Whether via donkey carts, Vespas, in limousines or by foot - everything seems to be moving nonstop around the Djemaa el Fna in the medina of Marrakech. From the huge square in the middle of the old town, life pours out into the alleys of the souks with their countless tiny shops as well as into the other parts of the old town, where exotic smells and spices, small restaurants, the finest robes in bright colors and soft leather goods wait to be discovered. The highlights of the city are not only the medina’s countless buildings, but also the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains, whose effect can be felt by every visitor to the city. The Djemaa el Fna is an absolute must-see by day and night owls will be enthralled by it after dark. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a meeting place for people from all over the world. Immerse yourself in the world of jugglers, artists and storytellers.
Most important areas at a glance:
Marrakesch © Selman Marrakech
Djemaa el Fna: Vibrant Old Town, Everyday life & Juggler hustle and bustle
This is where the heart of Marrakech beats - around the clock. There are innumerable street food stalls and grills, improvised bistros and street theater, while snake charmers, acrobats and miracle healers offer their services. Night after night, storytellers cast their spells over the public.
Everyday life 24/7: Djemaa el Fna is the center of everyday life in Marrakech. From the early morning hours until well after midnight, there is hustle and bustle here. Freshly squeezed juices are offered from dawn, more than a hundred chefs grill and cook in the evening, while showmen of all kinds try to grab the attention of visitors.
Historical Sightseeing: Life pulsates around the huge square today, but long ago executions were carried out here. The nearby Almohad-style Koutoubia Mosque is the towering landmark of the medina. There used to be a similar mosque in the same place but after construction it was discovered that it did not align exactly to Mecca so it was demolished in 1147. The five-meter-high city wall, dating from the 12th century, and the adjoining gardens, belong to couples and lovers, as it’s a great place to take a leisurely stroll.
Cafes and Viewpoints: To enjoy a 24-hour show at Djemaa el Fna, why not visit one of the many cafés along the fringes? Elbow to elbow with the locals, you can enjoy the views while sipping on tea, fresh orange juice or Italian espresso (not all cafés may serve alcohol).
Everyday food stalls & Traditional snacks: As night falls, the food stalls are all the rage on the large square. Dozens of barbecues are set up in no time at all and the big evening cook-off starts. Adventurous foodies can sample local specialties such as sheep’s brain, offal and snail soup.
Riads & Accommodations: Marrokko’s Riad hotels are one of a kind in the world. Oriental design transforms historic old town houses into fairytale parlors, as imagined in the stories of the Arabian Nights. These are charming, small hotels with romantically decorated courtyards, and rooftop terraces that often have a traditional hammam. More modern hotels, such as the Riad Al Assala or the Riad Sapphire & Spa, combine their oriental design with contemporary decor.
Souks: Oriental market bustle & Winding streets
The area north of Djemaa el Fna to the Musée de Marrakech is called Souks. Souk is the Arabic word for market and the largest market in Morocco by far is in Marrakech. A labyrinthine network of streets and alleys, thousands of shops, many of them so small you can barely turn around. Individual street district for leather goods, pottery or spices.
Market strolls: Lanes and alleways dedicated to olives, leather tassels, handbags, high-tech equipment, carpets, art carvings etc are located in the narrow streets of the souks. It is not easy to find individual roads, so better to just stroll and rummage around. One of the most spectacular souks is the Dyeing Area, where wool, linen and other fabrics bubble in huge cauldrons before being dried out in the open air. Definitely anything but provincial.
Historical and culinary sightseeing: In order to withstand sieges, every old town quarter had its own well built to ensure a fresh water supply, as well as a public stone oven, the so-called Farnatchi, where the neighborhood could bake its bread. Some of them are still in use today and give off such tantalizing aromas that you only have to follow your nose to find them (eg Souk el Faz).
Trendy cafes: Enjoy the sunset on a secluded rooftop terrace while the hustle and bustle of the souks hubbubs below. There are many new and modern cafes in the area, offering cool refreshments, homemade sweets and free Wi-Fi (eg Épices, Rahba Quedima).
Guéliz: Hip new town, Parks & Young gallery scene
Wide boulevards, magnificent old buildings and many small bistros and boutiques: Guéliz, the new town of Marrakech has a decidedly French flair, which is hardly surprising, since it was built by the French in the first half of the last century. Located on the outskirts of the medina, it is much more relaxed and quiet. In addition to extensive parks and gardens, this is also where Marrakech’s young gallery scene flourishes.
Luxury shopping: Marrakech’s glamorous socialites, members of the royal family and young trendsetters shop in the boutiques along the Avenue Mohammed V. Whether it be colorful caftans made of linen, soft raffia slippers or custom-made, butter-soft leather goods - here you can relax away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds. The goods also have price tags, which is quite a welcome change from the customary haggling.
Trendy bistros: Whether a mint tea in a modernist super-cooled ambience in white and polished chrome or fusion food in a traditional Moroccan environment (Le Grand Cafe du Poste) - the bistros and cafes of the new town are, above all else, trendy and hip. So much so that there is a constant stream of French models and celebrities like Tom Hanks.
Young gallery scene: Morocco’s art and gallery scene is young but growing fast. In recent years, however, more and more galleries have opened up that showcase contemporary Moroccan art, such as the Ré Gallery (Résidence Al-Andalus), one of the most famous and important galleries in the city. Nathalie Locatelli’s Gallery 127 (127 avenue Mohammed V) is the first in North Africa devoted to photography, and the nearby Matisse Art Gallery (61 rue Yougoslavie) regularly features solo exhibitions by young local artists.
Modern gardens to relax in: In 1924, the French landscape painter, Jacques Majorelle created a beautiful Art Deco park next to his villa, which still enchants with its lemon yellow, cobalt blue and grass green colors. A credit to the French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, who bought the site, which now houses the Museum of Islamic Art, in the 60s, and gifted it to the city of Marrakech. But you can also relax along with local couples and families at the Menera garden and in the Cyberpark with its WiFi spots.
Club hopping: Arabic music mixed with loud, electronic beats - the club scene in Marrakech is just taking its first steps towards the club scene with this new sound. The hottest discos, such as the Pacha, Actor’s or Diamond Noir are all within walking distance on the Avenue Mohammed V and VI. It’s a youthful crowd, and it only really gets full after midnight with the party continuing until the early morning hours of the morning.
Mouassine: Nice restaurants, Workshops and Design shops
The area around the Mouassine Mosque: old and new lie side by side in the chicest district of the medina. Small shops with hand-woven carpets and traditional jewelry contrast trendy boutiques. In the many small courtyard cafés you can relax away from bargain hunting in the souks or familiarize yourself with Moroccan cuisine at some of the best restaurants in the city.
Lamp and carpet shopping: Moroccans have a feel for atmospheric lighting and those who want to take special lighting home with them will find everything their heart desires in the designer shops and small workshops of the district, from the typical Tadelakt table lamps made of polished lime plaster to sweeping chandeliers. In addition, some of Marrakech’s best-stocked carpet stores are located here. In a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere with a glass of tea in hand, not only do you have the choice between hundreds of rugs, but you can also learn all about the different motives, production locations and styles.
Cosmetic shops: Hand-made soap with vetiver, mint or bergamot extract, rose water, dozens of argan oils and aftershaves: The cosmetics shops of the district, often a mixture of pharmacy and drugstore, not only offer a range of skin care and beauty products, but also exude an enticing scent that is difficult to escape from.
Traditional gourmet cuisine:, In the upscale restaurants of Mouassine you will have the opportunity to discover the huge variety of flavors and scents of Moroccan cuisine, far away from belly dancing and other tourist-attracting glitz. A typical five-course meal (for example Tobsil, Derb Moulay Abdellah Ben Hassainen) starts off with steamed vegetables and a chicken pastilla, a traditional stew and couscous for the main and a sweet cake as dessert.
Leisurely café hopping: After a stroll through the nearby souks, the small cafés along Rue el-Mouassine are oases of tranquility. With tea, coffee, good Moroccan wine and sandwiches, you can not only examine the treasures that you bought, but also have a good chat with the other guests from the surrounding studios and design offices.
Bab Doukkala & Dar El-Bacha: Quiet neighborhood, Boutiques, Tailors & Hammams
It is quite peaceful just out of earshot of the souks in the neighborhood around the Bab Doukkala mosque. With a mixture of spice shops, internet cafés and innumerous hammams, some of which are over 400 years old, the atmosphere here is thoroughly relaxed.
Fixed price shopping & Tailor-made suits: Those who find it hard to browse the souks for treasures and bargains should take note of the many boutiques in the streets north of Djemaa el Fna. Not only can you shop here for a fixed price, but trend-setters like Jill Fechtmann (Boutique Noir D’Ivore, Riad Noir D’Ivore) also offer a carefully selected “best of the souks” range in their shops, and custom tailor, Mohammed Rida Ben Zouine (Rte Arset Aouzal ) masters the cut of conservative English as well as modern Italian suits.
Homeware shopping: From handcrafted pillowcases made of fine linen to towels with colorful embroidery and desk pads made of soft goat leather: along the Rue de Bab Doukkala you will find typical Moroccan interior design and homeware. Without having to haggle, you can shop here in peace and quiet. On request, many shops ship their goods to Europe without any problems.
Hammams: In spite of their proximity to the Sahara, for almost a thousand years, the Berbers have sworn by the same secret for keeping the skin supple and soft - the hammam. The hammam is a spa, and some of the most beautiful are situated in the northern area of the old town. After a steam and mud bath, the skin is rubbed with a coarse glove or cloth and massaged until it is not only red, but all the pores are completely open, before being soothed by fragrant argan oils. Often several centuries old, with beautiful stucco details and magnificent glass domes, here you can be "reborn" in a laid-back atmosphere (for example Hammam Bab Doukkala, Hammam Dar El-Bacha).
Modern Fusion Food & Haute Cuisine: Chef Mohammed Fedal’s Dar Moha (Rue Dar el-Bacha) is a mecca for supporters of modern fusion food. Fedal’s specialty is classic Moroccan cuisine with a modern twist, such as deliciously tender duck breast with argan oil. For something more traditional, enjoy French cuisine in the nearby pavilion (Derb Zaouia). Tucked away in the courtyard of a magnificent house, the jet set of Marrakech enjoys French haute cuisine with a local touch.
Kasbah & Riad Zitoun: Palace District, Gourmet & Saadian Tombs
South of Djemaa el Fna lies Kasbah, the palace district of Marrakech. Since the founding of the city, the sultans and royal families have resided here. The impressive ruins of the Badii Palace are located here, as well as, one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, right opposite the Kasbah - the Saadian Tombs, the only remaining completely preserved piece of Saadian culture.
Historic sightseeing: Although the Saadian tombs are the city’s biggest attraction, it is comparatively quiet here. The splendid tombs, lined with Italian marble and mostly gilded, were discovered almost by chance in 1928, when a French civil servant of two ancestors towering over the neighborhood, for whom he could not find the right house in the maze of streets. The opposite Kasbah mosque cannot be viewed. A little further south are the ruins of the mighty Badii Palace.
Young gallery scene: The Light Gallery (Derb Chtouka), opened by Marcelle Dana, Julie Caignault and Nicolas Carré only a few years ago, has become a major driver of the Marrakech art scene. Not only do international photographers meet here for vernissages, but any time you want to inform yourself about the city’s art scene, you can get lots of information about current trends, the art market and the local scene here.
Gourmet bistros: Away from the madding crowd in the southern part of the old town, there is a whole row of smaller bistros and restaurants that are mostly new. The menu is á la carte, which is an exception in Marrakech rather than the rule, and prices are also higher here than in other parts of the medina - but the food really stands out due to its quality. Word has gotten around so that not only local artists and media makers are meeting here, but also the international jet set stops by to enjoy a stew (for example Tagia, Derb Jedid).
Romantic spa for couples: The Les Bains de Marrakech (Derb Sedra) is one of the city’s most beautiful hammams and offers a unique service for couples exhausted from wandering around and sightseeing. While hammams are usually separated by sex, here couples can enjoy massages, a relaxing bath in rose petal water and a refreshing peeling treatment with Sahara sand together.
Marrakech - good to know:
Old & New: In Marrakech, history and modernity go hand-in-hand. They do not clash here as they often do, but complement each other instead. This is emblematic of, not only the many old cafés that do have WiFi connections, but also of the high-tech souk, where merchants transport huge flat screens on wooden donkey carts in the morning. This juxtaposition gives the city its very own distinctive charm.
Medina & New Town: Marrakech consists of a historic old town area, the medina, and a new town that was built later, located just outside of the city. While the streets and alleys of the medina are often narrow and winding and filled with hectic hustle and bustle, the new town of Guéliz is built in French colonial style and reminiscent of major European cities.
Intangible Cultural Heritage: With its magical mix of snake charmers, healers, jugglers, acrobats, BBQs and simple everyday life, Djemaa el Fna attracts tourists and locals alike. The place is the largest of its kind in Arabia and in 2001 was the first place on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural assets.
Storytellers: They are a unique part of the city’s culture, but they are becoming rarer and rarer: the old storytellers who come to Djemma el Fna in the late afternoon and start spinning their poetic tales about the Arabian nights. A unique experience - even if you do not understand a word of Arabic. As the number of harakis, as the narrators are called, continues to decline and young Moroccans have little interest in the art of storytelling, UNESCO has begun to record the stories and publish them on the Internet.
Gay Life: Marrakech is considered the most gay-friendly city in Morocco. Nevertheless, there is no official scene like there is in European or American cities. This is also due to the somewhat strange legal situation, because sex between two men is forbidden, but unofficially tolerated. So, whoever wants to know where to go, should check the Internet for information.