooching about enjoying the city when a local man might say that a road or attraction that you are going to is closed and ‘suggest’ an alternate activity such as visiting the tanneries. I love this article about one family’s experiences with the tanneries.
We did not see the tanneries on our visit and I am a bit upset as by avoiding the potential scam when it was suggested we quickly go as there ‘is a special day’ by a local man that we did not venture there ourselves. Stories of the stench etc. had us scuttling off to the souk instead.
They are unique and certainly not a place many of us get to experience, so grab the opportunity and go. If you get scammed, use it as a learning curve!
TIP: Ask at your accommodation for recommendations on visiting the tanneries, they may even be able to provide a guide.
SUPPORTING LOCAL SELLERS
Buying from street sellers is one thing I always do when traveling. it may be a little horse made from reeds, friendship bands or some other little items. Share the wealth! We are incredibly wealthy compared to many people around the world and to buy a little item from locals, no matter how simple it may be, is sharing and caring! If it helps a family survive, do it. I always feel sad when I see people shrugging off a seller in an off-handed way.
‘Lolly Pop Man’ as we called him, was great though! We were walking near the mosque and started following him, trying to decide if it was an umbrella that he was carrying, wrapped in a plastic film…
It was a giant lollipop! A few coins later and we each had a small piece of the taffy-like sweetie in a wrapper and everyone was smiling. these are the experiences that you take away with you when traveling and that can bring back such fond memories.
Admittedly, it can be a source of annoyance to be constantly badgered to buy, but sometimes we need to swap shoes for a moment and look at it a little differently? Even kids who ‘helped’ tourists on stepping-stones across a river can do with a coin or two?
We bought a few items to take back as mementos and gifts. One was a particular rip off, and worth being careful of! A lovely wooden spoon made from olive wood. The shape and grain of the wood were appealing until it was used in a soup pot back in the UK and the wood split. That would have been ok, except the product they filled the knots of the wood with was not suitable for food purposes and it became a slimy mess! Rather funny, in an odd way, to see the spoon that was made for such purposes, melt and crack!
Win some, lose some. That is the fun of travel I guess!
Family Friendly Restaurants and Street Foods of Marrakech are everywhere. We loved buying food from street vendors and ‘discovering’ our next favorite cafe to indulge in local dishes whilst watching the world go by. Fresh squeezed orange juice was a hit every morning. The famous snail soup could be bought from a lot of sellers and we loved the sweet cookies and pastries. Fried, filled bread to enjoy as we walked was also a firm favorite.
The food stalls that set up in the Djemma el-Fina as the sunset were intoxicating. Guidebooks can be used or trip advisor reviews researched as to which number food stall is the best to eat at, but we simply looked for the popular ones, trying something different each night. Just hanging out here at night was fun, so much life and activity.
MARRAKECH GUIDED TOURS
One of the best things to do in Marrakech with family is to take a horse-drawn carriage ride to visit local sights, we did not do this as the impact on the horses’ legs constantly pounding the hard pavement is not good no matter what city you are in. It does provide an income for locals though and is something I personally wrestle with.
A number of fabulous tours can be booked via Get Your Guide, one of the world’s largest online travel agents.
Discover some of the best tours in Marrakech, click here for more details and to book safely online with Get Your Guide..
FAMILY ACCOMMODATION IN MARRAKECH
Accommodation can be a hit or miss affair anywhere in the world and I had pre-booked the first two nights through Air BnB. Usually, it is a positive experience with Air BNB Hosts, but on this occasion, we were not given the lovely, sun-filled room that was booked – instead, the owners of Riad Rockech put us in a cold, dirty, windowless room.
A quick exit the next morning, with no refund or apologies, and we went in search of something better. It was lucky we each only had a small carry-on backpack as we wandered through the main square of Djemaa el-Fna for some time before coming upon a tiny alleyway right off the square with many small hotels. Hotel Atlas was our choice, clean and friendly. With a great sun deck area!
Air BnB… we love you.. we love you not. But mostly, we love using Air BnB.
WHICH IS THE BEST AREA TO STAY IN MARRAKECH?
Near the Djemaa el-Fna is our top choice of locations to stay, with or without a family. The noise of the market will not be to everyone’s liking though some of the smaller hotels, tucked away from the center can offer a degree of peace and quiet. Our kids have always been awesome at sleeping well wherever we go, so it was not a high priority to be in a really quiet location.
We loved the wailing of the call to prayer and hum from the square were a constant in the background and made us feel a part of the city, staying in the old city was, in our opinion the best place to find accommodation.
WHAT IS A RIAD MARRAKECH?
WHERE TO STAY ON A BUDGET IN MARRAKECH
Located in the medina, close to the Bab Doukkala Mosque and an easy walk to shopping in the souks, Dar Al Hamra offers six rooms, all air-conditioned with their own patio. Breakfast is included, sitting on the terrace is a super way to start your day. A simple, clean and affordable place to stay.
Riad Sapphire and Spa is also very good value in the Sidi Ben Slimane neighborhood of the medina. Breakfast is included, they have a large pool, marbled courtyards, and a rooftop terrace to relax on. With a spa and hammam on the property as well, it is an indulgent stay yet still on a budget.
BUDGET HOSTEL ACCOMMODATION
Dar Kleta is an affordable stay with a laid-back vibe. Brightly painted and furnished with cushions and seating from markets. The French owners, Julien and Françoise, live in the riad. From the roof-top terrace, views across the to the distant Atlas mountains will mesmerize guests.
WHERE TO STAY FOR MID-RANGE ACCOMMODATION
Riad Romance, a building that dates back to the 17th century, is close to the spice souk and also offers stunning views to the High Atlas Mountains from the rooftop terrace. An indoor pool, its own restaurant, free wi-fi, and an excellent location make this an ideal choice in the mid-range price bracket.
WHERE TO STAY FOR LUXURY ACCOMMODATION IN MARRAKESH
La Villa des Orangers Hotel offers three pools with a view over the medina from the terrace as well as lovely gardens, peace, and areas to relax quietly. The 27 room boutique hotel is larger than many riads but still has a wonderful charm. In the heart of the Medina with views from the roof-top terrace of the Djemaa el-Fna, this 12-room boutique hotel in a traditional riad style is a relaxing hideaway, yet it’s in the center of the action. It even has its own spa and traditional Moroccan Hammam steam bath to indulge yourself.
The Four Seasons Resort Marrakech in the Hivernage area is built on 16 acres of gorgeous gardens. Two pools (one that is adults only) are available for some quiet time away from the business of Marrakech. Luxury suites and villas that even have their own private pools can be rented. There is also a spa/fitness center within the property and for families, a kids club is a good option to let the children have some time away from exploring too.
BEACHES NEAR MARRAKECH
Essaouira | 175 km from Marrakech
The nearest beach to Marrakech, 2.5 – 3 hours drive away, Essaouira is a lovely old town with a long sandy beach on the Atlantic Ocean, plenty of activity, eateries, fresh seafood, and a good place to escape to from the city for a night or two. Visitors can even ride camels on the beach at sunset.
OCEAN VAGABOND is highly recommended as a fantastic place to stay. “Chic boutique hotel with impeccable design. Modern Moroccan style throughout with vibrant art, bright colors and local artifacts. Spectacular cuisine served in a restaurant specializing in seafood”.
15 km south of Essaouira, Sidi Kouki is considered to be a better beach, the area feels quite remote and does not have the same facilities but a visit is worthwhile. Take a local bus to the beach if you have time.
This town, about 3-4 hours from Marrakech on the Southern Atlantic coast is very popular with some of the best beaches in Morocco. It might be best to hire a driver to get there and maybe stay a few days. It is popular for golfing as well as the lovely crescent-shaped beach and promenade. With so many accommodation options, there is something to suit every traveler.
Known as Morocco’s ‘Oyster Capital’ this little town is north of Essaouira and about 3 hours from Marrakech. The gorgeous lagoon beach is one of the prettiest in Morocco and the village has a lovely charm about it. It is not as popular as some of its counterparts which makes it an ideal destination for some real downtime. Plenty of Riads and boutique hotels to choose from, spend a few days…
Local buses to beaches
Use the cheap and cheerful local buses to get to the coast or perhaps hire a driver and mini-bus.
TRAVELING ON WITH OUR KIDS
We plan on taking the kids to Fez next time we are in the northern hemisphere, which will be for Christmas with the family in the UK. It will be interesting to compare the differences between the two cities, Marrakech will always hold a special place in our memories though as the first taste of North Africa with our kids.
This trip (even though we flew down) was part of our journey around Europe in with a small caravan and kids in winter. A year off school, but a wealth of educational opportunities.