The best destination comparison site!
The best destination comparison site!
Both Istanbul 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 Istanbul, 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?)
With one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, Istanbul is the bridge between two continents. As much of a cliché as that might sound, this really is a place where you can wander between spiked mosque minarets on one street and be gazing at a Byzantine cathedral the next.
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?Istanbul (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).
Don't think you can distil Istanbul into a few short days. Even with weeks to explore, this vast metropolis (it's one of the largest in the world, let alone Europe) will surely still hold secrets. That said, a fly-in jaunt for a weekend is always going to be fun. You'll just need to pick your side of town and focus on the sights you want to see the most. So, choose between the Old City streets and Asian Istanbul before arriving, and plan accordingly if time is limited.
For those with longer to spare, this great Turkish town is your oyster. You'll be able to cross the Bosphorus to explore districts of steamy hammams and mosques. You can have whole days in the Grand Bazaar and Ottoman palaces. You might even be able to head over to Agva (for beaches) and the islands of Marmara (for wild hikes in pine woods). Basically, having too much time is rarely an issue.
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.
When things get hot in Istanbul, things get really hot. In fact, it's not uncommon for summertime temperatures to creep over 30 degrees. What's more, June to August is when the crowds come, packing out sights like the Grand Bazaar.
The upshot here is that spring and fall reign as the top times in the calendar to plan a visit. March, April, September and October tend to be cooler, less busy and less expensive.
Winter can bring snows. Photographers will adore the city when it's blanketed, as the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque look simply stunning under a sheen of the white stuff. However, the months from November to February can be bitterly cold, so off-season visitors will need to wrap up warm and forget having al fresco Turkish coffees on the street side.
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.
There's no doubt that Istanbul is one of the more adventurous and unusual breaks for European travellers. Most folk come to Turkey on package holidays, with pre-booked hotels by the sea. But this destination forgoes all that in favour of enthralling Ottoman history and heady bazaars.
It's a place that will help you break out of the comfort zone and push your boundaries a little.
Those keen on seeing a city that's walkable and compact should certainly steer clear of Turkey's largest. At 15.5 million strong and covering two separate continents, this isn't a bitesize destination by any stretch.
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.
You can unearth some seriously jaw-dropping sights, taste some unforgettable food, and get a grounding in Turkish history with only 48 hours to spend in Istanbul.
Day 1: There's really nowhere else to begin but Sultanahmet. This is the Istanbul you will have seen on the postcards; the land of minarets and mighty mosque domes. The kingpin of it all is the colossal Hagia Sophia.
In its long life of more than 1,500 years it's been an Orthodox cathedral and a mosque. It's now a museum containing gorgeous mosaics and frescos, although the star of the show is still its dome, flaunting an amazing 30-metre diameter.
Sitting opposite just to the south is the majestic Blue Mosque. Built in the early 1600s, it's still in working order. And even more history awaits in the Topkapi Palace Museum, which is a few blocks northwards. That sprawling complex reigned as the home of the Ottoman sultans. It's now a UNESCO site and occupies a stunning perch above the Bosphorus.
Day 2: Big, modern Taksim Square starts day two with a sighting of what 21st-century Istanbul is all about. Be sure to take a glimpse of the honorific statue at its heart.
That's the Republic Monument, made to celebrate the foundation of the Turkish state in 1928. Nearby Istiklal Street has abundant choices on the food front, no matter if you're craving a gritty Turkish coffee or a regional breakfast spread of mezze cheeses, flatbreads, and olives.
It's also a busting artery of the city, with high-street shopping and a classic trolley car running its length. One thing you can't miss – literally! – here is Galata Tower. Built by the Genoese to protect their European strongholds from the east, it's a mind-blowing fortification that boasts sweeping panoramas from its top floors.
Your afternoon session should be dedicated to exploring the Bosphorus. There's really no better way to do that than on a boat. Some cruises even offer stops in Asian Istanbul and meals with the sunset to boot.
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.
The modern Istanbul New Airport is the main hub serving this big city. It handles the largest amount of air traffic in Turkey, so expect to find lots of connections in from Western Europe and beyond. Regular shuttle buses link the terminals with the downtown in around 50 minutes to one hour, but, be warned, travel times can vary greatly depending on traffic. The smaller Sabiha Gokcen International Airport hosts most of the services coming in from across the Middle East. It's over on the south side of the metropolis.
Istanbul's tourist areas suffer from the same scams as many other European cities. Fake guides, pickpockets and unregistered taxis are particularly common, so be sure to have your wits about you when sightseeing. Be wary when converting cash in the Old Town area too, because extortionate commission rates and even fake banknotes have been reported.
Choosing a hotel in Istanbul really depends on what you want. Sightseeing in Sultanahmet is what most people come for and there are loads of hotels to pick there, even if paying a premium is normal. Beyoglu is better if you're after chain hotels and boutique stays, and it's right on the more modern and happening part of town. Asian Istanbul will likely be cheaper, but also a ferry ride from the most famous attractions.