Top Attractions of Marrakech
The frenetic theater that is Djemaa el Fna is Marrakech’s most iconic attraction, but once you’ve checked it off your list, spend a relaxed, dreamy morning in one of the gardens, a thoughtful afternoon in a gallery, or an indulgent day shopping.
75 Derb Rahba Lakdima, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
If the Djemaa el Fna is the epicenter of Marrakech, the Rahba Lakdima—otherwise known as the Place des Épices, or Spice Traders Square—is surely the epicenter of the medina itself. Bursting with rambunctious energy and high-voltage color, the market is lined on one side by mysterious herbalists and spice traders selling everything from snakeskins to rose petals to ras el hanout (the famous Moroccan spice blend), and by carpet sellers on the other. Venture to the latter’s lair around 4 p.m. when sellers come down from the mountain villages, and you’ll be treated to the spectacle of them plying their trade with the professionals. And in the middle, heaps of woven baskets and woolen skullcaps are piled high. There’s no better place to sit and watch this daily theater unfold than at the Café des Épices, the first of several that have now opened there, but still our favorite for excellent coffee, fresh salads, sandwiches, and tagines.
33 Rue Yves Saint Laurent, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
The city’s first concept store is the vision of Egyptian entrepreneur Yehia Abdelnour, a self-confessed interior design nut and global nomad who wanted to create a one-stop shop in which to showcase quality Moroccan-designed gifts, fashion, and housewares. When the store opened a few years back, Vogue declared it the Collette of North Africa, both in terms of the sleek interior and the goodies therein. And while Colette has come and gone, 33 now represents 90 or so independent artisans. Come here to buy cute tasseled djellabas (hooded robes for children and adults), quirky ceramic cactus platters (they look gorgeous piled high with citrus), beaten-brass jewelry, and Chabi Chic’s covetable gold-dipped coffee beakers. The adjacent café, with its modern Moroccan bistro dishes, juicy burgers, and freshly pressed juices, is justifiably popular with expats and tourists alike.
Avenue Imam El Ghazali
Surely one of the most extraordinary imperial relics of Morocco, the Palais Bahia (“the brilliant”) doesn’t disappoint. Built at the start of the 19th century by architect El Mekki for Si Moussa, the then chamberlain of Sultan Hassan I, the palace showcases a wide range of architectural styles hinting at the chamberlain’s playful spirit, especially after his son inherited it and added his own brand of flamboyant glamour to the place. Women’s quarters bedecked with crimson-and-mustard–striped ceilings, a marble-tile courtyard the size of a soccer field, and extensive salons lined by stained-glass windows are just some of the features of the 20-acre space. In 1912, General Lyautey, the governor of French protectorate Morocco, moved in and added creature comforts such as fireplaces and central heating. In so doing, he attracted a number of illustrious guests, among them the writer Edith Wharton. She described the palace this way: “They came, they built the Bahia, and it remains the loveliest and most fantastic of Moroccan palaces. Court within court, garden beyond garden, reception halls, private apartments, slaves’ quarters, sunny prophets’ chambers on the roofs, and baths in vaulted crypts, the labyrinth of passages and rooms stretches away over several acres of ground.” Follow Wharton’s lead and don’t miss it.
Rue Yves St Laurent By A-Maps، Marrakech 40000, Morocco
In 1923, the artist Jacques Majorelle acquired a four-acre plot of land just outside the center of Marrakech. Inspired by numerous travels around the country to paint scenes of village life, and funded by painting more illustrious portraits such as that of Pasha Thami el Glaoui, Majorelle was able to build a small studio and house, with enough land to indulge his other passion: ethnobotany. As his career grew, he added a splendid villa, and the garden took on a life of its own, featuring innumerable exotic species from around the world; he added pools and fountains, and, of course, the now iconic, eye-popping Majorelle blue that was lavished on the architecture. The property became so expensive to maintain that the artist was forced to open it to the public until his death in Paris in 1962. The garden gradually fell into a state of disrepair and was slated for development by a hotel chain until French designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé happened upon it during one of their many trips to the Red City. In 1980, they decided to buy it and restore it to its former glory, adding irrigation and doubling the number of plants and gardeners to look after it. They moved into the villa and set about transforming other buildings into what is now the legendary Berber Museum and a boutique. The latter is especially noteworthy for creative director Stephen di Renza’s commitment to reflecting Majorelle’s lesser-known passion for the decorative arts (which is manifest in the exquisite artisanal pieces, leather goods, and jewelry) and Saint Laurent’s inspired use of traditional Moroccan dress, such as the kaftan and djellaba, in haute couture fashion.
It’s taken awhile for Marrakech‘s industrial quarter to establish itself as home to the best design workshops and ateliers in the city. It’s easy enough to get to, but petit taxis tend not to frequent its wide, blocky avenues, so getting back into town can be a pain. (Securing a driver who is prepared to wait or come back for you helps.) That said, it’s well worth the trip to shop with local tastemakers for furniture and housewares at flagship stores. Don’t miss Chabi Chic for groovy pottery sets; Le Magasin Générale for bigger items, such as the midcentury modern chairs and sideboards; and LRNCE for hand-painted vases that merge cubism with artisan savoir faire. Take in the ateliers of textile and garment makers, too, such as Angie Linen for gorgeous bespoke bed linens, and Salima Abdel Wahab and Topolina for a contemporary spin on traditional kaftans and must-have housecoats. Stop at Le Zinc, the neighborhood’s buzziest lunchtime bistro, before hitting Voice Art Gallery to peruse superbly curated exhibitions of North African and Middle Eastern contemporary artists.
Rue Bin Lafnadek
This delightful gallery is housed in one of Marrakech‘s elegant Saadian town houses, all creamy white plaster walls and subtle bejmat (unglazed terra-cotta) tiled floors. It’s the perfect setting for what began as owner-creators Hamid Mergani and Patrick Manac’h’s private and extensive collection of photographs that document scenes and portraits of Moroccan life over the past century. Today the foundation encompasses a whole lot more, with numerous collectors and photographers such as Daniel Chicault, Ana Muller, and Jean-Pierre Évrard donating or loaning from their own collections. There’s also a terrific little café on the roof for traditional Berber cooking and splendid views of the Atlas Mountains.
127, Avenue Mohammed V, 2ème étage, Guéliz, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
Going strong for more than 10 years, Galerie 127 was the first in Africa to focus completely on contemporary photography. The theme has endured, and owner and curator Nathalie Locatelli now represents more than 30 photographers covering the Maghreb with regularly changing exhibitions, book signings, and seminars. Housed on the first floor of an art deco block opposite the old Marche Central, the gallery has 13-foot-high ceilings, clean lines, and areas of exposed brick recalling the galleries of New York—perfect for showcasing the large-format photography that Locatelli favors. It’s particularly interesting to see the works of Moroccan photographers such as Hicham Gardaf, who captured his hometown of Tangier in intimate detail, and Yasmina Bouziane, whose highly stylized still-life images play with gender. Note: Opening hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 3–7 p.m.
Marrakech Les Jardin De La Menara، Marrakech 40000, Morocco
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985, the Jardin Menara was created in the mid-12th century by the Almohad dynasty. Since then, its gardens have been added to and embellished by varying degrees for other sultans but always centered around a huge, flat reflecting pool, which captures the Atlas Mountains in the most sensational way on a clear day and forms the focus of a space that covers nearly 250 acres. An elegant pavilion was installed during the Saadian rule of the 18th century and proved a popular summer escape from the heat among city dignitaries. Unlike other, more formal gardens of the city, Menara’s vast olive groves, orange orchards, and cypresses feel more natural and create a true escape from the fray. Although extremely popular with picnicking Moroccan families in the afternoons, the place is blessedly free of tourists and a lovely, peaceful place for a stroll.
The gallery, boutique, and tearooms of Morocco’s most famous living artist, Hassan Hajjaj, is an essential stop for any art lovers staying in the city. Tucked away down a narrow alley behind the Rahba Lakdima (otherwise known as the Place des Épices), it’s like stumbling into a jewel box filled with pop-art treasures. Hajjaj made a name for himself with a series of photographs titled Kech Angels, which depicted local girls on mopeds dressed in eye-popping robes. The collection has been exhibited all over the world in such illustrious venues as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Institut des Cultures d’Islam in Paris, but nowhere beats enjoying the work on home turf. While you’re there, treat yourself to his iconic recycled home and fashion pieces, such as a sardine-can lantern, a pair of babouches (Moroccan slippers) cut from a flour sack, or a stool from an oil drum. And if you hang around for a pot of mint tea in the courtyard, you might even meet the man himself.
Inscribed above the door of the Ben Youssef Medersa in Marrakech reads the following: “You Who Enter My Door May Your Highest Hopes Be Exceeded.” It is an appropriate proclamation for what is arguably the most mind-blowing example of Islamic design and architecture within a Koranic school anywhere in the country. Founded in the 14th century, it was embellished by the Saadian dynasty in 1570 with an ornate bronze doorway, elegant stuccoes, and a marble-tiled patio lined with elaborate mosaics. The prayer room, with its palm and pine cone motifs, looks down into the courtyard from the students’ quarters and gives a splendid helicopter view of the space. During its heyday, the medersa had room for up to 900 students; it was given over to the city as a museum in the 1960s and has remained so ever since.
Rue de la Liberté, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
Often described as a “Little Paris,” Gueliz has grown into itself in recent years with many of the city’s designers and restaurant owners choosing to set up their flagship fronts there. The Rue de la Liberté is now shoulder to shoulder with fashionable restaurants such as Kechmara for live music, cold beers, and killer burgers; Bistrot Le Loft for platters of French cheese and charcuterie; and the swanky new Asian Resto-Lounge for Chinese steamed dumplings, sushi, and Thai classics; as well as the wine bar Le 68. There’s a Caudalie Spa for great pep-up facials and some must-visit boutiques for snagging made-in-Morocco gifts. Try Lalla, just across the junction at Boulevard el Mansour Eddahbi, for must-have handbags, weekenders, and clutches; Patisserie Al Jawda for delectable Moroccan pastries to take home; and Sidi Marrakech for men’s tailoring. Cross over the main boulevard Mohammed V, and you’ll hit Atika for Tod’s-style suede loafers—brilliant for traveling—in a kaleidoscope of colors. Then hit the Rue Vieux Marrakchi, home to stalwart Moor, for natty embroidered kaftans and cushions, and the envelope-pushing David Bloch Gallery, which showcases the best contemporary urban artists from North Africa.
From April onward, access to a pool is essential to your enjoyment of Marrakech—and canny entrepreneurs have ensured there’s something for every budget. The city has some mega-luxury treats within walking distance of the medina, like the poolside pavilions at the Royal Mansour’s Le Jardin and the pool that launched a thousand photo shoots at La Mamounia. Expect to spend upward of $80 just to get in. There are also plenty of accessibly priced options a little out of town. The top of our list are the ultra-deep, black-tiled, 115-foot long twin pools at the Beldi country club, where $40 gets you a pool pass, a sun lounger beneath the olive trees, and a slap-up barbecue lunch. It gets busy, though, so if you’re after something a little more serene, book a car to take you out to the Jnane Tamsna in the middle of the Palmeraie, where gloriously scented gardens and five serene turquoise pools are hidden away among the date palms. Pool access, including a three-course lunch that fuses Moroccan Mediterranean with more fiery Senegalese flavors, is about the same price. Out at the Fellah Hotel, up-close views of the mighty Atlas Mountains can be soaked up from a shabby-chic poolside terrace over lunch (not included) while rubbing shoulders with the foundation’s artists in residence. Pool access costs $22.
When in Marrakech it’s very difficult to resist the urge to shop, especially when it comes to carpets and textiles; the city probably has the best selection in all of Morocco. If you have nerves of steel, then the carpet souk on the Rahba Lakdima is a good place to start, but be warned that the traders in these parts are rapacious. If you prefer a rather less intense experience, head for Soufiane’s flagship store near Dar el Bacha, where you can view your carpets in the serene environment of a tranquil riad and then retire to the very sexy green-tiled rooftop for a glass of mint tea. For increasingly popular supersize Tuareg reed-and-leather mats, go to Kulchi (by appointment only), which has an extraordinary collection from the owner’s travels through the south. For gorgeous cotton bed linens and towels trimmed with delicate Marrakchi embroidery in muted shades—think aubergine, dove gray, and charcoal—Valerie Barkowsi’s (next door to Mustapha Blaoui) is the place to head.
144 Arset Aouzal Rd, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
There isn’t a houseware buyer in the world who doesn’t whisper of the treasures that can be unearthed in this Aladdin’s cave of a store spread over several floors and houses in Dar el Bacha. Alas, these days Mustapha Blaoui is probably Marrakech’s worst-kept secret, but it’s no less magical for that. Whether your preference is for a fuchsia-colored juju hat (all the rage for giving a pop of color to a boring old wall), bone-handled cutlery, a silver teapot and engraved glasses, a chrome-plated art deco mirror, giant beaded heads from the Cameroon, or Syrian furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl, chances are Mustapha has it. Even if it doesn’t, you can easily lose yourself in this labyrinth of rooms for several hours, swept up in the magic of the Orient.
N8, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
The city’s most emblematic daily flea market occupies a couple of old hangars on the road to the Palmeraie. Design-loving Marrakchis and their Western counterparts have haunted it for years, looking for bargains with which to decorate their homes. One section is dedicated exclusively to ancient cedarwood doors and wrought-iron windows—all of which can be shipped for a price—but it’s the smaller shops that offer up the real gems. Every time La Mamounia has been renovated, for example, much of its furniture and accessories end up at Souk el Khemis; it’s said locally that nearly everyone has some piece of memorabilia or other from the hotel in their home. These days it’s rather less reliable in terms of finding something fabulous, and prices have increased as traders have gotten wise to the desirability of tulip tables and chairs, butterfly chairs, and cowry-shell lanterns. But those prepared to dig deep and haggle hard are still likely to come away with a gem or three. Indeed, the main problem with spending a morning at Souk el Khemis is the ensuing need to buy a house to put it all in.
Rue Yves St Laurent, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
Constructed by Studio KO architects to echo the weave of fine cloth, the Yves Saint Laurent Museum opened in late 2017 to great fanfare. It was particularly poignant because Pierre Bergé, the longtime partner and business head behind the late designer, had died less than a month earlier. No doubt he would have been delighted with what he saw, for the museum is a game changer with its fresh approach to documenting a subject. Many of Saint Laurent’s lauded haute couture prototypes are on display here against a sleek black backdrop, which makes them appear to almost float across the room, and the library is one of the best in the world on the subject of fashion. A separate auditorium hosts seminars, film screenings, and other events, and the café—simply called Le Studio—has become the lunch favorite of the city’s glitterati. Saint Laurent, you can’t help but feel, would have approved.
Spa lovers will enjoy spending a morning or afternoon getting acquainted with traditional Moroccan bathing and beauty treatments at a hammam. Traditionally, these public bathhouses and steam rooms were where both men and women would go for their weekly ablutions: to be first enveloped in olive oil–based soap infused with herbs, then exfoliated with a specially designed mitt, and finally slathered in a full-body clay mask mixed with rose water (hair washing optional). And while this is still an important part of the local culture, ultra-luxurious variations have crept in, especially at places such as the Royal Mansour, where you can bask in sensational interiors before forking out $350 for a hammam and massage fit for a king. The pool at La Mamounia’s glamorous hammam is one of the highlights, so allow plenty of time to make use of it before indulging in their luxury Evasion treatment, which includes an orange-infused olive oil scrub and amber-honey facial exfoliation for $130. If you want to try something a bit more local that still feels like a treat—at a fraction of the cost of the above—head for the Bains de Marrakech, which offers great value for what you get. A 45-minute hammam, including a ghassoul clay body wrap costs $24. Understandably, it gets extremely busy, so book ahead.