Within minutes of arriving in Morocco you’ll learn a new word: ‘Balek!’ Rough translation: ‘Move it or lost it, donkey coming through!’ This is a city on the move, so you better budge and watch in awe as Marrakech rushes ahead. But where is everyone going in such a hurry? As Africa’s first Capital of Culture, Marrakech has a hot date with you, actually. There are new museums to curate, rooftop restaurants to open, riads (courtyard mansions) to renovate and souks to supply. Luckily, showing guests a good time comes readily to Marrakchis. The Jemaa el-Fna has enchanted visitors for a millennium with its chorus of chefs and Gnaoua musicians banging out funky freedom songs on ginbris (three-stringed banjos). So, settle in for the ride of your life – you sure as hell won’t forget this trip.
1 Jardin Majorelle :
What is it? Created by the French painter Jacques Majorelle, this botanical garden is home to more types of cacti than you can shake a terrarium at, and has a stunning indigo blue art deco house as its centrepiece.
Why go? Phone cameras at the ready – Jardin Majorelle is pure Instagram gold. Though you’ll see some cringe photoshoots going on, it’s impossible to take a bad picture here. Arrive early to avoid unwanted photo-bombers.
2 Musée Yves Saint Laurent :
What is it? The French designer loved spending time in Marrakech so much he actually bought Jardin Majorelle in 1980. Opened next door to the gardens in 2017, the Musée Yves Saint Laurent is dedicated to Yves’s couture legacy and has a permanent display of hundreds of garments spanning his 40-year career.
Why go? The YSL collection is an amazing body of work that even non-fashionistas can appreciate. It’s housed in one of the city’s most striking buildings, alongside a beautiful garden café, bookshop, temporary exhibition hall and auditorium.
3 Bahia Palace :
What is it? This 150-room palace was home to slave-turned-vizier Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed, who spared no expense in its gorgeous decoration. The painted, gilded ceilings, polychrome zellige tiling and carved stucco still have the intended effect – which is just ‘wow’.
Why go? Bahia is roughly translated as ‘beautiful’ and that’s definitely not an overstatement. Escape from the heat of the midday sun to the palace’s shaded spaces and get lost in all the intricate detailing.
4 Maison de la Photographie
What is it? A three-storey riad-turned-gallery housing the vintage Moroccan photography collection of Patrick Menac’h and Marrakshi Hamid Mergani. The images document the lifestyle and landscapes of Morocco between 1870 and 1950 – more than a century a later, many things remain exactly the same.
Why go?To immerse yourself in a visual history of Morocco. The rooftop café is also one of the highest in the medina and is a great spot for a drink.
5 Riad Yima Tea Room
What is it? The home and personal gallery of Hassan Hajjaj, the so-called ‘Andy Warhol of Marrakech’. The whole place is filled with his upcycled pop art, from furniture and art objects to his sought-after photographs. It’s also a tearoom, so make yourself at home.
Why go? This bright, eccentric building is where the kitsch of the medina meets modern Morocco. Go for a classic cup of mint tea.
6 Souk Semmarine
What is it? Marrakech is famous for its souks (markets) and Souk Semmarine is the biggest of them all. Rugs, leather goods, silverware and crockery of all shapes and sizes are on offer in this labyrinth – just try not to get lost.
Why go? If you’re looking for a true Marrakchiexperience, get stuck in and do some haggling with one of the local traders. Knock them down from their opening price and come away with a one-of-a-kind memento.
7 Souk Place des Épices
What is it? Moroccan cuisine is famous for its rich, aromatic flavours. Place des Épices is the traditional spice souk where you’ll find merchants selling everything from allspice to ras al hanout (a mix of more than a dozen spices).
Why go? This open-air souk is truly atmospheric. As well as bags of spices, you can pick up colourful basketry or simply watch the show from one of the cafés that ring the square.
8 Jemaa el-Fna
What is it? The vast open square at the heart of the medina is one of Marrakech’s biggest attractions and is a Unesco world heritage site. Expect snake charmers, street entertainers and over-enthusiastic henna artists at every turn.
Why go? Locals and tourists descend on the Jemaa every night, drawn by the ceaseless hoopla and halqa (street theatre). Grab some food from one of the barbecue stalls, listen to some music, then head up to a rooftop bar and marvel at the sunset.
What is it? A short journey to the west of the medina, you’ll find the neighbourhood of Gueliz, the so-called 1930s ‘New Town’. There are European-style shopping malls and small homeware boutiques aplenty, plus an excellent array of bars and restaurants for a post-retail therapy pit stop.
Why go? Gueliz is the modern face of Marrakech and it’s here you’ll find the city’s best restaurants. Its laid-back vibe makes for a refreshing change from the intensity of the medina.
10 Hammam De La Rose
What is it? The hammam – public bath house – is a Moroccan institution and you’ll find one in every neighbourhood in Marrakech. It’s where Moroccans go for their weekly, relaxing gommage (scrub), but also to reconnect with themselves and with friends and family.
Why go? Because it’s a restorative experience and this hammam offers traditional treatments – scrubs, masques and massages – in luxurious surroundings.