Our city guide to wonderful Marrakech
Where to start? Marrakech was our first trip to Africa and we didn’t really know what to expect. We had heard and read that ’the red city' was truly magical and that the atmosphere here was unlike anywhere else. Both are true about Marrakech. It’s magical and the atmosphere was, well, different. We spent our first day in Medina by ourselves, walking the narrow labyrinth-like alleys only navigated by our offline Google maps directions. We had pinned a bunch of shops and restaurants that we wanted to visit, as we always do, but we had underestimated the Medina. This place is a maze that sucks you in. As a European/American tourist you should be prepared for something very different than anything you’ve ever experienced. You’ll be approached by all shop owners, you’ll be haggling for everything you want to buy, you’re going to constantly try to avoid being hit by mopeds and bicycles - but this is all part of what makes Marrakech a special place to be.
You’ll be walking through a beautiful city with a constant lingering scent of spices, vibrant colors, fascinating rugs and ceramics, glorious Moroccan lamps and unforgettable meals. The Medina isn’t where you go to find designer boutiques and trendy shops (go to the New City for that kind of stuff). This is where you go to experience the real Marrakech, for good and for worse. As chaotic as the Medina might seem, as tranquil and romantic are the cafés and restaurants hidden behind the hidden doors of the Medina. The rooftop bars and restaurants here are magical and overlooking the red city at night is something you don’t want to miss. Marrakech gets way too hot during the summer, so consider going between September-November or March-May.
Where to STAY in Marrakech
Jnane Tamsna: 20 minutes from the Medina, in the Palmeraie (palm grove) you'll find the breathtaking Jnane Tamsna. This luxury resort is a perfect home away from home and has been frequented by celebrities (Hugh Jackman, Kylie Minoque etc). Jnane Tamsna has breathtaking gardens, 5 pools, tasty Moroccan food in their restaurant. This is the ultimate place for relaxing in Marrakech. Read our full review of Jnane Tamsna here.
Royal Mansour: Combine a stay at the Royal Mansour - a palatial, over-the-top resort (and the personal project of the king of Morocco) with a few nights at the intimate El Fenn, a riad whose courtyard is filled with deep sofas and kilims.
Hotel Mamounia: This is where you wanna go if you wanna blend in with the Marrakech jetset. Mamounia is a 5 star hotel that has it all - fine dining, a spa and rooms worthy of a king. Located 10 minutes from the airport and located close to the Medina this place will not disappoint. Doesn't run cheap though.
Where to have dinner in Marrakech
Dar Zellij: We were recommended to go here by a Marrakech local. We took a taxi to a drop off point in the Medina where we were greeted by staff from Dar Zellij that took us through the winding streets of the Medina and all the way to the front door of the restaurant. We stepped into what was once an old riad with a big open courtyard where all of the tables were decorated with rose petals and candles. Make sure to grab a drink at their rooftop before dining. Spectacular view of the Medina and great drinks. You'll have 4 choices of pre-set menus - each with various options. The dinner at Dar Zellij was incredible - we had the Moroccan salad as a starter followed by their lamb couscous and their chicken tagine. Wrapped it all up with a lovely dessert. Our favourite dining experience in Marrakech.
Le Fondouk: Known to locals as one of the best fine dining experiences in Marrakech. A huge black iron chandelier lit with candles decorates the centre of this beautiful and very stylish restaurant. We were lucky to get a table on the terrace, which overlooks the Medina. We had the Moroccan salad, which consisted of 12 small plates of various salads - an amazing dish. The Berber tagine and 7 vegetable couscous with chicken quickly followed. The spices in these dishes were just perfect and the chicken was cooked to perfection. The food really lives up to the decor - great place to go have a relaxing meal.
Al Fassia: Al Fassia is run by only women and serves up traditional Moroccan food. The atmosphere here is very laid back and the restaurant offers a la carte as well as set menus. One of the main attractions here is the shoulder of lamb, which is incredible. Make sure to also try the fabulous pigeon bstilla (yes, pigeon). Locals will recommend this place as this is as close as it gets to a home cooked Moroccan meal.
Mes'Lalla: Housed in the beautiful Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Marrakech you'll find Mes'Lalla. Mes'Lalla serves up classic Moroccan dishes with a modern twist. The surroundings are beautiful, as you would expect at the Mandarin, and the menus here will give you Moroccan food unlike most other places in Marrakech, as the dishes here are quite modern. Chose between the 'traditional' and the 'signature' set menus and prepare yourself for a beautiful dining experience.
Dar Moha: This breathtaking restaurant is known for 3 things - the beautiful garden with mosaic tiles and a pool, the great Moroccan food and the fact that Dar Moha used to be owned by the famous fashion designer Pierre Balmain. Try to get a table as close to the pool as possible for an unforgettable evening.
Le Tobsil: What was once an old house in the Medina is now a romantic getaway that serves up traditional Moroccan cuisine. Le Tobsil changes their set menu every day in order to give customers the freshest ingredients from the local market. A very classy traditional Moroccan restaurant.
Where to have lunch in Marrakech
Nomad Café: We had our first Moroccan lunch here. Located close to a small square you’ll find Nomad café. This is where trendy locals and tourists go to get high quality Moroccan dishes overlooking the rooftops of the Medina. We had a wonderful Moroccan salad, a chicken tagine and a beef couscous. Very, very tasty. It’s a good idea to book in advance as this place is quite popular.
Le Jardin: Le Jardin is owned by the same guy that has Nomad Café, which basically means that the quality and style will be great. Le Jardin is tucked away in an old riad with a beautiful courtyard. Get a table in the centre of the courtyard and you'll be surrounded by beautiful plants and banana trees. We had a lovely lentil salad, a perfectly zesty chicken tagine and a lamb couscous dish.
Un Dejeuner a Marrakech: If you should get a little tired of eating tagine and couscous non-stop then try out Un Dejeuner a Marrakech in the Medina - 5 minutes from the Jemma el Fna. This place serves up French inspired cuisine. Get a table on the terrace for a nice view and relaxing atmosphere.
Terrasse des épices: In the heart of the Medina you'll find Terrasse des épices - a terrace café with a wonderful view and even better food. This Franco-Moroccon café serves up great grilled meats and fish and freshly made juices. You'll also get WiFi here, so it's a great place to take a break from the busy souks.
The best Spa/Hammams in Marrakech
Heritage Spa: A classic hammam experience that will terminate any stress that you might have collected through a day in the busy souks. Treat yourself to a lovely massage with a range of oils or a full body scrub to reinvigorate your body and mind. Heritage Spa has a very Morrocan feel to it with beautiful wall decorations and classic Moroccan furniture.
Spa MK: A tranquil hammam situated in one of the lovely boutique riads of Marrakech. Spa MK has 3 different rooms for your treatment depending on your mood - the dark room, the colourful room and the traditional hammam. You need to make a reservation way in advance to get a spot here, as this hammam is quite small and very popular.
Hammam de la Rose: A modern hammam tucked away in the Medina. Try out the hot stone massage or the four hand massage (2 massage therapists at once!). You'll be a new person after a visit to hammam de la Rose.
Things to see in Marrakech
Ben Youssef Mosque: This mosque was originally built during the Almoravid dynasty. The current mosque dates from the 19th century. The mosque is very centrally located close to the Djeema el Fnaa and is a prominent building in the city centre.
Museum of Photography: Also known as Maison de la Photographie this beautiful museum is home to mostly black & white photos of Morocco with frequent changes in their gallery. The upstairs terrace offers stunning views and is a good place to sit and relax.
Bahia Palace: This palace is known for its beautiful woodcarvings, paintings and stuccowork on the ceilings of the palace. Several fountains as well as orange, jasmine and banana trees, decorate the Bahia palace. You want to get here early to avoid all of the other tourists visiting the palace.
Majorelle Gardens: Head to the Art Deco splendor of the Majorelle Gardens in the Ville Nouvelle. This beautifully curated botanical garden is full of beautiful plants, trees and fountains. Bought by the famous fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent in the 80's this place is a real treat to visit and won't take much more than 45 minutes to visit. There's also a cute little museum in the gardens that shows parts of the Berber history.
Medersa Ben Youssef: One of our favourites in the Medina. Although hard to find, the Medersa Ben Youssef used to be an Islamic college housing 130 students. Built almost 500 years ago the place hasn't changed much and still looks as amazing as it did then. The bright colors and very detailed wood carvings make this a magic place that everybody should see. Make sure to go to the upper floor to check out the rooms that students once lived in.
Djeema el Fnaa: This is probably one of the craziest places in the Medina. The big market place is home to food vendors, dancing monkeys, snake tamers, crafts and much much more. We recommend going to one of the terraces at one of the small cafés overlooking the market. None of the cafés/restaurants serve alcohol here though, as alcohol isn't served near the Ben Youssef Mosque.
Medina: Surrounded by its red walls, and centered around the famous market place, Djemaa El Fna, the Marrakech's Medina is the historical center of the city. This is where you find the souks, museums (Madrasa Ben Youssef, Dar Si Said, Bahia Palace,...) and surrounded by the narrow alley ways and and an endless amount of beautiful riads. You'll also find great restaurants and cafés here - many are very well hidden though so make sure to pinpoint your destinations on Google Maps before entering the maze that is the Medina.
Hivernage: You won't find any narrow alleys crowded with mules and mopeds here, but instead broad avenues lined with trees, luxury hotels, and fashionable terraces. It a posh district but Hivernage comes alive at night. This is a neighborhood that can be a good compromise between the sometimes crazy Medina and the distant palm grove.
The Palm Grove: The palm grove conceals treasures which you can get a glimpse if you stay in one of the sumptuous villas that lie behind the high mud walls that line the roads without giving any hint of the splendors that they contain. This is where the movie stars and millionaires have their private villas and go to relax. The Palm Grove has been very popular for decades and still keeps its almost royal charm. This is also where you'll find the Jnane Tamsna, which we recommend staying at. You can also go on camel rides from here.
Gueliz: Gueliz is the modern area, also known as the European quarter of Marrakech. Gueliz is the business district and home to more modern shops and restaurants. This is also where many Westerners who have moved to Marrakech live. Very few quality hotels in this area and staying there is of little interest. Good place to go shopping if you miss Zara and other more European shops.