The best destination comparison site!
The best destination comparison site!
Both Athens and Marrakesh are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is an abundance of travel guides for both cities, but few actually comparing them, and advising you which is the better for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased and independent views of Marrakesh and Athens, hopefully making your choice that little easier.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the links:
• Introduction to the cities
• Scores and ratings
• Which one should I, friends, or family visit?
• When to visit and weather
• Who is the city suited for?
• The perfect 48hours (with map)
• Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
The home of democracy and one of the cradles of human achievements in fields as diverse as science, mathematics, and philosophy, Athens has always been a bucket-list city. Since the first wooden walls were raised on the edge of the rugged Attica peninsula back at the start of the first millennium BC, it's been a hub of the Mediterranean.
Mystical and magical, Marrakesh could have been plucked from One Thousand and One Nights.
A city of souks and madrassahs, it will enthrall with its spice markets, lantern bazaars, pottery hawkers, carpet stalls – the list goes on. All that resides in the throbbing medina area, anchored on Jemaa el-Fnaa square, where you'll dodge snake charmers, fortune tellers, monkey tamers, and dance troupes come the evening.
Around the medieval centre of town is a sprawling modern city. Neighborhoods there come in the form of stylish Gueliz, with its Parisian-influenced boulevards and palm-lined streets.
There's also the Jardin Majorelle, where the designer Yves Saint-Laurent has wrought the cacti plumes and the ponds into something truly special.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Marrakesh (via a guided tour)
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map).
The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
Two or three days is usually enough to get a good feel for the character and charms of Marrakesh.
In fact, lots of travellers say that any more than that is downright exhausting. That's because the touts and hawkers in the bazaars don't ever give up, and there's not much of a conception of personal space.
Still, 48 hours or so shouldn't be too overwhelming. And it will be plenty to check off the medina, the Majorelle Garden, stoic Koutoubia Mosque, and the lovely parks, all while having enough time to enjoy the enchanting riad hotels offered by this corner of the world.
Lots of travellers will be tempted to stay longer by the promise of the Atlas Mountains that loom on the horizon. If you can, a jaunt to those is definitely a good idea. It's a bus of a few hours up to the trekking hub of Imlil. From there, you can get a guide to navigate some gorgeous trails, and even climb the highest peak in North Africa (Mount Toubkal at 4,167 metres).
Athens can be sampledin a few days, but it can also warrant trips of a few weeks or more. It all really depends on what you want out of your visit. If it's a whirlwind tour of the famous 5th-century history sights (the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Agora), some Greek mezze, and a good night out that takes your fancy, then a weekend could be enough.
If you want to feel like a real local, sip gritty Greek coffees in corner bars in alt neighborhoods, and even escape to the islands to top up the tan, you'll need to plan longer.
Athens is most popular in the summer months, but we'd say it's not the best time of year to come. Temperatures in Greece can be scorching between June and August, with daily highs peaking around the 40 Celsius mark!
Much better are the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn. These see warm days and cool evenings of between 16-29 degrees on average. It's still usually dry, with the occasional cloud and rainfall. However, there are also fewer people around, cheaper hotels, and smaller queues for the ancient ruins.
Winter in Athens gets surprisingly cold. Snow can even fall in the height of the season. It's the best if you really don't like dodging other tourists though, with the museums and the galleries all virtually empty. Be warned that ferries to nearby islands like Poros and Aegina rarely run between November and March.
It's no secret that Morocco gets hot. In fact, the summertime here can see temperatures exceed 40 degrees on a regular basis. That's not good for sightseeing and walking around. In fact, it can be downright exhausting. What's more, the crowds spike in Marrakesh between July and August, as holidaymakers flock in, even despite the soaring mercury levels.
Much better options are spring, in April, and autumn, in October. They have average highs in the upper 20s, and hardly a drop of rainfall. It's probably wise to avoid Ramadan dates, however, because that can affect transport and hotel services. Marrakesh also offers winter sun. Drop in between November and March to find average warmth of 18 degrees and clear blue skies. Evenings can be cool then, so a jumper is advisable.
Feeling adventurous? Then, yes – Marrakesh is for you! An amazing place of spice smells and pandemonius markets, it's nothing like the cities you find on mainland Europe. You'll be hassled at every corner.
You'll dodge donkeys and hurtling minibuses. You'll encounter strange snake charmers and magicians. But all that is part of the fun, and what makes this Moroccan jewel the perfect place to break away from the comfort zone.
There's also something of a luxurious edge to Marrakesh. If you're willing to fork out for a hotel, then you can bag some seriously plush places, whether it's an inner-city riad with flower-filled courtyards or an oasis resort with infinity pools overlooking the Atlas Mountains.
The history lover is the traveller who will surely feel most at home in Athens. After all, this is the place of the mighty Parthenon; where the Athenian Empire once flourished. And it's got Orthodox temples and some of the most acclaimed ancient artifact museums on the globe to top the lot off. You can spend whole trips hopping between crumbling temples and learning about the hard-fought Peloponnesian War, without even scratching the surface of the amazing daytrip possibilities.
Aside from its famous historical relics, Athens also has a reputation for hedonism. Districts like anarchist Exarcheia come laced with squat bars and buzzy pubs. There's also pumping nightlife around the Plaka area, where you'll be able to dine on endless platters of saganaki cheese, hummus, and grilled lamb before heading out to dance the Zorba.
If you're planning a Greek beach holiday, then Athens is a good arrival point. You're likely to be a little disappointed if you hang around too long, though. The only sands within reach of the centre are in Vouliagmeni to the south and they certainly aren't the best in the country.
Follow this fun-filled itinerary to make the most of your trip to Marrakesh. In just 48 hours, it packs in broiling tagines and stunning mosques, not to mention walks through the famous souks.
Day 1: Dive straight into the souks. Frantic and fun, these are the lifeblood of Marrakesh; ancient marketplaces where Berbers and spice traders once plied their trade. Things are now a little more tourist orientated. Head to D.El Maâden street and you'll find handcrafted leather bags and sandals.
Coming off that is the souk of the Babouches, where tanned slippers burst from every cobbler shop. You can then move to Souk Chouari to find whittled trinkets and statues in the carpenter's quarter. Still going north, you soon come to Souk des Teinturiers, where the pungent smells of tanning chemicals herald the leathermaker's market.
Double back and walk past Cafe Árabe to refresh with some mint tea and biscuits. Then it's into the heart of the medina, where the hubbub of Souk Semmarine unfolds with lantern shops, pastry vendors, and sparkling gold jewellery. Also be sure to breeze through the fragrant Souk Et Attarin, stacked with colourful soaps and all sorts of healing herbs.
Day 2: Don't be tempted by the allure of the bazaars right away. The other – more modern – half of Marrakesh awaits on day two. Find that to the west and north of the medina, holding the secret Majorelle Garden. This is unquestionably one of the city's (and all of Morocco's) most enchanting attractions.
A pleasure park that has been landscaped and curated by, among others, the French fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent, it hosts a vivid blue villa and ponds peppered with lily pads. Beyond is the district of Gueliz. That was built in the image of France, so expect wide boulevards and chic café-bakeries, along with classy clothes stores and bistros.
For lunch, the quiet Cyber Park is a great place for a picnic. It's got babbling fountains and benches in the shade of date palms, all framed by the snow-capped Atlas Mountains. It's also a short walk from there to Jemaa el-Fnaa – the great plaza in the middle of the city.
Arrive in the early evening and you'll see entertainers of all sorts. Curious dancers, mystics speaking in tongues, the infamous snake charmers – they all make an appearance. To the side is the wonderful Koutoubia mosque, which looks especially handsome during sunset.
48hours in Athens
Searching for an all-round fantastic 48 hours in the Greek capital? Look no further. This culture-packed and monument-filled itinerary whizzes you through all the mainstay sights and even into some downright gritty local districts. Enjoy…
Day 1: Start as early as you can and head straight through the Plaka area up to the base of the Acropolis. The best way to reach that grand monument is via the winding roads that link up the tavernas with the great Propylaea gatehouse that dates to 437 BC. It was commissioned by Perikles in the aftermath of the Persian War and leads to the symbolic heart of ancient Athens: The Parthenon.
Getting there early means you can hopefully dodge the crowds and the heat. Take some time to wander to see the hulking columns and design – it's considered to be the finest Doric temple on the planet. The next-door Erechtheion also catches the eye. It was built after 421 BC in honour of Poseidon and Athena, famed for its Caryatid statues of female figures. A lookout point on the south-east end of the Acropolis is perfect for taking in the city views.
For lunch, go for the vibrant area of Koukaki, checking out the Theatre of Dionysus en route. It's filled with hip cafeterias and bakeries, all huddled under plane trees and bougainvillea. It's a short walk from there to the acclaimed Acropolis Museum. You can while away the whole afternoon within, uncovering the story of the legendary building and the politics it represented.
Think about ending the day with a walk through the pine trees to Filopappou Hill. That's home to the place where Socrates was imprisoned in the early 390s BC and tops out with some of the most stunning views of the Acropolis there are.
The Parthenon was dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, who is regarded as the patron of the city
Day 2: The café culture of Monastiraki gets the day rolling – think about grabbing a traditional Greek coffee and pastry in one of the local bakehouses. A quick stroll through the blocks southwards then takes you to the Agora.
That was the epicentre of life in the ancient city state, complete with shrines and marketplaces and statues. The piece de resistance is the Temple of Hephaestus, which crowns a hillside on its northern end. Nearby, the blocks of Syntagma and Syntagma Square offer a glimpse at the modern edge of the Greek capital.
The vast plaza at the area's heart hosts the Old Royal Palace of the Greek monarchy. There are also countless places to sit with a cold lunchtime beer. Finished? Go south and you'll find the mighty Temple of Olympian Zeus. It is half ruined but still draws a gasp from most visitors on account of its monstrous Corinthian columns.
In the afternoon, catch a tram towards the National Archaeological Museum. Inside, you'll discover perhaps the richest collection of ancient artifacts there are in the world.
What's more, the district on the doorstep is Exarcheia. Be careful with your valuables in those parts, because it's rough and gritty, but the streets ooze character and have perhaps the most hedonistic bars in the country.
The Old Parliament House served as the parliament building until 1935
Marrakesh Menara Airport sits just to the west of the heart of the city. It's now a major arrival point for low-cost carriers coming out of Europe, but also has premium flag-carrying airlines and domestic services coming into its runways. The distance from terminal to souk is just three miles.
However, you'll need to push a hard bargain with the taxi drivers outside for even that short journey – they're renowned for their scams and inflated prices. A fair rate is around 40-50 MAD. There's also a bus. Look for the No 19 Airport Express costing 30 MAD with a free return included if you make the trip within a fortnight.
Hotel wise, there's really nothing like a classic Moroccan riad. In fact, we'd go as far as to say don't book anything else in Marrakesh. They're old, Berber mansions that are centred on a tiled courtyard that either has a babbling fountain or a small splash pool.
You can pay less and get a more traditional one, but the luxurious riads are an experience in themselves. They typically exist in the medina area and on its fringes.
Traveling from Athens airport is best done using the metro. Line 3 links directly to the terminal. The fare is a flat €10 and the journey takes around 40 minutes each way. If leaving the city, be sure to catch the right train, because not all departures on the line go to the same place.
Always beware of pickpockets, muggers, thieves and scams in Athens. The capital is generally safe, but certain areas – the Plaka, Omonoia Square and Exarcheia especially – do see regular crimes against tourists. Try to keep a hand on your wallet and an eye on your bag at all times.
Political upheavals in Athens are a common problem. Widespread discontent with the government has led to regular protests and marches since the 2000s. They can sometimes bring the whole city to a standstill and are worth avoiding – teargas, clashes with police and even Molotov cocktails have been known to play a part.
Getting around Athens is relatively easy. You've got a metro network that links most of the main tourist areas and the airport. Above ground, there are buses and trams going out to lesser known neighborhoods. There are both kiosks and vending machines at the entrance to most stations for you to buy tickets. They cost €1.40 and are valid for 90 minutes from the moment of validation.