What are Marrakech’s must-see districts?
What are Marrakech’s must-see districts?: Marrakech is the fourth largest city in Morocco, and the most visited by French tourists. And why is that? Well, it has a rich historical and architectural heritage, lots to see and do, and above all, the sun shines all year round. Note that, like most of Morocco’s major cities (Fez, for example), Marrakech is divided into two parts: the “Old City”, known as the Medina, and the “New City” or “Ville Nouvelle”. Over the years, other districts have been added, making Marrakech a megalopolis where you’ll find a veritable crossroads between tradition and modernity during your stay. To help you prepare for your stay, here’s everything you need to know about Marrakech’s main neighborhoods. This article will give you an idea of what to do in Marrakech.
Which areas of Marrakech to visit? The Medina, of course!
The medina was founded in 1071 by the Almoravids (a Berber dynasty). It covers 600 hectares and is surrounded by 19 km of ramparts. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its maze of alleyways forms a veritable labyrinth housing over 1,000 years of history. It forms the historic center of Marrakech.
The medina is the city’s most touristic district. Here you’ll find most of the city’s major historical monuments, as well as mosques, Koranic schools, souks with their heaps of products and craftsmen hard at work, alleyways and riads….
The medina has two sub-neighborhoods: the Kasbah and the Mellah. The Kasbah is the fortified quarter where the royal palace is located (this is where the king resides when he’s in town). There are numerous souks and food vendors. Most of the city’s administrations are also concentrated here. You can see the sublime Bab Agnaou entrance, which dates back to the 12th century.
As in all the country’s major cities, the Mellah is the city’s Jewish quarter. Established in 1558, you’ll find weavers and jewelers here, but above all you’ll have the opportunity to visit the Alzama Synagogue and take a tour of the cemetery.
What to visit in the Medina?
Jemaa El Fna Square
Place Jemaa El Fna is the starting point of the medina, the symbol of the city. It’s the must-see of any stay in Marrakech! In this huge open-air square, you’ll see street performers (storytellers, singers, dancers, snake charmers…) and street vendors offering a variety of dishes and all sorts of cold drinks, including delicious orange juice.
Koutoubia Mosque and Lalla Hasna Garden
Built in the 12th century by the Almohads, this is Marrakech’s most important mosque and, at 69 meters high, its highest vantage point. Unfortunately, as access is forbidden to non-Muslims, you can only see it from the outside.
At the foot of the Koutoubia is the Parc Lalla Hasna. These symmetrically-organized gardens are very pleasant to visit, and a place much appreciated by the locals for its freshness.
The Ben Youssef Koranic medersa
If mosques are closed to non-Muslims, you can visit this school and admire the sublime Arabo-Andalusian architecture of this Koranic school, which is one of the largest in North Africa and the largest Koranic school in the country.
Palaces of the Medina
When visiting the Medina, you’ll come across a number of palaces, each with its own special features, but each worth a visit!
The Royal Palace: unfortunately, you can’t visit the Royal Palace! However, I strongly recommend that you take a look at its architecture and walls, which turn red at sunset.
The al-Badi Palace: located opposite the Royal Palace, this palace was built at the end of the 16th century. You’ll only see the ruins, but you can climb up to the wall from where you can see the whole city. Every year, the palace is used as the backdrop for the Marrakech Laughter Festival.
Palais de la Bahia: built in the late 19th century, this extraordinary edifice is not to be missed. In fact, it’s the city’s largest and most beautiful palace.
Museums in the Medina
The Museum of Photography: this is a must-see during your stay in Marrakech, as it showcases a sublime collection of old photos of Marrakech (from the 1870s to the 1950s). What’s more, from the rooftop terrace and café-restaurant, you’ll enjoy a superb panorama of the city and surrounding mountains.
The Tiskiwin Museum or Bert Flint Museum of Crafts and Ethnology. This museum, once the home of Bert Flint, a collector with a passion for Moroccan skin, focuses on the crafts and history of the people of Morocco.
The Saadian tombs
What are Marrakech’s must-see districts?: In this cemetery, dating from the late 16th century, are buried Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, his family, their servants and warriors of the Saadian dynasty. The mausoleum is completely adorned with mosaics, and you’re sure to be overwhelmed by the art of the Saadian era. In fact, the mausoleum is one of the few remaining vestiges of this era.
The Secret Garden
This estate – home to many illustrious personalities – boasts two gardens and a large tower. It’s a haven of peace surrounded by orange trees, right in the heart of the medina. In addition to the magnificent architecture, you’ll enjoy beautifully manicured gardens with numerous fountains. Open to the public for the first time, the secret garden has a café for refreshments and an exhibition room, so you can make the most of the garden!
Going to Marrakech and not getting lost in a souk? It’s unthinkable! There are many souks in Marrakech, each with its own specialty. Souk Cherratine specializes in leather, Souk Attarine in spices, Souk Zrabi in carpets and Souk Fekharine in pottery. Finally, the Souk Chouari specializes in fabrics and wood. If you’re wondering what to bring back from Marrakech as a souvenir or gift, this is the place!
Why sleep in the Medina?
What are Marrakech’s must-see districts?: If you’re interested in staying in a riad in Marrakech, it’s a truly authentic experience, and one you should make at least once in your life.
Lodging in the heart of the medina will give you the opportunity to see the real Marrakech, that of the working-class inhabitants. But that doesn’t mean you can’t sleep in star-studded establishments worthy of the Arabian Nights. You’ll enjoy the comfort of a traditional house with a courtyard, swimming pool, roof terrace, air-conditioning in the bedrooms, princess beds… and, of course, the world-renowned Moroccan hospitality.
If you don’t like the noise when you wander around town, and if you’re afraid of narrow streets – especially when they’re not lit up at night – and beggars, I’d advise you to pass.
Located northwest of the medina and north of the Hivernage district (which I’ll tell you about next), Guéliz is Marrakech’s new city. It begins on Avenue Mohamed 5, where the Koutoubia stands.
The district was built under the French protectorate from 1913 onwards, following the designs of the architects who developed Casablanca, Fez and Meknes. While in the early days, Guéliz was mainly inhabited by French families in colonial-style villas, today the district has been completely transformed: most of the homes are apartment buildings housing middle-class Moroccans.
Some buildings, such as the Grande Poste, have survived. Otherwise, you’ll see large boulevards, great restaurants and French franchises…. In short, this is modern Marrakech, for those who have come to the city to shop and visit art galleries.
This superb botanical garden has many attractions, but above all you’ll want to see the famous blue Art Deco Villa and the Museum of Berber History.
Opposite the garden is the former home of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and Michel Bergé (built in 1931 by artist Jacques Majorelle), now a museum containing many of his creations. You can also find all kinds of activities around this garden: visit the Berber museum, take a camel ride, stroll through the gardens…
The Matisse Art Gallery
What are Marrakech’s must-see districts: Located not far from the Post Office, this gallery (one of the oldest in the city) boasts numerous paintings by Moroccan and foreign artists. It’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy contemporary Moroccan art. Little appreciated by tourists, the Matisse art gallery is an exceptional place for connoisseurs and art lovers.
MACMA Museum of Contemporary Art
If you’re a lover of contemporary art, you’ll find a wealth of works here. Born from the passion of a collector, the museum opened its doors in 2016 and is already a great success. You can admire photos dating back to 1870, sculptures and paintings, all dedicated to Morocco.
Why sleep in the Guéliz district?
If you’ve come to Marrakech to shop, you’ve come to the right place: the district is packed with international brand boutiques and stores selling inexpensive clothes made in Asia. You’ll also find the Menara Mall, a gigantic shopping mall that doubles as a leisure area.
Be warned: Guéliz is a very lively district, and therefore very noisy at night. However, the food is less expensive than in the medina, and you’ll find cheap hotels and youth hostels.
A word of advice: if you can afford it, renting an apartment will give you much better value for money.
What are Marrakech’s must-see districts?: Located west of the medina and south of the Guéliz district, the Hivernage neighborhood is considered the Beverly Hills of Marrakech. It’s the city’s trendy, luxury district. This residential area, with its wide, palm-fringed avenues, is home to the wealthy class and many foreign tourists.
Here you’ll find luxury hotels such as the 5-star Pearl Marrakech (with rooftop and Japanese restaurant…). You’ll also find designer boutiques (Louis Vuitton…) and chic clubs and bars.
Among the must-sees are :
The Theatre Royal, with its grandiose architecture (especially the columns and dome). If you can, I recommend you go inside to see the building’s architecture.
The Palais des Congrès, the largest in Morocco.
The Menara Gardens, with their carp pond and pavilion.
The casino in the Es Saadi Gardens & Resort hotel.
If you’re a fan of luxury living and nightlife and plan to go out in the evenings and party, this area is ideal for you. However, hotel prices can often be very expensive.
What are Marrakech’s must-see districts?: Located to the north-east of the city center, La Palmeraie is a district that was created in the 12th century. It is home to a number of sublime villas with large gardens, owned by the Moroccan bourgeoisie, as well as numerous luxury hotels and club hotels.
If you’re planning to go to Marrakech to relax and sunbathe, the Palmeraie is the perfect place. It’s a quiet area where you can take in the fresh air in large open spaces (the heat is overwhelming in Marrakech) and lounge by the pool. It’s an oasis of greenery and a change of scenery.
If you’ve come with the family, you’re more likely to find a great hotel with a kids’ club. This area is a must for golfers and those who enjoy all kinds of activities (hiking, camel or dromedary rides, quad biking…).
A few tips
Marrakech is not considered a dangerous city, but as in all large conurbations, you need to be careful. You should be particularly concerned about crime due to poverty, especially snatch thefts.
Avoid walking alone at night, in deserted areas.
Don’t carry valuables, and carry as little cash as possible.
But make the most of the city, as there are plenty of uniformed and plainclothes police everywhere. They are there to limit the risk of attack and to protect tourists.
Getting around Marrakech
What are Marrakech’s must-see districts?: Marrakech’s various districts are very well served by cabs (an average journey in town costs between €4 and €6) and buses (tickets cost less than 0.50 cts). You can even get around on foot if you feel like it (and if you’ve brought good walking shoes and a nice hat with you).
Prefer to rent a car? Beware, Marrakech traffic is rather anarchic. You’ll have to watch out for everything: other vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, taxis…… and even horse-drawn carriages!
That’s all for this article on the different districts of Marrakech, I hope you enjoyed it and that it will help you organize your stay! If you’re still not sure when to go to Marrakech, my article on the subject might help!