A Quick Guide to Marrakesh
Marrakesh is many things. Firstly, it’s self-assured. In fact, it’s a place that has nothing to prove. Why? Because it’s everything you imagine it to be. Its Old Town is as authentic as a tourist ridden UNESCO world heritage site could possibly be; an intricate web of plazas and alleyways designated to the art of craftsmanship and detail. Its appearance is far from discrete, leaving a sense of vibrancy and youthfulness lingering long after you’ve moved on. Its ‘new town’ is progressively trying to find its very own sense of purpose, with art galleries and cutting edge boutiques sprinkled all over. Nevertheless, its roots can’t be shaken off. Donkey carriages and market runs are still very much a part of daily life in Marrakesh. And that, that sense of new and old, of chaotic and organised, that’s what makes it so brilliant. As the muezzin’s call to prayer echoes across the Red City, I invite you to put aside your sense of direction, charge your camera and embark on a Marrakeshi adventure. Ready or not, it’s going to be great, I promise.
Please note, I decided to link each title to the relevant address. All you have to do is click on the title and a seperate Google Maps window should appear. Navigating your way through this charmingly chaotic city will now be a little easier, I hope.
Djemaa el-Fna This action-packed square is your first point of reference when tackling the labyrinth of souks that lays beyond. From snake charmers to acrobats and everyone in-between, the lower the sun the more bustle you will run into. Speaking of which, Marrakeshi sunsets are best gazed at from one of the rooftop cafes in the northern corner of Djemaa el-Fna.
Medina The medina ramparts stretch across 19km. Inside, you will find the above mentioned outrageous Djemaa el-Fna. Walk south to explore palaces or take a breather in your riad (traditional boutique guesthouse). Heading north, mosques, souks, and zawiyas (saint’s shrines) await. The souks make for excellent retail therapy (and people watching); just be sure to haggle and triple-check the quality. Checking the price with the neighbouring stall can do wonders to your wallet.
Museum for Photography and Visual Arts The world’s largest freestanding photography museum. A must!
Ali ben Youssef Medersa As you enter the medersa (theological collage), notice the inscription. It reads “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded.” The level of detail of the Hispano-Moresque ornaments you find once inside is difficult to comprehend. It’s considered one of the most impressive Quranic learning centres North Africa and, I’m sure, you will soon see why.
Maison de la Photographie Marrakesh is a photographer’s dream, hence the excellent collection of related exhibitions and museums. This gallery is also home to one of the best rooftop terraces in town. Stay for lunch, reflect on what you’ve just seen downstairs and enjoy the view.
Bahia Palace La Bahia stands for ‘The Beautiful’. After roaming the small portion of rooms available to the public, visitors tend to enthusiastically agree.
Jardin Majorelle Whether the tumult of the medina is having the best of you or not, an escape to this artistic paradise gifted to Marrakesh by no other than the great Yves Saint Laurent will do you good either way. Beat the crowds and come early.
Ville Nouvelle Art Galleries A showcase for the direction the literate and forward-thinking Morocco is heading to. Some of the most renown include Galerie Re, Gallery 127 and Matisse Art Gallery.
Beldi Country Club A quick taxi ride out of town will quickly recharge you after dusty medina walks. This is not your average boutique hotel. Instead, think a sea of roses (15,000 to be precise), picture-perfect intimate pools, tropical greenhouses playing classical music, free-standing outdoor bathtubs, on-site potteries, and mouth-watering food. You will be given the choice to purchase a pool pass or devour lunch before contemplating Marrakesh sights by the pool. But, really, I wish I stayed here overnight.
(vegan friendly, as always)
Mint tea If this is your first touchdown in Morocco, you will soon find that mint tea is offered at all times. Fresh mint, scalding hot water and spoonfuls of sugar are waiting around most corners. Ask for no or less sugar, if you prefer.
Djeema el-Fna stalls As shadow falls, the action is only starting at Djeema el-Fna. Walk around the stalls and find one with a good view of the square. The busier the stall, the better the turnover of ingredients, the happier your stomach. Bean soups are a vegan delight! For desert, the nearby dates and nuts stalls should hit the right spot.
Earth Cafe Creative vegetarian pleasures to convince even the most determined of carnivores.
Cafe Clock Join the expats and curious tourists for a treat to seasonal Marrakeshi cuisine with a modern twist. Great vibe, great food, and, even better, sunset concerts on Sundays.
Le Jardin An excellent up-market choice for dinner. Book ahead.
Kaowa LA vibes in Marrakesh downtown. Join the crowds after your visit to Jardin Majorelle for juices, smoothies and a light lunch at reasonable prices.
Amal Centre Supporting disadvantaged Moroccan woman while serving up divine Moroccan food. A perfect match and very much worth a visit.
Roti D’or If tajines are coming out of your ears (which they will sooner or later), this Mexican eatery is your place.
Atay Cafe Amazing panoramic views, amazing food. What more does one need?
Nomad The culinary tour across Marrakeshi rooftops continues at this delectable French-Moroccan venue.
The only realistic way to navigate the medina is on foot. Your riad should equip you with a decent printed map. Another good way not to get too lost is to study your way in and out of Djemaa el-Fna before heading into the souks. Remember the direction and consult your phone’s compass to make your way back.
Petits taxis are perfect for short trips into Ville Nouvelle. Flagging one on the street is pretty straight forward. Ensure higher fees at night, but always request a metered fare. To get from Marrakesh Meara Airport (pick up a SIM card while you’re there) or the train-station to your end destination, take a city bus (3 DH) or, more conveniently, a taxi.
Grands taxis (usually Mercedes-Benzes) are commonly used for day-trips (i.e. a nearby palmerie).
Moroccan Dirham (DH)
Discourage being hassled by dressing modestly and having your shoulders and knees covered. Also, a stern but friendly “La, Shukraan.” (Arabic for “No, thank you.”) does a great job at keeping away unwanted souvenir hawkers.
To get a better sense of what Marrakech is like, click here to view my photo diaries.