Sometimes the stars align and that Google alert for cheap flights lights up your phone with a great price on tickets for a quick weekend trip to Marrakech. How could we say no? It was our second time to the Red City, and the allure of vibrant souks, tasty tagines and colorful textiles was irresistible.
Since we were only in Marrakech for a few days, we had to make sure we hit our favorite spots. Here are the highlights of our whirlwind return to Morocco’s fourth largest city.
Located near the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, Marrakech is a bustling and fashionable city known for its fine cuisine, luxe riad accommodations, incredible shopping in posh boutiques and a packed market known as the souk.
The most central spot within the medina, or center of the city, is the Jemaa el-Fnaa. This square is constantly abuzz with market dwellers, food sellers, and a veritable circus of entertainers such as snake charmers, acrobats, monkey trainers, henna tattoo artists, impromptu dentists (don’t think about it), fresh juice sellers, fortune tellers, and a circling parade of people pickpocketing tourists or selling iPhones from unknown origins. In short, it is not to be missed.
During the day, Jemaa el-Fnaa is an easy place to grab lunch or a snack, and a good spot to realign your mental map before you get lost in the surrounding souks. Once it turns dark, the square takes on a whole new personality. A constant drum beat from live musicians provides a backdrop to dozens of pop-up food carts that cook multi-course meals on the spot.
Channeling Yves Saint-Laurent
If you’re looking for some quiet, a visit to the Jardin Majorelle is not to be missed. This large complex is home to diverse gardens and Instagram-worthy buildings restored by fashion designers Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé in the 1980s. It is also home to the Berber Museum and the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech.
The garden is an incredible sight, particularly when you see it after spending time in the surrounding desert or congested souk. Lush bamboo stalks, pretty lily ponds, tall palm trees, and over 30 types of cacti populate the space. Bright blue buildings – painted in the color dubbed as “Majorelle Blue” – surround the garden.
Shop Til You Drop
No trip to Marrakech is complete without a visit to the souks. Marrakech is home to the largest traditional Berber market in Morocco. Traditionally organized by types of retail goods such as leather, carpets, and leatherwork, the souk of today loosely follows that organization. Many of the stalls sell dried fruit and nuts, fragrant spices, handmade attire, jewelry, leather bags and shoes, colorful baskets, pierced metal lanterns, brass tea trays, and brightly hued textiles.
If you plan to shop in the Marrakech souk, it is important to come up with a game plan before you enter this labyrinth of market stalls and tunnels. It is ridiculously easy to get lost, or to fall in love with something but pass, never to find it again. Make your entry point the Jemaa el-Fnaa, as you can always figure out how to get back there via signs or friendly locals.
Come to the souk prepared with a mental list of what you’re looking for, how much you’re willing to spend, and know when to pounce versus walk away. Bargaining is part of the shopping game here, but it’s critical to know when to be respectful. When attempting to haggle, take into consideration how much time an artisan has spent on a particular item, or understand the steps it takes to create a product. A textile that is handmade will take much longer than a machine-made look-a-like, and the cost will reflect that work.
Work Up an Appetite
The spice market (Souk des Epices) is where you should head if you’re looking for a gourmet lunch or dinner stop. Located across the small open square from each other are two establishments owned by the same people – and both are delicious! Café des Epices, the more casual of the two, serves an around-the-clock menu of fresh cuisine including our group’s favorite gazpacho, chicken curry burger, and a variety of yummy tagines.
Across the souk’s open square is Café Nomad. We’d recommend getting a reservation for this popular spot, especially if you’re looking to sit on the terrace that overlooks the rooftops of Marrakech. This restaurant is perfect for people watching. It’s also memorable for families, as it is one of the only spots we found with a kids menu (a menu, in fact, that pleased our youngest travel companion so much we returned a second time). A vegetarian lentil salad was also a group favorite.
Crash Someplace Authentic
Max out the charm factor of your Marrakech visit by staying in an authentic courtyard home called a riad. There are hundreds of options throughout the city at a variety of price points. Many are situated conveniently near entrances to the souk or the Jemaa el-Fnaa square.
If you do a pre-trip search for top places, you’ll notice all of the travel influencers flocking to the same spots over and over again. Try someplace new! There are too many family-owned, stylish, and comfortable riads in Marrakech to only consider the most popular ones. Some of our favorites are Riad Itrane and Riad Talaa 12.
Do you have any favorite spots in Marrakech? Comment below!