For many travelers, the ancient, bustling city of Marrakesh (Marrakech) is the first stop on a journey through Morocco and a “must see” destination. Marrakesh is a metropolitan oasis pieced together with ancients souks combined with an endless array of shops, cafes, and museum. Even the scooters and motorcycles weaving past pedestrians and donkeys is a sight to behold. Unlike much of the rest of the country, tourism is nothing new in Morocco (or in Marrakesh for that matter). For centuries, Moroccans, foreigners and traders from around the world have been coming here for business, pleasure and a taste of the exotic.
Like most cities in Morocco, Marrakech is divided into two parts: the ancient medina (“old city”) and the new city (“ville nouvelle” – often referred to as “Gueliz” after the name of one of the more popular neighborhoods). In the last few decades, the city has become a tourist hotspot and a top destination for many Europeans; many who have purchased vacation and retirement homes here. Even the famous designer Yves Saint-Laurent spent the latter half of his life in Marrakech. And, recently, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy purchased a home here. In Marrakech, expats wander alongside the locals through the medina streets of the famed “Red City.”
And what’s the best way to enjoy Marrakech? On foot! Be sure to pack a good pair of walking shoes!
Map of Marrakesh Medina
Here is a map of the Marrakesh medina. We include a similar map of Marrakesh in each itinerary packet that travelers receive before their trip with us at Journey Beyond Travel.
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 tour 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 boasting two intimate to fourteen spacious bedrooms. Most properties have between six and eight rooms – some more luxurious than others. Most 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.
Things to see and do in the Marrakesh Medina:
Take a Guided Tour – Though not the largest medina in Morocco (that distinction belongs to Fez), the Marrakech medina is quite expansive. Most first-time visitors take advantage of the great guide services offered in Marrakech 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.
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.
Mellah of Marrakesh – 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 Marrakech 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.
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 Marrakech. 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.
Gardens of Marrakesh
Majorelle Gardens – Head to the Art Deco splendor of the 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 Marrakech, 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 Marrakech 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 dirham. Camel rides of twenty minutes can be had for 50 dirham. For those looking for a round of golf while on vacation in Marrakech, this is the place!
Souks of Marrakesh
As a longtime trade station, Marrakesh has evolved over the centuries into a honeycomb of souks. Each of the souks of Marrakech 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.
As always, we recommend taking a few minutes to check out the Best Restaurants of Morocco for the most up-to-date information on restaurants. Restaurants, especially in Marrakech, are continually in rotation and the best restaurant today could be tomorrow’s has-been. Here are a few of our favorite restaurants to get you started.
First off, while we aren’t too judgmental, we’ll start off with our top picks for restaurants in Marrakesh.
Our Top Picks for Restaurants in Marrakesh
Ksar Es Saoussan – Fixed menu starts at 350. Wine/beer is included, but there is the usual limited menu of beer, wine, and spirits. Local specialties are very well done – enjoy couscous Marrakechi and pastilla with pigeon and almonds in a beautifully restored riad with a bit of colonialist vibe. Waiters are dressed as touaregs. Unless you are really hungry, the “petit diner” should suffice. +212 (0) 524 44 06 32. Reservations highly recommended. Visit Ksar Es Saoussan.
NoMad – A stylish restaurant and bar in Marrakesh, NoMad restaurant in Marrakesh serves Moroccan fusion and gourmet delights that we’ve not seen attempted before in the country. A stellar ambiance of Moroccan and European cuisine (the cucumber martini comes recommended), prices for a main start at 90dh and include the (I’m sure to be well-known) NoMad Spiced-Lamb Burger. Two seatings nightly at 7pm and 9pm. Reserve by calling 0524 38 16 09 a day or more in advance (especially on weekends).
Latitude 31 – Another stylish restaurant popping up in the central medina, Latitude 31 restaurant in Marrakesh doesn’t yet serve alcoholic beverages, but makes up for it with a superbly creative menu. Claiming “Not a Moroccan restaurant in the traditional sense” this establishment serves contemporary Moroccan fusion and has ample seating with competent staff and a chef who belongs in a Michelin-star quality establishment. No joke. Mains start at 110dh; the Moroccan Contemporary Salad starter is highly recommended. Open 12pm-7pm low season; 12pm-23:00 April onward. Closed Wednesdays. Call in advance for reservations at 0524 384934 or 06 61179417.
Amal Women’s Training Center & Moroccan Restaurant – What a find and a true gem! While we at Journey Beyond Travel are always supportive of causes in Morocco, but the Amal Women’s Restaurant has taken things to a whole new level. Serving scrumptious lunches from noon to 4:00pm (really, better to get here by 3pm) seven days a week, you won’t find better food at a better cost in all of Marrakesh. 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 10 or more persons available. Call 0524 44 68 96 and located at Rue Allal Ben Ahmed, Marrakesh.
Other Restaurants in Marrakesh to Choose From:
Bakchich Café – Right off the Jemaa al-F’na on Rue des Banques behind Café France, this chicly styled café features the rare breakfast for those venturing out before 9am. Breakfast for 25 dhs, lunch 20-30 dhs. Regular Moroccan fare. Free wifi. Cool recycled decor.
Café des Epices – About 30 – 50 dhs for lunch. Open everyday from about 10am – midnight. Stop in for a tea, coffee or just a bottle of water. A very popular stop and a nice break from the Jemaa al-F’na in the medina. On the plaza, or “rahba,” outside the café, they used to have auctions, sell spices, snails and slaves.
Chez Mazzouz – Along this same plaza is a “snack” place with nothing particularly special, but it does have WIFI, which can be helpful for those needing to hop online. This is a nice substitute for Café des Epices if the café is too crowded.
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 tagine and cous-cous for awhile. Pleasant setting, wine served, and superb terrace with a ‘pop shop.’ Visit Le Jardin online or call +212 (0) 524 37 82 95.
Earth Café – Located just off the Djemma al-Fna on Darb Zeouak, there are some great vegetarian options for lunch, brunch and dinner. Cooking sessions start daily at 11am for a maximum of two people for 200 dhs. They have opened another location near the Musée Dar Si Said. Open from 10am – late. Visit Earth Cafe.
Marrakech Henna Art Cafe – 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 cafe 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 in two rooftop terraces as well as in the galleries. The menu features international dishes, traditional Moroccan fare and vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. A meal complete with drink, starter, main course and dessert runs 95 dirhams, and there is free wifi for guests. The cafe is also home to El Fenn Maroc, a cultural association (charity) that works to preserve the traditional arts in Morocco. Located just a three-minute walk from the southeast corner of Djemaa El Fna, the cafe is centrally located and easy to find. Open from 11 AM-9 PM, seven days a week.
Kosybar – Located between the Bahia and El-Badi palaces in the Jewish Mellah plaza or “place des fer blantier.” Great if you want to stop for a beer, wine or cocktail. 100 – 400 dhs. Lunch and dinner. Visit Kozybar.
Le Foundouk – Traditional Moroccan Cuisine with great service right in the heart of the medina. Open daily from 12pm – midnight. Closed Mondays. About 50 dhs for lunch and 100 dhs for dinner. +212 (0) 524 37 81 90. Reservations highly recommended. Website: Visit Le Foundouk.
Maison MK – Hidden in the medina, this chic hotel offers a great cooking course and serves a gourmet dinner at 8 pm. Reservations a few days in advance a must. Phone: +212 (0) 524 37 61 73. Visit Maison MK.
Un déjeuner à Marrakech – a bit more upscale with a French bistro style/Salon de thé style. A coffee and a snack can will cost anywhere between 50 – 100 dhs. A short walk from the Djemma al-F’na on “Place Douar Graoua.” Free WIFI. No smoking. Open from 10am to 11pm.
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. Appetizers start at 60 dhs, entrees at 100 dhs and desert around 50 dhs. Smoking is allowed. French style, portions. Save room for dessert! Website: Visit Villa Flore.
Eating at Djemaa El-Fna
To eat well in Marrakech, 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 Djemaa el-F’na 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 as much as 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!
Pacha – The biggest nightclub in Africa. Around 250 dhs to get in. Drinks are more overpriced than usual and smoking is allowed. Some of the most famous DJs from around the world spin here. Open from 11pm. Visit Pacha.
Theatro – A bit smaller than Pacha, but the same type of nightclub concept. Open from 11pm. Visit Theatro.
Supratour – Buy your tickets a day or two before your departure date from the Supratour Station located behind the train station. Next to the ticket office is an office titled “Enregistrement Bagages.” If you are traveling with anything more than a small backpack, you will have to buy a separate ticket for each item of luggage. Each bag will set you back 5 dirham. They don’t usually tell you this when you buy your bus ticket, but you will be reminded when you try to store your larger bags beneath the bus.
Please note that we do not offer day trips booked on the ground. And, beware of illegitimate companies such as Beyond Travel and Smart Holidays in Marrakesh who has used our good name to sell their sub-par excursions. Beware of Beyond Travel and their agency, Smart Holidays in Marrakech.
Ourika and Oukaimeden are two popular day trips from Marrakech. 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 feeding into each other, falling down the mountain or stop at an overlook and have a mint tea and pack a picnic. There are a few cafes and restaurants along the valley drive, all serving the same subpar Moroccan fare, tajines etc, and overpriced. 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 protected]
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 explore the mountains and 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. Another plug for what we do: Journey Beyond Travel can help you go beyond the destination on one of our many unique and customized trips.
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About Our Team: Journey Beyond Travel has a variety of unique itineraries that allow you to experience the real Morocco. Our Eclectic Tour gives you an overview of the country’s highlights in both culture and landscape, while our Imperial Cities Tour takes you to the most inspiring locations including museums, UNESCO sights, and more. We also have various trips to the Sahara Desert of Morocco. Enjoy our website, quality articles, and feel free to join us on Facebook and Twitter.