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Marrakesh or Porto; a vs city comparison and travel guide

Both Porto 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 Porto 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?)

Introduction to Marrakesh and Porto

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.

Porto is the surprise of western Europe. This hardworking and unassuming city seems to have stumbled into tourism without even realising its own potential. The variety of historic sights, personable atmosphere, along with a glass of sweet Port wine, creates a wonderful tourist destination.

Porto may be comparatively small and virtually unknown, but it can rival any of the more established tourist destinations. The unique appeal of Porto is that it is not swamped by tourists in the summer season, and is ideal for a summertime city break.

Marrakesh vs Porto: City Ratings

Summary
Which city would I go to?
Marrakesh
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Porto
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Marrakesh
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Marrakesh
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!

Destination details

How long to spend in the city?

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).

Porto is a compact city, and if rushed, all of the major tourist areas can be seen in a single day. Typically, we would recommend two days, which would include a short cruise along the Douro River and time for port tasting.

If you wished to extend your trip further, there are some great days out to the historic towns of Guimarães, Braga and Aveiro. During the summer (Jun-Sep) there are beautiful beaches along the Costa Verde coastline, and you could visit the resort towns of Espinho, Vila do Conde or Matosinhos.
Related articles: 2 days in Porto1 week in Porto

Porto is one of the best European cities for a summer city break. While the rest of southern Europe swelters under the unbearable summer heat, Porto experiences pleasant weather and is not completely overrun by tourists.

Winters are mild and wet, and there is a high chance of rain from October through to May. The middle of June is the best time to visit the city when the Santos Populares festivals are being held.

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 characteristics of Porto traditionally appealed to the older visitor; it is very safe and there is a pleasant unhurried ambience, with a slightly conservative attitude. This mature opinion of Porto is often compounded by the most popular activities; Douro River cruises and Port tasting (which is great fun!).

This demographic of visitors to Porto is rapidly evolving, as younger travellers realise it is actually a progressive city, with a lot to see and do. Porto will appeal to those looking for somewhere slightly different, but who want a hassle-free trip with decent tourist facilities. Being one of the safest cities in Europe makes it ideal for solo/female travellers.

Porto
Considering the size of Porto there is a lot to see, and you can pack in a lot in a 48 hour visit.
Below is an interactive map of where we recommend to go in 48 hours in Porto; day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked in grey.

A tour of Porto typically starts in the Se district, with the gothic cathedral and ancient city walls. Next is the Baixa district, where you can find the Avenida dos Aliados, and enjoy the view from the top of the Clérigos Tower.

For the latter part of the day and evening visit the ancient Ribeira district, which lines the banks of the Douro River. For the evening, join one of the boat cruises along the river or to party head to the Vitória district.

porto Avenida dos Aliados

The Avenida dos Aliados is the grand plaza of central Porto

On the morning of the second day, ride the traditional tram to the Foz district, which is positioned at the mouth of the Douro River and extends along a rocky coastline to the beach of Matosinhos.

In the afternoon, and the highlight of Porto, are the tours of the Port cellars and Port tasting. Lining the southern banks of the Douro River are eight of the major Port producers, each with their vast cellars and tasting tours. You’ll happily leave Porto a Port connoisseur and a little tipsy…

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.

Marrakesh
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.

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