Explore Marrakech: places to visit, where to stay and what to do
Morocco's Red City is an enchanting explosion of colour and charm. Delve into a labyrinth of hustle and bustle, haggle for treasures and gaze upon starry mountains to uncover the delights tucked away in the Aladdin’s cave of Africa.
Why go to Marrakech?
The mystical allure of Marrakech has been attracting visitors for centuries. Today, the city's time-honoured attractions are complemented by designer boutiques, pampering spas and fusion restaurants, all at minimal expense to its characteristic charm.
An enticing mix of North African culture and tradition now mingles with modern style and sophistication. Once a dusty stop on the hippy trail and a bohemian hangout for artists and rock stars, today the Red City is a red-hot destination.
5 essential things to do in Marrakech
Marrakech hosts myriad nooks and crannies to discover. These are the five top treats not to miss on your magical trip:
1. Lose yourself in the medina
In a maze of narrow streets, the medieval medina is a sensory overload of sights, sounds and smells. Nestled among the jostling stalls, Africa’s most famous square, the Jemaa el Fna, holds a nightly circus of musicians, snake charmers and storytellers that never fails to enchant visitors.
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2. Seek treasures in the souks
The souks carve a labyrinth through the medina, with a wave of colour and sound washing through the Aladdin's cave of passageways. Bright, decadent and ornate wares hang in every crevice while artisans weave, hammer and carve their wares to try and entice you to buy. Fragrant spices,leather bags, handmade slippers and woven carpets are all on offer for the brave barterer.
3. Marvel at the Ben Youssef Medersa
Mosques may not be open to non-Muslims but one of the city’s most historic religious sites is: the Ben Youssef Medersa. The14th-century centre of Islamic study is resplendent in ornate stucco and dazzling zellij tiles.
4. Stroll around the Jardin Majorelle
Created by French artist Jaques Majorelle in 1925, the garden and its cobalt-blue house were later bought by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Go early to enjoy the small Berber museum, exotic flora, lily ponds and shady pathways of this mini oasis, minus the crowds.
5. Step back in time at the Maison de la Photographie
Head to this cool riad gallery displaying a fascinating collection of vintage Moroccan photography. Break for mint tea in the courtyard café and drink in the views over the medina.
5 alternative Marrakech highlights
If you want to escape the crowds or try something a little different, head to some of these lesser-visited attractions:
1. Eat on the streets
Enjoy a private foodie tour of the Jemaa el Fna with Tasting Marrakech, visiting the most popular food stalls and sampling the local specialties, from snail soup to spicy merguez sausage.
2. Gallery hop in Gueliz
Check out the work of a new generation of Moroccan artists at contemporary galleries such as David Block, Galerie Noir Sur Blanc, Galerie Rê and the recently opened Musée MACMA.
3. Cook up a storm
Go shopping at the food market before learning how to rustle up traditional tagines and salads at a hands-on cooking class at Café Clock, housed in an old school in the heart of the Kasbah.
4. Shop in Sidi Ghanem
A short taxi ride from the centre, the city's design district is filled with factory showrooms and workshops where you’ll find original brand homeware, from large pieces of furniture to scented candles, clothes, accessories and more. Unlike the medina, its grid system means that it’s easy to navigate and prices are fixed.
5. Unwind at a hammam
Don’t miss being steamed, soaped, scrubbed and massaged with rose, jasmine or orange blossom oils into a state of utter relaxation – there’s everything from a traditional no-frills public hammam, to a luxury spa experience.
Where to stay in Marrakech
1. For Moorish opulence: One of the city’s most iconic hotels – and a favourite of Winston Churchill – La Mamounia, sits on the medina’s edge among luxuriant gardens. The hotel has four restaurants, four bars, pools and a spa.
2. For a luxe hideaway: Just 20 minutes’ drive southeast of the city, The Mandarin Oriental’s 54 opulent villas, lake-like pools and a stunning spa are all nestled amid 50 acres of beautiful gardens and offer unbeatable views over the Atlas Mountains.
3. For romance: Three ancient riads, exquisitely restored to showcase the work of Morocco’s famed artisans, house La Sultana’s 28 individually decorated, antique-filled rooms and suites. A stay here is sure to evoke an Arabian Nights-style fantasy.
On a budget:
1. For oriental charm: The lovely hotel that is Riad Miski has comfortable rooms beautifully decorated in oriental style. Set in a quiet area less than 10 minutes’ walk from the Jemaa el Fna, it’s perfect for seeing the sights.
2. For a top location: With six spacious rooms set around a flower-filled courtyard, the Riad Tizwa offers leisurely breakfasts on its roof terrace and is conveniently located just a short walk from the souks and the sights.
3. For serious character: The 16th-century Riad Matham has been renovated and turned into a pared down but stylish six-room bolthole. The house is complete with roof terrace, plunge pool and a small hammam.
Where to eat in Marrakech
1. For modern Moroccan in the medina: Nomad serves up classic dishes with a contemporary twist. Sip creative cocktails on the roof terrace with views over the medina’s jumble of tiled rooftops backing onto the Atlas Mountains. Alternatively, head to Le Jardin, with its lush secret garden, international-meets-Moroccan menu and pop-up design store.
2. For traditional dishes: Al Fassia’s all-female team serves up delicious mezze, tagines and slow-roasted meats in an opulent, Moorish-hued dining room in Gueliz. While lunch at Amal Women’s Training Centre and Moroccan Restaurant will give you a feel-good factor as well as a delicious meal,your money will go to supporting numerous programmes for women in need.
3. For vegetarians: The medina’s Earth Café serves vegan and vegetarian dishes, with most of the ingredients grown on the owner’s farm just outside the city. Opposite the Jardin Majorelle in Gueliz, Kaowa is a vegetarian-friendly café and store that serves healthy salads, wraps, smoothies and juices, as well as tempting cakes and pastries.
Insider travel tips
1. Haggling can be fun: Remember to bargain hard, it’s expected, but only start haggling if you’re serious about buying.
2. Get lost & it could cost: If you need directions, ask a shopkeeper or a policeman, if you let someone show you the way, you may get sidetracked and there’ll almost always be a fee.
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3. Dress appropriately: It’s best to keep shoulders and knees covered to respect local custom and avoid any unwanted attention.
Marrakech day trips
If you want to get out of the city and discover more of Morocco, try one of these great day trips from Marrakech:
1. The High Atlas
The village of Imlil sits in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Take lunch on the roof terrace of the Kasbah du Toubkal, before hiking through spectacular scenery in the shadow of Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak. You can also visit Berber villages, where the locals' way of life has remained much the same for centuries.
2. Desert safaris
If you’re short on time, the Agafay Desert is the closest desert to Marrakech. In just an hour, you can swap the hustle and bustle of the medina for a barren landscape of sculpted sand dunes and explore by camel or quad-bike. If you're really feeling adventurous, camp overnight, Bedouin style, and sleep beneath a canopy of desert stars.
3. Ourika Valley
Escape the city hubbub and head 30 miles south to the fertile Ourika Valley for some adrenaline-fuelled activity. You can dive right into white-water rafting, tubing and kayaking or head off to try canyoning and mountain biking.
When to go to Marrakech
The summer months in Marrakech, from around June to August, can be almost unbearably hot and temperatures often top 40°C. Instead, consider planning your trip for the spring or autumn time, when the climate is a little more comfortable to enjoy the city in.
How to get there
Marrakech's Menara airport has numerous connections from major carriers around the world and is a 15-minute drive to the medina. If you take a taxi, agree a price before you set off - Marrakech is a city of hagglers. In terms of public transport, the bus 19 runs every 30 minutes between the airport and the medina.
Map of Marrakech
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