Of Morocco’s major cities, Marrakech is the southernmost, a fact that explain much of its character. While Tangier’s culture has been shaped by the Mediterranean, and Casablanca by the Atlantic, Marrakech, which sits in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains, casts an eye south, towards the Sahara. In the legendary Djeema el-Fna, the city’s main square, the worlds of the desert and the north of Morocco meet. Snake charmers captivate not only their props but travelers too, fortune tellers share their insights, and nomadic traders sell their handicrafts all under the silent gazes of camels.

Though it is Morocco’s fourth most populous city, in the old part of Marrakech, the Medina, it is easy to feel like you have stumbled upon a city lost in time. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a warren of twisting streets leading past ancient buildings, many of which reveal little from the street. Enter through a pair of gates or enormous wooden doors, however, and you may find yourself inside a sultan’s home, like the 16th-century Badi Palace with its atmospheric ruins or the meticulously restored Bahia Palace from the 19th century. Around the next corner, a merchant may lead you to his shop piled high with carpets or hand-tooled leather bags. (As he attempts to persuade you to buy, you may be plied with many glasses of mint tea.)

Marrakech offers travelers enchanting sounds, from the call to prayer ringing out over the rooftops five times each day to the splash of fountains in tiled courtyards. The city is a visual feast too, from the warm glow at dusk of the so-called Red City, thanks to the uniform terracotta hue of many of its buildings, to the green haven of the Jardin Majorelle with its cobalt blue buildings. Add the flavors of tagines and the heady smells of incense and spices, and you have a destination that truly stimulates all the senses.

What AFAR Recommends

  • Marrakech’s main square, the Djeema el-Fna, is an appealingly chaotic scene of merchants and magicians, artisans and acrobats.
  • The souk is a similar, if not as intense, spectacle offering an opportunity to shop for spices and handicrafts.
  • Behind their formidable walls, Marrakech’s palaces long provided their owners with sanctuaries from the urban bustle. Today a number of them are open to the general public, including the Badi and Bahia palaces.
  • Another urban oasis to include on your itinerary is the Jardin Majorelle, created by the French artist Jacques Majorelle and lovingly restored by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Marrakech Neighborhoods to Explore
Medina: The oldest part of the city, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Medina’s street plan dates from the founding of Marrakech in the 11th century. While you may get lost in its maze, every path you might follow leads to a treasure whether it’s the monumental doorway of an ancient mosque, a restored madrassa, or a charming riad.

Mouassine: This upscale district within the Medina has several must-see landmarks. The Mouassaine Mosque was built over the 16th and 17th centuries while the Mouassaine Fountain is a rare survivor, with many of the fountains that once dotted the city having been demolished over the years. The area is also home to a number of riads and restaurants.

article continues below ad

Mellah: Travelers interested in Marrakech’s Jewish history will want to visit Mellah. While the city’s Jewish population has fallen over the years thanks to immigration, several synagogues and the Jewish cemetery remain in the old Jewish quarter.

Hivernage: For a glimpse of Marrakech’s newer side, this neighborhood is the center of the city’s nightlife with a number of popular clubs. It’s also where you’ll find many contemporary hotels, if you are more interested in staying at a spacious resort than a classic riad.

Sidi Ghanem: This manufacturing center is just a few miles from central Marrakech and should be on the itineraries of serious shoppers. Designers’ workshops and showrooms offer opportunities to peruse the best of Moroccan craftsmanship. You’ll find generally higher quality, though also more expensive, items than those being sold in the city’s souks.

When to Visit Marrakech

Spring and fall, roughly March to May and then September and October, are the best times to visit Marrakech with daily highs in the 80s and 90s—warm, but still comfortable compared to summer temperatures which are regularly above 100. Winter can be surprisingly cool, with lows in the 40s, and yet room rates remain high as Europeans look to escape even colder temperatures.

Food and Drink

Moroccan cuisine is a delicious mix of the best of Mediterranean cuisine—olive oil, nuts, and a variety of vegetables—with spices and herbs including cinnamon, cumin, ginger, mint, and more. Signature dishes includes couscous, tagine (a stew cooked in its own signature dish), harira (a rich winter soup), and besṭila (a meat pie made with cinnamon, nuts, and sugar). Marrakech is a cosmopolitan city of around 1.5 million—in addition to traditional Moroccan restaurants, you’ll find others serving a variety of international cuisines.

Culture

For culture minded travelers, the main draw of Marrakech is its architecture and decorative arts—tilework, wood carvings, carpets, and more. The Marrakech Museum and the Museum of Moroccan Arts, as well as individual palaces, provide good introductions. The Maison de la Photographie has more than 4,000 photos that are both works of art and records of Marrakech since about 1860. During the Marrakech International Film Festival, usually held in the first week of December, the Djeema el-Fna becomes an enormous open-air screening room.

Getting Around Marrakech

There are no non-stop flights from the United States to Marrakech, but there’s a choice of connecting flights through Casablanca (on Royal Air Maroc) or European hubs. While Marrakech is a relatively large city, you’ll likely spend most of your time in and near the Medina, which is easily explored on foot. Currently there are no ride-sharing apps operating in Morocco, but there are both metered cabs and others with flat fares if you want to venture beyond the city center.

article continues below ad

Practical Information

Visitors from the United States can stay for up to 90 days on a tourist visa. The CDC recommends that most travelers, depending on their plans, consider hepatitis A and typhoid immunizations. Consider consulting with your doctor. Morocco uses the type C and E sockets found throughout western Europe. American travelers will require an adapter and a voltage converter (for those devices that should only be used with a converter).

Local Resources

  • Made in Marrakech, established in 2004, is a good English-language resource on exhibitions, restaurant openings, and other events.
  • The Marrakech Riad Travel Guide app was created by a British expat and owner of four riads (you don’t need to be staying at one of them to download the app). It is rich with local tips and its map function is invaluable if you are going to navigate the Medina on your own.
  • While not based in Morocco, Al Jazeera posts headline news from the country, though its coverage of cultural events is limited.

The Best Places to Stay
- A Guide to the Resplendent Riads of Marrakech
- The Best Hotels in Marrakech

The Best Places to Eat
- The Best Restaurants in Marrakech
- Why the Best Food in Morocco Isn't Found in Restaurants

The Best Things to Do and See
- How to See the Morocco Most Tourists Don’t
- The Best Things to Do and Places to Shop in Marrakech
- The Perfect Day in Marrakech
- The Perfect Weekend in Marrakech

A New Mother Finds Comfort on a Solo Trip to Morocco