Prepare for your senses to be slapped. Marrakesh's heady sights and sounds will dazzle, frazzle and enchant. Put on your babouches (leather slippers) and dive right in.
Bahia Palace and the Dar Si Said are a riot of tilework and intricate floral painted-wood ceilings, the Saadian Tombs are enriched by an opulent bounty of marble, while the Musée de Mouassine and Musée de Marrakech are a showcase of swirling stucco and carved-wood design. And if you choose to bed down for a night in a riad, you'll be able to sleep amid some of this splendour too. Marrakesh is a city steeped in ancient artistry that continues to thrive, kept alive by the modern craftspeople of the souqs and the contemporary art and design scene of the Ville Nouvelle.
Faith & Culture
You’ll understand how religion permeates the rhythms of daily life when you hear the sonorous call to prayer echo out from the mosques. As an old imperial capital, Marrakesh is home to some beautiful examples of Islamic architecture, most impressively the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa and the Koutoubia minaret. The city also holds on to a heritage of the other religious communities that once helped it become a vibrant caravan town. Head to the old Jewish district of the mellah to visit the Lazama Synagogue and the Miaara Jewish cemetery to gain a greater understanding of Marrakesh's cosmopolitan past.
Think of the medina's souqs as a shopping mall, but laid out according to a labyrinthine medieval-era plan. Whether you want to spice up your pantry with North African flavours or buy a carpet to add Moroccan-wow to your house, this magpie's nest of treasures is manna for shop-til-you-drop fanatics.
The main market streets are Souq Semmarine and Souq El Kebir. If you see something you really like there, fine – but understand prices will be higher. Smaller souqs and souqs dedicated to artisan workshops such as Souq Haddadine (Blacksmith’s Souq), where you can buy direct from the producer, generally have the best deals.
Got your map ready? Well, it's probably of little use to you here. Wrapped within the 19 kilometres of powder-pink rammed-earth ramparts, the medina is Marrakesh's show-stopping sight of crowded souqs, where sheep carcasses swing from hooks next door to twinkling lamps, and narrow, doodling ochre-dusted lanes lead to nowhere. The main artery into this mazy muddle is the vast square of Djemaa El Fna, where it's carnival night every night. Stroll between snail vendors, soothsayers, acrobats and conjurers, musicians and slapstick acting troupes to discover the old city's frenetic pulse. The party doesn't end until the lights go out.
Hidden Marrakesh: a guide to the city's best-kept secrets
6 min read — Published Jul 12, 2019
Marrakesh is a city that fizzes with life, where the default-blue of the sky sings against peach-gold architecture. Whether it’s your first visit or your…
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Marrakesh.
French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé bought Jardin Majorelle in 1980 to preserve the vision of its original owner, French landscape painter Jacques Majorelle, and keep it open to the public. The garden, started in 1924, contains a psychedelic desert mirage of 300 plant species from five continents. At its heart lies Majorelle's electric-blue art deco studio, home to the Musée Berbère, which showcases the rich panorama of Morocco's indigenous inhabitants through displays of some 600 artifacts. In recent years, the site has become incredibly popular, and it now ranks as Morocco's most visited tourist attraction, with around 900,000 visitors a year. It's far from the peaceful oasis it was a decade ago, but it's still an extremely stylish place with magical gardens, art deco architecture and an excellent museum. To add more space for the huge number of visitors, the YSL Foundation expanded the gardens in December 2018 by opening up the section containing Villa Oasis, where Bergé lived until his death in 2017. Jardin Majorelle also houses a pretty courtyard cafe, a small book and photography shop, and a chic boutique selling Majorelle blue slippers, textiles and Amazigh-inspired jewellery influenced by YSL designs. All areas of Jardin Majorelle are wheelchair and stroller accessible. The line to get into Jardin Majorelle can be long, so it pays off to plan ahead © Del Boy / Shutterstock How to get tickets for Jardin Majorelle As Morocco's most popular tourist attraction, the line to get into Jardin Majorelle can be long. In peak season, expect to wait 15 minutes to an hour to get in. For your best chance of immediate entry, arrive before 10am, and ideally for opening at 8am. Tickets can now be purchased online, which is highly recommended for faster entry. Visit Friday to Monday when tickets include entry to the Villa Oasis gardens, which are a highlight. Don’t scrimp the extra Dh30 ($3.35) and miss the Musée Berbère; it's well worth the cost. An afternoon visit is the best time for keen photographers because it captures the prettiest light. Musée Yves Saint Laurent, opened in 2017, is next door to the gardens, and combined tickets can be bought for both attractions. Plan to spent the best part of a day between the two. The famous electric-blue color of Jardin Majorelle is called "Majorelle blue" © saiko3p / Shutterstock History of Jardin Majorelle In 1923, Majorelle decided to put down roots in Marrakesh and bought a 4-acre palm grove on the edge of the medina, planted with poplars that gave his home its original name, Bou Saf Saf (meaning "the poplars" in Arabic). The first dwelling built here was Moorish in style, with a traditional adobe tower. It wasn’t until 1931, after Majorelle had extended the plot to almost 10 acres, that he hired French architect Paul Sinoir to design a villa and studio in the art deco style. The building that has become Instagram-famous (now housing the Musée Berbère) was Majorelle’s studio and workshop. The main house, where Majorelle and then Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé lived, was renamed Villa Oasis by YSL. It remained a private residence until Bergé’s death in 2017. Who was Jacques Majorelle? Although famed for its tenure as the home of Yves Saint Laurent, it was Jacques Majorelle (1886–1962) who gifted the gardens to Marrakesh. He was a French painter from Nancy whose father, Louis Majorelle, was a celebrated art nouveau furniture designer. It was partly Majorelle's exposure to the art nouveau movement – rich with organic motifs – that cemented his lifelong passion for plants and animals. Majorelle arrived in Morocco in 1917 and was quickly bewitched by the same colors and vibrant street life in Marrakesh that seduced YSL half a century later. Majorelle became known for his Orientalist paintings of North Africa and particularly Morocco – some of the repro 1920s travel posters for sale around the medina are his work. The striking cobalt blue of the buildings at Jardin Majorelle are an original feature conceived by Majorelle himself, inspired by the bold Moroccan skies, the shade of blue in traditional Moroccan tiles and the head-turning blue veils of the Tuareg people in the southern Sahara. The color became known as "Majorelle Blue" and was even trademarked as such. Jardin Majorelle is Morocco's most visited tourist attraction, but it's still possible to find a quiet moment © Explora_2005 / Getty Images Plants in Jardin Majorelle The gardens are home to more than 300 plant species from five continents, mostly collected by Jacques Majorelle over several decades of globetrotting. The gardens were first opened to the public in 1947 but were abandoned after his death until Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé made it their mission to save them from property developers. Aspiring botanists will be in heaven, but Jardin Majorelle is a wonderful space to explore whether you’re a plant super fan or not. Regular signage includes useful illustrations to help visitors identify everything from Mexican agave to Chinese windmill palms and North African date palms, though it could be more helpful if common names were labeled as well as scientific names. Dense thickets of bamboo stretch as high as desert towers, flecked with strong shards of sunlight. Jardin Majorelle’s exotic bamboo groves are well known and well loved, but what you might not expect is the immense volume of graffiti. For years, tourists have shown their affection for the site by thoughtlessly etching their initials into the gardens’ signature stalks and even into some of the giant succulents. Not only has this environmental graffiti become an eyesore, but the gardens’ botanists have realised that it is damaging the plants. Carving into the plants is now forbidden. Musée Berbère Majorelle’s electric-blue art deco studio houses the fabulous Musée Berbère, which showcases the rich panorama of Morocco’s indigenous inhabitants in displays of some 600 artifacts, including wood and metalwork, textiles and a room of regional traditional costumes displayed with the flair of a catwalk show. Best of all is the brilliant mirrored chamber displaying a collection of chiseled, filigreed and enameled jewels. Villa Oasis Gardens In December 2018, the Villa Oasis gardens opened to the public for the first time. Accessed via a pathway draped with bright bougainvillea and distinct from the main gardens, they are arguably the more sumptuous and engrossing of the two and have greatly enhanced the visitor appeal of the complex. The residence itself is larger than the studio and more Oriental in design, mixing Marrakesh’s signature terracotta red with Majorelle’s electric blue and Islamic green on its facade and tiled pyramid roof. The bamboo groves of the main garden give way to giant succulents, cacti and mature palms. There’s also a succession of calm-inducing water features filled with koi carp, noisy frogs and lily pads, the largest of which pools around a white-pillared pavilion. The Villa Oasis house isn’t open to the general public (only a handful of very high-end hotels are allowed to run exclusive tours here), so you might just have to imagine the sumptuousness of its interiors. The salon is a masterpiece of Moroccan craftsmanship with elaborate painted cedarwood, magnificent zellige (colorful geometric tilework) and museum-quality art deco furniture. Yves Saint Laurent Memorial One of the most popular spots in the garden is the memorial. You’ll find it along the back wall on the opposite side of the gardens to the entrance/exit. If you can block out the photographers and Instagrammers, it’s a poignant space. The memorial is an ancient Roman pillar, which Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé found on a beach in Tangier. Bergé, who was both Yves Saint Laurent’s business partner and life partner, was added to the memorial after his death in Provence, France, in 2017. Where to stay near Jardin Majorelle Jardin Majorelle is in the Ville Nouvelle neighborhood of Marrakesh, the "new town" with modern amenities. Hotels in the medina beat those in the Ville Nouvelle hands down for atmosphere, but if you prefer a more contemporary sleep, the Ville Nouvelle and Gueliz area has plenty of options. In this neighborhood, you'll find the international hotels aimed at the package-holiday market. It's no better value to stay here, but most hotels have on-site bars and larger pools than you'll find in the medina. Where to eat near Jardin Majorelle Inside the gardens, the former servants' quarters house Café Majorelle, a lovely, leafy spot for tea or cake. Just outside the entrance of Jardin Majorelle, MyKawa serves salads, sandwiches and Moroccan breakfasts with a dash of Mediterranean style. How to get to Jardin Majorelle Bus No 12 from Bab Doukkala heads past Jardin Majorelle. If you want to walk, it's a 10-minute stroll from Bab Doukkala. Head up Avenue Moulay Abdullah and then turn right onto Ave Yacoub El Mansour. Taxi drivers who hang out around Jardin Majorelle are renowned for overcharging. Walk away and hail a taxi off the main road instead.
This captivating museum, opened in 2017, showcases finely selected collections of haute couture clothing and accessories that span 40 years of creative work by legendary French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. The aesthetically warped and wefted building resembles woven fabric and holds a 150-seat auditorium, research library, bookstore and terrace cafe serving light snacks. Architecture of Musée Yves Saint Laurent Undoubtedly the most thrilling example of contemporary architecture in Marrakesh, Musée Yves Saint Laurent rises from a granito base of Moroccan marble and stone, draped in a lacework of terracotta bricks. The textured arrangement of the bricks is designed to resemble the weft and warp of fabric. Step inside and it's a complete contrast, with a silky smooth finish intended to complement the exterior like the lining of a couture jacket. The museum was designed by Studio KO and was the brainchild of Yves Saint Laurent's partner Pierre Bergé (1930–2017), who wanted to create a repository of the fashion designer's work that was "profoundly Moroccan." To this end, the building was designed without external-facing windows, to emulate Marrakesh's traditional riads. The terracotta color of the exterior brickwork mirrors the dominant hue of Morocco's "Red City." Like a traditional house of the medina, internal patios are an integral design feature of the Musée Yves Saint Laurent. The first is a striking circular walk-through that segues between the museum entrance and internal exhibition spaces. Here a series of stained-glass windows echoes the work of French artist Henri Matisse, who greatly influenced YSL's designs. The second patio forms the heart of the building, a square chamber covered with zellige (colorful geometric mosaic tilework) with a giant circular dish that catches the rain. The use of green here is significant, as it's highly prized in both Amazigh and Islamic cultures. Main exhibition at Musée Yves Saint Laurent The core of the museum is the Yves Saint Laurent Hall, a permanent display of his sketches, rotating haute-couture fashions and color-themed accessories. The backdrop is entirely black – a key color in YSL's designs – creating a cavernous cocoon pierced only by audiovisuals of the designer's catwalk shows and recordings of him speaking. On the right-hand wall as you enter, the exhibition starts with a biography of Yves Saint Laurent constructed from personal artifacts, including a letter sent by YSL to French Vogue's editor-in-chief Michel de Brunhoff in June 1954 at the age of 17. Top-quality temporary exhibitions, which change two or three times a year, are held in a smaller adjacent room. YSL's Theater Yves Saint Laurent's attention-grabbing fashion designs owe more than a little to his reverence of the stage and screen. Tapping into this theme, the Musée Yves Saint Laurent incorporates a 150-seat auditorium with state-of-the-art acoustics. It is designed for the projection of films, live performances and broadcasts of theatrical performances from around the world; check the website for the schedule. Outside the auditorium entrance, don't miss the "Costumiere," a fascinating display of YSL's sketches of costumes he made for cinema and the theater. Museum library By appointment, visitors can access Musée Yves Saint Laurent's 1st-floor library and study room, an important repository of 5000 books on botany, fashion, and Amazigh and Arab-Andalusian culture. Much of it is the personal collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. History of YSL in Marrakesh Yves Saint Laurent's love affair with Marrakesh began in 1966 – by the end of his first visit, he'd acquired the deeds to a house in the medina. The Algerian-born French fashion designer (1936–2008) was fascinated by the artistry and palette of Morocco. This museum opened as a homage to his work and the inspiration he drew from his second home. YSL found career-defining inspiration in the beauty of Morocco, with all its raw forms and pure colors. He marveled at the gardens of Marrakesh, where nature parades on overdrive, and the brightly hued caftans of women in the medina. He found inspiration in the stark blue skies, the earthen architecture and the dramatic waving dunes of the southern deserts. Nomadic fashions for cuffs and collars are hinted at in his iconic accessory designs. Tips for visiting Musée Yves Saint Laurent Jardin Majorelle is next door to the museum. If you plan to visit both, buy a combined ticket and see them on the same day. Combined tickets covering Jardin Majorelle, Musée Berbère and Musée Yves Saint Laurent can be bought directly from the Musée Yves Saint Laurent ticket counter, avoiding the lengthy lines at Jardin Majorelle. Note that you must start your visit at Musée Yves Saint Laurent if you buy your ticket here. Tickets can be bought online. Where to stay near Musée Yves Saint Laurent Musée Yves Saint Laurent is in the Ville Nouvelle neighborhood of Marrakesh, the "new town" with modern amenities. Hotels in the medina beat those in the Ville Nouvelle hands down for atmosphere, but if you prefer a more contemporary sleep, the Ville Nouvelle and Gueliz area has plenty of options. In this neighborhood, you'll find the international hotels aimed at the package-holiday market. It's no better value to stay here, but most hotels have on-site bars and larger pools than you'll find in the medina. Where to eat near Musée Yves Saint Laurent The museum's light-filled Le Studio is an upmarket canteen where stylistas linger over traditional Moroccan and French dishes. Down the street from the museum, comfy Pause Gourmande has a more local flavor and serves bastillas (savory-sweet pies), tajines and European classics. How to get to Musée Yves Saint Laurent Bus 12 from Bab Doukkala heads past the museum. From Djemaa El Fna, a taxi should cost no more than Dh20 ($2.25), but you'll be lucky to get one for less than Dh50 ($5.60). Haggle hard.
The foundations of this historic riad are more than 400 years old, and it was once owned by powerful qaid (local chief) U-Bihi. Here, though, it's not the building but the traditional Islamic garden that is so special. Fed by a restored original khettara (underground irrigation system), the gardens are set up as a living museum to demonstrate the ancient waterworks. There's a good cafe on its ramparts and a tower with views across the medina (not worth the extra fee). Khettara were first introduced to Marrakesh by the Almoravids in the 11th century to distribute water to the mosques, hammams and fountains of the growing metropolis. They are unique to Morocco, and the irrigation system at Le Jardin Secret was only discovered when workers started digging out the riad to restore it. The complex is divided into two parts, one planted as an exotic garden, the other as a traditional Islamic garden with fig, date, pomegranate and olive groves. The bare riad chambers include excellent exhibits (in English, French and Arabic) on the riad's history, the importance of water in Islamic society and the role of gardens in Marrakesh culture. High-tech screens use CGI to expertly show the flow of water around the site, and there's also a fascinating documentary on the restoration process.
The Musée de Marrakech exhibits a collection of Moroccan art forms within the decadent salons of the Mnebhi Palace. The central internal courtyard, with its riot of cedar archways, stained-glass windows, intricate painted door panels and, of course, lashings of zellige (colourful geometric mosaic tilework), is the highlight, though don't miss the display of exquisite Fez ceramics in the main room off the courtyard, and the palace's hammam. This is one of Marrakesh's oldest museums and looks dated compared with some others. The palace was once home to Mehdi Mnebhi, defence minister during Sultan Moulay Abdelaziz’s troubled reign (1894–1908). While Mnebhi was away receiving a medal from Queen Victoria, England conspired with France and Spain to colonise North Africa, and autocrat Pasha Glaoui filched his palace. After independence, the building was seized by the state and became Marrakesh’s first girls’ school in 1965. It was only after a painstaking restoration by the Omar Benjelloun Foundation in 1997 that the palace swung open the doors to the masses as this museum. There's a cafe in its courtyard, if you need a break.
When Parisian Patrick Menac’h and Marrakshi Hamid Mergani realised they were both collecting vintage Moroccan photography, they decided to open a photography museum to show their collections in context. Together they ‘repatriated’ 4500 photos, 2000 glass negatives and 80 documents dating from 1870 to 1950; select works on view here fill three floors, organised by region and theme, and include a rare, full-colour 1957 documentary shot in Morocco. Most works are editioned prints from original negatives, and are for sale. After your visit, head up to the rooftop terrace for a coffee or pot of tea. If you’re heading to Ourika Valley, be sure to check out their second venture, the Ecomusée Berbere.
Once the home of a mining corporation, this 1932 building now houses Marrakech Art Fair founder Hicham Daoudi’s latest project: a contemporary gallery. Restored to its original art deco glory, the sweeping staircases, terrazzo flooring, crystal-shaped wall sconces and furniture make this spot worth a visit in itself. Rotating art exhibitions over three floors profile leading and up-and-coming artists from Morocco and the rest of Africa. Hassan Hajjaj, called the Andy Warhol of Morocco, has a dedicated gallery space here too. Larger temporary works occupy a cavernous side annexe, with a separate entrance on Rue de Yougoslavie.
Leather working is one of Morocco's medieval trades, and the tanneries around Bab Debbagh – ideally situated next to the river from where they draw water to pummel animal hides – have been in use for hundreds of years. The largest cooperative, Association Sidi Yacoub, is down a lane just inside the gate, on the southern side of Rue de Bab Debbagh – you'll know you've reached it when the acrid smell assaults your nose. Beware that scams are rife around the tanneries; hassle is guaranteed. The Association Sidi Yacoub is open to visitors and free to visit, but it's likely you'll be accosted by a 'guardian' at the entrance telling you otherwise. Try to ignore them or fob them off with a small tip of Dh10 to Dh20, and insist upon entering without a 'guide' (which will cost you dearly). If you're not up for this battle, go with an official guide as part of a medina tour; this is the only way to ensure you skip the hassle. The pungent smell comes from the use of ammonia in the troughs that's used to soften the leather and strip it of its animal hairs. Unlike at the tanneries in Fez, you won't see a rainbow of dyes used; here the tanneries only work the natural leather, and dyeing is done elsewhere. Surrounding the roughly hewn troughs of clay, you'll find the leather-workers' workshops, which have been handed down from generation to generation. It's hard, dirty work and exclusively a male industry. The best time to come is in the morning when you'll usually be able to see tanners at work, transforming stinking animal skins that are dropped off by donkey carts into supple leather ready to be tailored into goodies for the souqs. In exchange for a tip, you'll usually also be offered to see the tanneries from above, from one of the houses near the Bab Debbagh gate. The bird's-eye views offer a completely different perspective, but be aware that many of the 'houses' are actually leatherware shops, and touts can be pushy. Don't feel pressured into having to buy something if you don't want to. Also beware the young men on foot or motorbikes who will follow you from the central souqs and then may insist upon entering with you for an extortionate fee. Because these touts are so persistent and at times aggressive, we recommend getting a taxi to the outside of Bab Debbagh and walking into the medina, as the tanneries are only just inside the gate.
In 2019 MACMA's painting archive was moved to its sister venue, the Orientalist Museum, and this modern gallery shifted its focus to photography, beautifully arranged around a smattering of decorative arts. Images, captured mostly by roving European photographers, span 100 years from 1870 to 1970 and offer an intriguing insight into different facets of Moroccan life, from the chiefs of the High Atlas to urban craftspeople and the women of the northern Rif. Info boards are in English and French. Combined tickets for MACMA and the Orientalist Museum cost Dh100 (Dh70 for students), and in our view both are equally worth your time.
Berber boucharouites (rag rugs made from recycled cloth) may be a poor cousin to the famous jewel-toned Moroccan carpets, but this beautifully collated gallery housed in an 18th-century riad displays the artistry of this lesser-known craft. The museum is the work of avid collector Patrick de Maillard, who lives on site and is often around to animatedly talk you through his collection.The rooms are scattered with Moroccan popular art, from agricultural implements to painted doors, in addition to the boucharouites. The terrace upstairs is a lovely secret cafe serving refreshments.