Marrakech is one of my favourite destinations for a short break. It’s so easy to access, yet when you step off the plane you are plunged into a completely different world. This magical city is a riot of colours, sights and sounds. Soft terracotta pink buildings, flanked with elegant palms and orange trees. The air is full of spices, music and calls to prayer. The souks and the back streets are chaotic, yet unthreatening. Busy, but somehow not stressful. This travel guide features the top things to do in Marrakech Morocco.
Things to do in Marrakech Morocco
Exploring Marrakech feels like an adventure, and there’s always something to marvel at. The taxi driver peeling an orange one-handed while hurtling around a corner and simultaneously honking at a donkey and cart. The man cycling past holding a silver tea tray aloft in front of him. Colourful sacks of spices in the street. Stalls piled high with strawberries and the fragrance of chestnuts and wood smoke in the air.
It’s a city of contrasts. The ancient town inside the medina walls, and more modern new city beyond. Decadent luxury next to shabby back streets. Ancient craftsmanship next to tourist tat. It’s a glorious melting pot perfect for a curious traveller.
A trip to Marrakech can be whatever you want it to be. You can have a glorious spa weekend in a sumptuous hotel and enjoy the sunshine. You can head to the souks and shop ‘til you drop. You can wander around ancient monuments and revel in the ambience – or combine all of these.
Where to Stay in Marrakech
As ever on a city break it’s best to stay central – and nothing gives you a flavour of the city like staying inside the old city walls. Eschew the big chain hotels on the outskirts and dive into a Marrakech riad.
A luxurious gem of a hotel tucked away off a busy street, La Sultana is five riads in one. Impeccable service, sumptuous décor and a phenomenal spa make La Sultana the ultimate sanctuary to retreat to after a busy day exploring.
Indulge your inner Gatsby with some Art Deco splendour at Villa Makassar, a quiet hotel tucked away on Derb Chtouka. Large modern rooms with some quirky features (vintage cinema seats or a hot tub, anyone?) open off the central riad, and the roof terrace is great for soaking up the sun.
Dar Les Cigognes
The intimate Dar Les Cigognes hotel has a real family feel. Enter by knocking the big brass knocker on the street and staff will greet you like a long-lost friend. The hotel brings together two riads – so it’s a maze of little corridors, beautifully tiled staircases and idyllic courtyards. A chic roof terrace is the perfect place for lunch, overlooking the ruined Badii Palace – a popular nesting place for storks. The hotel also has a traditional hammam, spa services and even cookery classes.
A port of call for everyone from Winston Churchill to Will Smith, if your budget can stretch to it, stay at La Mamounia. This art deco paradise is pure unadulterated luxury and unutterably beautiful. Built as a royal palace in the nineteenth century, the property (and its astonishing 17 acres of gardens) was turned into a hotel in 1923. Walk in and feel like a film star.
Getting Around Marrakech
Exploring on foot is my favourite way to travel around any city. It’s easy to do in Marrakech, and a great way to soak up the atmosphere. Set off to any destination and your journey is likely take in all manner of wide hectic roads, winding back-alleys, stray dogs, a van full of chickens, someone selling incredible crockery and a near-miss with a scooter, but that’s all part of the fun. Just look both ways when you cross the street.
If you’re staying in the old town you might need a taxi to get further afield, but taxis in Marrakech are plentiful and easy to find. Taxis are not metered (or, at least, the meters are never used), so you’ll start the journey with a haggle. Typically you’ll ask how much it is and the reply will be “How much do you want to pay?”. The conversation will go from there, but taxis are relatively cheap. If you’re staying in a hidden riad, having Google maps to hand is also helpful.
The Best Shopping in Marrakech
Shopping in Marrakech should come with a health warning – it’s dangerously addictive. Goods are so reasonably priced and it’s hard not to fall in love with Moroccan design when spending time in this intoxicating city. Be careful though as you may return home wondering exactly why you thought that brass tea set, giant rug, 20 pottery bowls and enormous inlaid lantern were just the thing for your tiny studio apartment.
The famous souks are an Aladdin’s cave of temptation, stretching for what seems like miles in the north of the medina. Access the souks from Jemaa El Fna (the central square in the medina), take plenty of cash and embrace the chaos of it all. You will get lost in this labyrinth of stalls, shops and markets, but you’ll always find your way out again. From stunning painted crockery, fabulous lanterns and eye-catching slippers, to great leather goods, beautiful jewellery, spices and Argon oil, everything is covered.
Haggling is an important part of life here. Indeed, I received a friendly ticking off from one stall owner for not driving a hard enough bargain. It’s part of the process so take part with good grace and never accept the first price offered. Where you go from here is up to you. Some guide books recommend only conceding at 70% or 80% below the asking price, but I’d recommend simply working out what you want to pay. Literally walking away is also often a good negotiating tactic.
For a sanitised version of Marrakech shopping, head to the Complexe D’Artisanat on the Rue de la Kasbah. This enormous showroom offers all the goods you’ll find in the souks, but in an air-conditioned environment and at a set price, so no haggling here. It lacks the atmosphere of the souk, but is a quiet, simple way to pick up some beautiful items without being hassled.
Where to Eat in Marrakech
Food in Marrakech, like so many things, is rich, sweet and indulgent. Glorious tagines of dried fruits and butter-soft meats, cous cous and delicious fresh salads are all staples at most eateries. Here are few recommendations for places to eat in Marrakech.
It’s hard to find this little secret gem, Le Foundouk in the north of the souks – so just getting there is an adventure. You’ll know it from the man wearing a fez and holding a lantern outside. Inside you’ll find glorious modern Moroccan décor, wonderful service and delicious food. In addition to traditional fare, an international menu is available in case you’ve had one tagine too many – and the cocktail (and mocktail) menu is worth exploring. The restaurant also has a beautiful roof terrace which is the perfect for a sunset drink after a busy day exploring the souks.
Part café, part cultural phenomenon, head to Cafe Clock for an evening of traditional storytelling (in both Arabic and English), listen to a musical “jam” session, peruse their library or view some art. The menu has plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, as well as fresh smoothies, homemade ice cream and even a camel burger.
The Bar at La Mamounia
An early evening drink at the bar of this famous hotel is a wonderful thing to do in Marrakech, and the most economical way of enjoying a slice of famous luxury. Sit on the terrace or inside the decadently Deco bar, and listen to the live jazz band while enjoying a cocktail – and imagine yourself in an F Scott Fitzgerald novel.
Grand Café de la Poste
Head to the new city outside the medina to this chic bistro with excellent French cooking. Built in 1925, the wonderful Art Deco interior makes this a great place to sit, enjoy and people watch.
What to See in Marrakech
There’s plenty of things to do in Marrakech, Morocco. Here are the top Marrakech sights that we highly recommend you plan to visit.
Jemaa El Fna
The main square in the old town and gateway to the souks is always worth a visit, particularly after dark when the night market gets going. Home to snake charmers, musicians, storytellers and orange juice sellers, the square is an assault of sights, sounds and smells. Wander around and drink in the atmosphere.
These iconic gardens were created by French artist Jacques Majorelle, and later saved from demolition by Yves Saint-Laurent. It’s a stunning place to visit – the use of stunning “Majorelle blue” paint makes it truly special. There’s a great café and the adjacent Yves Saint Laurent museum is also worth visiting. Get there early or late in the day – queues can get quite spectacular.
This small, quiet garden houses a number of royal tombs from the 16th and 17th centuries and it remained hidden until the 1920s. The decoration on display here is incredible, with intricate tiling, soaring arches and carved columns.
Once one of the most extravagant palaces ever built, this ruin is now home to vast number of storks. The scale of the place is phenomenal – and gives an insight into the dynasties that came before.
What to Avoid in Marrakech
I’m often asked “Is Marrakech safe?” – particularly when it comes to being harassed as a solo female traveller and I can categorically say I felt totally safe in Marrakech. Here are a few tips on what to avoid and how to stay safe and comfortable while visiting Marrakech.
- You need to be respectful and cover up when you are out and about. I’d recommend covering shoulders and legs – you’ll feel more comfortable. Dressing appropriately and respectfully will minimise the additional attention you might get as a foreign woman.
- People will always try to sell you things but it’s easy enough to say “non merci” and move on without being chased down the road. French and Arabic are the main languages spoken here.
- Some of the back streets late at night are probably best avoided. While they are probably safe, the city can be confusing to navigate and you can get easily lost. Stick to more crowded areas if you can.
- You might find taxi drivers who try to take you to their friend’s shop. It is not sinister, but it can be irritating.
- Some shops will insist on sitting you down and giving you tea (hospitality is big) which can make you feel uncomfortable if you don’t want to buy anything, so just politely say no.
- Avoid paying too much. Taxis and the stalls expect you to haggle so the price they give you will be ridiculously high.
- Marrakech really is an assault to the senses, so I wouldn’t recommend staying for more than a few days at a time. If you’re in Morocco for longer, try to get out to the mountains or visit the coast.
- The best time to visit Marrakech is in the cooler months. It gets very hot in summer so avoid visiting then. Late spring is a good time to visit.
Getting to Marrakech
Marrakech airport is served by many major airlines and is conveniently located a 15 minute drive outside the city. Compare airlines, dates and prices with Skyscanner.
Annie Scott is a freelance writer, communications pro and wannabe urban hippy. Since quitting corporate life you’ll find her saying yes to anything that terrifies her, lurking at the back of West London yoga classes and pretending to like kale.