The Marrakech Rundown
Just as Moroccan cuisine is a heady fusion of diverse influences and redolent with pungent palate stimuli, Marrakech, too, is a toothsome, sensorial feast. If not fresh, the former imperial city is a breath of soulful air in stark contrast to the fast, cosmopolitan pace of Casablanca and regal, diplomatic vibe of Rabat.
Marrakech has zest. The unmistakable quality is more than feebly apparent the moment you touch down in the mysitcal medina quarter and navigate labyrinthine lanes profuse with the aromas of spices, incense and leather. Jamaa al Fna, the massive commons at the heart of the old city, is a vibrant personification of Marrakech in miniature. One of the foremost cultural crossroads in the world, let alone Africa, the public square was the inspiration for UNESCO’s Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Marrakech’s rambunctious, hive of activity pulse point is a good introduction but only a first step. Comprehensive cosmetic surgery on a vast heritage urbanscape has left a host of original charms intact and beyond, breezy suburbs and modern districts bustle with life. From palace architecture to market stalls, green gardens to furtive medina corners, tony new town supperclubs to art museums, the sublime Moroccan metropolis of 1 million people is a prime target for gritty, immersive tourism.
Marrakech’s Top 10
10. Majorelle Gardens and Museum of Islamic Art, run by the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint-Laurent Foundation, is an exquisite oasis with reams of eye candy on display.
5. Museum of Marrakech displays a remarkable archive of items in a classical Andalusian palace.
9. Bahia Palace was the late 19th century private residence of a Grand Vizier with expensive taste.
4. Menara Gardens, west of Marrakech, is a splendid escape from the busy city, with extraordinary views of the distant Atlas mountains.
8. Saadian Tombs is a mausoleum complex that dates back to the late 16th century and the Saadi Dynasty.
3. Ali bin Yusuf Madrasa, or Ben Youssef Madrasa, is the largest historic Islamic college in Morocco and dates back to the 14th century.
7. Ksar Char-Bagh is a subterrestrial and historic hammam.
2. Koutoubia Mosque is the dominant mosque in Marrakech. The structure’s 12th century minaret is a masterpiece.
6. The ruins of Al Badi Palace offer superb views and hint at what was once the most impressive royal residence in Morocco.
1. Jamaa al Fna, or Djamaa el-Fna, is one of the biggest city squares in the world and Marrakech’s irrepressible civic intersection.
- Ali Ben Youssef Medersa – One of the oldest Medersas with a 132ft-high minaret is a traditional centre of learning.
- Bahia Palace – Historical, religious and culture centre that is calm and quiet.
- Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret – This 12th-century mosque has beautiful gardens.
- Royal Palace of Marrakech – Excellent architectural construction where ancient meets modern.
- El Badi Palace – This palace is now a ruin with intact external walls.
Marrakech Art and Culture
- Medina of Marrakech – It encapsulates fun, shopping and culture.
- Jemma el Fna – This central square of Marrakech market is abuzz with hundreds of activities from snake charmers to monkeys in chains.
- Maison Tiskiwin – A fascinating collection of arts and decorative crafts is found at this private house.
- Dar Si Said Museum – A large collection of crafts and woodwork at this former home of the brother of Ba Ahmed.
- Dar Cherifa – This premier exhibition space is used for exhibiting the works of foreign and Moroccan artists.
- Centre Artisanal – The ultimate souvenir selling store, selling nothing but handicrafts at fixed prices.
- Dar Nejjarine Carpets – It has beautiful carpets that can be packed into a small square.
- Souk – The stalls here sell Jellabas and Kaftans, the traditional Moroccan dress, as well as leather products.
- Jars and Jars – Offering more than a hundred varieties of products, including cosmetics, oils and spices.
- Librairie Chater – Showcases and sells coffee table books, guide books, atlas, novels, postcards,and drawing and office materials.
Gay & Lesbian Marrakech
- Comptoir Darna – The biggest gay and straight blend in the city loved by local and foreign hipsters.
- Le Diamant Noir – A Marrakech classic for gay glace here and there.
- Pacha Marrakech – Well recognized in international clubbing circuits as an all-night dancing club.
- Ryad Dyor – An elegant same-sex hotel.
- Dar Ayniwen – Set in a beautiful garden in the heart of Marrakech, this luxury hotel is ideal for GLBT.
- Dunes and Desert Exploration – The organize activities around Marrakech, including biking, mountain biking, paragliding, trekking and camel riding.
- Ateliers de cuisine de La Maison Arabe – Learn the secrets of Moroccan cuisine at half-day classes.
- Spa MK – Get luxury and quick-fix treatments at this luxury hammam and spa.
- Majorelle Garden – Spend an hour in this luxuriant garden full of palms, bamboo and cacti.
- Maroc Loisirs – About 11 km from Marrakech, it offers horseback rides and a variety of other outdoor activities.
- Admire the beautiful Marrakech city in a hot air balloon, now possible.
- Marrakech is internationally reputed for golf courses, so go out and immerse yourself in experience.
- If you love horseback riding, Morocco has the answer. There are riding clubs and the royal polo club.
- You may like to participate in the annual Marrakech International marathon.
- If skiing is your passion, the Oukaimeden ski resort is open from Christmas to Easter.
The Medina and old city of Marrakech has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. It is the historical heart of Marrakech. The grand minaret of Koutoubia Mosque looms over the quarter, which has stood as a pinnacle nexus of Muslim culture in North Africa for a millennium. With Jamaa al Fna as a prominent nucleus, the medina is a virile enclave of mercantile and commercial activity, full of clandestine dives and nooks, shops and riad.
The suq quarter of Marrakech, north of Jamaa al Fna, incarnates the venerable marketplace culture of the Arab world. Full of tourists and opportunistic locals, the district is worthwhile nonetheless. Come early to get lost - literally - in covert alleyways and take in archaic, photogenic architectural details in relative peace.
Dar El Bacha quarter is a busy area between the suqs and restaurant and riad-heavy Bab Doukkala quarter. A convenient link to the medina and modern Gueliz district to the west.
The Kasbah quarter of Marrakech was a major hub of power hundreds of years ago and has the landmarks to show for it, from the active Royal Palace to the ruins of Al Badi, Agdal Gardens to Mellah, the old Jewish quarter.
Nouvelle Ville/Gueliz was once part of the French Protectorate in Marrakech and now a vibrant base for new development as the city expands beyond the ancient confines of the medina. Outside the ramparts of the old city and wholly separate from Jamaa al Fna and the suqs, Gueliz is the de facto downtown of contemporary Marrakech. The new city is a chaotic blend of traffic, business, commerce, culture and real estate but offers some of the best restaurants, shops and markets in Marrakech.
The small Hivernage quarter is a big target for new luxury hotel and resort developments southeast of Nouvelle Ville.
Palmeraie is a plush residential suburb popular with politicos, executives and the occasional household name from overseas. A golf course and luxury villa area, above all.
Daoudiate is 4.5 km north of Jamaa al Fna and probably the most authentic neighbourhood in Marrakech. The middle-class streets seem a world apart from the hustle bustle of the old city and while not quite as immaculate or cosmopolitan as Gueliz, offer a welcome dose of reality. Other than the Majorelle Gardens, Daoudiate is not chock full of bellwether attractions. Rather, the workaday district is simply a place to observe and take part in quotidian life in Marrakech, away from the rapacious tourist zones.
Marrakech Eat & Drink
The full expression and rich breadth of Moroccan cuisine is on hand in Marrakech, from humble hawkers in the medina to Michelin star caliber chefs in Nouvelle Ville.
Jamaa al Fna Food Stalls offer a quick, delicious and cheap sustenance fix on the go. The only problem is where to begin and end the culinary journey in the square.
Niagara (31 Centre en-Nakhi, Nouvelle Ville, Rte de Targa) doles out wood-fired pizzas by the score and has one of the most popular terraces in Nouvelle Ville.
Dar es Salam (170 Rue Riad Zitoun el-Kedim) delivers the goods, despite a populist claim to fame cameo in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Kechmara (3 Rue de la Liberté, Gueliz) serves smart sandwiches, salads and coffee drinks to a fashionable crowd.
Ksar Essaoussan (3 Derb El Messaoudyenne) has romantic weekday rooftop ambiance and a frenetic vibe on weekends.
Alizia (Rue Echouhada, Nouvelle Ville) is a swish Mediterranean restaurant with a gorgeous garden terrace.
Patisserie al Jawda
(11 Rue de la Liberté, Nouvelle Ville) is one of the best spots in Marrakech to indulge your sweet tooth with typical Moroccan confections.
La Table du Marché (4 Rue de Temple, Hivernage) is another gem in the upscale stable of hotelier and restaurateur Christophe Leroy.
Lolo Quoi (82 Ave Hassan II, Nouvelle Ville) serves seasonal fare in sleek, sultry digs.
Tangia (14 Derb Jedid Mellah) a tagine institution in Marrakech where the kitchen hums with Swiss clockwork-like precision.
The arts and culture event scene in Marrakech is as vibrant as they come in Morocco.
National Festival of Popular Arts is the most venerable festival in the Kingdom. The inaugural festival took place in 1959 at the behest of King Muhammad V. A linchpin showcase of national pride and heritage, the festival lures a bevy of talent from every corner of the country to Marrakech every June and July.
International Contemporary Dance Festival in January is a pre-eminent workshop and performance-rich event for choreographers, performers and spectators alike.
International Film Festival of Marrakech celebrates global cinema and the rich diversity of Moroccan film every December. The vital event is the petit Cannes of the film fest circuit.
International Theatre Festival, a relative newcomer on the Marrakech arts calendar, features a slew of dramatic players from around the world for conferences and performances in May.
SUN National Youth and Music Festival is a prominent platform for emergent talent from Marrakech, Morocco and abroad to display skills across a wide spectrum of musical styles.
When To Go
Unless you have a particular distaste for acute dry heat, there is no off-season in Marrakech per se. For the most part, weather is agreeable year round but some nasty events do swoop in on occasion, such as sand and dust storms in April, strong desert winds in June and oppressive temperatures in late July and August.
Spring and autumn, then, emerge as idyllic candidates. Not only is Marrakech patently quieter outside of the UK and European holiday seasons, the temperature range of 50°F (10°C) to 77°F (25°C) is easier to manage for day-long medina quarter forays on foot.
What To Miss
The hectic, raucous scene in Jamaa al Fna can get grabby, pushy and, indeed, obnoxious at times. This is no reason to strike the foremost square in North Africa off your Marrakech itinerary (a total impossiblity) but good cause to engage prudence, patience and your con artist cum tourist trap radar.
Similarly, tactless touts predictably pester tourists with promises of paradisal camel rides, authentic tannery auctions and lavish gourmet dinner and baladi shows. The more persistent the sales job, the more inevitable the end result: disappointment. Use diligence, judgement and common sense and give nervy and obtrusive entrepreneurs a wide berth.
Prepare to haggle in the suqs as well, where immediate 50% deductions get close to the real price for any given item. Walk out if shopkeeps become belligerent or refuse to negotiate in good faith. Similarly, settle up taxi drivers beforehand to avoid criminal fares.
Marrakech-Menara Airport handles close to 3 million passengers a year and provides service to a modest lineup of places in Europe, North Africa and the Arab world. A cursory list of international destinations served by the hub includes London-Gatwick, London-Heathrow, Paris-Orly, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Frankfurt, Milan, Rome and Vienna. Royal Air Morocco is the domestic airline of record.
Comfortable long distance bus service is widely available to Marrakech from many other points in the country, such as Casablanca, Essaouira, Fes, Meknès, Rabat, Salé and Tangier. Affordable and reliable passenger rail transport is another alternative. Marrakech is the most southerly city terminus in Morocco and connects with all the big destinations via the main station in Gueliz district.
Within Marrakech, visitors can easily travel on foot inside the medina quarter which, as it turns out, is relatively car-free. Once outside, however, the transport and road situation is more precarious. A municipal bus network offers decent but spotty service. Taxis come in two forms: the no-frills petit taxis and the more costly and cushy Mercedes-Benz grand taxis. If you choose the more affordable option, check the meter first and politely insist the driver use it. For more leisurely tours of the city and environs, the average car rental agency in Marrakech hires out drivers for a minimal fee.
A mystical bridge between old and new, dazzling Marrakech is a sumptuous feast for the senses. Narrow streets buzz with a cacophony of noise and exotic smells flood the air in a legendary and ancient souq. A recent facelift as a result of new investment and development over the past decade has left most of Marrakech's charms intact. Thankfully, for those who want a taste of old Morocco, the city of 1 million people still delivers the goods.
Life in dynamic Marrakech centers around the Djemaa el Fna market and square in the old medina quarter. A good place to orient yourself in the city, the busy pedestrian way is home to street performers, food and drink stalls and a genuine feel for life in Marrakech. In terms of landmarks and attractions, the city bursts at the seams. Palaces, temples, mausolea, gardens, museums and much, much more, combine to provide tourists with a slew of options to sightsee the hours away in Marrakech.
Attraction & Activities
Restaurant & Nightlife
Unless you have a serious aversion to intense dry summer heat, there is no "bad" time to visit Marrakech. The weather is generally favorable year round.
- Winter (December to February) 6-19°C
- Spring (March to May) 10-27°C
- Summer (June to September) 17-36°C
- Fall (October to November) 11-27°C