Marrakech is a party, and everyone is invited. It’s not as old as Fes, but it certainly tells its own stories of art, celebration, tradition and finesse. Marrakech was our last stop in Morocco, so we were already familiar with some of the local scenes. Still, it was a sight to behold, and there’s no question in my mind why tourists love Marrakech.
This quick guide to Marrakech, Morocco is designed to inspire you. As I’ve written in my other posts on Morocco, I highly recommend working with local guides in order to discover all the local treasures. You can certainly travel through Morocco on your own (given you’re an experienced traveler), but the local culture is one where connections and friendships do make a difference.
Stay: Palais Khum
We scored a few nights here as part of the tour package we purchased, and it was definitely one of my favorites. Right at the doorstep of Marrakech’s famous souks (markets), Palais Khum was a lovely retreat with a modern touch. I strongly suggest staying in a riad-style accommodation rather than a large hotel establishment. Riads are traditional guesthouses with simple courtyards, traditional meals and beautiful Moroccan artwork.
Eat: Traditional Moroccan Fare
As you wander through the souks, especially towards the main square in Marrakech, there will be many types of restaurants on offer. You might see fries, sandwiches and burgers alongside orange juice, traditional bread and sweets. Ask your riad staff or hosts to point you to a restaurant that offers traditional Moroccan food. Wheat originates from the Middle East, expanding its reach throughout North Africa, so you’ll definitely want to taste local bread! Oh, and don’t forget Moroccan mint tea: I’ll warn you that there’s more sugar in it than water, but enjoy it anyway.
See: Historical and modern Morocco
Just as we loved wandering the souks in Fes, we loved Marrakech just as much. We actually began our visit to the markets before everything opened, so we saw lots of shopkeepers just beginning to arrive at work. Lanterns dangled from awnings, pillows tumbled from doorsteps. If you decide to pick up a few treasures, make sure to bargain: at least ask for 50% off their asking price, if not more!
This is the main square in Marrakech, which comes alive at night. Wander through alongside thousands of others gathering to tell stories, play games, dine, shop and celebrate on almost every evening of the week. During the day, you’ll see snake charmers, monkey handlers and a variety of vendors, all of whom will approach you without invitation and offer photos. Oblige or don’t oblige– they’re friendly as can be.
One of the major destinations within Marrakech, the Saadian tombs house 60 members of the Saadian family, overthrown in the late 16th century. Rather than destroy their bodies, their conquerors gave them dignified burials, and the tombs were rediscovered in 1917. Restoration of this special site continues, and much of the original tile remains.
Ben Youssef Madrasa
This beautiful Islamic college is open to the public– a rare occurrence in Morocco. It was one of the largest theological colleges in North Africa and was built in the 14th century by the Marinid dynasty. You’ll love the tiling of the columns and the beautiful pool in the center; if you’re luckier than we were, the pool will be filled.
Don’t miss this stunning space: sure, perhaps there are rooms for wives and concubines of the misogynistic era, but appreciating nuance is key. I love the traditional combination of gardens and mosaics– two art forms that, when brought together, are impeccable.
Sanssouci Cooking School
We spent an amazing afternoon learning how to make some of our favorite Moroccan dishes: lamb with prunes, chicken pastilla, chilled salads, and couscous. The team at Sanssouci arranged it all, from the shopping experience to the opportunity to eat our favorite dishes. If you love food and have even the smallest bit of cooking experience, you have to do this!
La Mamounia Hotel
This is the ultra-exclusive haunt of celebrities past and present. You might not be able to afford a night here (we weren’t), but it’s worth stopping in for a coffee and pastry in the gardens. It has an absolutely stunning interior and we loved exploring just long enough to stay somewhat inconspicuous.
A few favorite resources
- Top 10 Marrakech: I love these Top 10 guides as a starting point to explore the highlights tourists usually hit up.
- DK Eyewitness Morocco I’m partial to Insight Guides and DK Eyewitness, as they’re a great balance between images and text.