Marrakech is the frenetic and famous city of Morocco. All the rumors are true: it really does have a collection of maze-like streets to get lost down, with countless street vendors selling everything from spices to leather, making it an intense and intriguing experience.
Stand in the madness of Jemaa el-Fnaa in the daytime and watch people bustle back and forth as you sip on a mint tea from a terrace cafe above all the craziness. Return at night time and watch as street food unfolds and the square gets, somehow, even busier.
Though there are a lot of hotels located outside of the more historical and bustling center of Marrakech, you could always brave this part of town. In fact, it wouldn’t even be ‘braving’ it if you chose to stay in a riad. These traditional walled homes went through a period of restoration in the 1960s and are now some of the most charming and luxurious places to stay in Marrakech – and all with the hustle of the Medina on your doorstep.
Map of Marrakech
1. Medina · 2. Kasbah · 3. Gueliz · 4. Hivernage · 5. Agdal · 6. Palmeraie
Speaking of history, Marrakech is undoubtedly full of it. The labyrinthine streets of the Medina themselves date back centuries. There are mosques here more than 800 years old, as well as sprawling botanic gardens of a similar age, stunning palaces, and ornate city gates.
And then there’s the French connection. Once a ‘protectorate’ of France, there is a legacy of boulevards, churches, and art galleries that make exploring Marrakech not only a visit to an old Imperial Islamic capital but a chance to dive headfirst into something strangely familiar and exotic all at the same time.
The historic center of Marrakech is made up of the Medina. This area is the old fortified city from which modern Marrakech sprang up around, and is therefore packed with all the cultural and historical sights that the city can afford.
Here, you will find the beautiful Bahia Palace, the imposing 12th-century mosque of Koutobia, and the stunning palace and gardens of Les Jardin Secret – amongst other attractions like museums and small, boutique art galleries.
This is home to the world-famous square of Jemaa el-Fnaa, right in the center of this already central area. Staying in this area of Marrakech means being close to the center of all the action. You can find yourself a bunk in a budget but boutique hostel for a snip or you could stay in the luxurious confines of a restored Riad, which will come with a price tag to match! There’s a lot to choose from.
Step through the famous 12th century Bab Agnaou gate that’s decorated with Quranic inscriptions and be welcomed into the royal Kasbah. The area is home to the modern day Royal Palace and, as such, a calmer, cleaner and more easy-going side to the city.
Surrounded by ramparts, the Kasbah is home to the ruins of the 16th century El-Badii Palace, as well as the 12th century Moulay El-Yazid Mosque, which was architecturally groundbreaking and remains one of the most important in the city.
The royal Saadian Tombs also impressive, with burial chambers decorated in ornate mosaic tiling and stucco. The Kasbah area has its own souks and street food stalls to enjoy and taste the flavors of the city. There are also plenty of upscale hotels to luxuriate in, alongside cool coffee shops and chic spas.
Just west of the old Medina area is the district of Guéliz. This part of this lively Moroccan city is known for its French heritage, laced as it is with wide, 19th-century boulevards, upmarket shopping opportunities, and a lot of chic dining options.
The affluence and the French connection continues, with interesting sights like the Majorelle Gardens. This sweet little spot, filled with grasses, cacti and eye-catching blue vases, was created by French painter Jacques Majorelle and later owned by none other than Yves Saint-Laurent.
Other sights include the French era Church of the Holy Martyrs, as well as various museums and galleries – like the Matisse Art Gallery or the David Bloch Gallery.
Guéliz is well placed for anyone arriving by train, with Marrakech Train Station just a stone’s throw away. Accommodation is, on the whole, a little more pricey than Medina, with less in the way of hostels, but still affordable.
If you’re looking for a more polished and luxurious place to stay in Marrakech, Hivernage provides a sizable helping of central city nightlife combined sprawling high-end resorts.
Located away from the ornate magnetism of the Medina, Hivernage may not be as rich in history, but its wealth of entertainment and shopping options make it an attractive area to unwind and have fun in the city.
Don’t expect to find small passageways and roads clogged with street vendors here, instead, late-night casinos and nightclubs packed with wealthy patrons.
Set just to the south of Guéliz, Hivarangae is well connected by transport, with the city’s train station and many bus routes running through the area. This means it’s an easy journey to the bustling traditional districts of Marrakech further into the center.
A sliver of an area to the south of the central Medina area, Agdal may not appear to have a lot going for it on the surface. But look a little closer, and you’ll be wowed by some nearby sights — namely, the Agdal Gardens.
This sprawling botanical garden, set just slightly to the east of the district of Agdal itself, was created all the way back in the 12th century. It’s still in existence today, with all the fruit trees, irrigation canals and olive-lined walkways that were used all those centuries ago.
Staying in Agdal means being a little away from the hectic center of Marrakech, but there are still hotels to choose from – mainly in the mid-range bracket and mostly to the east of the Boulevard Mohamed VI.
When it comes to things to do after dark, you’ll find a few nightclubs in the area, including a Marrakech branch of Pacha.
Well away from central Marrakech a few miles north, Palmeraie is an unexpected oasis, hugging the banks of the Tensift River. A palm oasis around 54 square miles in area, Palmeraie is home to numerous resorts, such as the Palmeraie Palace, which offers complimentary golf at the neighboring PalmGolf Marrakech Palmeraie.
It’s safe to say that the hotels in this part of Marrakech are relatively high-end, arriving in the form of 5-star hotels, spas, and villages that span this lush area.
Linked to central Marrakech via bus connections – nearby stops include the Pont Tansift and Entree Palemerais – the area of Palmeraie ‘officially’ starts closer to the city center.
But the more high-end resorts are to be found further to the north, near the sought-after golf course. Needless to say, this is the place to stay if you want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the city and simply kick back in a desert oasis.