What are the must-see neighborhoods in Marrakech?
Marrakech is the fourth largest city in Morocco, it is the most visited city by French tourists. For what ? It has a rich historical and architectural heritage, there are lots of things to see and do there, and above all, the sun shines all year round. Note that like most major cities in Morocco (Fez for example), Marrakech is divided into two parts: the “Old City” called the Medina and the “New City” or “New City”. Over time, other districts have been added, making Marrakech a megalopolis where you will make, during your stay, a real little passage between tradition and modernity. To help you prepare for your stay, here is all the information you need to know about the main districts of Marrakech. This article will give you a small overview of what to do in Marrakech.
On the agenda of this article
- Which districts of Marrakech to visit? The Medina, of course!
- What to visit in the Medina?
- Jemaa El Fna Square
- The Koutoubia Mosque and the Lalla Hasna garden
- Ben Youssef Koranic Medersa
- The Palaces of the Medina
- The museums of the Medina
- The Saadian tombs
- The Secret Garden
- The Souks of Marrakech
- Why sleep in the Medina?
- The Gueliz
- Must-see sites
- The Majorelle Garden
- The Matisse Art Gallery
- The MACMA Museum of Contemporary Art
- Why sleep in the Guéliz district?
- The Palm grove
- A few tips
- Traffic between the districts of Marrakech
Which districts of Marrakech to visit? The Medina, of course!
The medina was founded in 1071 by the Almoravids (a Berber dynasty). It occupies 600 hectares and is surrounded by 19 km of ramparts. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its maze of alleys forms a veritable labyrinth sheltering more than 1,000 years of history. It forms the historic center of Marrakech.
The medina is the most touristic district of the city. There are indeed most of the great historical monuments as well as mosques, Koranic schools, souks with heaps of various products and craftsmen at work, alleys, riads….
The medina has two sub-districts: the Kasbah and the Mellah. The Kasbah is the fortified district where the royal palace is located (this is where the king resides when he is in town). There are many souks and food vendors. Most of the city’s administrations are also concentrated there. You will be able to see the sublime Bab Agnaou entrance which dates from the 12th century.
As in all the other big cities of the country, the Mellah is the Jewish quarter of the city. Created in 1558, you will see weavers and jewelers there, but above all it will be an opportunity to visit the Alzama Synagogue and take a look at 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 is the essential of any stay in Marrakech! In this huge open-air square, you will mainly see street artists (storytellers, singers, dancers, snake charmers…) and street vendors who will offer you various dishes and all kinds of cold drinks, including delicious juices. ‘orange.
The Koutoubia Mosque and the Lalla Hasna garden
Built in the 12th century by the Almohads, it is the most important mosque in Marrakech and from its 69 meters high the highest point of view. Unfortunately, access being prohibited for non-Muslims, you will only be able to observe it from the outside.
At the foot of the Koutoubia, you have the Parc Lalla Hasna. These symmetrically organized gardens are very pleasant to visit and a place very appreciated by the inhabitants for its freshness.
Ben Youssef Koranic Medersa
If the mosques are closed to non-Muslims, you can visit this school and admire the sublime Arab-Andalusian architecture of this Koranic school which is one of the largest in North Africa and the largest Koranic school in the country.
The Palaces of the Medina
By visiting the Medina, you will find many palaces, all with their own particularities but each worth the detour!
The Royal Palace: unfortunately the Royal Palace cannot be visited! However, I strongly advise you to go and see its architecture and its walls turn red at sunset.
Al-Badi Palace: located opposite the Royal Palace, this palace was built at the end of the 16th century. You will only discover the ruins but you can climb the wall from where you will contemplate the whole city. Note that every year, the palace is used as the setting for the Marrakech Laughter Festival.
The Bahia Palace: built at the end of the 19th century, you should not miss the visit of this extraordinary building. Indeed, it is the largest and most beautiful palace in the city.
The museums of the Medina
The Museum of Photography: this is an essential visit during your stay in Marrakech because you will see a sublime collection of old photos of Marrakech (from the 1870s to the 1950s). In addition, from the roof terrace and the café restaurant there, you will be treated to a great panorama of the city and the surrounding mountains.
The Tiskiwin Museum or Bert Flint Museum of Crafts and Ethnology. The crafts and history of the peoples of Morocco are honored in this museum which was the home of Bert Flint, a collector passionate about Moroccan culture.
The Saadian tombs
In this cemetery, dating from the end of the 16th century, Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, his family, their servants and warriors of the Saadian dynasty are buried. The mausoleum is completely decorated with mosaics, you will certainly be captivated by the art of the Saadian era. This mausoleum is also one of the only vestiges dating from this period.
The Secret Garden
This land – where illustrious personalities have stayed – has two gardens and a large tower. It is a small haven of peace in the middle of the orange trees and this, in the heart of the medina. Besides the magnificent architecture, you will enjoy beautifully maintained gardens with many fountains. Open to the public for the first time, the secret garden has a café to quench your thirst and an exhibition hall: enough to take full advantage of this garden!
The Souks of Marrakech
Go to Marrakech and not get lost in a souk? It is unthinkable! There are many souks in Marrakech and each one has its own specialty. The Souk Cherratine is specialized in leather, the Souk Attarine is that of spices, you will find carpets and pottery in the Souk Zrabi and in the Souk Fekharine. Finally, the Souk Chouari specializes in fabrics and wood. If you are wondering what to bring back from Marrakech as a souvenir, or as a gift, this is the ideal place!
Why sleep in the Medina?
If you want to sleep in a riad in Marrakech, it’s really an authentic experience, to do at least once in your life.
Staying in the heart of the medina will be an opportunity for you to see the real Marrakech, that of the inhabitants of the working class. This will not prevent you from sleeping in starred establishments worthy of a thousand and one nights. Enjoy the comfort of a typical traditional house with a courtyard, a swimming pool, a roof terrace, air conditioning in the bedrooms, princess beds…and of course the world-renowned Moroccan hospitality.
If you don’t like noise when you walk around town and if you are afraid of narrow streets, especially when they are not lit at night, and beggars, I advise you to go your way.
Located northwest of the medina and north of the Hivernage district (which I will tell you about just after) Guéliz is the New Town of Marrakech. It begins on Avenue Mohamed 5, where the Koutoubia is located.
The district was built under the French protectorate from 1913 following the designs of the architects who developed Casablanca, Fez or Meknes. If at the very beginning, Guéliz was mainly inhabited by French families in colonial-style villas, today the district has been completely transformed: most of the dwellings are buildings that welcome Moroccans from the Moroccan middle class.
Some buildings have remained, such as the Grande Poste. Otherwise, you will see above all large boulevards, great restaurants, French franchises… In short, it is modern Marrakech, the one for those who have come to town to shop and visit art galleries.
This superb botanical garden has several interests, but above all you will want to see the famous Blue Art Deco Villa and the Museum of the History of the Berbers.
In fact, opposite the garden, you have the former home of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and Michel Bergé (it was built in 1931 by the artist Jacques Majorelle) which is now a museum containing a large part of his creations. You can also find all kinds of activities around this garden: visit of the Berber museum, camel ride, walk in the gardens…
The Matisse Art Gallery
Located not far from the Post Office, this gallery (one of the oldest in the city) has many paintings by Moroccan and foreign painters. This is the perfect opportunity to enjoy Moroccan contemporary art. Not very popular with tourists, the Matisse art gallery is an exceptional place for connoisseurs and art lovers.
The MACMA Museum of Contemporary Art
If you are a lover of contemporary art, many works await you. Born from the passion of a collector, the museum opened its doors in 2016 and has already met with some success. You can admire various photos dating from 1870, sculptures, paintings, all dedicated to Morocco.
Why sleep in the Guéliz district?
If you have come to Marrakech for shopping, you are particularly in luck: the district is full of international brand shops and shops with cheap clothes made in Asia. You will also find the Menara Mall, a gigantic shopping center which is also a leisure area.
Be careful, Guéliz is a very lively district and therefore very noisy at night. However, the food is cheaper there than in the medina and you will find cheap hotels and youth hostels.
A word of advice: if you can, opt for renting an apartment which will offer you much better value for money.
Located west of the medina and south of the Guéliz district, the Hivernage district is considered the Beverly Hills of Marrakech. This is the luxury district, the trendy district of the city. In this residential area with large avenues lined with palm trees, lives the wealthy class and many foreign tourists.
There are high-end establishments including luxury hotels such as the 5-star Pearl Marrakech (with rooftop and Japanese restaurant…). You can also visit the big brand boutiques (Louis Vuitton…) and the chic clubs and bars.
Among the obligatory passages, you have:
The Royal Theater with its grandiose architecture (in particular the columns and the dome). If you can, I advise you to go inside to see the architecture of the building.
The Palais des Congrès, the largest in Morocco.
The Menara Gardens with the carp pond and the pavilion
The casino which is located in the hotel Es Saadi Gardens & Resort.
If you like high-end living and nightlife and have planned to go out at night and party, this area is ideal for you. However, hotel prices can often be very expensive.
The Palm grove
Located northeast of the city center, the Palmeraie is a district that was created in the 12th century. Above all, it has sublime villas with large gardens, properties of the Moroccan bourgeoisie, many luxury hotels and hotel clubs.
If you plan to go to Marrakech to relax and sunbathe, the Palmeraie is the perfect place. It is a quiet area where you can take in the fresh air in large open spaces (the heat is overwhelming in Marrakech) and relax by the pool. It is a very exotic oasis of greenery.
Those who came with the family will be more likely to find a great hotel with a kids’ club. This district is a must for golfers and those who want to practice activities of all kinds (hiking, camel or dromedary rides, quad biking, etc.).
A few tips
Marrakech is not considered a dangerous city but like all major cities, you must be careful. It is above all delinquency due to poverty that should worry you, purse snatching in particular.
Avoid walking alone at night, in deserted places.
Do not carry valuables and keep as little cash as possible on you.
Enjoy the city anyway because there are many uniformed and plainclothes police everywhere. They are there to limit the risk of attacks and to protect tourists.
Traffic between the districts of Marrakech
The various districts of Marrakech are very well served by taxis (an average trip in town costs between 4 and 6 $) and the bus (ticket less than 0.50 cts). You can even walk around if you feel like it (and if you have taken good walking shoes with you and a nice hat).
Prefer to rent a car? Be careful traffic in Marrakech is rather anarchic. You will have to watch out for everything: other vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, 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 do not yet know when to go to Marrakech, my article on this subject could help you!