The Best Of Marrakech: Where To Stay & What To Do In Morocco's Red City
Marrakech is a longtime bucket list destination for creatives, dreamers and cultural seekers. An ancient city known for its souk markets, lush gardens and beautiful mosques, Marrakech is a place you’ll come home different after visiting.
When you land at the airport, you’ll quickly notice the uniform burnt orange mud brick buildings that make up the old medina. At the center of it all is Djemaa el Fna, the main square and a mesmerizing mix of colors, scents, sights and sounds.
Djemaa El Fna & The Ancient Medina
During the day, Djemaa el Fna is a market where locals go to buy food, juices, spices, and daily items. In the evenings around sunset, it turns into a whole network of entertainers including monkey and cobra trainers, acrobats, drum and dance groups, henna artists, magicians and more. There’s hundreds of makeshift cafes calling you over for a family style dinner and all sorts of handicraft offerings left and right. It’s truly an experience to take in with all of the senses. And then to take in from above at L’Adresse with a mint tea.
Extending outward from the main square exists a labyrinth of souks with shop owners selling the most beautiful and ornate handmade Moroccan goods. Expect to find yourself suddenly in need of metal home furnishings (think Aladdin-style lanterns and tea pots), and textiles like rugs, scarves, local clothing and pouf furniture. There’s natural apothecaries, spice shops, and leather bags and shoes on every corner.
Also tucked into the maze are beautiful and inconspicuous riads- traditional Moroccan homes that have been converted into hotels. Riads are built inward, usually toward a central pool or garden, and the thick walls close out the chaos of the city and offer guests a quiet, hidden oasis.
When you need to fuel up, there’s a number of modern cafes scattered amongst the souks that have traditional Moroccan cuisine + international dishes and healthy snacks. A good bite to eat was never far away.
The Best Souks In Marrakech
The souks can be an overwhelming place, and everything can start to look the same as you spiral deeper into the maze. Keep this little bucket list handy to make sure you check out the most uniquely Moroccan custom goods during your trip!
Carpet souk. Carpets can be found virtually anywhere in Marrakech, but if you want to compare from a variety of vendors go to Souk des Tapis.
Metalworking. I found myself completely mesmerized watching lights and mirror frames and teapots being handcrafted before my eyes, and had to go home with a few statement pieces!
Spices & apothecary. My favorite is Herboriste la Sagesse, which has been family owned for 5 generations.
Slipper souk. Our whole group went home with Moroccan slippers for every member of our families. Still can’t decide if mine were only cool in Morocco or if I’ll actually wear them.
Berber jewelry. I enjoyed learning about the Berber compass and other desert traditions from the jewelry makers themselves.
Mellah. The Jewish quarter is known as a great place to buy fabrics, and of course witness the change in cultural dynamic as you walk through the city.
The Best Riads In Marrakech
There are so many gorgeous riads tucked away in the streets of the main medina, and I definitely recommend staying in one for at least part of your time in Marrakech. Our favorites were Riad BE and Riad Kasbah. Depending on where you want to stay and your budget, both offer a calm oasis right in the middle of the action. At Riad Kasbah, we even enjoyed a whole day of nothing but lounging by the pool and up on the rooftop, and checking out the hotel’s hammam which did not disappoint.
The Best Restaurants & Cafes In The Marrakech Medina
We really enjoyed the food and atmosphere at Dar Marjana, Nomad, and Zeitoun the most in the whole city. I’m vegan and I was traveling with two friends who follow a gluten free diet, and we were able to find healthy and filling options for all of us. Be prepared to walk up a few flights of stairs to dine, most of the best restaurants and cafes are all on rooftops!
Aside from Old Marrakech, there’s a layer of modern appeal claiming worldwide attention for fine art, contemporary design & museums, and even business development opportunities.
The area is centered around the neighborhood of Gueliz and has a heavy French influence, with more European style cafes and restaurants, larger streets and walkways, and chic resorts, boutiques and museums. It’s certainly worth exploring, but it is night and day difference from the heart of old Marrakech.
My favorite part of “New Marrakech” was definitely my (rainy) day spent at Le Jardin Majorelle and the YSL + Berber Museums.
Le Jardin Majorelle is the studio of the late French painter Jacques Majorelle. It took him over forty years to design and it is truly a work of art. The building features blue paint from local indigo, and it’s set in a lush garden with both tropical and desert landscapes. There’s whistling streams and calm pools with floating lilies and lotus flowers, and birds and butterflies delighting in the sweet blossoming aromas.
Next door is a museum dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent, which I wasn’t terribly excited for to be honest as i’m not really into high fashion, but it was included the ticket price, so we went. It was so cool! The whole vibe draws you in immediately and moves you through an experience so effortlessly.
First is a memorial lit in natural sunlight, and fanned out from there flows a timeline of collections designed by YSL. The collection room itself is dark and there’s runway clips projected on the wall and over 40 mannequins outfitted with the most beautiful prints and fabrics and designs.
My favorite was the Berber museum where there were several exhibits dedicated to the customs of the native Berber tribes. We took our time to read all about the jewelry, instruments, outfit meanings, and cultural rituals. It was especially neat after seeing the culture LIVE in the old medina.
La Mamounia is a palace hotel that has been named the #1 hotel in Africa and even the #1 luxury hotel in the world, and it’s easy to see why. This was unbeknownst to me as I somehow made my way here after making some friends on my flight from Madrid who were staying there and invited me for dinner and drinks in the garden.
The sprawling property offers insane architecture, lavish gardens, 4 restaurants, a spa, boutiques and the most Instagrammable rooms in the city with views of the Atlas Mountains and La Koutoubia Mosque.
Day Trips From Marrakech
Marrakech is located near the center of Morocco, and is a major hub for air or train travel within the country to places like Fes, Casablanca and Rabat. Marrakech also provides a great home base for excursions to the High Atlas Mountains and the surrounding valleys. Even some coastal and desert road trips are doable within a day.
Mount Toubkal and the village of Imlil. This trekking and climbing hot spot is located just 2 hours south of Marrakech. We enjoyed a day hike starting at Kasbah du Toubkal and stopped at a local women-owned Argan oil co-op. Toubkal is the highest point in North Africa at just under 14,000 ft, and the trailhead is in the small mountain village of Imlil.
Also in the Atlas mountains (within 3 hours of the city), you can do some serious waterfall chasing at Ouzoud Falls, or head to Ourika Valley for a lush landscape hidden in desert mountains.
Marrakech is also about 3 hours from the coastal town of Essaouira, which offers a super laid back vibe compared to the craziness of the city.
And last but not least, there’s a proper sand desert within just an hour and a half drive of Marrakech! Agafay has high dunes, luxury glamping, camels, and no cell service... all the makings of a desert paradise if you ask me!