Is Casablanca better than Marrakech?

Two jewels of Morocco, magical Marrakech and cosmopolitan Casablanca. Each entices with magnificent mosques, ancient souks, and intriguing history. But they charm in vastly different ways.

Marrakech lures with its ancient walled medina, lively Djemaa El-Fna square, and exotic atmosphere. Casablanca intrigues with a curious blend of tradition and modernity as Morocco’s largest city.

Embark on an odyssey through Marrakech’s mesmerizing souks and Islamic monuments. Or explore Casablanca’s contrasts, from the colossal Hassan II Mosque to chic beach clubs.

Which city emerges victorious? Follow as we unravel the intricacies of each alluring destination, its grandeur, shopping bounty, cuisine, and exotic allure. Then see which Moroccan gem your heart desires most!

Overview of Casablanca

Overview of Casablanca

Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco with a population of over 3.35 million. Located along the Atlantic Ocean, it serves as the economic capital and chief port.

Casablanca boasts a renowned old city called the Medina, along with the beautiful Hassan II Mosque which has the tallest minaret in the world.

Some of the top attractions in Casablanca include:

  • Hassan II Mosque – An architectural masterpiece and one of the largest mosques in the world. Its towering minaret soars above the city skyline.
  • Old Medina – A labyrinth of narrow alleys and lanes with historic monuments, shops, restaurants, and cafes.
  • Habous Quarter – A new medina built in the 1930s with neat grid-like streets lined with Arab-Moorish architecture.
  • Corniche – The beach promenade stretching for miles along the Atlantic Ocean. A popular spot for strolling and relaxation.
  • Mohammed V Square – Bustling central plaza surrounded by buildings in French colonial style.
  • Cathedral of Sacré Coeur – Striking cathedral that blends Moorish and European elements in its design.
  • Mahkama Du Pacha – Imposing a former courthouse with splendid decorations built in the 1940s.
  • Ain Diab Corniche – Upscale beachfront neighborhood with trendy cafes, clubs, and resorts.

Overview of Marrakech

Marrakech is sometimes called the “Red City” due to the color of its buildings and walls. With around 1 million residents, it is Morocco’s fourth largest city. Marrakech has retained much of its historic architecture and charm over the centuries.

Top sights and activities in Marrakech include:

  • Jemaa el-Fnaa – Iconic central square and marketplace alive with street performers, food stalls, vendors and more.
  • Majorelle Garden – Beautiful outdoor garden with striking cobalt blue accents and exotic plants.
  • Koutoubia Mosque – Spectacular 12th-century mosque with a tall minaret, considered the city’s most famous landmark.
  • Saadian Tombs – Lavish tomb complex dating back to the 1600s, with intricate carvings and mosaics.
  • El Badi Palace – Impressive ruins of a 16th century palace that once hosted grand events.
  • Bahia Palace – Historic 19th century palace with lovely courtyards, gardens and detailed craftsmanship.
  • Souks – Fascinating maze of marketplaces selling traditional goods, spices, crafts, clothing and more.
  • Tanneries – Ancient leather dyeing workshops that are interesting to observe.
  • Hiring a Caleche tour – Seeing the sights by horse-drawn carriage is a classic Marrakech experience.

Historical Significance

Both Casablanca and Marrakech are historically significant Moroccan cities. Casablanca was founded in the 18th century by Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah as a new port city.

Over time it grew into Morocco’s chief economic hub. Marrakech has Berber origins dating back nearly 1,000 years to the founding of the Almoravid dynasty. It served as a prominent imperial city and capital for centuries.

Marrakech’s old architecture and historic sights give it more of a sense of the past compared to modern Casablanca. Wandering the souks and sights like the Bahia Palace or El Badi Palace, visitors can vividly imagine historic Marrakech life.

However, Casablanca also has traces of its history in areas like the old Medina. So both cities give some insights into Morocco’s rich heritage.

Atmosphere and Culture

The atmosphere and local culture in Casablanca versus Marrakech differ quite a bit given their contrasting size and history. Casablanca is more of a hectic, fast-paced working port city.

Many foreign visitors are surprised by how liberal and European-influenced Casablanca seems compared to other Moroccan cities. The clothing tends to be more Western in style.

Marrakech has more of a leisurely, traditional Moroccan pace of life. Locals tend to dress more conservatively. With its preserved old city and sights, Marrakech feels much more tied to its pre-colonial identity.

The atmosphere is exotic and full of character, especially in spots like the lively Jemaa el-Fnaa plaza. Marrakech also offers easy access to sights outside the city like the Atlas Mountains and nearby desert regions.

So Marrakech generally provides a more authentic taste of historic Moroccan identity and Berber culture. Casablanca offers a look at modernized, cosmopolitan Morocco with some traditional elements as well.

Things to Do

Casablanca Attractions

  • Marvel at the magnificent Hassan II Mosque, an Islamic architectural masterpiece
  • Wander through the fascinating old medina, taking in historic sites
  • Relax at the popular seafront Corniche area or hip Ain Diab beach neighborhood
  • See the impressive colonial architecture in places like Mohammed V Square
  • Visit the landmark Cathédrale Sacré-Cœur), a striking church combining various architectural styles
  • Check out the Habous Quarter, the unique “new medina” district built in the 1930s

Check our article on the Best Things To Do in Casablanca for more details.

Marrakech Attractions

  • Wander around the captivating Jemaa el-Fnaa square, with its street markets, performers, and lively open-air restaurants
  • Admire the beautiful architecture and cobalt blue accents of Majorelle Garden
  • Marvel at intricate details inside the historic Saadian Tombs and El Badi Palace ruins
  • Shop for authentic goods and handicrafts in the extensive souks (marketplaces)
  • See Koutoubia Mosque, the most famous landmark, and minaret in Marrakech
  • Relax in the stunning courtyard and gardens of the Bahia Palace, built in the 19th century

For more details, check our Marrakech Travel Guide.

Excursions from Each City

Popular day trips from Marrakech or excursions include:

  • Atlas Mountains – Hike among hillside villages and stunning mountain scenery.
  • Ourika Valley – Relaxing valley renowned for its natural beauty.
  • Ouarzazate – See historic kasbahs and ksars along the filmmaking capital of Morocco.
  • Essaouira – Charming seaside town with a medieval walled medina.

Top excursions from Casablanca include:

  • Rabat – Explore Morocco’s capital city including Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V.
  • Asilah – Picturesque fortified town on the Atlantic coast, with pretty white and blue buildings.
  • El Jadida – Historic Portuguese seacoast town featuring the intriguing Cité Portugaise fortress complex.

So Marrakech offers somewhat easier access to famous regional places like the Atlas Mountains. But Casablanca visitors can also take nice day trips to spots like Rabat, El Jadida, and more.

Tours from Each City

Here are some of the popular tours from each city:

Tours from MarrakechTours From Casablanca
2 Days Morocco Tour from Marrakech to Ait Benhaddou6 Days Tour From Casablanca To Marrakech
2 Days Tour from Marrakech to Fes7 Days Tour From Casablanca and Back
2 Days Tour from Marrakech to Zagora Desert8 Days Desert Tour From Casablanca
2 Days Tour from Marrakech and Back10 days Moroccan tour from Casablanca
3 Days Desert Tour from Marrakech to Zagora and Erg Chegaga11 Days Morocco Tour From Casablanca
3 Days Moroccan Desert Tour From Marrakech to Merzouga

Dining and Nightlife

Both cities offer a range of excellent dining options spanning local Moroccan fare, French cuisine, international restaurants, and more.

Marrakech is acclaimed for its traditional Moroccan cooking with signature dishes like tagines or couscous, atmospheric restaurants in the medina, and rooftop dining spots. Casablanca has many good French restaurants, along with trendy clubs and lounges especially in areas like Ain Diab.

Marrakech definitely provides a more exotic nightlife scene, from enjoying street food and performances in Jemaa el-Fnaa to relaxing in a lounge with belly dancing and hookahs.

Casablanca has more of an urban clubbing and bar scene. So Marrakech wins for a quintessentially Moroccan night out, while Casablanca offers lively nightlife too.

Shopping

Shopping is a delight in both cities, from traditional souks to modern malls.

In Marrakech, the sprawling souks in the medina provide an immersive shopping adventure through lanes filled with handicrafts, carpets, lanterns, spices, clothing, and endless other treasures. You can hone your haggling skills with the vendors.

Casablanca also has traditional souks and bazaars, though not on the vast scale of Marrakech. For more modern shopping, Casablanca has several large malls like Morocco Mall and AnfaPlace Shopping Center.

Marrakech has some newer malls as well, but the atmospheric souks are the highlight for shopping for traditional Moroccan goods. Marrakech wins for a true local shopping experience.

Accommodations

You’ll find a very wide range of hotels and riads (traditional Moroccan-style guesthouses) in both Casablanca and Marrakech at varying price points.

Marrakech hotels tend to have more historic character, from converted medina mansions to riads with central courtyards and lavish decor. Casablanca has some modern-design hotels, business hotels, and a few historic options.

Both cities offer good budget options like small riad guesthouses. At the higher end, Marrakech has more uniquely elegant luxury hotels and riads, while Casablanca tends to have upscale business and conference hotels.

Outside the city centers, there are also some beach resorts along the coast near each city. Marrakech generally takes advantage of more atmospheric and uniquely Moroccan lodging.

Transportation and Accessibility

Casablanca’s Mohammed V International Airport is the busiest airport in Morocco, offering many direct international connections along with domestic flights. The Marrakech Menara Airport is also very busy, with direct flights from many European cities.

Both airports are modern and efficient. Casablanca has better transportation infrastructure overall, with a tramway system, regular trains to Rabat and other Moroccan cities, and major highways.

Within each city, petit taxis (small cabs) are ubiquitous and inexpensive for getting around. Casablanca can suffer from heavy traffic congestion, being a much larger city. But both are fairly easy to navigate.

Marrakech feels more walkable, especially within the atmospheric central medina area. But Casablanca is more convenient as a transportation hub for traveling outward.

Prices and Budget

Marrakech is more tourist-oriented and thus prices in areas like hotels or souks may be somewhat higher, especially during peak seasons. But haggling is common everywhere in Morocco.

Overall Casablanca and Marrakech can both be enjoyed on a budget. Each also offers luxury options for those wishing to splurge. You can eat cheaply sticking to street food snacks or set menus in both cities, or dine lavishly at upscale restaurants.

Budget hotel rooms can be found under $50 per night in each city outside of the busiest times. Medina riads with more charm start around $70-100 per night.

For accommodations with full luxury amenities, prices run $200-300 and upward per night. It’s worth booking a bit in advance during the busiest tourist seasons.

Safety and Crime

Safety and Crime

Morocco is generally a safe country to visit, but some petty crime does exist in bigger cities aimed at tourists.

Both Marrakech and Casablanca are quite safe during the daytime in major tourist areas and when taking basic precautions at night. Solo female travelers may want to dress more conservatively and avoid going out alone late at night.

Casablanca previously had more issues with pickpocketing or petty theft, but this has improved greatly in recent years as security has increased. The medinas, souks, and landmarks of both cities are packed with tourists and locals, creating safety in numbers.

Avoiding sketchy unlit backstreets at night is advised anywhere. Overall, violent crime risk is low and visitors should feel secure staying alert.

Tourist Popularity

Marrakech is more of a major international tourist destination, seeing around 2.5 million foreign visitors annually in recent years before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted travel.

Casablanca receives around 1.2 million foreign visitors annually. For domestic tourism, Casablanca is still popular with Moroccan nationals for getaways or business travel.

But Marrakech remains the historic jewel drawing visitors from around the world specifically wanting to experience Morocco’s culture. Marrakech has also been named the top travel destination in Africa multiple times in recent years in different international rankings.

So while Casablanca receives substantial visitors, Marrakech is considered Morocco’s premier tourist hub.

Climate and Weather

Marrakech and Casablanca both have hot, sunny Mediterranean climates during summer. But Marrakech tends to be warmer year-round overall.

During winter, Casablanca’s coastal location moderates temperatures into the 60s Fahrenheit range (15-20 Celsius) while Marrakech averages around 72 F (22 C).

Rainfall is sparse in both cities, though winter and spring see some precipitation. Marrakech’s summers are very hot, reaching up to 110 F (43 C) at the hottest.

Winters dip into the 40s or 50s F at night (single-digit low Celsius). Casablanca ranges 65-75 F (18-24 C) in winter and 75-90 F (24-32 C) in summer.

So Casablanca’s coastal climate means slightly cooler temperatures, though not a huge difference. Marrakech does get more intensely hot and arid during summer. But with plenty of sunshine year-round, the weather in both cities is overall very favorable for visitors.

Conclusion: Which City is Best?

In the end, Marrakech emerges as the winner for first-time visitors to Morocco seeking an immersive cultural experience in a historic imperial city. For tourists, Marrakech simply has more top attractions and sights packed into a compact navigable area.

The magic of Jemaa el-Fnaa square and the sprawling, maze-like souks make Marrakech feel quintessentially Moroccan. The proximity to mountains and deserts like Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga also enhances the experience.

That said, Casablanca is certainly not to be missed either. The magnificent Hassan II Mosque and the interesting mix of old and new in places like the Habous Quarter offer some different flavors.

For business travelers or those who want to combine sightseeing with beach time, Casablanca can serve as a more modernized base. Many choose to visit both cities to enjoy the contrasts – vibrant Marrakech and then cosmopolitan Casablanca.

With regular inexpensive flights between the cities, plus fast and convenient train service, it’s easy to visit both on a Morocco trip.

Marrakech makes the best entry point to Morocco for a first visit. But Casablanca is also a fantastic introduction to Morocco’s largest city for those with more time to explore different destinations.

Overall, both destinations showcase the alluring qualities of Morocco for history lovers, culture enthusiasts, architecture admirers, and anyone seeking an amazing travel experience.

Looking to visit these amazing imperial cities? Check out Tours From Casablanca and Tours From Marrakech to experience the magic of Morocco!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Marrakech or Casablanca better for shopping?

Marrakech is better for souvenir shopping, especially at the vast traditional souks and markets in the winding medina alleys. You can find endless handicrafts, jewelry, lanterns, rugs, spices, and more in the bazaars.

Casablanca also has some souks and local markets, but not the enormous scale of Marrakech.

Which city has better food?

Both cities offer excellent Moroccan cuisine. Marrakech is acclaimed for traditional dishes like tagines, couscous, and tanjia slow-cooked stews. Dining in the medina is atmospheric. Casablanca also excels at Moroccan specialties along with good international options.

Overall Marrakech has the edge for the full traditional dining experience.

What is the best mode of transportation between them?

The fastest and most convenient way to travel between Casablanca and Marrakech is by train or plane. There are regular inexpensive flights that take just over an hour.

The train takes around 3 hours but offers scenic views, with a direct ONCF line connecting the cities several times daily.

Renting a car is also feasible. Shared grand taxis are cheaper but less comfortable for the 5+ hour journey.

Does Casablanca have nice beaches?

Yes, Casablanca has some pleasant beaches, especially in the Ain Diab area like the Trendy Beach Club resort. But they are not necessarily better than beaches elsewhere in Morocco along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.

For amazing beaches, Agadir, Essaouira, or coastal spots further south are more recommended than Casablanca.

How many days should I spend in each city?

Marrakech should have at least 3 days to see the main attractions and experience life in the medina. Casablanca only needs 1-2 days for the highlights. It also works as a transit hub.

For a week in Morocco, 4-5 days in Marrakech, and 1-2 days in Casablanca make a good itinerary. Extend as desired to see more of each and nearby excursions.

To experience, the best of Morocco, 11 Days Desert Morocco Tour from Marrakech is recommended.

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