Ultimate Guide to Marrakech: Excitement & Style in a Major Moroccan Hub
Morocco's "Red City" captivates travelers from all over the world with its ornate palaces and gardens, sky-high minarets, spice-filled souks, and plazas alive with snake charmers and acrobats. Read on for advice and itinerary inspiration to make the most of a visit to dazzling Marrakech.
Lively Marrakech is stylish and exciting—and old as the hills. Founded by Yusuf ibn Tashfin around the year 1070, the city has Berber roots. During the Almoravid Dynasty, it used to be a vital trading capital for tribes of the Atlas Mountains. Marrakech earned its nickname, the "Red City," because of its many red sandstone walls and buildings, many of which date back to the city's early days.
Today, it's a cultural hub and a magnet for travelers interested in history, architecture, and hunting for treasures in the city's colorful souks. Marrakech is also a good jumping-off point for side trips into the nearby mountains. Read this article for ideas on what to see and do outside the city.
Crafting Your Marrakech Itinerary
Begin at the famed Jemaa el Fna Square. From this central location, you can walk north to the souks: try the Souk el Attarin for spices, Souk Haddadine for blacksmith goods, and Souk Smata for slippers. One souk not to miss is the Souk des Teinturiers, the dyers’ souk. Here you can see locals dying and hanging cloth and yarn to dry in the Moroccan sun.
A walk through the souks is a good introduction to the sensory overload of the Medina. Spend your first day wandering the alleyways and hidden side streets of the walled city. Look out for Fondouks—large open spaces and courtyards that were once inns used by visiting traders and merchants—which are unique to Marrakech. Today, some have been converted into residential places, while others are large shopping areas and workshops that you can explore at your own pace.
Also located in the Medina is the Medersa Ben Youssef, a Koran school built in the 16th century. Since then, it has been beautifully renovated. Inside, marvel at the uniquely carved cedar, stucco plaster, and traditional Zellij tiling in the central courtyard. You can also enter the old dormitories, where 800 students once lived, and the prayer hall.
Make your way back to Jemaa el Fna Square as the sun goes down and the street food comes out. It's the perfect time to try some local delicacies, dried dates, and fruit juices as you watch street performers and snake charmers do their thing.
If you have more than one day, take a stroll from your hotel to Koutoubia Mosque & Gardens, the city's largest mosque. Although non-Muslims can't enter, the stately landmark has beautiful gardens in the back, filled with fountains, pools, palm trees, and flowers. It’s an ideal place for a stroll when the late afternoon sun glows on the minaret.
Another highlight for many travelers is the Majorelle Gardens in the Ville Nouvelle neighborhood. Take a metered taxi from your hotel (or a 30-minute walk) to escape the afternoon heat and wander these expansive gardens filled with sub-tropical plants, bamboo, lilies, and palms.
If you have three days or more, spend time visiting Bahia Palace. Built in the 19th century, the palace was known as the largest and most luxurious in Marrakech. Today you can explore the beautiful courtyard and gardens, and inside the building, admiring intricate woodwork and painted ceilings.
For those interested in Morrocan artwork, the Marrakech Museum houses a collection of sculptures and paintings inside the Dar Mnebbi Palace. To see some incredible woodwork and traditional palanquins (covered litters used to transport a bride on her wedding day), pay a visit to the Museum of Moroccan Arts and Crafts.
If you're looking to get out of the city for a day trip, consider a visit to Amizmiz, a small village at the base of the Atlas Mountains. From here, take a one- or two-day hike, or just relax and observe Moroccan rural culture up close.
Beachgoers can take a drive to Essaouira. This coastal town has a fortified Medina and beaches perfect for surfing, windsurfing, or just lounging. It takes over two hours to get there so you'll want to stay overnight.
When To Go
Shoulder season is the best time to visit Morocco. From March to May and September to November, the weather averages between 70°F and 80°F. Planning your trip during the slower months also means fewer crowds and better deals.
Getting To Marrakech
There are no non-stop flights to Marrakech from the United States. Most flights stop in Casablanca or a European city before arriving at Marrakech Menara Airport.
The airport is less than five miles outside of town, so getting into town is a snap. Private transport will pick you up at the airport with a clearly marked sign, and take you directly to your hotel (or directly on a tour, if you like). Alternatively, you could hop into a petit or grand taxi. A petit taxi seats up to three people and will take you to the city center for a fixed price. A grand taxi seats up to six people.
Where To Stay In Marrakech
One great thing about Morocco is that you can stay in a wonderful hotel for a reasonable price. A perfect example is the Riad Kniza, located inside Bab Doukkala, one of the main gates of the Medina. This 200-year-old mansion is owned by one of the country's most famous antiques dealers, so you can expect a beautifully decorated room to stay in after you've explored the Medina.
A prime spot near the Jemaa el Fna Square, the Riad Hôtel Marraplace is a three-star hotel with a large fountain, terrace, Instagram-worthy doors, and detailed carvings throughout. The rooms are decorated in a classic Moroccan style, but the real draw is the location.
In line with its trendy neighborhood of Guéliz, the 2Ciels Luxury Boutique Hotel & Spa embodies modern Moroccan chic. The Art Deco-style rooms have handcrafted Moroccan details, but the real show-stopper is the rooftop pool and bar with views of the city and the mountains in the distance. The hotel also has a traditional Moroccan hammam: it's the perfect place for luxurious steams and scrubs.
Where To Eat In Marrakech
Street food is king in Marrakech: for a local experience, join the crowds sipping fresh-squeezed orange juice in Jemaa el-Fna Square or snacking on ma’qooda (deep-fried potato balls) on busy corners. For a dose of culture with your kefta (ground meat) and falafel sandwich, check out Henna Café, where you can sit in on language courses and even get a henna tattoo from their resident artist.
Travelers looking for a formal sit-down meal can head to La Famille, serving seasonal vegetarian Mediterranean food on an enclosed patio filled with banana and olive trees. Or treat yourself to an upscale dining experience with a reservation at Nomad, a sleek Moroccan restaurant in the Medina with a rooftop cocktail bar and some of the best drinks in the city.
Local Tips for Visiting Marrakech
Carry cash (small bills) with you if you plan on taking pictures of any performers, souk owners, or snake charmers. They will expect money in exchange for a photo.
Most major sights can be reached by walking or taking a metered taxi from your hotel. However, it's a good idea to hire a guide for a half-day (at a minimum) to teach you about the history, culture, and hidden gems found inside the Medina.
Morocco is a Muslim country. As a respectful practice, dress modestly when out and about, especially near places of worship.
It's best not to drink the tap water in Marrakech, so be sure to buy several bottles of water a day. Cut down on plastic by buying a big water bottle and refilling your smaller ones every day.