For those of you considering a trip to Morocco, Marrakech is the perfect place to start. We kicked off our 10-day adventure here and quickly fell in love. Marrakech has it all: rich history, beautiful architecture, a plethora of lodging & dining options to suit all budgets, and a bustling medina to explore. In a brief 72 hours, we found both chaos and tranquility, and left with the feeling that we had truly been immersed in Moroccan culture.
If not already on your list, then hopefully this guide can inspire you to consider Morocco for your next holiday. If you’ve already got Morocco on your mind, then consider this guide a resource for planning your own exploration. To truly experience the character & charm of Marrakech, we recommend staying for at least 3 days.
There’s a lot to do in Marrakech in 3 days and we have a lot to say. If you want to jump to a different section of this guide, click any of the 3 yellow category headlines below.
Here’s a guide…to the guide:
- Marrakech: 6 Quick Facts
- Getting There
- Getting Around
- Where to Stay
- Where We Slept
- Dining & Imbibing
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Day 3
- What We Missed (& other things to do if you’ve got more than 3 days)
Finally – check out our exposé Morocco: First Impressions for an inside look at the sights, stories and laughter that filled our whirlwind & memorable day #1 in Marrakech.
Marrakech: 6 Quick Facts
- Founded in 1062 by the Almorivids, although Berber farmers inhabited the area since the Neolithic Era
- Reflects Spanish, French & North African cultural & architectural influences
- The 1st of Morocco’s 4 Imperial Cities (the other 3 being Fes, Meknes & Rabat)
- With a population of ~1 million people, it is Morocco’s 4th largest city (after Casablanca, Fes & Tangier)
- Between 1122-1123, protective walls were built, stretching 12 miles (19km) around the city. Today, this area is known as the medina (“old city” or “city center”)
- The Medina of Marrakech was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985
Though the origin of the name Marrakesh is widely disputed, the city has many globally-recognized nicknames:
- The Red City: referencing the orange-red (ochre) clay walls of the medina
- The Ochre City: see #1!
- The Land of God: from the Berber words amur (n) akush
- The City of Seven Saints: referencing the 7 Patron Saints of Morocco, all of whom reside in tombs within the medina.
- Ménara International Airport (RAK) makes Marrakech one of Morocco’s most accessible cities by plane
- Railway Station offers direct rail links to Casablanca & Fes
- An overnight train runs from Tangier (a possibility if you are arriving by ferry into the port of Tanger-Med)
Those of you that enjoy exploring new cities by foot, are in luck: virtually all of the main attractions are within walking distance. If it is simply too hot to walk, taxis are always available, although it’s important to note that certain parts of the medina are inaccessible to vehicles larger than a motorcycle.
Other modes of transportation in and around the medina:
- Buses (outside the medina)
- Horse-drawn carriages (many are stationed near the entrance to Le Jardin Majorelle)
In 3 days, the longest drive we made was from the airport to the gate of the medina, which was 4 miles.
⌲ Accommodation & Satiation
Where to Stay
To gain a full appreciation for all that Marrakech has to offer, we recommend staying somewhere inside the medina. Within the medina’s walls, you’ll find countless options ranging from budget backpacker hostels to the iconic luxury hotel La Mamounia, and everything in between.
The most traditional approach would be to stay at a riad, which is similar in concept to a “Bed & Breakfast.” The literal translation of “riad” is “garden.” Moroccan riads are homes that feature an interior garden, courtyard and central fountain on the bottom floor. The upper levels have been repurposed to accommodate travelers, and most will offer between 4 and 15 rooms.
travelhelix tip: when booking your riad, inquire about what’s included in the room rate: some may offer complimentary breakfast, dinner, or both. Others might offer the option of breakfast or dinner, for an additional charge. Either way, you’re likely to experience a home-cooked meal with a personal feel, which is one of the many charming elements of the riad concept of hospitality.
Where We Slept
We stayed at Riad Kheirredine, in the northwest section of the medina, accessible via the Bab Yacout gate. The property itself is amazing, but the hospitality we experienced was second to none. The staff truly welcomed us and treated us like family, and we encourage anyone headed to Marrakech to consider Riad Kheirredine for your accommodation.
Check out our complete review for more info on room options, the in-house spa & Hammam bath…and the overall travelhelix experience.
ideal for: couples & Honeymoons!
travelhelix tip: we recommend that you book directly for the best rates and other perks!
Dining & Imbibing
Eating in Morocco: the Basics
Wherever you are in Morocco, there are a few culinary essentials that you must become familiar with:
- Moroccan Breakfast – simply the best way to start your day: pastries, thin crêpe-like breads, assorted jams, preserves & honey…direct French influence.
- Moroccan Bread – these round loaves of warm goodness seem to be everywhere you look as you walk the streets. Sit down at a restaurant, and a fresh loaf will be placed on the table for you.
travelhelix tip: many locals use bread – instead of a fork – to pick up food. Do as the locals do!
- Moroccan Salad – cucumber, tomato, onion, parsley…salt, pepper, lemon…the perfect combination of refreshing & satisfying.
travelhelix tip: it’s not at all ridiculous to start EVERY meal with one of these.
- Tagines – the concept is simple and brilliant: take a conical-shaped Moroccan clay pot, combine meat, vegetables & spices inside of it, throw the whole thing in the oven to cook, then place it on the table. Just like that, this beautifully-painted piece of cookware becomes your serving dish.
travelhelix tip: a tagine a day keeps the hunger away…
- Mint Tea – whether you’re walking into a riad or engaging in conversation with a vendor in the souks, there’s a decent chance you’ll be offered a cup of mint tea. Even in the summer heat, a piping hot cup of “Moroccan Johnny Walker” is somehow refreshing.
travelhelix tip: it’s customary to use a LOT of sugar, so you may consider asking if sugar has already been added, before taking a sip.
- Fresh Juices – juice vendors are everywhere in El-Fnaa Square, and can also be found scattered throughout the medina. These master mixers of elixir offer endless combos of blended fruits & vegetables.
travelhelix tip: if your desired combo isn’t on the menu, simply tell them which ingredients you want, and they’ll mix it up for you.
Dining in Marrakech: the Specifics
Depending on where you choose to dine, multiple courses may be involved. Some of the recommendations below are simply “places to eat.” Others are better described as “experiences.”
travelhelix tip: for #1 and #2, eat as little as possible on the day of your dining experience. If you must eat, eat lightly, and come hungry.
- Dinner at Dar Yacout – this was a wild experience from beginning to end. Before being seated, you’re escorted to the rooftop to enjoy some relaxing live music, breathtaking views and an incredible beverage of your choice (spirits included). Downstairs in the restaurant, you’re given the seating option of “on a couch” or “by the pool.” We ate our first 3 courses on a couch…and our next 4 by the pool. All of this came for a fixed price – wine included. Very well worth it.
travelhelix tip: if you like the idea of a location change mid-meal, do the opposite of what we did! By round 6, we wished we were back on a couch again. But we truly cannot complain…
- Dinner at Dar Moha – OK, so we didn’t actually dine here. We have been told from other friends who DID eat here, that it was an incredible overall experience – dining & ambience – similar to what we found at Dar Yacout.
- Pre-dinner drinks at El Fenn – thanks to the recommendation of some friends, we enjoyed a refreshing beverage on the relaxing rooftop while admiring a beautiful sunset over Koutoubia Mosque.
- Café Arabe – highly recommended by our Riad.
- Latitude 31 – another recommendation that comes highly rated by friends and other travelers online.
- Henna Art Café – delicious couscous (customary to eat on Fridays) and fresh fruit juices!
⌲ Suggested Itinerary
DAY 1: GET ACQUAINTED, THEN GET LOST (Wander the Souks and El-Fnaa Square)
Have Yourself a Good Ole-Fashioned Haggle in The Souks
Marrakech is home to the largest traditional Berber market in Morocco, known to both locals and tourists alike simply as the souks (“souk” → “market”). The souks are essentially a sprawling network of artisans, vendors & storefronts, covering countless streets & alleyways, organized by section: carpets & rugs, clothing, leather goods, baskets, perfumes, jewelry, pottery, knives…spices, dried fruits, fresh fruits, olives, nuts….camel heads?!
time of day: morning will be less crowded than midday, and most souks will be open until ~8:00pm in the evening. On Fridays, some vendors may only be open in the morning, then close their shop for the rest of the day following the afternoon call for prayer.
travelhelix tip: the ancient art of haggling (negotiating) is not only acceptable; it’s encouraged. Quite simply, it’s the way ‘deals get done’ around here, and the vendors will expect you to engage with a friendly haggle. So – remember to smile, be polite, refrain from outrageous “low-ball” offers – and have fun doing it! If the idea of haggling in an unfamiliar land makes you uneasy, there are plenty of resources online to guide you on what is and isn’t acceptable.
As we navigated these narrow streets by foot – doing our best to avoid being run over by motorcycles – temptation lurked around every corner. We left the souks having acquired some fun Moroccan pants (D), a men’s leather satchel (A) and a leather backpack (D’s sister). Additional purchases would be made in the Medina of Fes, several days later!
Explore the Beauty Hidden Behind Every Wall
You’re now exhausted from the sensory overload and intense negotiating that defined your last 2-3 hours in the souks. Give your mind a rest, with an aimless wander through the medina.
Deceptive beauty is a phenomenon we first experienced in Marrakech, and something we encourage you all to explore for yourselves. The contrast between the plain, nondescript exteriors of buildings and the vibrant, ornate interiors – left us speechless time and again.
Our guide described this phenomenon as blind architecture: the beauty hidden behind every wall.
Check out our full article on Deceptive Beauty for an in-depth look at why so much is kept hidden from the outside world, and differing perspectives that support this style of design.
Blind Architecture: external humility meets internal beauty
The best place in Marrakech to get authentic Moroccan henna is Henna Art Café. D got a henna tattoo here, and rocked this gorgeous Moroccan goodness for the next 2 weeks.
The overall experience was awesome: the staff were warm & welcoming and the food was fresh & delicious. While we waited for D’s henna artist to finish with her previous client, we enjoyed a plate of couscous (customary to eat on Fridays) and fresh fruit juice! In total, we spent about an hour and a half here (30 minutes for the actual henna process itself).
travelhelix tip: you may encounter women in El-Fnaa Square (and other areas) who will offer you henna right there and then, at an attractive price. We were advised against this, due to concerns surrounding the quality of the product (remember: henna is a dye that comes from a plant!). Take the safe route and visit Henna Art Café or another reputable establishment that you’ve researched.
Jemaa el-Fnaa (el-Fnaa Square) is one of the main attractions in the Medina of Marrakech, and the busiest square in all of Africa. The best way to people watch is from an elevated position. If you’re hungry, visit one of the street vendors to try some very local & authentic Moroccan snacks.
time of day: dusk/sunset – beautiful views while the chaos ensues!
travelhelix tip: the square is surrounded by cafés, most of which will not serve alcohol. If imbibing is your motivation, you may not find an option directly on the square. Otherwise, simply choose a café that looks good, with a nice terrace overlooking the square.
DAY 2: TAKE A TOUR OF THE MEDINA
Now that you’ve got some aimless wandering under your belt, it’s time to crack open those history books and soak up 1000 years of knowledge (or at least, a few interesting pearls). For your 2nd day in Marrakech, we recommend hiring a guide for either a full-day or half-day tour.
travelhelix tip: walking the streets, you may be approached by people offering to give you a tour. In Morocco, the tourism industry is regulated by the government. We encourage you to hire an official, licensed tour guide, which can often be arranged through your riad or a local tourist bureau.
Below are 6 highlights that we explored during our 4-hour tour:
- This map will take you from point #1 through point #6.
- If you choose to follow this route by foot, the total distance is just under 3 miles (4.6km).
- Depending on the season, the day of the week, how often you stop to take pictures, etc. this tour could take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours.
- Ben Youssef Mosque
Famous for its green tiled roof and minaret, Ben Youssef Mosque is the oldest mosque in Marrakech (originally built in the 12th century).
- Koutoubia Mosque
- Saadian Tombs
This mausoleum for Saadian rulers & their families was built in the 16th century, and today serves as an architectural masterpiece for locals & tourists to visit and enjoy.
- Key ingredients: cedar wood, stucco and Italian marble
- Structural architecture: phenomenal
- Detail/finishing work: remarkable
- Outside garden: worth a wander
- The Kasbah of Marrakech
A kasbah is most simply defined as a “fortified house.” Historically-speaking, sometimes a kasbah was a palace under the control of a single family. Sometimes, it was a group of fortified structures in the same area (like a medina). The lines are a bit blurry between the definitions of medina, kasbah and ksar (for example: Aït Ben Haddou).
The kasbah of Marrakech is most simply defined as the oldest part of the medina. It resides very close to the Royal Palace (southeast section of the medina).
- The Mellah of Marrakech
From the Arabic meaning “salt spring” or “salt marsh,” a Mellah is a walled Jewish quarter of a Moroccan city, analogous to the term ghetto used in European cities. Like the kasbah, the Mellah of Marrakech is also situated near the Royal Palace. This served to protect its inhabitants – a Jewish community consisting largely of bankers, jewelers, metalworkers, tailors and sugar traders – all of whom played a vital role in the local economy.
At one time, there were 35 synagogues in Marrakech. Today, only two are active: Beit El Synagogue (built in the 1950’s) and the Lazama Synagogue (built in 1492) which is the primary site for prayer. The name “Lazama” derives from “Al-Azma” which refers to the Jewish refugees that fled Spain & Portugal at the end of the 15th century. For this reason, the Lazama Synagogue is also referred to as “The Synagogue of the Deportees.”
- Bahia Palace
Widely recognized as one of the finest in Morocco, the Bahia Palace features a 2-acre garden of rooms connected by passageways that open onto courtyards. Construction began in the late 19th century and took 7 years to complete. The word “Bahia” means “brilliant” and “beautiful” – and this exquisite landmark certainly embodies both of those meanings.
If you are able to visit all of these landmarks in one day, consider it a success! From here, stroll back to El-Fnaa square for some refreshing juice or a snack, or head back to your riad for an afternoon nap.
DAY 3: VENTURE OUTSIDE THE MEDINA & VISIT THE MAJORELLE GARDENS
Majorelle Gardens & Berber Museum
Both Le Jardin Majorelle and the Berber Museum are an absolute must-see in Marrakech. French painter Jacques Majorelle spent forty years creating this enchanting garden just outside the medina, and it’s quite easy to get visually lost within this lush & colorful landscape.
When to Go
The gardens are open every day of the year, even during Ramadan:
- October 1 – April 30: 8am – 5:30pm
- May 1 – September 30: 8am – 6pm
- The month of Ramadan: 9am – 5pm
time of day: this is one of the most visited sites in all of Morocco – not just Marrakech! Weekdays may offer smaller crowds than weekends, and mornings will offer cooler temperatures than afternoons.
travelhelix tip: the walk from the medina to the gardens is completely flat, and may take anywhere from 20-40 minutes depending on where you’re coming from. Bring water for the walk, and be prepared to stand in the sun while waiting in line for tickets.
How to Buy Tickets
The museum is located inside the gardens, but a separate ticket is required for entry. We recommend you buy both. Purchase your tickets at the ticket station located outside of the garden.
- Price of admission is 70 Dhs for the Garden and 30 Dhs for the Museum (roughly $10 USD total)
- University students & non-profit organizations receive discounted admission
- Accompanied children under 12 receive free admission
- Pre-purchasing tickets online is not an option
Here’s an aerial view map that shows the layout of the entire property.
One can easily spend 2-3 hours wandering the gardens, absorbing flora & fauna fun-facts, and taking a million photos.
Containing more than 600 objects from the Rif Mountains to the Sahara, the Berber Museum offers a wealth of knowledge about the various indigenous tribes of North Africa. From sugar hammers, inkwells, door locks, and Jewelry, to Mezuzahs, talismans, muskets and footwear, a lot of fascinating history is packed away in a small, yet powerful museum.
You can breeze through the museum in as little as 10 minutes if you just want to look, or you can spend as much as 1 hour in here, if you prefer to also read about it.
reflections from A: as we exited through the gift shop, we saw beautifully-embroidered leather items – representations of hundreds of years’ worth of Berber craftsmanship – that could be yours to take home. The most prominently displayed of all: cases for your iPhone or iPad. A not-so-subtle reminder of technology’s growing influence in today’s world.
travelhelix tip: if you prefer not to walk back after your visit, grab a taxi or a horse-drawn carriage outside the garden to take you back to the medina. Don’t forget to negotiate the price ahead of time.
Head Back to the Medina, but Choose a Different Gate
The Medina of Marrakech has 20 gates. On your way back from the gardens, add a dash of adventure to your day by choosing a different gate for re-entry into the medina. You never know what you’ll find!
reflections from D: as we crossed the busy intersection toward a new, unfamiliar gate, we stumbled upon a small farmers’ market set up outside the medina walls. We learned from our friends at the riad that it is polite to offer money should you want to take a picture of a vendor’s stall. Communicating with my hands, my camera and a few dirhams, my request to take a picture of some watermelons was reluctantly accepted.
Relax with a Hamman Bath
Moroccan Hammam is a relaxing combination of sauna & spa, but there’s more to Hammam than steam, scrubbing and soapy water. Hammam is an important tradition of Moroccan culture, embodying both social & religious elements. As a traveler in Marrakech, Hammam is something that you should absolutely experience.
travelhelix tip: do some Hammam homework (Hammam-work?) before your trip so you know what to expect & bring with you! We found this article to be a good resource, covering history, benefits, the ritual, and etiquette.
reflections from D: do not get a henna tattoo, and then go for a Hammam 3 hours later. Harsh scrubbing of Hammam + fresh Henna = not good for D’s arm 🙁
We enjoyed our Hammam experience at the in-house spa of Riad Kheirredine, and would recommend it to others. There are countless other Hammam options inside and outside of the medina. Ask the staff at your riad for a recommendation.
WHAT WE MISSED (and hope to go back and explore!)
Yves Saint Laurent Museum (in Marrakech)
Located at the former fashion house of Yves Saint Laurent – and just down the street from the Majorelle Gardens – the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech is supposedly “much more than a museum.” Explore their website to learn more about the project, current & upcoming exhibitions, and other practical info. Looks very cool!
The museum opened in October 2017 – just 5 short months after our trip. Thank you, Yves, for giving us another excuse to get back to Marrakech!
Visit Essaouira (Day Trip from Marrakech)
Essaouira is a coastal Atlantic city of 80k people, known for its ancient medina, city walls, souks, the beautiful Moulay el Hassan square, and great seafood restaurants.
Essaouira is 119 miles (192 km) from Marrakech, and more or less a 3-hour drive each way. You’ll find many options for day trips, which look something like this:
- 8am – 11am: drive from Marrakech to Essaouira
- 11am – 4pm: explore Essaouira
- 4pm – 7pm: drive from Essaouira to Marrakech
P.S. The Moroccan National Tourist Office offers a fantastic & downloadable City Guide.