Amy Hunt discovers the delights of Morocco's Red City, Marrakech
Marrakech is one of the most unique places on earth – a juxtaposition of modern and historic surroundings, set against the dizzying backdrop of the snow-peaked Atlas mountains.
Although it’s just a three-hour plane ride away from the UK, this bright, bold and busy city feels like an entirely different world.
As a buzzing metropolis, Marrakech can be tricky to navigate – knowing where to go and when can feel like a minefield. If you’re headed to Morocco’s fourth largest city on your travels, here’s everything you need to know…
What to do in Marrakech
The medina is Marrakech’s old town, walled in from the rest of the city. It’s a busy, bustling place, full of narrow alleys and cobbled streets.
At every turn you’ll see market sellers auctioning their wares – including traditional textiles, handmade pottery and leather good – and locals on motorbikes dashing to the next location. It’s hectic, loud – and unlike anywhere you’ll have been before.
Musée Yves Saint Laurent
On leaving the medina, head to Musée Yves Saint Laurent. The museum is dedicated to the late fashion designer, who spent much of his downtime in Marrakech.
Opened in 2017, the museum is housed in a modern brick building and features a permanent YSL exhibition as well as a temporary exhibition space. There’s also a library, cafe and bookshop.
Like most museums, it can be busy in high season so plan your trip in advance. It is closed on Wednesdays and only open for reduced hours during the month of Ramadan.
Just down the road from the YSL museum is the stunning Jardin Majorelle. Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé acquired this house and two-and-a-half-acres of gardens in 1980, saving it from hotel development.
The enchanting botanical oasis – originally built by French painter Jacques Majorelle – is a bubble of calm in the city. Key features include fountains, pools, palm trees and a variety of flora and fauna
Pay a visit to the tombs of the Saadian dynasty for another dive into Morocco’s rich history.
Dating back to Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur’s death in 1603, the tombs – complete with Italian marble and gold-gilded decorative plasterwork – were restored in 1917.
Le Jardin Secret
A hidden gem in the midst of the medina, this is the place to head when you need a moment of calm.
Having recently undergone a renovation, its a tranquil haven of a garden with water features, exotic plants and birdlife. Take a moment to relax on one of the benches and get your zen back.
Jemaa al-Fnaa is the main square and market-place in Marrakech. It’s huge, and during the day you can expect almost anything there from snake-charmers to bag-sellers.
The market changes as the night draws in, when magicians and food stalls pop up for the evening’s entertainment – making it well worth a visit at any time.
Located outside of the medina, the Gueliz district will give you a taste of a very different side of Moroccan life. There’s plenty of shopping to be had here, from upmarket Moroccan art galleries to concept stores carrying contemporary designers.
There’s also the popular Arsat Moulay Abdeslam Cyber Park, a glorious green space that – somewhat oddly – offers wifi.
The area also has stylish bars and restaurants serving a range of global cuisines.
Where to stay in Marrakech
If you’re planning a trip to Marrakech and want an authentic hotel experience, look no further than a stay in the Medina…
You’ll want a break from the busy medina sooner or later, and Riad Star – in the heart of the action – is a great choice.
Steeped in intriguing history (it’s the former home of jazz legend Josephine Baker), it’s also rich with luxury touches including a private rooftop terrace, plus a massage room.
One of the main attractions lies at the heart of the hotel: a crystal-clear plunge pool, offering a veritable oasis in the middle of this bustling city.
There are 13 unique rooms to choose from. They range from the beautiful Grace room – complete with its own hand-carved meditation pod – to the Ebony room, a grand double-height suite with a bathtub. Each one is as impressive as it comfortable, with large, luxurious beds and cool floors to help escape the heat.
Four Seasons Marrakech
For five-star luxury, look no further than the Four Seasons Marrakech. Situated in the modern, fun and lively area of Hivernage, this hotel offers a real escape from the outside world.
It includes 40 acres of gorgeous gardens and pools, as well as a stunning Moroccan spa and luxury rooms, many with a glorious view of the Atlas Mountains.
Royal Mansour Marrakech
This five-star stay is set in the heart of the medina. Royal Mansour is made up of 53 private residences, with courtyard patios, private living areas and rooftop terraces.
The sprawling nine-acre estate also features an olive tree grove, sophisticated pool area and three terrific restaurants.
Le Palais Paysan
Le Palais Paysan is a 16-room boutique hotel located 30 minutes from the bustling medina. All rooms have gardens and private terraces facing the impressive Atlas Mountains – a welcome change of pace from the rush of the city.
Fitness holiday experts In:spa offers a range of wellness retreats at Le Palais Paysan. Expect daily yoga, deep tissue massages, guided hikes and a delicious menu of healthy fare.
Another boutique hotel on the outskirts of the city, Peacock Pavilions offers an ideal retreat for yoga lovers too, with a range of wellness-focused events and teachers on hand to guide you on your journey.
Where to eat in Marrakech
The Restaurant at five-star hotel La Maison Arabe delivers a fine dining experience. Request a table outside around the glimmering pool and tuck in to traditional French, Arabic and Moroccan fare.
Just minutes from Jemaa el-Fnaa sits the tranquil and elegantly decorated La Famille, which offers fresh vegetarian and vegan meals. Reserve a table ahead of time, as it’s often booked up. You can also sample some local cuisine in the Jemaa el-Fnaa, where there’s plenty of grilled dishes to choose from.
Grand Café de la Poste
This is the place to visit if you’re in Gueliz, Marrakech’s modern district. Located behind the main post office, this high-end restaurant boasts exquisite décor, delicious wine and an excellent steak tartare.
In need of a change from tagines? Pepe Nero offers delicious Italian food including fettuccine Alfredo, seafood linguine and a to-die-for chocolate pudding.
When is the best time to visit Marrakech?
Like all African countries, Morocco gets extremely hot in summer with temperatures as high as 37°C.
For a more comfortable experience, the best time to visit is October to November or January to March, when the average temperature is a more manageable 25°C.
Getting to Marrakech
British Airways operates flights to Marrakech Menara Airport (RAK) from London Gatwick (five per week) and London Heathrow (four per week). Fares start from £58 each way or £85 return, inclusive of taxes, fees and carrier-imposed charges.
EasyJet flies daily to RAK from London Gatwick, with flights starting from £33 one way.
The flight time is approximately 3hrs and 20 minutes.