Christmas is a special time of year but why spend it in the cold and dreary British winter climate when you could be exploring exotic locations? For those who want more excitement in their lives than a turkey dinner and the Queen’s Speech, and maybe want to get away from the crass commercialisation of the festive period, Marrakech could be the perfect destination for a Christmas and New Year holiday.
Travelling to Morocco is usually pretty straightforward, with flights to Marrakech Menara Airport taking around 3.5 hours from many UK airports. That said, this year, holiday makers may need to take the scenic route unless the Moroccan government lifts its travel ban for direct flights from the UK for Covid related reasons.
Once you’ve landed though, you instantly know that you’re not just in another country but another continent, and that Christmas is going to be a very different experience to the usual routines back home. Make sure you’ve booked yourself into a Moroccan riad for the authentic experience in accommodation and hospitality. There’s about 1500 of these luxury houses or palaces, typically built around an interior courtyard or garden, across the medina. This traditional riad has even produced a handy guide for visitors entitled ‘Christmas and New Year in Marrakech’, which is well worth a look.
So, what should you be expecting?
What’s Christmas Day Like in Marrakech?
One of the first things you’ll notice is that Morocco, being a predominantly Muslim country, does not actually celebrate Christmas. This means that the city of Marrakech will be in full swing, even on Christmas Day. Shops, banks, the souks, galleries and many of the tourist attractions are open for business as people go about their usual business.
If you don’t want to do without the festivities altogether, you can still find Christmas church services at the protestant and catholic churches in Gueliz, a modern French district where most foreigners choose to live. Here, you’ll also see Christmas decorations in boutiques and shopping malls.
Where (and What) to Eat on Christmas Day in Marrakech
Restaurants will be open for business as usual throughout the Christmas period, and there’s a wide selection when it comes to eateries and cafés. Moroccan cuisine reflects the country’s multicultural history. It’s one of the great cuisines of the world, blending native Berber traditions with Spanish, French and Arabic influences. If you can, research restaurant choices ahead of your visit and make a reservation – Christmas is a busy time in the city! This compilation is an excellent place to start your research.
If you can’t do without traditional Christmas food, you’ll find festive menus at some of the international hotels and restaurants, and there are several restaurants that particularly cater to British tourists who don’t want to miss out on their Christmas turkey.
Where to Buy Christmas Drinks in Marrakech?
Moroccan hypermarket chain Marjane will have a good selection of alcoholic beverages if you fancy buying a bottle of sherry, wine or brandy for your Christmas tipple. You may be surprised to hear that there are also Moroccan red wines worth trying. Did you know that Morocco has the best vineyards in North Africa and is the second largest wine-producing country in the Arab world? Take a look at these top vineyards including some that you can visit from Marrakech.
It is worth reminding yourself that Morocco is a Muslim country. While alcohol is not banned, it can be frowned upon. Some riads don’t serve alcohol at all on account of their religious beliefs or proximity to a mosque – it’s best to check beforehand. You may also prefer to restrict the enjoyment of alcoholic drinks to your hotel room unless there’s a licenced bar.
What About Christmas Shopping in Marrakech?
It’s high season in Marrakech at the end of December, with visitors from all over the place celebrating the winter holidays in this bustling city. Daytime temperatures average around 19 degrees centigrade, which is easy T-shirt weather in which to explore all the city has to offer, and that of course includes the famous souks.
Whether you shop for Christmas presents for the folks back home, or are looking for souvenirs for yourself, Marrakech is the perfect place to find unusual gifts for all budgets. From leather products to colourful Berber bread baskets, ceramics and glassware, stylish kaftans and babouche slippers, traditional rugs and Ras el Hanout spice blends. The famous souks, especially Souk Semmarine, are a true feast for the senses and experience not to be missed.
Where to Go Sightseeing in Marrakech at Christmas
You most certainly can sightsee, and you must. As already mentioned, Christmas is not a public holiday here, so the many tourist attractions are open for business as usual. Take a walk around the exterior of the impressive minaret at the landmark Koutoubia Mosque, and pay a visit to the El Badi Palace, the El Bahia Palace and the magical Majorelle gardens.
If art and culture are your thing, visit the Musée Yves Saint Laurent and the Musée des Confluences, a most beautifully constructed and embellished building in its own right. Allow for a coffee stop here at Bacha Coffee House, Marrakech’s best coffee shop with a choice of more than 40 brews.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, take a stroll over to Jemaa el-Fna, the vast open square at the heart of the medina. For many centuries, this has been the pulsating nerve centre of Marrakech and where medieval and modern blend seamlessly on a daily basis, providing a fascinating sensory spectacle. Locals and tourists mingle here every night for street entertainment and theatre, snake charmers, live music and street food. A definite must-see, this is Marrakech’s biggest attraction and a UNESCO world heritage site.