A Budget Traveler's Guide to Marrakesh

Orange juice vendor in Marrakesh
Orange juice vendor in Marrakesh | © xiquinhosilva / Flickr
Sarah Williams

Marrakesh is a great destination for budget travellers. Of course, there are ways to make a trip to the Red City more expensive by, for example, staying in a top-of-the-range hotel, indulging in many spa treatments, and dining in high-class restaurants. With reasonable costs of living, however, combined with low admission fees for most attractions and many of the top things to see and do within a condensed and walkable area, a trip to there needn’t break the bank.

What to Do and See

Marrakesh is home to numerous attractions and activities, many of which are free or low cost.

Admire Koutoubia Mosque

The most recognisable symbol of Marrakesh, admiring the historic Koutoubia Mosque and its soaring minaret from the outside is completely free. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the mosque. To the side there are ruins of an older mosque, plus the remains of an old underground ablutions room, also free to see. A stroll through the pretty gardens doesn’t cost anything either.

The minaret of Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakesh

Visit varied museums and galleries

Marrakesh has a good selection of museums, most dedicated to local and national culture and history. Admission costs are typically low. Favourite museums include Dar Si Said and its exquisite displays of craftsmanship (admission 20 Moroccan dirhams/US$2); the Museum of Marrakech with artistic, cultural, and historic objects (admission 50 Moroccan dirhams/US$5); and Maison Tiskiwin that takes you on a journey through Morocco’s trading past (admission 20 Moroccan dirhams/US$5).

Venture into the newer part of Marrakesh, Gueliz, and you’ll find a number of modern art galleries. Largely displaying works by Marrakesh-based artists, most are completely free to browse.

Explore the Medina

The historic heart of Marrakech, a stroll around the old walled medina is often a highlight for many visitors. Plus, walking around doesn’t cost a penny. See traditional homes and workshops, photographs of old monuments, such as the various monumental gates and fountains, and soak up the hustle and bustle. Donkeys carry people and goods through the narrow streets and stray cats crouch in alcoves. Unless you buy anything, walking through the colourful souks is a free experience not to be missed. Feast your eyes on an array of items and inhale the heady aroma of strong-smelling spices.

Assortment of trinkets in a Marrakesh souk

Relax in Pretty Parks and Gardens

Marrakesh has some lovely gardens that are perfect for taking some time out to relax and people watch. There is no admission fee for the Menara Gardens, the Agdal Gardens (only open on Fridays and Saturdays), or Cyber Park Arsat Moulay Abdeslam, which provides free Wi-Fi access as an added budget-seeking bonus.

Unwind in a Hammam

If you’re tempted by the thought of a traditional Moroccan hammam but don’t want to spend a pretty penny for the experience, don’t worry. Public hammams are very reasonably priced. Follow the locals to Hammam Dar El Bacha, Kennaria Hammam, Hammam es Salam, or any neighbourhood steam house for an authentic cleanse at a fraction of the price charged in a spa. Admission costs are generally in the region of 10 Moroccan dirhams (US$1), though you can pay a bit more to have an attendant give you a scrub down.

Experience the Energy of Djemaa el-Fna

One of Marrakesh’s most captivating places, a walk through the main square of Djemma el-Fna reveals cheeky monkeys, sometimes dressed in clothes, snake charmers, orange juice vendors, an array of food stalls, and women creating intricate henna tattoos. In the evening, the square becomes even livelier, with fortune tellers, dancers, musicians, sages, and a variety of other entertainers and performers. Although free to enjoy, be careful where you point your camera or you may be expected to hand over a tip.

Traditional water sellers in Marrakesh

Where to Stay

Marrakesh has a decent amount of budget-friendly accommodation. Why not stay in a traditional riad?

Riad Karmela

A short walk from the souks and Djemaa el-Fna, Riad Karmela has a great location at the centre of the old city. Chill on the rooftop terrace and grab a bite to eat from the onsite restaurant if you don’t feel like venturing back out after an active day of exploring.

Riad Karmela, Azbetz, 10 Derb El Feranne Azbetz, Marrakesh, Morocco +212 5243-87937

Riad Jawhar

Close to the action yet situated down a quiet lane, drift into a deep sleep with ease at Riad Jawhar. Soak up some sun on the roof terrace and cool off with a dip in the small indoor plunge pool. Whip up a storm in the well-equipped kitchen. The four-bedroom riad is rented out in its entirety, providing plenty of privacy for guests.

Riad Jawhar, Unnamed Rd, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco +44 7590 120348

Riad Jardin Secret

Friendly staff members extend a warm welcome to Riad Jardin Secret, a traditional Moroccan guesthouse with plenty of lush greenery. The foliage complements the detailed Moroccan designs; it’s a top place for fans of an aesthetically pleasing environment. There’s an on-site restaurant for total convenience.

Riad Jardin Secret, 43- 46 Arset Aouzal, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco +212 5243-76606

Riad Petit Palais

A small riad for four, the two-bedroom property is rented to just one party at a time, meaning that you won’t be disturbed during your stay. The roof terrace is sure to entice. A short stroll from Djemaa el-Fna, the lovely riad is tucked away down a maze of lanes. It’s a terrific place to experience local life.

Riad Petit Palais, Derb Djamaa 84, Dabachi Medina Marrakech, Marrakesh 40001, Morocco +212 648-364346

Inside a modern Moroccan riad

What to Eat

Find the small local dining spots for both the best prices and a delicious local meal in an authentic setting. In such places, a tagine for two people will typically cost around 60 Moroccan dirhams (US$6), with crusty bread included for free. A couscous dish for two will cost around the same, though you may only find it on the menu on Fridays. Marrakesh has no shortage of budget-friendly restaurants.

Alternatively, grab a quick lunch from a small hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop. A baguette filled with minced beef and salad, sardines with fries, fried aubergine, and tomato sauce, or a mixed salad costs approximately 10–20 Moroccan dirhams (US$1–2). Pizzas are readily available too, with an individual-sized pizza costing around 30–40 Moroccan dirhams (US$3–4). Of course, prices for sandwiches and pizzas increase if you dine in a fancier restaurant.

A plethora of bakeries tempt passers-by with an array of pastries and sweet treats, great for a snack or dessert, and Marrakesh has a thriving street-food scene. Stay away from the main tourist areas, though, and seek out the local markets for the lower prices.

Tagines cooking in a local restaurant

How to Haggle

Anyone who has made purchases in Morocco’s souks has likely become quite a pro at haggling. Finding out an acceptable price from a trusted source, such as a member of staff in your accommodation, gives an advantage when negotiating prices. This applies to goods in the markets as well as for transportation costs. Transportation-wise, petite taxis are the best option for shorter distances; make sure the driver uses the meter. Horse-drawn carriages are the most expensive form of transportation in Marrakesh.

If an item catches your eye, have in mind your top price before you begin haggling. Try to let the vendor open with a price before you make any suggestions. Never pay the asking price. As a general rule, counter with less than half of what they suggest. It might seem like a huge difference, but many vendors grossly over-inflate their starting prices knowing that a game of cat and mouse is about to begin. They will come down in small increments, you will go up in small increments. If you can’t reach a price where both parties are happy, walk away. It also helps to ask about the same item at a few shops or stalls to get the best price. Don’t, however, dig in over a relatively small sum; it may be loose change to you, but could help a local to feed their family.

Moroccan pottery in a souk

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