tangier or marrakech

Tangier Or Marrakech: Which City For A 3-5 Day Break

If you’re planning to spend a few days in Morocco, you may be wondering whether Tangier or Marrakech is a better choice.

Though the two cities are roughly the same size, they have very different vibes. Marrakech, the crown jewel of Moroccan tourism, is an inland oasis extremely hot in the summer, has the famed Jemaa El Fna square, and a rich offering of luxury hotels, restaurants, nightlife, and shopping. Tangier, on the other hand, has a much more local vibe and lifestyle, though it’s very close to Spain. The city has been renovated and cleaned up, has good nightlife and fantastic beaches, including along the beautiful new seafront promenade.

Tangier or Marrakech: what travelers say

Tangier
Tangier (2)
  • Marrakech is the tourist capital of Morocco and has a lot more tourists, tourist attractions and historical sights concentrated together compared to Tangier.
  • Tangier, on the other hand, is located on the coast with both a Mediterranean and an Atlantic facade, while Marrakech is inland, and oasis within a dry and arid region.
  • Summer in Marrakech is extremely hot (100º+F), with no sea breeze to refresh the polluted air from the heavy traffic around the avenues in the center. Tangier is cooler due to the sea and the wind, but also much more humid compared to the dry heat in Marrakech.
  • In summer months, visitors in Tangiers are generally able to use their day to the fullest for sightseeing while in Marrakech, they typically have to wait a few hours a day in an air-conditioned place until the heat cools off in the evening.
  • Marrakech suffers from significant air pollution when the weather is hot, and from heavy traffic. Tangiers also has increasing traffic, but not to the same degree except in the summer.
  • Tangiers. At least one can use the whole of the day if there in August or early September. In Marrakech one simply has to stay in aircon for at least 6 hours which is a waste of a holiday in my opinion.
  • Though Tangier is much less European tourist-oriented, it’s filled by national visitors during the summer months.
  • Marrakech gets a lot of national and international investments in city and touristic infrastructure, including upscale hotels, guest houses, shops, restaurants, and night entertainment.
  • Tangier, on the other hand, very nice beaches with poney and camel rides, a renovated medina (old town), a large and brand new beach promenade, a new marina, some new museums.
  • Tangiers has been cleaned up in recent years and now is much cleaner with a lot less hustlers, scammers, and rip-off artists, who have now been driven off the streets. The city has become safer for tourists to explore on their own.
  • Marrakesh also has its share of false guides and scammers – it can be hard to stroll in peace in the Medina. An efficient tourist police, however, now actively monitor tourist areas. Regardless, Marrakech and Tangier are still sometimes viewed as pushy tourist traps.
  • Day-trippers from Spain frequently cross the strait of Gibraltar from Tarifa or Algeciras (see this post) to spend a day visiting Tangier – many love it. Some stay in the city overnight while others continue on to Chefchaouen or Asilah (see further).
  • Many travelers suggest spending 1 to 3 nights in Tangier to see it properly as it’s an interesting city. Tangiers is often described as more relaxed, less crowded, friendlier and less mercantile than Marrakech. Some visitors also now find it cleaner.
  • While Marrakech has relatively flat geography, Tangier is built on hillsides and walking around Tangier may require more effort. However, there are plenty of inexpensive small taxis around for easy transport around the steep streets.
  • Some travelers favor Tangier over Marrakech due to easier-to-avoid crowds and lesser heat and dust (in the summer). They also value the opportunity to visit beautiful Chefchaouen which is about a 2-hour drive from Tangier.
  • Some travelers feel Marrakech has a more exotic feel than Tangier, due to the palm tree oasis, the historical palaces and monuments, and the large traditional old town. Tangier, however, while only a few miles apart from Europe, is an authentic modern Moroccan city.
  • Other travelers prefer Tangier as they find it easier to navigate and less chaotic, more compact and less spread out, thus easier to explore – despite the 5-minute steep uphill walk from the beach and harbor to the city center.
  • Some travelers feel than 1 day in Tangiers is enough to see the most interesting sights and get bored when staying longer. Others were happy to see the city but would not return other than merely passing through it.

Tangier or Marrakech: access & transportation

Tanger-Med port
Tanger-Med port (3)

Marrakech has a high-traffic international airport with abundant international flights to and from Europe and North America. There are daily low-cost flights to Marrakech from an ever-growing number of European cities.

There are ferries from Tarifa, Spain to Tangiers crossing the strait of Gibraltar and arriving at the port located right on the city’s waterfront – a short walk from the Medina and the sea promenade. See this post regarding getting from Spain to Tangier by ferry.

The Tangier airport is about a 30-minute drive from the port and a 20-minute drive from the city center. There are flights to Tangier from a few European cities, though not nearly as many as Marrakech.

You can take the train from Tangier to Marrakech. The normal train takes close to 9 hours while the high-speed line takes a little over 5h. Some travelers choose to take a sleeper train to save time. Another option is to stop in Rabat for a night and visit the capital.

A day trip to Chefchouaen in the mountains requires a 3-hour bus ride or a 2-hour Grand Taxi ride. Both options are available from the Tangier city bus station.

Moving around without a car in both Marrakech and Tangier is relatively easy by small taxi – are available everywhere and inexpensive – just insist on the driver turning the legal taxi meter.

In Marrakech, city buses are also a good option. The city center lines include the Airport bus and are great for sightseeing at a very low cost. You can also get a touristic hop-on/hop-off bus.

In Tangier, the open-top hop-on hop-off tour bus offers two routes, one covering much of the city (except the super-narrow streets), the other going out all the way to the Grottes d’Hercule.

Tangier or Marrakech: vibe & people

Marrakech vibe
Marrakech vibe (4)

Like most Moroccan cities, Tangier and Marrakech both have a Medina (old city) and a new, modern town. In both Tangier and Marrakech’s old towns, travelers recommend looking out for reckless bikes and mopeds when walking along the small streets and alleys.

Tangier has recently received lots of investments to develop it into a tourist city, and its Medina has been fully repainted and cleaned up with direction signs everywhere.

While some travelers don’t like Tangier as much as Marrakech or Essaouira, others feel it has an authentic feel vs Marrakech’s “Club Med” atmosphere. Tangier can be an interesting city that comes alive in the summer.

Besides the old city and the traditional markets, Tangier, Like Marrakech, also has a good offering of upscale hotels, bars and clubs, even a casino on the seafront. Outside of the city, Cape Spartel and the “Grottes d’Hercules” offer magnificent views over the Mediterranean.

Although Tangier has been made safer, travelers still need to be cautious e.g. when walking at night in certain parts of the Medina. While the first impression of Tangier is not always the best (e.g. at the port), visitors suggest digging further as it’s a living city with quite a few gems.

Some travelers recommend not staying longer than a day or two in Tangier and instead travel to the coastal resort of Asilah and the pretty mountain village of Chefchaouen.

In September, the maximum temperatures in Marrakech are around 32º (90ºF) vs 26ºC (80ºF) in Tangier. In November, temperatures tend to drop in Tangier with significant rains, while Marrakech retains pleasant temperatures (though with cooler nights).

Tangier or Marrakech: sights & culture

Both Tangier and Marrakech have an interesting old town to offer, though Marrakech’s is larger, with more tourist shows and attractions, especially around the renowned Jamaa El Fna snake.

Tangier

Tangier markets
Tangier market (5)

The Kasbah (ancient citadel) and the live narrow streets of the Medina are nice to stroll. The Grand Socco and the Petit Socco, two central traditional marketplaces, are interesting to visit.

Visitors like to hang out for a mint tea at the Grand Socco, observing merchants at work amidst the strong smell of spices, and enjoying the view on the Sidi Bou Abid Mosque and its polychrome tiles.

There are pleasant walks between the two markets and around the fortified walls. From the Kasbah, you can also visit the Sultan’s palace and gardens, now housing the Moroccan Arts museum and the Antiques museums.

Café Hafa, a historical café with breathtaking sea views and an artistic vibe (famous authors used to hang out there), was an important attraction for tourists but was unfortunately closed down.

Nearby along the main boulevard, The “Mur des Paresseux” lookout offers splendid views over the Strait of Gibraltar and the southern tip of Spain/Europe just a few miles away.

Visitors typically love Tangier’s white-sand beaches, including the ones stretching along the fully renovated seafront promenade lined with beach restaurants and pubs. Other nice and ample beaches can be accessed in minutes from the center along both the Mediterranean and Atlantic facades.

The Caves of Hercules is an archaeological cave and popular tourist attraction near scenic Cape Spartel, a 20-minute drive from Tangier’s center. Visitors sometimes report being disappointed, however, as the caves are smaller than expected and not so well-maintained. Cape Spartel, on the other hand, is generally considered worth the ride.

Marrakech

Marrakech palaces
Marrakech palace (6)

Among Marrakech’s top sights is no doubt the famous Jemaa El Fna square and market with its street performers and traditional food and crafts, taking the visitor back in time.

The medina, ancient Berber city surrounded by fortified walls and full of traditional markets and majestic riads (traditional houses with central patios), is also great visiting.

Marrakech also has a range of impressive historical palaces including the Bahia Palace (19th century) and the 15th-century El Badi royal palace ruins. The city also has important religious landmarks such as the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque with its exceptionally high minaret, the Saadian sultan’s mausoleum and gardens, and the very old Ben Youssef Mosque.

There are also noteworthy historic gardens such as the 12th-century Menara Gardens botanical park, the famed early 1920s Jardins Majorelle built by the renowned artist and painter, and the 19th-century Jardin Secret Islamic garden.

Marrakech also has a few museums including a photography museum, a Moroccan arts and crafts museum, a gallery for modern African art (MACAAL), and the Yves Saint Laurent fashion design museum.

Besides the lively and fascinating Media area, the city also has nice modern neighborhoods for taking pleasant walks such as Hivernage and Gueliz – the latter has many nice stores for fashion shopping.

Tangier or Marrakech: food & nightlife

Mamounia Hotel Marrakech
Mamounia Hotel Marrakech (7)

Marrakech is famous among foreigners for its nightlife, with a broad offering of upscale restaurants, pubs, and clubs, including some that attract some of the wealthiest people in the world.

There are trendy bars and restaurants located in the Medina (e.g. in exclusive riads), the Gueliz district, the Hivernage area, and the exclusive and upscale Palmeraie where the rich and famous own posh villas.

Fashionable places to hang out for dinner or a drink include the posh Mamounia hotel with its historic gardens and casino and its La Perle Skybar rooftop bar and restaurant. Other hip places include the Pacha (Ibiza-style), the So Lounge (Sofitel), the Theatro and the jet-setters 555 Famous Club. The Monte Cristo night club is also worth a visit.

More affordable places to hang out include the Kosy bar, a relaxed rooftop bar, Café du Livre, a nice chillout café, restaurant, and bookstore, and Café Clock in the Kasbah area with live performances(alcohol-free).

Other restaurants and cafés travelers often recommend include Al Fassia restaurant, the Cafe de la Poste, Kechmara restaurant, and Cafe Atlas.

The Hammam de la Rose Arab bath is often mentioned for a relaxing session.

Tangier

Tangier seafront promenade
Tangier seafront promenade (8)

Tangier also has its share of restaurants, pubs, and clubs, ranging from cheap local dives all the way to upscale and trendy places – including beach clubs lining the seafront promenade.

The Chellah club is a long-standing and trendy hangout, located in the Chellah Hotel’s gardens, where the expat and western-minded community of Tangier often meets. The Hotel Continental also offers a popular pub for a nice drink.

Other fashionable hangouts include The Tanger Inn, a very nice English pub with dartboard and piano on the 13th floor of the like-named hotel, the Adresse Lounge, located in a beautiful Hollywood-style villa, and the Tangiers Moment’s, a literature-themed café and tea room.

Small relaxed tapas bars can also be found in the narrow streets off of Avenue Pasteur such as the Lisba bar or Les Ambassadeurs (generous fish tapas).

Tangier also has a slew of cafés offering panoramic views over the sea, e.g. around the Cap Spartel area but also along the eastbound road to Ksar Sghir.

Tangier or Marrakech: lodging

Lodging in Tangier
Lodging in Tangier (9)

Marrakech offers a large range of upscale boutique hotels, riads in the Medina, larger B&Bs, hotels and apartments around the center, and resort-style international hotels, namely in the posh Palmeraie area.

Staying in a riad (traditional house) in the Medina can give you a true taste of Marrakech and makes it easy to walk to the souks, main square, and countless restaurants and pubs of the area. There are riads of all sorts, from small local places to luxury European-run B&Bs.

For upscale hotels, travelers often recommend the Riu Tikida Palmeraie resort, a nice break from the center hustle and bustle and a relatively short taxi ride from the center. The Riu Tikida Garden, an all-inclusive slightly closer to the center, is also well-rated. Medina Gardens is an often-mentioned Thomson Couples hotel, great for a romantic break.

The Marrakech Diwane is a 4-star hotel offering great value. The iconic Hotel Grand Tazi is a beautiful place, also a popular tourist attraction.

In Tangier, the Tangerina guesthouse is often praised by travelers. Hotel Continental and Dar Omar El Khayam are also highly-rated. The latter is a former 1875 Spanish church with a nice vibe and friendly staff. It’s well-located close to the beach and city center, a 5-minute taxi ride from the Medina.

Tangiers also has some very nice lodging options in the Medina – although for some travelers these can be a bit claustrophobic unless it’s on a rooftop.

Tangier or Marrakech: day trips

Day trips from Marrakech
Day trips from Marrakech (10)

As mentioned, from Tangier city, Cap Spartel and Grottes d’Hercule make a nice day excursion, a 20 to 30 minutes ride from the center.

There are also popular excursions to Chefchaouen, Tetouan, and Asilah, all viable day trips via Grand Taxi (2 hours to Chefchaouen) or bus (3 hours). Asilah is a nice beach resort to visit, and Larache, a bit further down the coast, has interesting Roman ruin

Many travelers recommend visiting Tetouan, with its charmful Medina and the beautiful nature (beaches and mountains) around it. Others villages on and resorts on the Mediterranean coast, e.g. Oued Laou, are also well worth the trip.

The cities of Rabat and Meknes are also accessible in less than 3 hours – even faster for Rabat via the new high-speed train line from Tangier.

Marrakech has easy access to the Ourika Valley, an entry point to the Atlas Mountains, with scenic mountain villages and waterfalls and great hiking trail. In the winter, you can go skiing.

Travelers commonly take day trips to the charming coastal city of Essaouira 2 hours away by car – there’s a nice and comfortable bus as well which takes 3 hours.

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Photo credits:
(1) Featured: “Marrakesh_03_060” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Lee Kyung-joon
(2) “Tangier” (CC BY 2.0) by M McBey
(3) “Port of Tangier” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Benson Kua
(4) “Marrakech” (CC BY 2.0) by Jose Luis Garcia de los Salmones
(5) “At Medina of Tangier” (CC BY 2.0) by cat_collector
(6) “Marrakech” (CC BY 2.0) by Daniel Cruz Valle
(7) “Marrakech, Morocco” (CC BY 2.0) by Kyle Taylor, Dream It. Do It.
(8) “Tangier’s Coast” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Benson Kua
(9) “Cadiz, Spain in the background viewed fr” (CC BY 2.0) by La Tangerina
(10) “Marrakech” (Public Domain) by puffin11uk