MARRAKECH TRAVEL GUIDE
Marrakech Travel Guide
For many travelers, the ancient, bustling city of Marrakesh (often Marrakech) is the first stop on a journey through Morocco and an absolute “must see” destination. Surrounded by a lush palm grove and with the often snow-capped High Atlas Mountains providing a scenic backdrop, this bustling metropolitan oasis has a everything a traveler could want. Ancient markets (souks) housing an endless array of shops, cafés, and museums, history literally around every corner, and nearly year-round sunshine. It’s no wonder Marrakesh has long been a destination for intrepid travelers.
Unlike much of the rest of the country, tourism is nothing new in Marrakesh. For over a thousand years, Moroccans, foreigners and traders from around the world have been coming to the Marrakesh for business, pleasure and tourism or, as is often the case, a mix of all three. The sprawling plaza, the Jemma el-Fnaa, is the beating, carnival heart of it all in this famous Red City, named so for the red color of the earth used for its walls.
Over the last few decades, the city has become a tourist hotspot and a top destination for many Europeans, some of whom have even purchased vacation and retirement homes here. The famous designer Yves Saint-Laurent spent the latter half of his life in Marrakesh and, more recently, the former French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, purchased a home here.
In Marrakesh, expats wander alongside locals through labyrinth of the old medina streets, gawking at the bustling souks and performers plying their trade on the Jemma el-Fnaa long into the night.
The best way to enjoy Marrakesh is on foot, so be sure to pack a good pair of walking shoes!
Marrakesh Travel Guide: Map of Marrakesh Medina
Here is a map of the Marrakesh medina.
Notes from Marrakesh History
Neolithic stone tools used for farming, gathering and hunting have been found throughout the region of Marrakesh, pointing to a long history of settlements that have taken advantage of the water naturally irrigating the fields. However, there was no city here until the Almoravid ruler, Abu Bark ibn Umar founded modern-day Marrakesh in 1062 AD. During the Almoravid dynasty, Marrakesh quickly prospered as a capital city and a trading hub while finding international fame. In fact, it became so synonymous with Morocco that many countries referred to the country of Morocco as “Marrakesh.”
After the Almoravid dynasty fell in 1150 AD, the Almohads took over the country. Because they buried or destroyed much of the Almoravid architecture, it is the Almohad architecture, a blend of Andalusian (from Spain) and Ummayad (from Syria) styles most visibly scene in the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque near the Jemma el-Fnaa.
Subsequent dynasties have left their mark on the Red City, including the Saadians, who over saw the biggest expansion of the city, particularly under Ahmad al-Mansour who had great aspirations for the city and for his new palace, the Badi Palace.
Like many other Moroccan cities, during the era of the French protectorate, the French General Lyautey oversaw the construction of the Ville Nouvelle (new city) with their wide, tree-lined boulevards and expansive parks.
Today, Marrakesh is the vacation destination for many travelers from around the world.
In the medina, there are over 800 registered boutique hotels (known as riads or dars and were once Moroccan traditional homes and are now renovated in traditional or modern styles). For most visitors wanting to get a taste of “old Morocco,” staying in a riad or dar can be a destination in and of itself. Choosing the best route and places to stay can be aided (and forgive the plug) by our team of local Morocco experts who have been putting together trips for a long time with a plethora of happy travelers on our roster.
Many of the old homes, now used as guesthouses, have been restored and boast intimate, spacious bedrooms. Most properties have between six and eight rooms – with some more luxurious than others, though nearly all offer wonderful, personalized service. Generally, owner/operators are on-site, provide breakfast every morning, have menus for lunch and dinner, and can accommodate a variety of requests.
In the medina, all roads seem to lead to the Jemaa el-Fnaa (Djema el-Fna or Djemaa el-Fnaa), the historic main square perpetually bustling with orange juice vendors, food stalls and entertainers of all kinds. Though, for the discerning traveler, some time should be spent enjoying the various souks (markets), monuments and museums that comprise the medina.
Marrakesh Travel Guide: What to do
Take a Guided Tour – Though not the largest medina in Morocco (that distinction belongs to Fez), the Marrakesh medina is quite expansive. Most first-time visitors take advantage of the great guide services offered in Marrakesh and spend a day learning about the medina, monuments and museums with a local guide. Plan on spending an entire day on your tour if you want to visit all of the major attractions.
Tour the Mellah – The old Jewish Quarter was originally created in 1558 by the Saadians. It housed the Jewish population of Marrakesh, consisting mostly of metal workers, sugar traders, bankers, jewelers and tailors. Until the French Protectorate of 1912, Jews were forbidden to own property or businesses outside of the mellah. Over the course of the 20th century, most of the city’s Jewish population left Marrakesh for Casablanca, France or Israel and very few Jews actually live in the mellah today, which has since been renamed Hay Essalam (Peace Neighborhood). You can visit the Place des Ferblantiers – a wonderful square surrounded by lantern makers – and visit the jewelers souk on Rue Riad Zitoun el Jedid. The nearby spice souk (Souk el Mellah) is also worth a visit. You can check out our article about other Jewish places in Morocco if you’d like.
Take a Cooking Class – There are few ways better than exploring culture than exploring it through your tastebuds. The non-profit Amal Women’s Association is perhaps the most culturally significant cooking class on offer and all of your funds go towards empowering local, disadvantaged women through training and education (+212 (0) 5 24 44 68 96, reserve online). For a more modern experience, consider La Maison Arabe (+212 (0) 5 24 38 70 10) where more modern equipment is used. Classes include a tour of the local food souk to pick up seasonal goods and a poolside setting to taste the fruits of your labor.
Marrakesh Travel Guide: What to See
Ben Youssef Mosque – Located across from the Marrakech Museum. This mosque was originally built during the Almoravid dynasty. The current mosque dates from the 19th century. However, next to the mosque is the Almoravid Koubba, which features an intact dome and latrines dating from 1117 c.e. Although currently closed indefinitely for renovation, visitors can still view it.
Medersa Ben Youssef – The Medersa Ben Youssef was originally built during the Almoravid period. It was refurbished and expanded by the Saadiens and finally rebuilt by Omar Benjelloun. Throughout the medersa are photos before the recent restoration. Beautiful woodcarving. Tour the old student dormitories – all 132 of them! Admission: 50 dirham, 25 dirham for children under 13. (If you are touring the medersa and the Marrakech Museum, we recommend buying the combined ticket for the medersa and museum for 60 dirham, 30 dirham for under 13). Open Daily, 9h-18h.
Koutoubia Mosque – Towering 253 ft (77 meters) over the Jemma el-Fna is the daunting Koutoubia Mosque. Named after the local souk of booksellers (Arabic: koutoubiyyin), the Koutoubia mosque has long been watching over the happenings of the Jemma el-Fna. It was originally completed during the reign of Yacub al-Mansur of the Almovad Dynasty in the 12th century and is the oldest and most complete structure from this period. The Koutoubia Mosque was completed with the help of architects from Andalusia and is a prototypical monument of Moroccan-Andalusian architecture. Though the mosque is closed to non-muslims, visitors are welcomed to stroll around, take pictures, and enjoy the nearby rose garden bedecked with numerous fountains, pools and palm trees. Travelers interested in touring the inside of the mosque are encouraged to check out the nearby Tin Mal Mosque completed in 1156 A.D. and the prototype of the Koutoubia Mosque.
Marrakech Museum – This former palace has been restored and was opened in 1997. A series of photos showing its restoration can be seen near the museum entrance. Most signs and postings are in French. One wing is dedicated entirely to contemporary Moroccan art and includes works by Mohamed Ben Allal, Mohamed Nabili, Abdellatif Zine, and Ahmed Louardiri. Another wing hosts Moroccan textiles and embroidery and Berber jewelry. An old hammam has been transformed into a rotating exposition gallery. There is also a collection of ceramics and daggers. Admission: 50 dirham, 25 dirham for children under 13. (If you are touring the Medersa Ben Youssef and the Marrakech Museum, we recommend buying the combined ticket for the medersa and museum for 60 dirham, 30 dirham for under 13). Website: http://www.museedemarrakech.ma/plan_musee_de_marrakech.htm. Open daily, 9h-18h.
Saadian Tombs – One of the more visited ruins in Marrakesh, the Saadian Tombs houses over 60 tombs and over 100 beautiful gardens, making it one of the most impressive sights in Marrakesh, if not in all of Morocco. Originally, these tombs were walled in by Moulay Ismail in the late seventeenth century and “rediscovered” by the French in 1917. The rumor is that the French rediscovered the tombs while conducting an aerial survey of Marrakesh. The locals say otherwise. Open daily from 9am – 4:45pm. Admission: 10 dirham. Less than 12 is 3 dirham.
Dar Bellarj – Located just outside the Medersa Ben Youssef, the Dar Bellarj (literally, “Stork House”) is a beautifully restored animal clinic that now serves as a business front for local artisans. Exhibits vary and entrance is usually free, though sometimes a small fee of 15 dirham or so might be charged, depending on the exhibit. Check out the gift shop for some wonderful ideas for presents to take back home and to support local artisans. Open Daily.
Museum of Photography – Photos from 1870 – 1950. This stellar museum known as the Maison de la Photographie mostly houses black & white photos of Morocco and changes its theme every three months. Although over 5,000 original prints are on hand, only a certain number can be displayed at any given time. Worth a quick sit down is a documentary from 1957 about the Berbers and displays the 1st time they were filmed in color. The upstairs terrace offers stunning views and a relaxing space to process all that you’ve seen. 80 dhs for lunch – typical Moroccan fare. Admission to Museum: 40 dirham. Under 16 free. Open daily from 9:30am – 7pm.
Bahia Palace – The Bahia Palace was originally built for a concubine named “Bahia,” a favorite of Ba’Ahmed’s harem, from 1866 to 1894. Parts of the James Stewart film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, were filmed here. Be prepared to strain your neck looking up at the beautifully maintained woodcarving, geometric painting and stuccowork throughout ceilings of the palace. Get there early to avoid crowds and have a more tranquil stroll through the palace. Admission: 10 dirham. Less than 12 is 3 dirham. Open daily from 9am – 4:30pm.
El Badi Palace – Sometimes called “Badia” palace, this ruin of a palace is interesting to visit after a tour of the Bahia Palace to get an interesting view of history preserved and unpreserved. El Badi Palace has a long history of being looted and sacked. Construction started in 1578 by Sultan Al Mansour Addahbi of the Saadien dynasty. In the 17th century, the palace was stripped of materials and marble rumored to be used in the royal palace in Meknes. Now, the coos of pigeons and clacking bills of mating storks enliven this place. There are some projects under way in the palace now to renovate some areas and develop gardens. Open daily from 9am – 4:45pm. Admission: 10 dirham. Age 12 or less is 3 dirham.
Dar Si Said – A specious house that has been remodeled and serves as a museum for different textiles, arms and jewelry. A simple, nice museum, though many of the displays in Dar Si Said are similar to the Marrakech Museum. Website: http://www.maroc.net/museums/marrakesh1.html Open daily from 9am – 4:45pm except Tuesdays.
The Gardens of Marrakesh
Majorelle Gardens – We’ve got an entire article about the gardens of Marrakesh, but do head early to the impressive Majorelle Gardens in the Ville Nouvelle (New City), but to avoid the crowds, be sure to head there early! This beautifully curated garden boasts a variety of cacti and is home to many species of birds endemic to North Africa as well as a variety of beautiful fountains, all set off by the special cobalt blue that provides the backdrop to this little tucked-away wonder. It was originally constructed by the French artist Jaques Majorelle during the protectorate and then eventually purchased by the fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent, whose ashes were spread in the garden after his death. Pop in to the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech in the gardens to see textiles, ceramics and jewelry from Saint-Laurent’s collection as well as preserved watercolors of Jaques Majorelle. (Open 8am – 5:30pm, October 1st – April 30th; 8am – 6pm May 1st – September 30th; and 9am – 5pm during Ramadan. Entrance 50 dhs for garden / 25 dhs for museum. Students with valid student ID are 30 dhs)
Menara Gardens – The Menara Gardens are not a “must see” destination in Marrakesh, though the 100-hectare giant olive grove might be nice for a family picnic. There is a nice terrace view from the former military building. Proceeds go to the Cultural Foundation for Restoration. A large pool dating from 11th century is interesting enough given that soldiers were trained to swim there. However, swimming today is not allowed nor encouraged. Camel rides are available for 20 – 100 dirham for a twenty-minute ride, depending on your bargaining skills. Open daily from 7am – 5pm. Entrance free. 10 dirham to tour the small building with a terrace.
Palmeraie – Long the home of the upscale, the Marrakesh Palmeraie consists of a large grove of palm trees outside of the medina. Throughout this grove, there are many activities for the family. Website: http://www.palmeraiemarrakech.com. A petit taxi can get you there for about 35 – 50 dirhams. Camel rides of twenty minutes can be had for 50 dirham. For those looking for a round of golf while on vacation in Marrakesh, this is the place!
The Souks of Marrakesh
As a longtime trade station, Marrakesh has evolved over the centuries into a honeycomb of souks. Each of the souks of Marrakesh was originally the home of an individual group of shops with certain specializations. Though now the tourist bazaars are crowding out some of the more specialized businesses, vestiges of the original souks are still identifiable.
Souk Semmarine (Smarine) – Originally a tailor souk and now one of the largest and most popular souks. You can find almost anything here from Berber carpets to leather handbags, though you can still find tailors who sell and alter traditional shirts and kaftans.
Souk Ableuh – Just off the Jemma el-Fna lies the Souk Ableuh, noted for its endless stalls of olives, chiles, peppers, lemons, pickles, capers, mint and other herbs and spices.
Souk Kchacha (Bia) – This souk is most known for its dried fruit and nuts, though the artisinal collective Femmes de Marrakech is found here and worth stopping in for those interested in handmade dresses.
Souk Siyyaghin – Is most known for its jewelry. Look for traditional and replica Berber jewelry here, though there is a better selection in the more developed jewelry souk of the nearby Mellah.
Souk Smata – Stalls of colorful babouches (Moroccan slippers) and belts adorn this souk.
Souk Cherratine – Primarily still a leather workers souk, with all sorts of leather goods including jackets, sandals and purses.
Souk Belaarif – Most travelers will want to avoid this souk that specializes in modern consumer goods, though if you’re in need of a new phone or computer, it’s worth a look.
Souk Haddadine – You’ll know you’ve come to Souk Haddadine from the sharp clang of hammers striking the iron of the blacksmith’s souk. Here you can find thousands of lanterns to choose from and can custom make nearly anything from forged iron.
Marrakesh Travel Guide: Where to Eat
Here are a few of our favorite restaurants to get you started.
Ksar Es Saoussan – The “petit diner” (little dinner) should suffice unless you are really hungry as the portions are fairly large at this Marrakesh staple. Local specialties are scrumptious, including a couscous Marrakeshi-style as well as a savory pastilla stuffed with pigeon and almonds. Set against a beautifully restored riad, though with a bit of colonialist vibe as the waiters are colorfully dressed as touaregs, people from the desert. 3 rue El Ksour. +212 (0) 524 44 06 32. Mon-Sat, 7:30pm-midnight. Reservations highly recommended. Visit Ksar Es Saoussan.
NoMad – A hip restaurant/bar in Marrakesh, the NoMad restaurant in Marrakesh serves up some of the tastiest Moroccan fusion in the country by chefs from around the world via their unique Nomadic Chefs Program. Gourmet delights, such as the perfectly grilled lamb chops served with French-style ratatouille and Moroccan harissa (hot sauce), are unlike anything else in Morocco. A stellar blend of Moroccan and European cuisine, and a great bar as well! In particular, the cucumber martini is highly recommended. 1 derb Aarjane. +212 (0) 5 24 38 16 09. Open Daily, noon-11pm. Reservations highly recommended.
Latitude 31 – Take your tastebuds on a tour of old and new Morocco in this stylish restaurant in the central medina. Latitude 31 restaurant in Marrakesh has a superbly creative menu, including some out of this world vegetarian eats. Though not a traditional Moroccan restaurant, Latitude 31 aims to be a fusion of contemporary and traditional Moroccan cuisine, which it nails with a bullseye. The with competent staff and a chef who belongs in a Michelin-star quality establishment — no joke — is all set in a palatial oasis-like garden. 186 rue El Gza Arset Ihiri near Bab Doukkala. +212 (0) 5 24 38 49 34. Mon-Sat, 6pm-11pm, reservations highly recommended.
Le Petit Cornichon – For a swank little hang for lunch or dinner consider Le Petit Cornichon. With a seasonal menu that offers a daily lunch specials that include a starter and main, with or without dessert, its a can’t miss. Dinners are a la carte. This joint does serve alcohol for those feeling a little thirsty. rue Moulay Ali, Gueliz, +212 (0) 5 24 42 12 51, Mon-Sat, noon-3pm and 7pm – 11pm, reservations highly recommended.
Amal Women’s Training Center & Moroccan Restaurant – What a true gem! While we at are always supportive of causes in Morocco, the Amal Women’s Restaurant has taken things to a whole new level! Serving up scrumptious breakfasts and lunches, you won’t find better food at a better cost in all of Marrakesh. The funds go towards empowering local, disadvantaged women through training and education. A highly recommended spot and best reached by small taxi from the main square. Reservations for four or more recommended a day or more in advance. Private dinners for 20 or more persons available. Corner of Rue Allal Ben Ahmed and Rue Ibn Sina. +212 (0) 5 24 44 68 96. Open daily, 8am-10am (breakfast) and noon-4pm (lunch). Dinners available by reservation only for groups of 20 or more. Cooking classes also available and highly recommended.
Other Restaurants in Marrakesh
Bakchich Café – Right off the Jemaa al-F’na on Rue des Banques behind Café France, this hip little café with up-cycled decor features the rare breakfast in the medina for those venturing out before 9am and free wifi for those needing to do a quick check up with the folks back home. 4 Kennaria Dabachi, Open daily, 8am-10pm. No reservations.
Café des Epices – Stop in for a quick tea, coffee or just a bottle of water to hydrate. A very popular stop and a nice break from the Jemaa el-Fnaa, though come here for the view, not the food. On the plaza (or rahba) just outside the café, they used to have auctions, sell spices, snails and slaves. 75 Rahba Lakdima, +212 (0) 5 24 39 17 70. Open daily, 8am-10pm. No reservations.
Le Jardin – Tucked in the souk El Jeld Sidi Abdelaziz, this little gem serves a variety of meals (best for lunch) if you’d like to get away from a tajine and couscous for awhile. Pleasant setting, wine served, and superb terrace complete with a heralded Pop Up Shop! 32 Souk Sidi Abdelaziz. +212 (0) 5 24 37 82 95. Daily noon – 11pm. Reservations recommended
Earth Café – Located just off the Djemma al-Fna on Darb Zeouak, the vegan-friendly Earth Cafe has tasty options for lunch, brunch and dinner full of farm-to-table goodness. They have opened another location near the Musée Dar Si Said. 2 Derb Zawak, Riad Zitoun Kadim. +212 (0) 6 60 54 49 22. Open Daily, 11am – Late. Reservations recommended. Cooking classes also available.
Marrakech Henna Art Café – If you’ve got time, this comes highly recommended from several of our travelers. The Marrakech Henna Art Cafe is a collaborative effort between Rachid Karkouch, a local Moroccan, and Lori K. Gordon, an American artist. The café offers food, drink, two galleries of fine art by both Moroccan and international artists, henna for the body by two professional henna artists, a museum-quality collection of Berber artifacts, and seating on two rooftop terraces as well as in the galleries. The menu features international dishes, traditional Moroccan fare and vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. The café is also home to El Fenn Maroc, a cultural association (charity) that works to preserve the traditional arts in Morocco. Rue 35 Derb Sqaya, Riad Zitoun el Kadim, +212 (0) 5 24 38 14 10. Open daily, 11am-9pm, reservations recommended.
Un déjeuner à Marrakech – An upscale French-styled salon de thé. The biggest draw here are the fresh juice mixes, including refreshing delights such as beet root, cucumber and mint. Perfect aftera hot afternoon in the medina. Corner of Rue Kennnaria and Douar Graoua. +212 (0) 5 24 37 83 87. Open daily, 11am-10pm. Reservations recommended.
Villa Flore – in the medina with some wonderful vegetarian options including a mille-feuille of eggplant and potatoes drizzled with vinaigrette, olive oil and rosemary. Seasonal menu. Nice ambiance, good service, though a bit posh with French-style portions. Save room for dessert! 4 Derb Azzouz. +212 (0) 5 24 39 17 00. Open Daily, noon-3pm and 7pm-11pm. Reservations required. Visit Villa Flore.
Eating out on the Jemma el-Fnaa in Marrakesh
To eat well in Marrakesh, you can always do what many of the locals and Moroccan tourists do – eat at the food stalls right in the square! Many people are put off by some of the sellers and have the idea that these are “unsafe” to eat at. In fact, these food stalls are well regulated by the local authorities and have been here serving food in the famed Jemma el-Fnaa for years! Prepare to bargain a bit for your food, but a bowl of harira soup should cost around 10 dhs and lunch or dinner can be north or south of 100 dhs, depending on how much you want to eat! Drinks can be a bit expensive and some stalls will offer free mint tea.
Next to the food stalls are the fresh orange juice sellers. You can try it with a bit of salt like some of the locals, but watch out for sellers that water down the juice with tap water. Blood orange juice costs 10 – 12 dhs and a regular orange juice should cost around 4-6 dhs for a glass, though some people prefer to bring a small plastic water bottle and have it filled for around 10 dhs because many of the vendors don’t do a good job of cleaning the glasses. Some will sell you a plastic cup for 1 dh. Just make sure you agree on the price before you drink!
Day Trips from Marrakesh and Our Morocco Tours
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Ourika and Oukaimeden are two popular trips from Marrakesh. In Ourika, you can stroll through rose gardens and enjoy a great view over the valley from the Atlas Mountains. Escape the heat of the city and, on the way, stop in Setti Fatma for a hike up to one of three waterfalls that feeding into each other as they fall down the mountain. While you’re at it, why not stop at an overlook and have a mint tea or pack a picnic lunch? There are a few cafés and restaurants along the valley drive, all basically serving the same menu of tajines and pizzas. The best time to go is in spring when the cherries, almonds and roses are all in bloom.
Of note, there are several women’s cooperatives along the way that sell various products made from Argan – soap, lotions, cooking oils, etc. Cooperative Ourika is one of our favorites, located on the riverside of the road through Ourika in the village of Oulmes. Email here: email@example.com
For both Ourika and Oukaimeden, we mostly outline these locations since most travelers can work out getting here and even navigating on their own. To really get away from touristy regions, it’s best to have an arranged trip that will allow you to walk, trek, visit villages, dine with a local family, and do other cultural activities.
Day trip to Essaouira: Let´s plan your day trip with us!
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