Marrakech

Marrakech has attracted visitors for nearly a millennium. The city first grew rich from camel caravans that brought gold and salt from the Sahara Desert, but today its lifeblood is tourism. Travelers come seeking the street performers in the historic Djemaa el-Fna square, the winding alleys of the centuries-old medina, and the endless array of handicrafts. In between cultural excursions, they recharge in a boutique riad and discover the rich spices of Moroccan cuisine. And the Berber carpet of your dreams is just a haggle and a glass of mint tea away.

An historic souk on the streets of Marrakech

Courtesy of Club Adventures

Overview

Can’t miss things to do in Marrakech

Marrakech beats to the rhythm of the Djemaa el-Fna, the square at the heart of the medina. Here, snake charmers, acrobats, and street food hawkers create a vibrant fusion of sounds, sights, and smells. Life in the old city unfolds before you. Walk in one direction, and you’ll reach imperial palaces and the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque; go another way, and you’ll find ancient tombs. Surrounding you are alleys and souks selling almost anything your heart desires. When the sensory overload demands a break, head to the tranquil Jardin Majorelle or a hammam for a steam and a scrub. Finish your day with some fluffy couscous and drinks at a chic riad.

Food and drink to try in Marrakech

Tajines and couscous taste better in their native land, and Marrakech serves both Berber dishes with plenty of gusto. But there’s a lot more to sample, from roasted meats to fish from the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. The medina offers a dizzying array of street food, while stalls in the souk practically overflow with sticky treats. You can always find a nearby café for a restorative glass of mint tea or a freshly squeezed orange juice. And for a libation that’s a little stronger, Morocco has a thriving viticultural scene dominated by reds. Pair one with grilled lamb or a slice of pastilla, a sweet and savory meat pie.

Culture in Marrakech

Marrakech’s culture plays out in a variety of ways. Listen to storytellers in the Djemaa el-Fna, and the call to prayer as it floats over the medina. Take in the ornate mosaics, carved stucco, and painted wood of the city’s ancient palaces. These highlights date back centuries, but Marrakech has also made strides in recent years to bolster its modern cultural presence. The Marrakech International Film Festival attracts big Hollywood (and Bollywood) names. And an ever-expanding group of galleries showcase the next generation of Moroccan artists.

Shopping

Marrakech’s numerous souks will make you wish you had a larger luggage allowance. The city is a haven for artisans, and you’ll find many open-air markets filled with stands and traders hawking all types of goods and souvenirs. Silver-tongued merchants unfurl a succession of rugs, each more beautiful than the last, and then debate the price down to the last dirham. If they’re feeling cheeky, they may try to sell you the camel they claim transported your new carpet. You can also browse silver jewelry, intricately worked leather, argan oil cosmetics, and filigreed lamps. As you wander, you’ll see both traditional designs and contemporary ones created by young Moroccan artists.

Practical Information

New Year and Easter are peak tourism periods. Spring and fall are best for their warm temperatures and long days. The heat in July and August can be oppressive so you’ll want to know the location of a good pool or two. During Ramadan, the logistics can be awkward for visitors since many restaurants close during the day. Visas are not required for visits of up to 90 days. Menara Airport has buses and taxis to the city center. Insist that city taxi drivers use meters. The languages are Arabic and French. The currency is the dirham; ATMs are widespread. Tipping is expected: a dirham or two in a café and up to 10% in nice restaurants. Electricity is 220 volts, and sockets take round-pin European plugs.

Guide Editor

Read Before You Go
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An insider’s guide to the riads of Morocco—and whether they’re right for you.
Resources to help plan your trip
The frenetic market of Djemaa el Fna is Marrakech’s most iconic attraction (shopping or otherwise), but there’s much more for shoppers to explore. From the concept store 33 Rue Marjoelle, where you’ll find all of Morocco’s up-and-coming designers, to the high-end shops on Rue Yves Saint Laurent, named for the iconic fashion designer who called Marrakech home, to more traditional shops, shopping Marrakech deserves a week of its own.
Marrakech may not be the largest city in the world--it’s not even the largest city in Morocco. But Marrakech offers so much to see, do, eat, and shop that it feels as though it’s a country all its own. Focus, mostly, on the medina quarter. Power your day on the mint tea you can find pretty much everywhere. Within the medina, find traditional Moroccan food, 14th century buildings, the Koutoubia mosque, and, yes, some snake charmers too. Leave the medina for the Yves Saint Laurent museum and house. But be back around dusk to eat your way through the food stalls at Jemaa El Fna.
Just 50 miles north of the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains, Marrakech is a vibrant city that will let you dip into buildings from the 14th century just as easily as you can modern-day shops. When visiting Marrakech, spend a relaxed, dreamy morning in Jardin Majorelle before heading off to galleries, a museum dedicated to and the former home of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, or to snake charmers and other so-very-Marrakech wonders. Nicknamed the “Red City” for the clay used in many of the building, Marrakech is the best Moroccan city for an immersion course in the country’s culture, before you head off to explore the rest of Morocco.
A weekend in Marrakech offers just enough time to take in the Red City’s gardens, the medina, and to tumble through the city’s souks and boutiques, your arms filled with purchases. Of course, the food: from traditional Moroccan dishes to European-inspired meals, and plenty of local red wine. Don’t miss a night of food stalls and snake charmers at Djemma el Fna. Tempting as it may be to stay put in Marrakech’s oldest section for the weekend, leave the medina to tour the stunning gardens French painter Jacques Majorelle left behind, and the museum dedicated to legendary fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. And do go to a hammam on day one because, really, you’ll quickly see why it should be your daily habit while in town.
Ranging from historic riads to big-name resorts, hotels in the Red City are as magical as you’d imagine, with unique amenities like luxurious hammams, central courtyard pools, and rooftop terraces with sweeping views of the Atlas Mountains. Whether you want a place with mint tea, traditional Moroccan décor, or a restaurant once frequented by Winston Churchill, you can find it here, all in close proximity to attractions like the Jardin Majorelle, the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, Djemaa el Fna Square, Bahia Palace, and the Saadiens Tombs.
From traditional Moroccan dishes like pigeon pastilla to a chateaubriand steak accompanied by one of the area’s sturdy-yet-subtle red wines, dining in Marrakech means an intoxicating mélange of North African flavors and European-inspired cuisine. Whether you’re on a day tour of tastes around the Red City or you’re spending a weekend in town, you’ll eat in central courtyards, high-end hotels, on balconies, and, if it’s a burger you’re after, the converted schoolhouse of Cafe Clock. One of the flavor threads through all of it: Morocco’s mint tea.
Spice shops, snake charmers, and street food have long made the Djemaa el Fna one of the world’s greatest spectacles. These photos and portraits of the people who work there reveal a more human side of the square, beyond the sensory overload.
Starla Estrada, the managing director for Africa at GeoEx Adventure Travel, shares tips for managing the bustling open-air market.
AFAR sent writer Freda Moon on her first solo trip since the birth of her daughter. But it wasn’t until the day before she left that she learned she would be going to Morocco.
A Moroccan artist helps us navigate the inspiring maze of shops, galleries, and restaurants in the heart of Marrakech.
A sweet obsession pulls a writer deep into the heart of Marrakech in search of a taste of the desert.
A journey into Morocco’s Berber territory, where tradition and modern life meet.
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