Soaring minarets, shimmering palaces, dusky pink ramparts: welcome to magical Marrakech. The Red City is a feast for the senses, from spice-scented alleys to thrumming souks and steamy hammams. At the heart of it all, the age-old medina still continues trading as it did hundreds of years ago. It’s hard to believe this frenetic city sits on the fringes of the Sahara Desert, close to the snow-capped Atlas Mountains – it really does have it all.
When to go
Spring is the best time to visit Marrakech for sunny days, but autumn is pleasant too. Summer temperatures are intense, nudging 45C. However, it’s also a good winter-sun destination, with January temperatures hovering around the low 20s.
How to get there
British Airways, EasyJet and Ryanair all run direct services between the UK and Marrakech; the average flight time is 3hr 25mins. Regular buses shuttle between the city and airport.
Art and design
From elaborately tiled palaces to marble-clad tombs and stuccoed museums, Marrakech is interwoven with ancient artistry. Today, local craftspeople keep traditions alive in the city’s souks, while a new generation of artists are bringing a creative energy to Ville Nouvelle. For architecture, check out the ornate interiors of Bahia Palace and the 77m-high minaret looming above Koutoubia Mosque. Once the largest Koranic school in North Africa, Ben Youssef Medersa is a spectacular fusion of zellige tiling, swirling stucco and carved wood. Dotted throughout the city, beautiful courtyard riads offer the most enchanting places to stay in Marrakech.
A few hours from the city are a handful of golden Atlantic beaches. Essaouira is the best Marrakech beach for windsurfing; Oualidia, AKA Morocco’s “Oyster Capital”, is great for foodies; while Agadir is a buzzy beach resort dotted with sandy stretches.
Marrakech is an ancient trading port where Europe, Africa and the Middle East merge. More than a museum piece, the city sees past and present collide in its souks and way of life. A couple of the most historic things to do in Marrakech include visiting the ruins of El Badi Palace, a nod to the wealth of the Saadian dynasty, and the 16th-century Saadian Tombs, where Sultan al-Mansour’s marbled mausoleum gleams beneath a gilded ceiling.
From the exotic plants of Le Jardin Secret to its arid Saharan alter-ego – Marrakech is a land of contrasts. One minute you can be lost among the 100,000 palms of the Palmeraie; the next you could be hiking the Atlas Mountains. An Instagrammer’s favourite is Jardin Majorelle a cobalt-blue villa and tranquil haven of giant cacti, palms and bamboo – created by French painter Jacques Majorelle and owned by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.
While most people make a beeline for the city’s famous museums, Dar Cherifa is a lesser-known gallery space and literary café. Go for art exhibitions and Gnaoua music performances, and great Moroccan dishes.
Ask any in-the-know plant fan what to do in Marrakech and they’ll suggest Cactus Thiemann – one of North Africa’s largest cacti farms – where you can wander among spiky succulents as tall as buses.
Most shoppers head to the main streets of Souk Semmarine and Souk El Kebir, but if you want to buy artisanal goods direct from the local craftspeople head to smaller Marrakech souks linked to workshops.
Wander through the Jewish quarter, a historic district just yards from the city’s frenetic heart, to discover peaceful synagogues and local markets.
What to do
Explore the spider web of souks
The ancient walled medina is a dizzying labyrinth of souks, lined by stalls overflowing with everything from babouches (slippers) to Berber carpets. Pink-tinted ramparts wrap around the maze of dusty alleys, wafting back the scent of spices and echoing with the call to prayer. The heart of the action is Djemaa El Fna, one of the most popular places to visit in Marrakech. Here, throngs gather around Gnaoua musicians, dancers, fortune-tellers, snake charmers and acrobats amid plumes of smoke and sizzling barbecues.
Loop around the museums
Although the Marrakech souks are what attract most visitors, the Red City is brimming with cultural gems. Start at Dar Si Said, a palace-turned-museum showcasing extraordinary crafts, and Musée de Marrakech, dedicated to Moroccan and Islamic arts. Behind its stuccoed facade, Musée Yves Saint Laurent is all about fashion and design, while the Berber Museum next door at Jardin Majorelle is dedicated to the late designer’s personal collection.
Scrub up at a hammam
If you’re not sure what to do in Marrakech to relax, try a hammam. The famous Moroccan ritual was introduced to the city by the Romans, then tweaked to incorporate Islamic rituals. Today it can be experienced at public baths peppered throughout the city. One of the oldest, Les Bains de Marrakech still stands the test of time, while Hammam de la Rose and Heritage Spa are also great.
Shop ‘til you drop
Beyond the Marrakech souks, a new wave of young visionaries are putting Marrakech on the design map, from fashion designer Artsi Ifrach to shoe guru Atika. Other stylish brands include Moor and Chabi Chic for homewares; Mustapha Blaoui, a trove of lanterns, pottery and furniture; and Riad Tamsna, a gallery-cum-store for chic interiors and local delicacies. Further afield, Sidi Ghanem is an industrial quarter of warehouses, filled with workshops, stores and showrooms.
Are you ready to experience your own version of 1001 Nights? We have a wide range of beautiful villas available in Marrakech – why don’t you have a look and treat yourself?