Once one of Morocco’s four royal cities, Marrakech is filled with a variety of sensory experiences. The city’s medina is finely crafted from a variety of cultures, and these influences can still be seen in its natural landscape and felt in its modern charm.
Approaching the medina, the heart of the city, the wide streets narrowed and the traffic slowed. Transportation within the medina is limited, which means a variety of different vehicles and animals traverse the winding side streets. Bicycles, mopeds, carts, trolleys……… Even mules, weaving their way through the maze of Siouxwood markets, bypassing locals and tourists, trying to make their way through. The locals are on call, and if someone seems a little out of place in the city, they’re there to help. Be aware, however, that they will expect to tip you, and often it’s quite a substantial tip.
Medina is an attack in almost every sense of the word. From the aroma of street food, to the cacophony of sounds coming at you from every angle, and the colors, patterns, and textures that spill down every wall and floor. Medina is a beautiful chaos.
The Medina’s bazaar is perhaps its most famous feature, full of non-stop haggling and gossip from dusk until the last shadow of life disappears from the streets in the evening. Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square in the Medina, is the main square in the area. The square is filled with soup pools, evening entertainment venues, restaurants and stalls, and the square is filled with many of the city’s can’t-miss savory snacks, including tajines, a variety of grilled meats and vegetables, and countless couscous.
In this dense part of the city, the most common items include spices, Moroccan nuts, leather coats and handicrafts. A staple of many Moroccan dishes, you’ll find ras el hanout in many stores that sell spices.This spice is a delicious blend of a dozen spices, commonly cardamom, cumin, cloves, clove, cinnamon, coriander seeds, peppers, sweet and spicy peppers and turmeric.
The other main flavor of Morocco is Moroccan tea: a tea brewed with fresh mint that is incredibly sweet. This authentic Moroccan flavor is brewed in a teapot filled with loose black tea leaves, sugar (with the option of adding more sugar to your own cup), boiled in water, and topped with piles of fresh mint leaves. The roots of traditional Moroccan tea are much debated in the country, but not its importance to the culture. It’s almost impossible to go anywhere without a glass of this sweet amber liquid.
Le Jardin Secret (121 Rue Mouassine) is Medina’s own botanical garden, formerly a 19th century palace complex. Its origins are reflected in the gorgeous traditional Islamic gardens, which create a tranquil, refreshing atmosphere, and for a fee of 60 dirhams you can access the gardens, which also have a small shop and café, all surrounded by a wall, completely isolated from the surrounding activities.
Get out of the city.
Marrakech, especially the Medina, is a chaotic place of activity that invades the senses every now and then. For those who want to catch their breath here, there are plenty of great day trip spots nearby. The beach town of Sowilla is a peaceful day trip destination, popular with surfers. The towering Atlas Mountains, made up of Berber towns, provide a striking contrast to the hot downtown. Straddling Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, the Atlas Mountains are a favorite among hikers, with the Tuquar Mountains south of Marrakech being the highest peak of the range.
Riads is one of the most popular accommodation options in Marrakech. These traditional hostels are diverse, affordable and suitable for travelers of all budgets. Similar in style to a townhouse, the country house is divided into several bedrooms, with a courtyard in the middle and shared dining and lounge areas.
Dar Attajmil (23 Rue el Ksour) is less than a few minutes away from Bab Agnaou and is the “gateway” to the Medina and a convenient meeting point for many tour groups. The staff here are attentive and eager to help, and the friendly hostess, Francesca, will give her guests travel advice in Marrakech. A highlight here is the endless supply of delicious and sweet mint tea, which the staff is always on hand to serve. This four-bedroom inn includes a Harman (included in the price) and a rooftop area where guests can lounge and eat breakfast or enjoy an evening snack prepared by the inn’s chef.
Classic hotels are not uncommon on the winding streets of the medina. For those on a budget, L’Oriental Medina Riad & Spa (5 Derb Lgssaba) allows guests to enjoy luxury without leaving the medina. With air-conditioned rooms, an outdoor pool, rooftop and garden, this hotel is an oasis in the chaotic heart of the medina.
Riad Miral (El Jedid Darb Toubib 24/25) is located in the Kasbah district at the bottom of the Medina, just a short walk from the famous Bahia Palace. Six spacious rooms are available to suit families and families of three, as well as classic double rooms. The hotel has recently been renovated and has modern facilities: satellite TV, wireless internet and air conditioning. It is located in one of the quieter areas of the Medina and offers a relaxing retreat away from the bustle of the Soum market.
For those who travel on a budget, Boho 27 Hostel (27 Derb Cherkaoui Douar Graoua) is also located near Bahia Palace. The bright and comfortable dormitories, which can seat 6 to 10 people, are decorated with traditional tiles that bring the ambiance of the medina indoors. The hotel features a shared kitchen, bar, lounge and terrace where guests can enjoy a continental or buffet breakfast.
Restaurants and cafes
The views of the Medina from Café Des épices (75 Derb Rahba Lakdima) are a great welcome to the Soum market in this area. Located in a small square in the medina, this three-storey café is available from breakfast to dinner and, of course, mint tea is available at all times.
The quiet, shady terrace of Kui Zin (12 Rue Amsefah) is the best rooftop retreat in the Medina. This restaurant hosts live music and entertainment throughout the day, creating a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. As with many restaurants in Morocco, don’t expect any alcohol, instead they will serve Moroccan teas like mint tea or freshly squeezed juice.
Pepe Nero (17 Derb Cherkaoui) is a celebratory restaurant with Italian and Moroccan flavors, offering two menus, each unique to each culture. The interior and patio area of the restaurant is both elegant and classically Moroccan, and while you may not come to Marrakech looking for Italian food, the two menus are equally delicious. This restaurant is on the dining list of many locals and tourists, so reservations are recommended.
For more affordable local fare than a casual experience in the Medina, try Le Foundouk (55 Souk Hal Fassi Kaat Ben Nahid). The restaurant’s terrace overlooks the city of Medina and Marrakech and is a highlight for many visitors. Here, you can enjoy quality drinks, dinner and service.
Café Arabe (184 Rue Mouassine) invites guests to relax in its rooftop bar and restaurant on the tower. Both the terrace and the downstairs area are filled with traditional Moroccan interiors, attracting many visitors and local creative enthusiasts. The restaurant offers a Moroccan-Italian-style dinner menu and a variety of alcoholic beverages, which are hard to find elsewhere.
Sneaking through a hidden door not far from the Botanical Garden’s Secret, le Jardin (32 Souk El jeld Sidi Abdelaziz) hosts guests in a tree-lined garden/garden. The menu has traditional Moroccan dishes, so if you haven’t had a tajine yet, try it here, along with European-inspired cuisine. This gem hidden in the labyrinthine Siouxwood Market is so popular that guests are advised to book in advance.
Not far from the main square of Jemaa el-Fnaa is the Henna Art Cafe (35 Derb Sqaya), hidden only for those who want to find it. As can be seen from the name, diners are given local henna designs while waiting for their food. The shop uses all-natural henna and is supervised by a certified henna artist. The quality of the dishes is commensurate with the design and attracts a lot of people who are seeking food and culture.
For vegetarians and vegans alike, Marrakech will almost always have an option on the menu. If you’re looking for more food, then head to Earth Cafe (4 Derb el Messfloui), the only vegan cafe in the city. The cafe is located on a narrow street near Jemaa el-Fnaa and the ingredients are sourced from farms outside the city.
Marrakech, the arts hub of North Africa, has a vibrant mix of creativity that builds on tradition and blends with modernity. While many of the more fashionable art galleries are located in the French Quarter of the city, there are enough in the Medina area to ensure that those who live here don’t have to travel far to experience the artistry of Morocco.
If you want to catch a glimpse of the new face of the city’s art scene, then head to Le 18 (18, Derb el Ferrane). Located in a small hotel, this creative space supports artists through creative residencies and allows visitors to enjoy various forms of artistic expression through displays and exhibitions.
One of the more famous creative venues is the Maison de la Photographie (46 Rue Bin Lafnadek). With a permanent collection, as well as tours and one-off exhibitions, this photo gallery takes visitors on a visual journey from Morocco’s past to contemporary culture. With a terrace with panoramic views from the ancient town to the Atlas Mountains, this gallery is truly an immersive experience of Morocco and its people.
If you want to bring a little bit of Marrakech culture home, head to La Qoubba Galerie d’Art (91 Souk Talaa). The gallery’s two floors are filled with landscapes, portraits, abstracts and sometimes sculptures, all on the theme of Moroccan life and culture.