Normally when we’re planning holidays we’re more likely to think of European countries like Spain, Italy and Greece with their lovely sun-drenched climates. Or perhaps we even try to get as far away as possible to exotic destinations such as Bali or the Maldives. But in actual fact you can delve right into another world that lies just a few hours away from Ireland – Morocco!
Nicknamed the Pearl of the Orient, Morocco has so much to offer but it is often underappreciated. From historical cities with colourful souks, long sandy beaches with fantastic surf, or even spectacular mountain ranges and the Sahara, a trip to Morocco will guarantee unforgettable moments. Be inspired by my guide to the best places to visit and plan the perfect holiday to Morocco!
Where to go in Morocco
Travelling to Morocco
City Gems | Desert, Mountains and More | Experience Morocco
Travelling to Morocco
With cheap flights to Morocco from Ireland, getting there is a piece of cake. Ryanair operate direct flights between Dublin and Marrakech, while Air Arabia operates direct flights between Dublin and Agadir. This gives you two easy access points to the country, though you can flight to other airports such as Fes and Casablanca with a stop-over along the way. Travellers looking to depart from airports other than Dublin will have to factor in a stop-over along the way.
A variety of languages are spoken in Morocco. Arabic and Berber are official languages, but you’ll find that French is also used very commonly in day-to-day business as well. You’ll find signage written in both Arabic and French. But don’t panic if you feel like you’ve forgotten those tidbits of French that you picked up from school! Moroccans are always extremely kind if you need a bit of help navigating, and you will be able to get by just fine with English, especially in the larger cities. But if you break out a bit of French or try some Arabic, you can be sure the locals are gonna love it!
The currency used in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham – it works out to roughly 11 Dirham for every €1. However, you need to remember that the Moroccan Dirham is a closed currency, meaning it cannot be used or traded outside of the country. If you take out an amount in Dirham for your holiday, try and use as much of this amount as you can and try not to have too much Dirham left over at the end. You’ll find more often than not that currency exchanges may refuse to change your Dirham back into your home currency! It sounds scary, but it just means that you should just do a little bit of planning in advance and always keep any receipts from currency exchanges while you’re there. :)
Irish holidaymakers travelling to Morocco do not require a visa! Just as an extra bit of handy advice, I’d recommend making a few photocopies of your passport and bringing those with you too – carry a copy with you at all times and keep the real one in a safe place, just to minimise the risk of losing it.
The most beautiful cities
Chefchaouen | Marrakech | Essaouira | More Recommendations
Every city and town in Morocco has its own charm which quickly put you under its spell. Visit the venerable medinas (old towns) and wander around their colourful and bustling souks and through their many winding lanes. The smell of cinnamon, coriander and cumin will awaken your senses. You really feel like you’ve arrived in a fairy tale when you’re right in the middle of Morocco’s colourful hustle and bustle!
Chefchaouen – the blue city in the Orient
Time seems to flow at its own pace in the town of Chefchaouen. Despite being a popular choice for tourists and visitors to the region, the town still manages to retain its air of tranquillity. The reason for this is the pretty shades of blue you’ll see every! A successful bargain down at the market is still honoured with a good old-fashioned handshake and in the small shops, you can still find handmade pots and fabrics. Take your time and wander through the picturesque scenery. Visiting this dreamy little town is certainly one of my favourite highlights of Morocco.
Marrakech – bustling markets
This city is world famous for its big and colourful markets, charming chaos and ornate mosques and palaces. Marrakech is known as the Pearl of the Orient and really popular with international visitors. The quirky metropolis radiates an unbelievably fascinating atmosphere, regardless of the time of day, and there’s absolutely tons of things to do in Marrakech as well. In the Djemaa el Fna, the main square in Marrakech, you’ll find old story tellers, countless musicians and artists and even snake charmers. As well as the world-famous market square, you should also pay a visit to the Jardin Majorelle. Cobalt-blue buildings, towering cacti and plants from every continent are just waiting to be discovered. The Jardin Majorelle is a real oasis of peace and quiet outside the bustling red city and it’s a welcome respite from the busy goings on all around.
Essaouira – the city of hippies and globetrotters
The history of the port town of Essaouira seems like a hair-raising roller-coaster ride due to the many highs and lows across the centuries . It was almost completely forgotten as a holiday destination over the years but thanks to loyal followings of relaxed and chilled-out travellers, the town has once again become a small but fine Moroccan gem.
People who came to the city could see that it had the charm of a bygone era. The cultural scene has been getting ever stronger over the last couple of years, giving it a reputation as an artist’s town. The strong wind blows along the city walls while the gulls cry as they soar over the city. Life here is simple and so Essaouira attracts many globetrotters and artists. Many of them return here time and time again. When the sun disappears into the Atlantic and the waves thunder against the rocks, you can feel the magic of the city. Come and see it for yourself!
Other top cities in Marocco
These cities and towns are worth a visit too:
- Casablanca -If you decide to visit the biggest city in Morocco, you should definitely take a look at the Hassan II. Mosque. With its 210-metre minaret, it is currently the tallest religious building in the world and has space for 25,000 worshippers. The city is mostly famous because of the film Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart.
- Aït-Ben-Haddou isn’t the only city in Morocco that Hollywood has put back on the map. The incredible fortified town of Aït-Ben-Haddou has also provided the backdrop for many films – it has even served as a shooting location for Game of Thrones, standing in for the slaver city Yunkai.
- Agadir – this coastal city attracts visitors with its nine-kilometre-long sandy beach and modern hotels. Here you can find everything that you need for a relaxing beach holiday. The popular surfing spots, Taghazout and Tamraght are also quick to get to from Agadir. It’s served by direct flights from Dublin.
- Fez (or Fès) – along with Rabat, Meknès and Marrakech, Fez is one of the four Imperial Cities. The Medina of Fez is the biggest in North Africa and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara
Does your suitcase weigh the same as one of the spice stalls after your city break? Need a time-out from all this colourful chaos? Then there’s nothing like getting out of the narrow streets and heading into Morocco’s breath-taking nature. You’ll find some of Morocco’s most beautiful sights in its diverse landscape. There aren’t many other countries where you can find snow-capped mountains, fine sandy beaches and endless desert!
Atlas Mountains | Paradise Valley | Sahara Desert | Agadir
The Atlas Mountains
On your flight into Morocco, you’ll definitely be able to see the gigantic Atlas Mountains from the window of the plane. However, it takes a hike into the mountains to realise how enormous they truly are. The highest peak, the Jebel Toubkal, measures a staggering 4,168 metres and is among Africa’s tallest. The demanding climb is worth it though for the spectacular views of Morocco’s beauty. A surprise to many is that there are seven ski areas with a total of 13 kilometres of piste in Morocco’s mountains!
The palm-fringed Paradise Valley is nestled in the western foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Deep canyons, rocky cliffs and sparkling blue rock pools with lush vegetation characterise the rugged mountains here. Dare devils love to jump into the water from the cliffs. To get here, you first need to drive about an hour inland from Agadir and then it’s a case of navigation narrow footpaths and balancing on logs as you cross small streams. My guru tip – you should also visit the Immouzer Waterfalls nearby.
The Sahara Desert
The unending sea of silence that is the Sahara Desert contrasts hugely with Morocco’s lively cities. Boundless distances, huge sand dunes and a stunning silence have given many hikers the feeling that the desert has secrets of its own.
Range Rovers take tourists into the desert where saddled camels wait to begin the tour. You head out into this seemingly endless mass of sand between the humps of these desert animals. Usually, you sleep in real Berber tents or beneath the stars. A desert tour is something you simply have to experience so you can learn that special feeling of endlessness and silence.
Morocco has countless fine sandy beaches to offer where you can get that real holiday feeling. Between the middle of March and September, the trade winds provide the perfect conditions for surfers and kiteboarders, and since Atlantic coast alone is 300 kilometres long so it would be ridiculous if you couldn’t find your dream beach here. Some of them are even completely untouched by tourism. The long beach in Agadir is quite a popular choice. Here, you can enjoy sunbathing under the African sun, cool off in the clear and pleasantly warm sea or stroll along the beach promenade. The fine sandy beach of Asilah is also a popular place among sun worshippers. Here, they offer beach trips, both on horseback and between the humps of a camel, for a welcome change.
Broaden your horizons!
If you’re craving an adventure which lets you experience different cultures, cuisine and landscapes, then this is a fantastic choice to go for. Morocco, as the gateway to Africa, offers a real mix of things to entertain beach lovers, city trippers and globetrotters alike! So, what are you waiting for? :)