The best destination comparison site!
The best destination comparison site!
Both Florence 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 Florence and Marrakesh, hopefully making your choice that little easier.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City ratings -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Florence comes at you in a flurry of priceless art, pastel-painted jewellers, romantic piazzas, marble-gilded basilicas, saffron-scented risotto – the list goes on. Nestled into the lovely Arezzo hills in the northern part of Tuscany, the regional capital is famous around the globe.
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.
These days, loads of low-cost carriers can whiz you over to Marrakesh from Europe, opening this hitherto hard-to-reach city to travellers looking for a break with a difference.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
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).
Florence demands at least two days. Lovers of this enchanting town will surely scoff at that. They wax lyrical about how Florence seduces folk who pass its way into staying weeks, months, years, and even whole lifetimes. Still, we think it's possible to check off the main sights, try the top dishes, and explore the historic center with around 48-72 hours total.
In the peak season there are extremely long queues for the galleries and Duomo cathedral; to avoid wasting precious time, it is advisable to pre-purchase tickets and start the day sightseeing very early (before 8am).
There are many good day trips from Florence, which are easily accessible by train, and include Siena, Lucca, and Arezzo. Florence may be a smaller city, but a fabulous one-week holiday could be had based here.
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.
You've got to remember that Florence is up there with the most famous in Italy, and the vast majority of the 15.4 million visitors that come annually turn up in the summer months! That sends hotel rates skywards between June and August and means you'll need to jostle for space in front of Giotto's Bell Tower and the Duomo.
The ideal time to visit Florence is from April to June or September and October. They have good weather, fewer people, and cheaper prices, not to mention food festivals and wine harvest events. Winters are cooler and possibly wet but have the lowest number of tourists.
Culture and art are the pillars of Florence. Lovers of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance will feel right at home between the Accademia Gallery and the Uffizi. Within their halls are iconic sculptures like Michelangelo's David, The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, and Caravaggio's haunting Medusa. And that's only scratching the surface!
Adding to the mix are the intriguing collections of the Museo Galileo for science buffs, the Ponte Vecchio for architecture aficionados, and tasty Tuscan farm foods for gourmands. Downsides include high visitor numbers, so it's best to steer clear if you're not a fan of crowds, particularly in the summer.
Florence is not an overly expensive destination, is relatively safe and has a small city atmosphere.
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.
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.
48 hours in Florence
Early morningstarts are key in Florence, to hit the galleries and basilicas before the crowds. Don't worry, though, this two-day itinerary has time to rest with beautiful views in Renaissance gardens come the afternoon…
Day 1: Make for the Piazza del Duomo for the break of dawn – seriously, the earlier you can get there the better. That way, you can snap shots of the great cathedral and adjacent Giotto's Bell Tower without plumes of visitors getting in the way!
Look to the green-white marble inlays and the striking Gothic Revivalism of the whole building and think about hitting the 87-meter high lookouts of the belfry for some sweeping views across the city and the Apennines.
Traditional Tuscan design oozes from the lovely Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza della Signoria – this is the town hall, dating from way back in the 1400s. Grab an on-the-go pizza slice and make north to Galleria dell'Accademia after that.
Day 2: It's a museum morning in the famous Uffizi Gallery on day two. For art lovers, the journey here is a rite of passage. The collections span several wings of a great palace in the heart of central Florence and can take hours on end to appreciate fully.
Highlights that simply can't be missed include The Birth of Venus (Botticelli), Laocoön and his Sons (Bandinelli), Raphael's portrait of Pope Leo X, and Caravaggio's unforgettable Medusa. Back outside, the Ponte Vecchio bridge isn't far. It was once a butcher's market but is now famous for its jewellery boutiques.
On the hills beyond are the handsome Boboli Gardens, all brimming with babbling fountains and carved statues. Further up again is Forte di Belvedere, where even more breathtaking views of Florence are on offer come the evening.
In terms of neighborhoods, you'll want to focus on bedding down within the SS67 ring road. More specifically, the districts of San Giovanni (the historic core) and Santa Croce are perhaps the most central, even if the latter retains a lived-in Italian feel. San Marco is a whisker to the north, hosting the bulk of the low-cost hotels and guest houses. Oltrarno boasts buzzy nightlife venues and hip coffee shops.
You probably won't need any forms of transport in Florence other than your own two feet. The town is eminently walkable. Be sure to bring comfy shoes that are suited to long days, however, especially if you're keen to scale to the lookout points around Piazzale Michelangelo.
For exploring the surrounding region, a rental car is a must. These tend to be cheap in Italy and are best organised from the airport to avoid driving through the centre of town.
Aside from the infamous Stendhal syndrome – a condition supposedly caused by exposure to too much beautiful Florentine art – there are no standout risks to visiting this city. The centre is generally safe and well maintained, crime rates are relatively low, and the locals are often happy to help out.
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.