Marrakech can be exotic, chaotic, challenging and welcoming in turn. You want belt? You want slippers? Where are you from? How much you want to pay? A woman grabs my arm and offers to to cover it with intricate henna patterns. When I decline she starts to make a ‘present’ of a design on my hand and I have to tug myself away. I point the camera in the direction of a distant group of snake charmers and instantly a man is there with a cap asking for payment.
There are sights to see in Marrakech; palaces, gardens, mosques, but that’s not really the point. You go for the colour, the street-life, the banter, the people. All of this can be rather exhausting of course, so thank goodness we were staying at Riad Star, a haven of calm within the Medina or walled city. Riad Star is the latest addition to a small family of boutique Riads, owned by English couple, Mike and Lucie Wood, and is beautifully designed on a Jazz Age theme in honour of Josephine Baker, cabaret star of the 1920s and 30s, who lived there for a time.
To help you make the most of your stay in Marrakech, the couple have designed the Marrakech-Riad i-phone app that you can download free from iTunes, giving you tips on haggling, information on restaurants, recommended shops and things to see around the Medina. Best of all the app has a map that is stored on your phone (no need for wifi or roaming) with all the points of interest marked on it and a GPS feature which means you can navigate your way through the narrow passageways of the souk by following the moving dot, without falling prey to those helpful young men who point you in the wrong direction and then offer to show you the way (for a small fee).
We flew to Marrakech with easyJet for a weekend on their new direct route from Bristol and spent our time sightseeing, haggling for things we didn’t really need and trying not to get too lost – although that is half the fun. The Saadian tombs were one of the things we discovered, entering in single file through a narrow walled passage, that opened into a large courtyard. Pavilions with columns and carved plasterwork housed the tombs marked on the floor in tiles, with a raised section to prevent anyone walking on the dead. These tombs are the resting place of the rulers of the 16th century Saadi dynasty, but were dusty and forgotten until 1917 when they were rediscovered and restored.
Even more impressive was the Medersa Ben Youssef, an Islamic religious school founded in the 14th century with over a hundred tiny rooms for the pupils, overlooking the courtyard with central shallow pool. The Medersa is well known in the Islamic world and every surface is covered with patterned tiles in blues, green and browns as well as intricate plasterwork and Arabic inscriptions. The richly decorated surroundings make it the ideal place to bring visiting royalty and celebrities to be photographed framed in one of the windows or against a tiled backdrop that says “Here I am in Marrakech”. The Medersa even starred as an Algerian Sufi retreat with Kate Winslet, in the film Hideous Kinky.
Even more recognisable for those “Here I am in Marrakech” photos, are the Majorelle Gardens which have become known for that particular shade of blue named after them, “Majorelle Blue”. The gardens were developed in the 1920s and 1930s by the French artist, Jacques Majorelle and were later bought and renovated in the 1980s by the French fashion designer, Yves Saint-Laurent. The gardens feel a bit like walking into an art installation, clothed with tropical bamboo stems, shady palms, spiky cactus and water lilies drifting in shallow pools. Rich teracotta painted paths lead the eye towards electric blue pavillions, while acid yellow and tangerine painted and planted pots punctuate the garden paths. There’s an interesting museum of Berber clothing and jewellery within the gardens, but don’t make the mistake of taking a sneaky photo inside or you’ll get a severe telling off like I did!
We used the Marrakech-Riad app to locate interesting places to eat as we wandered through the Medina, mainly European style cafes such as Earth Cafe that specialises in fresh juices and vegetarian and vegan dishes. I enjoyed my beetroot, ginger and orange juice with a lunch of roasted tagine vegetables topped with goat’s cheese. We were equally at home at some of the street kiosks that we came across in the souk where we tried a mini tagine of lamb and vegetables served with bread and a Moroccan salad of chopped cucumber and tomatoes. We discovered that the same fresh orange juice, tagines, flat bread, and Moroccan salad dishes appeared in most of the restaurants, so the choice of where to eat was less about the originality of the food and more about the setting and ambiance.
Haggling in the souk can be a daunting prospect, since you know that all the traders have been perfecting their bargaining skills since childhood and are relying on that fact to extract the maximum amount of money possible from you, while persuading you they are your best friend. Of course it’s all a friendly game of charades where each side understands the part they are playing. Luckily I was able to use the tips on the app to brush up on my haggling patter which works something like this;
First you decide what you want to buy and what is a fair price to pay, perhaps by checking out some of the fixed price shops such as Ensemble Artisanal or by asking the price of the same item in a few stalls while making it clear that you are ‘not buying today’. Next you find a stall that has a good selection of the slippers, bowls or lamps you want to buy and wander up without expressing any particular interest. The conversation develops like this;
“Please come and look, looking is free! Where are you from? Bristol? – I was working near there a few years ago. Do you like this bowl (thrusts it into your hand).
“Oh I’m not sure, I have no space to take this back to England but how much is it?
For you I’ll make a special price of £10, how many do you want to buy?
“Oh it’s very nice, but I can’t afford that and I’m not sure my husband would like it, but how about if I gave you £3 and I might take two?
Shopkeeper looks horrified; “Madame, you’re trying to rob me, I have a family to feed and can’t you see the beautiful craftsmanship – this is hand painted. But for you I can do it for £8″
You look doubtful, “No I really don’t think I need it, but perhaps I could go as high as £4 for it”
And so it goes on until you agree at £5 and before you can change your mind your purchase is being wrapped up for you and the cash (preferrably the exact amount or you might not see your change) is handed over.
I think after a month or two of haggling I might have got the hang of it, but we did go out looking for a lamp and came back with six painted bowls and a mirror after making the mistake of expressing interest in a pepper pot. But the nice shop-keeper did then take us up to the top floor of his shop and give us a great view over the roofs of the souk and we just about managed to squeeze it all into our easyJet hand luggage!
And so to the square of Jemaa El Fna, the beating heart and soul of Marrakech, where you can be entertained, robbed if you don’t take care, buy a glass of orange juice, or get into conversation with an ‘official’ guide who will feed you misinformation and try to take you to his friend’s shop. Watch the snake charmers and monkey men from a safe distance or they’ll be onto you, draping a snake around your neck and demanding money for the photos, or take a horse and carriage ride around the Medina. Around the edge of the square are cafe terraces where you can get a view over the square which is especially useful as dusk falls and the food stalls are put up to feed the throngs of visitors.
We didn’t eat at the stalls in the night market, although we fully meant to go back there, but somehow once we got back to the calm of Riad Star, we couldn’t face going back out again to face the pressing crowds and the succession of people trying to extract their share of your cash. We were recommended by the staff at Riad Star to try stall number 117 and by the Marrakech-Riad app to try the fish stall at No 14 serving fish from the ports of Essaouria and Casablance with French fries and salads – a Moroccan Fish & Chips. If you try either of these stalls, do let me know how they were!
Another benefit of using the Marrakech-Riad app is that it gives you a 10% discount at many of the cafes, restaurants and boutiques that are popular with Europeans, such as the Henna Cafe, a co-operative that is supported by the Marrakesh-Riad and provides an art space, small rooftop cafe and a community project where language classes are provided for locals who want to learn English, German and French to work in tourism. If you want to avoid being grabbed by a persistent lady in Jemaa El Fna, this is the place to get your henna design in a more relaxed atmosphere, but try not to step on the tortoise who roams under the tables in the terrace cafe!
It took me a couple of days before I could really relax in Marrakech and enjoy the atmosphere without worrying about being ripped off or scammed. By then it was time to fly home, but next time I’ll be ready to bargain like a local and bring home another suitcase full of slippers, painted tangines and Aladdin lamps.
Heather and Guy flew to Marrakech courtesy of easyJet who fly from Bristol to Marrakech on Tuesdays and Saturdays – perfect for a long weekend break. EasyJet also fly to Marrakech from Gatwick, Stanstead and Manchester so you really have no excuse!
Thanks to Riad Star who hosted our stay in Marrakech. We loved the beautifully designed home-from-home in the Medina, filled with Moroccan craftsmanship combined with Jazz Age objets, paying homage to cabaret star, Josephine Baker who stayed there in the 1940s. Rooms at the Riad start at £140 per night bed and breakfast and delicious Moroccan meals are available on request.
The Riad is one of four in the Marrakech-Riad family, owned by English couple Mike and Lucie Wood, which are all well located close to all the major sights of the Medina, with English-speaking Moroccan staff who will offer advice, airport transfers, book restaurants, and lend you a local mobile so they can rescue you if you get lost in the Souk! Each Riad has between 4 and 7 bedrooms, making them ideal to book as a group if you are planning a gathering of family or friends, or for couples planning a romantic getaway.
About the Marrakech Riad App
We found the Marrakech-Riad app was indispensable for finding our way around the Medina and full of useful tips and information about sightseeing, restaurants and shopping. The app is free to download from iTunes and features;
- A comprehensive GPS responsive map of the old town medina to save you getting lost in the maze of bustling streets. In the latest version the map has been extended to cover the new town area of Marrakech.
- Background profiles on popular tourist attractions and up to the minute guides to restaurants and bars, written by Marrakech Riad owner and local expert, Mike Wood
- Discounts at many of the shops and restaurants recommended by the app
- Information on day excursions from Marrakech
- Useful tips on haggling in the souks and other advice to make your stay in Marrakech more enjoyable.
More things to see in Morocco
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In a city like Copenhagen that’s awash with cool Scandinavian design, the Andersen Hotel manages to combine colourful and trendy decor with a warm welcome and above-and-beyond service. We stayed at the Andersen Hotel for a weekend break in February and found it was ideally located for seeing the sights of Copenhagen and convenient for getting to and from the airport.
But don’t be surprised if you pass a shop window full of sex-toys and fishnet body-stockings as you walk the short distance from the Central Station to the hotel, or head to the Kødbyen meat packing district nearby to try out one of the excellent restaurants. Vesterbro, where the Andersen Hotel is located, is the red light district of Copenhagen but also a mixed neighbourhood with bars, restaurants and designer boutiques that’s known for its nightlife scene. In liberal Copenhagen everyone takes these things in their stride.
I hope you enjoy the video below about the Andersen Hotel in Copenhagen
Walking in from the street, the large reception area felt instantly cosy, with a quirky round fire burning on the wall and the chess sets laid out for a game, under the oversized pink and purple lamp shades. Candles glowed in the purple glass holders and a freshly brewed coffee was available on request. If you’re downstairs between 5 and 6pm you’ll be offered a glass of wine on the house, which in pricy Copenhagen is much appreciated by thirsty guests. Just around the corner from the hotel is the Mikkeller micro-brewery and bar where you can taste Copenhagen brewed ales with live music.
Our Amazing Junior Suite on the third floor was decorated in a Mermaid colour scheme which the hotel describes as “vibrant aqua’s, turquoise and lime colours on a graphic earth ground base in magical harmony” and it was good to be transported to the vibrant tropics and away from the grey February day. All the room names have superlatives here; the Standard rooms are Cool; the Deluxe rooms are Brilliant; the Superior rooms are Wonderful and we were hopeful they’d live up to their name.
Since we had the largest style of room, our Amazing Junior suite had a spacious sitting area with a turquoise velvet sofa, a little glass coffee table just big enough to rest a couple of wine glasses and a flat screen TV that swung round to be viewed either from the sofa or the bed. There was a shaggy green rug on the light wood flooring and a mural on the wall stacking the names of other places you might want to visit on your travels; Oslo, Riga and Stockholm among them. As my laptop is my constant companion, I was pleased to find that there was free, fast wifi throughout the hotel and in our bedroom.
There was enough storage in the single wardrobe for a couple on a weekend break to hang their party clothes and next to it was a fridge and safe with a clear perspex ‘mini-bar’ perched on top with some individual wine bottles and snacks to purchase. The bed was super-comfy, with a soft and fluffy duvet which we squirted liberally with the sleep spray provided and drifted off in a cloud of lavender. Our room was on the corner of the building overlooking the street, so the sound of voices drifted up to us late at night and in the early morning we were awoken by the clattering of service lorries. If you are a light sleeper like me and not so much of a party animal, I would probably ask for a room that overlooks the internal courtyard rather than the street.
The equally colourful turquoise bathroom featured a Phillip Stark bathroom suite with a large rectangular sink, well-lit mirror and hairdryer on the wall. While most of the rooms have a walk-in shower, our Junior Suite had a bath with powerful shower above, which we had the option of sharing with the Andersen Hotel rubber duck. Surrounded by so many local design names I was surprised that the neroli and cedar toiletries were from the Green Park range by English company Molton Brown, but then the hotel also uses Designer’s Guild furnishings so perhaps there’s an Anglophile thing going on.
I had a snoop around some of the other rooms to see how they compared to our Junior Suite and was impressed that even the smaller rooms had the same levels of design and comfort, all slightly different while incorporating the turquoise “Mermaid” colour scheme or the fuschia and purple “Princess” scheme that’s found in the lobby. Take a look below at my photo of some of the other bedrooms.
Breakfast was served downstairs in the dining area which was partitioned off with a curtain during the day when not in use. The same pink and purple Princess colour scheme extended to the breakfast room, with wood and chrome cafe tables and perspex throne chairs which were surprisingly comfortable despite looking like something out of a Disney film.
There was an excellent spread, although the hotel does not serve hot dishes at breakfast and the nearest you’ll get is a warm boiled egg in a basket. Even so we found plenty to sustain us for a day’s sightseeing in Copenhagen, from dense grainy Danish bread wrapped in a napkin, cubes of local cheese to be sliced thinly with a wire cutter, miniature pastries and muesli with little bowls filled with nuts, seeds and dried fruit to sprinkle on top. Being Denmark you could wash it all down with beetroot and carrot juice, an unusual tea with a names like Jade Wings or Green Mint from the colourful Osterlandsk tins, or even a warming nip Gamel Dansk liquor.
Throughout our three night stay we found that the staff were extremely helpful with plentiful suggestions and recommendations, going out of their way to get us the information we needed and to look things up on the internet. When I asked for some suggestions from the lovely receptionist, Anne Mette on romantic places to go in Copenhagen, she provided me with a whole printed list of suggestions on our return to the hotel, having researched it for us while we were out. The staff at Andersen Hotel seemed to be recruited for their warm and helpful personalities and nothing was too much trouble.
Extending this customer friendly approach, the hotel offers a Concept 24 option which can be requested when you book, and allows you to keep your room for a full 24 hours from your check in time. Around 60% of the guests take advantage of this option, as we did, which meant that having arrived in the evening, we could check out later in the day, allowing us to keep our room until the afternoon before heading off to the airport.
Andersen Hotel is ideal for….
Couples, groups of friends, leisure travellers and even business travellers who want a conveniently located base in Copenhagen for sightseeing, eating out and nightlife. We loved the friendly service, trendy decor, delicious breakfast and the free glass of happy hour wine.
Andersen Hotel may not be for you if….
You have young children or are easily offended by the red light aspects of the Vesterbro neighbourhood, or want a hotel that has a restaurant or wide range of facilities such as spa or gym.
Thanks to Andersen Hotel who provided a complimentary weekend stay for Heather and Guy.
Andersen Boutique Hotel, Helgolandsgade 12, DK- 1653 Copenhagen V. Reservations: email@example.com Tel: +45 3331 4344
For more information, reservation and prices visit the Andersen Hotel website. At time of writing typical room rates seen on the website for a weekend stay for 2 people with breakfast were; Standard rooms: 1445DKr – 1695 DKr , Deluxe Rooms: 1645 DKr -1895 DKr , Superior Rooms: 1725 DKr – 2025 DKr, Junior Suite: 2025 DKr – 2325 DKr
What else did we enjoy in Vesterbro?
On our first evening we took a short walk from Andersen Hotel to the Kødbyen or Meat-Packing district that sits within the Vesterbro neighbourhood. It was dark so we didn’t really see a lot of the many bars and cafes in this area, but we loved Bio Mio, an organic brasserie-style cafe with a very friendly, relaxed atmosphere, ideal for groups of friends.
Bio Mio Organic Restaurant
If we’d had more time we would have liked to also try out Kodbyens Fiskebar which specialises in fish and seafood with good wines in an informal setting and Mikkeller, a bar and micro-brewery just round the corner from the hotel, which has 20+ ales on tap from Copenhagen and around the world.
Claus Meyer deli
At the far end of Vesterbro bordering the more upmarket Frederiksberg we had lunch on our last day at the Meyers Deli which servers delicious light dishes and Smørrebrød, where you’ll be tempted by all the other Claus Meyer juices, jams and preserves as well as some fresh dishes to take away.
Museum of Copenhagen
At the Museum of Copenhagen which we passed by chance, we had a look around the ground floor exhibitions which change regularly and were currently on the theme of immigration and Becoming a Copenhagener. Upstairs we enjoyed an exhibition on the theme of the many different kinds of love, which incorporated the writings and possessions of Copenhagen philosopher and writer Soren Kierkegaard.
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
Only a 10 minute walk from the Andersen Hotel, right opposite Tivoli Gardens we loved the sculpture museum and art gallery of Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, built to house the impressive collection of brewing magnate Carl Jacobsen which includes plenty of Impressionist paintings that you’ll recognise.
More information for visiting Copenhagen
While in Copenhagen we enjoyed a gastro-cruise as part of the Copenhagen Cooking festival, one of the biggest food festival in Northern Europe which takes place in August and February. The festival showcases the best of Danish and Nordic Cuisine with special events throughout the month of February that combine artistic, musical and gastronomic experiences hosted by different restaurant and venues around Copenhagen. Look out for the summer edition of the Copenhagen Cooking festival in August. Read about our gastro-cruise here.
We used the Copenhagen Card during our stay for free public transport by bus, train and metro as well as free admission to 75 museums and attractions. The Copenhagen Card costs are; 24 hrs – 299 DKr Adult, 159 DKr Child; 48 hrs – 449 DKr Adult, 199 DKr Child; 72 hrs – 529 DKr Adult, 239 DKr Child. We used the card to get free entry to many of the sights we visited on this and previous visits such as Ny Carlsberg Typtotek, Rosenborg Slot, The Museum of Copenhagen, The Harbour Cruise and Tivoli Gardens as well as for getting around on the metro and train.
For more information about visiting Copenhagen, see the Visit Copenhagen official Tourism website. Thanks to Wonderful Copenhagen who hosted our weekend visit to Copenhagen.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
Whether you’re just-getting-to-know-you or celebrating many years of happiness together, you’ll want your romantic weekend away to be just perfect. Copenhagen, with its delightful parks, sparkling canals and delicious cuisine could fit the bill perfectly. From the Tivoli pleasure gardens to fairytale turrets of the Rosenborg Palace, here are my suggestions for ways to spend your romantic weekend in Copenhagen, whatever your budget;
When to visit Copenhagen?
The best time to visit Copenhagen is from the spring through to the early autumn when the Copenhageners are out enjoying the green spaces, harbour walks and pavement cafes after the chilly Nordic winter. That’s not to say that you won’t find romance in a cosy cafe with flickering candles in the winter months up to Christmas or in February when the city puts on the Wondercool festival encompassing a jazz festival, the Copenhagen Cooking festival and many design events.
The fairytale Rosenborg Palace and the Kings Garden
You’ll find parks and green spaces all over Copenhagen, but the most romantic is considered to be the Kongens Have or Kings Garden in front of the fairytale turrets of the Rosenborg Palace, with a rose garden, formal hedged enclosures and the moat around the palace. Eat nearby at one of the inexpensive food stalls at the Torvehallerne Food Market or pick up something to eat from one of the deli stalls and relax on the grass under the trees with a picnic. For a delighfully romantic restaurant on the edge of the King’s garden, try Orangariet which is set in the old orangery of the palace and serves smorrebrod at lunchtime and a set menu in the evening. While you’re there take a look around the palace where all the rooms are furnished from the period of different kings of Denmark and see the crown jewels in the Treasury in the basement of the castle. The botanical garden with a lake and palm houses is right behind the Rosenborg Palace and is another pretty place to have a picnic or go for a walk.
The Tivoli Pleasure Gardens
Tivoli is one of the treasures that Copenhageners of all ages hold dear to their heart, with landscaped gardens and lakes, the Moorish palace that houses the Nimb Hotel, roller-coasters and rides for the more daring and plenty of great restaurants. The parks has a slightly old-fashioned, fairy tale atmosphere with bandstands where you can sit to listen to the music and a pantomime theatre where mime shows are performed. Visit in the afternoon to listen to the musical entertainments and stroll under the magical Chinese lanterns as dusk falls, then enjoy a meal in one of the many restaurants where you’ll find everything from hot dogs and pizza, to traditional Danish and Nordic cuisine. In summer I recommend a romantic meal at the Brasserie in the Nimb Hotel where you can dine al fresco on the terrace overlooking Tivoli pleasure grounds.
Around the harbour
Copenhagen is a city that’s founded on the water and you’re never far from one of the canals or the harbourside. A good way to get your bearings and see all the sights around the harbour is to take a harbour tour with DFDS or Netto boats, from the quays near Gammel Strand. If you want something more intimite, you can hire a rowing boat in Christianshaven and use it to explore the canals with all the houseboats on your own.
In summer join the Copenhageners sitting along the harboursides and canal sides, dangling their legs or sitting on the steps outside the Royal Library, also known as the Black Diamond. Nyhaven is also a favourite spot for a stroll, with pretty coloured merchant houses and plenty of cafes to sit outside and enjoy the atmosphere while the small bridge that crosses it has a collection of love locks similar to those found in Rome and Paris.
Artworks and sculptures at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
The art museum of Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is full of classical sculptures and French impressionist artworks is a romantic place to visit at any time of year, and it’s free on Sundays or with a Copenhagen Card. Wander through the spacious halls filled with white marble statues from Danish neo-classical sculptors and see the impressionist collection that includes paintings by Renoir, Van Gough and Monet including the Degas “Little Ballerina” sculpture. At the centre of the building is a winter garden with glass roof and greenery with a cafe at one side that is a romantic place for lunch.
Climb the Round Tower
The Round Tower, in the Latin quarter is a fun place to visit for couples, as it’s an easy climb up the internal ramp (no steps so the carriages were able to ride to the top) to get great views over Copenhagen from the top of the tower. Look out for the Kissing Bench near the top where you can sit with your loved one by the window with a view. Half way up there’s also a large art space in the former library with a small cafe, and modern artworks and installations, where they also hold concerts and musical events.
Romantic places to eat in Copenhagen
For that special celebration we recommend the top end Alberto K in the landmark Royal Hotel (Now SAS Radisson Blu) designed by Arne Jacobson. Although this is a blow-the-budget experience, you’ll be dining in an intimite candle-lit restaurant on the top floor where every table has views over the city. For a similarly high end gastronomic experience, try the Mielcke og Hurtigkarl in the Frederiksberg Gardens with sparkling crystals dangling from the ceiling and views over the gardens. If you’re looking for a romantic place to eat on a more moderate budget, try the colourful but cosy dining room with a fireplace at Cap Horn in Nyhaven or Orangariet in the Kings Garden. If you enjoy jazz then check out The Standard, where the old Customs House near Nyhaven has been converted into three different restaurants and you can have dinner and then follow with the jazz performance in the club upstairs. If you’re on a tight budget, we recommend the Tollerhallerne food halls at lunchtime, where you can squeeze in at one of the many stalls selling inexpensive lunchtime dishes or take them to eat on the benches outside in fine weather.
Romantic places to stay in Copenhagen
If money is no object for a luxurious romantic break then consider the Nimb Hotel at the Tivoli Gardens, with 17 individually furnished rooms filled with antiques or the classic and elegant Hotel d’Angleterre where you’ll feel like a princess. For those of us who have to live on a more realistic budget, try the Avenue Hotel in the affluent neighbourhood of Friederiksberg where we love the cosy atmosphere of their salon with Moroccan lanterns and flea market finds or the Axel Guldsmeden Hotel in trendy Vesterbro where contemporary design meets Balinese styling. If you and your loved one want to be truly alone then try the Central Hotel in Frederiksberg “the smallest hotel in the world” with just one room where breakfast is served in the retro neighbourhood cafe. To breathe some sea air, travel to the northern edge of Copenhagen for the Skovshoved Hotel with rooms decorated in light and romantic Scandinavian style and sea views.
For more information about visiting Copenhagen, see the Visit Copenhagen official Tourism website. Thanks to Wonderful Copenhagen who sponsored our weekend visit to Copenhagen.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey