Marrakech had been on my list for a long time and we finally ticked it off with a little long weekend trip in January — a good time to go for a very comfortable climate! We spent two days in Marrakech followed by two days in the Atlas Mountains and though some would consider that a very brief stint in the city, we felt like it was a good amount of time to get to scratch the surface and get a real feel for the place, without things getting a little repetitive. The food in Marrakech is delicious but it does get a little samey after a while, and there’s only so much you can buy in the souks! That said, we had a magical two days exploring every corner of the city on foot, visiting the stunning Jardin Majorelle, eating all the mezze and all the tagines, and soaking up those winter rays on as many rooftops as we could find. I know a lot of people are a little put off by Marrakech, thinking it’s a a little scary or unsafe, or somewhere you’ll be constantly hassled, but we didn’t find ourselves fazed by any of that. I think if you go with your wits about you and be understanding of the impacts of such rife tourism, it’s a brilliant, vibrant city to see. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Marrakech…
I feel like JARDIN MAJORELLE has become the poster shot for Marrakech and luckily, it lives up to the hype. Yes, it really is that bold and brilliantly blue in real life! The two and half acre botanical garden was founded by the French artist, Jacques Majorelle, and houses that camera-baiting bright blue Cubist villa which was designed by French architect, Paul Sinoir. It all got a little run down then in the ‘80s, fashion designers, Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé bought it and restored it, leading it to become of the most visited sites in the whole of Morocco. We had to queue for entrance tickets (70 MAD/ £5.50 per person) for a good 45 minutes, so I’d suggest going early morning to beat the crowds. Once inside, it’s calm, soul-soothing and really very unique. Lots of people rate the Yves Saint-Laurent Museum too which is just down the street and is said to have a good cafe for lunch too!
Jemaa el-Fnaais Marrakech’s main square and the epicentre of the sprawling Medina. In the morning, there’s not a lot to see, you need to go in the evening when it really comes alive. As soon as the sun sets it becomes brilliantly atmospheric, teeming with tourist crowds watching magic card tricks, snake charmers, monkey handlers, palm readers, dried fruit stalls, craftsmen with bags full of trinkets to sell you, and the most delicious smelling food stalls serving everything from mezze platters to fried fish and chips. Pretty much all of it is set up for tourist trade and you shouldn’t show interest in anything you don’t plan to pay for (god forbid, do not ask stroke a monkey) but it has a great atmosphere nonetheless and is definitely worth a wander.
Explore the souks
The souks were what drew me to Marrakech in the first place, and my goodness, they are vast. I kind of went to Marrakech thinking, ‘oh, I hope I can find some pretty patterned bowls like my parents have’ and as soon as I got there, I realised oh okay, they’re literally everywhere — same with beautiful decorative rugs, embroidered slippers, stained glass lanterns, and bohemian leather bags. The Medina really is like a maze with tiny streets winding round and round, often, we found into dead ends! My advice would be, if you see something in the souks that you want, buy it there and then, because you might never remember how to find it again! Another good idea is to drop Google pins. Some paths you’ll tread frequently like the main stretch that leads up to Jemaa el-Fnaa, though actually, this was probably my favourite street for shopping. Go with empty luggage, I don’t think anyone leaves empty handed.
Koutoubia is Morocco’s largest mosque, with a tall intricately carved minaret which towers over the Medina. Dating back to the 12th century, it’s a prime example of Moorish architecture and served as a cheat sheet for those that followed. Chances are if you’re staying within the walls of the Medina, you’ll hear the billowing call to prayer which happens five times a day. Non-Muslims aren’t allowed in to the mosque itself, but it’s nice to wander around its pretty grounds and gardens.
Get out to the Atlas Mountains
If you can tack on an extra day or two to your trip, I’d definitely say it’s worth heading out to the Atlas Mountains. They’re so beautiful and the foothills of the mountains are only 30 minutes drive from Marrakech itself.
Amal Women’s Training Centre
A foodie friend told me about AMAL WOMEN’S TRAINING CENTRE when we were there and I’m so pleased we got chance to visit because it was so brilliant, I urge you to go! It’s a not-for-profit kitchen and restaurant in Gueliz (outside of the Medina walls, not far from Jardin Majorelle), which helps disadvantaged women gain work experience in hospitality. Open only for lunch, 11am-3:30pm, a chalkboard menu changes daily and you out sit in a pretty open courtyard. My only advice is go early as once dishes are gone, they’re gone. The table next to us got the last vegetarian tagine and it looks so insanely good, I nearly threw a tantrum!
A super relaxed, bohemian cafe in the Kasbah district, CAFE CLOCK is part cafe, part creative centre, part cooking school. We sat and read on the roof terrace nursing coffees, but next time, I’d definitely go back for brunch (the menu looked delicious) and even try book into a cooking school — it smelt delicious!
For a low-key local feed, ATAY CAFE is a trusty spot in the Medina where you can guarantee a good value, tasty tagine on the roof terrace. We loved the chilled out vibe and being able to sit out, plus the food was great too.
After not getting a table at Le Jardin (it’s very popular!) we ended up a few doors down at NARANJ, but soon realised we’d stumbled on a winner. Ask for a table on the roof then scale the stairs of the multi-storey restaurant ’til you hit sunshine. We shared a big mezze plate for lunch and it was some of the tastiest food we ate on the whole trip. Delicious!
Hyped up for its super dreamy interiors, EL FENN does live up to its rep’ for being the chicest spot in the city. The boutique hotel has two beautiful courtyards, a rooftop (that we sadly didn’t get to see), and tightly edited boutique selling crafts, clothes and homewares. Come evening, the boutique turns into a restaurant with two set dinner sittings. You need to book ahead (and give a credit card deposit) but it’s worth it for a boujee date night. We had a lovely evening and an excellent meal here.
Le Trou Au Mer
Soak up the sun on the open rooftop of LE TROU AU MER, a contemporary restaurant offering a modern-day take on traditional Moroccan cuisine. We enjoyed a light lunch up here and loved the selection of mini Moroccan salads, but I’d definitely think about going back for dinner to work my way through the extensive martini menu — a rarity in Marrakech!
A popular lunch spot (for the Instagram community!) LA FAMILLE is pretty al fresco spot for lunch in the heart of the Medina. Easy to miss, it’s hidden away off a busy street but once you find it, it’s all blissfully calm and sophisticated inside. Tables are scattered around a pretty garden-like space and the menu is full of fresh, light and colourful dishes. They do run out so go early to avoid disappointment.
LE JARDIN is a serene garden restaurant and a well located place of respite from all that shopping in the souks. Savour a sweet mint tea in the calm courtyard or delve into the light and healthy food menu. Open for lunch and dinner.
We went luxe for our last night in Marrakech and stayed at P’TIT HABIBI, a boutique contemporary riad in the northern quarter of the Medina. Fusing traditional artisan craft with modern Scandinavian design, it’s definitely one for interior junkies. Clean white walls and a light-flooded courtyard are scattered with huge plants, traditional Moroccan rugs, and tan leather butterfly chairs, and the five bedrooms are all individually designed and eccentrically furnished. The roof terrace is a glorious sun trap and the perfect place to spend a lazy morning.
Riad Rêves de l’Amalie
We booked Riad Rêves de l’Amalie last minute on booking.com as a cheap and quick fix but it turned out to be a good find in a great location, just on the south edge of the Medina walls, right opposite El Badii Palace. It’s pretty low-key and far from being the chicest riad in the land, but it was clean and cute, very charming and traditional, and we got a good breakfast included too. Try to book accommodation ahead as it does get quite pricey and booked out in busy seasons.
One of Instagram’s most well documented places in Marrakech, EL FENN is a very beautiful boutique hotel in the Medina, with effortlessly slick interiors, that fuse modern touches with traditional fabrics, pattern and ideas. Rooms ain’t cheap, but are probably worth splashing out for if you’re a design junkie or big on boutique hotels. Otherwise do what we did and have dinner here, or just pop your head in to appreciate the beautifully furnished courtyards.
— Getting to/from the airport is easy enough by bus. Just jump on bus route no.19 and it drops you right outside Marrakech’s main square, Jemaa el-Fna. It runs every 20-30 minutes, takes 30 minutes, and runs from early morning to past midnight. It’s 30 MAD (£2.50) per person. You do need cash though so use an ATM in the airport.
— Lots of people asked me about the ‘dress code’ in Marrakech and what is and isn’t appropriate. We visited in January when it wasn’t too baking hot so wore jeans, t-shirts and sandals. In hotter climes, for the sake of not getting unwanted attention, I wouldn’t go really any shorter than the knee or I’d keep it pretty modest up top without baring too much flesh, as you would probably feel a little uncomfortable.
— Marrakech’s main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, is a must visit but be weary that it is very heavily tourist orientated and locals are there to make money. Keep a close eye on your possessions and don’t approach snake charmers, monkey handlers and the like if you’ve no plans to pay for anything. On a previous (more naive!) trip, Ed had a pretty scary encounter being chased down an alleyway by a guy after taking a picture of his pet monkey. So be careful!
— Being a Muslim country, alcohol is relatively hard to come and isn’t available in most restaurants. Hotel restaurants and bars seem to have it more readily available, but it is expensive. Luckily, sweet mint tea (the local delicacy) goes down pretty well and is super cheap!
— Restaurants do get booked out so it’s worth booking ahead. We didn’t feel like Marrakech was so busy when we visited in January but were surprised to struggle to get tables for lunch in quite a few places.
— In the souks, you have to haggle! The initial price you get quoted is often over double the value of what you can end up paying for something so be confident and stick to your guns. Don’t haggle if you’ve really no intent on purchasing something… it doesn’t go down well.