A Guide to Marrakech: Where to Stay, What to do, Where to Eat
Marrakech is an unforgettable place, rich in culture, citrus and haggling. Upon stepping out of the airport, we were surrounded by the sounds and smells of Morocco. Within the medina, we often found ourselves lost in the maze-like alleyways and the many souks where you can find beautiful rugs, handmade purses and moroccan spices.
WHERE TO STAY
When visiting Marrakech, skip the luxury hotel and stay in a riad instead, a traditional Moroccan house nestled within the heart of the medina. A riad will offer a more authentic experience, many have pools and they are a quiet oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of the souks. Since many are located within the medina, also known as the old city, they are ideal places to stay since you’ll be walking distance to everything.
Le Riad Yasmine
We booked our entire trip around the availability at Le Riad Yasmine, a hidden gem a short walk from the main streets in the medina. Upon arriving at the front door, you can already smell a faint hint of botanicals. Once inside, you’re in interior design heaven. Modern decor coupled with the distinct Moroccan green tile, it’s no wonder this riad is plastered all over instagram. Although the plunge pool and lounge couches are beautiful and a favourite among visitors, the rooftop was just as beautiful. We had our breakfast on the rooftop every morning with views of the Atlas Mountains in the distance and the riad cats for company. They recently opened Le Petit Yasmine, Le Riad Yasmine’s little sister which is available for rent. This would be the perfect spot to rent with a group of friends, to have the whole place to yourself.
The first four nights of our stay were at Riad 42, a brand new riad located down a quiet alley away from the busy souks. Recently restored, the original architectural elements were maintained while adding minimalist decor in a soft neutral palette. With just 5 guestrooms, this is as intimate as it gets. It’s impossible not to feel a sense of calm when entering the riad, which is a perfect mix of traditional architecture and modern decor. The rooftop was also a favourite place to relax. With a plunge pool that is new this season, we were able to keep our little one entertained while also basking in the afternoon sun. With an early bedtime, we found it easiest to have our dinners at the riad every night and it did not disappoint. Saida, the in-house chef, is incredible. The meals were delicious, flavourful and the best part was that we didn’t have far to walk back to our room after our meal
Tucked away in the Agafay Stone desert with views of the Atlas Mountains is the incredible Scarabeo Camp. This luxury glamping spot has everything: comfy bed and linens, bathrooms and a wide range of excursions. They offer transfers to/from the airport or another riad and have many traditionally styled lounge areas to sit back and relax. We originally wanted to stay here but decided against it with having a toddler and we’re glad since a lot of the excursions we couldn’t do with him and being out in the open there weren’t many things to do in the shade. Despite not being able to stay there we visited for lunch one day. The food was delicious, with beautiful views of the surrounding desert. Highly recommend a visit if you get the chance.
WHAT TO DO
Explore the Medina
For an authentic Moroccan experience, spend time in the medina. This maze-like labyrinth of streets lined with rugs, lanterns, handmade bags, spices and souvenir shops is true Morocco. You’ll get lost and everything starts looking the same but that’s part of the experience. I suggest you download the maps.me app. It’s like an offline google maps in Morocco and will help guide you through the narrow streets. You may stumble upon some hidden gardens, a cute cafe, or an old home converted into a museum. Take time to explore and take in the atmosphere.
Shop in the Souks
If you wander long enough, you’ll end up in the souks (markets). Each souk has it’s own name, where all the shops sell similar things. If you’re looking to bring home souvenirs like leather goods or rugs, this is where you’ll want to visit. Shop keepers are relentless and it’s important to have an idea of what you want to spend on specific items before you buy them. In Morocco, haggling and bargaining is common and it’s their way of life. A common mistake tourists will make when shopping in the souks is paying the initial price offered. I suggest lowering the price by 2/3 or 3/4 and working your way from there. There is no right price to pay, it’s what you’re comfortable paying. If you can get it down to 1/2 of the original price then you’ve done good.
It’s important to browse and not show too much interest in an item, even if you love it. Once the shop keeper knows you want it, you lose your bargaining power. Also, be prepared to walk away from an item if it’s priced too high, often the shop keeper will come after you agreeing to your last offer. When bargaining, I often acted like I only had a specific amount on me that I could spend on that item. I found that the easiest way for me to stick to a price and not get persuaded to pay too much for something.
Take a Peaceful Walk Through Hidden Gardens
If you need a break from the medina and the souks (markets), there are several hidden gardens you can explore.
Le Jardin Secret - A hidden gem, if it weren’t for the big banner above the doorway entrance to the gardens we would have never known it was there. We went first thing in the morning and had the place almost entirely to ourselves. Recently renovated, the gardens are meticulously groomed and a peaceful place to relax right in the middle of the medina.
Jardin Majorelle - Designed by fashion designer Yves St Laurent and located outside the medina and beside the Yves St Laurent museum, these gardens are a colourful mix of tropical trees, flowering vines and cacti. When you first enter you are surrounded by towering bamboo. Visit on a weekday to avoid the European weekend crowd and first thing in the morning or right before closing.
Day Trip to the Agafay Desert
We took a day trip out to the Agafay stone desert for lunch at Scarabeo Camp. This is a great alternative to the sandy dunes of the Sahara desert if you don’t have an extra 2-3 days to make the trip. Located just 45 minutes outside of Marrakech, the Agafay Desert offers stunning views of the Atlas Mountains. We were greeted with mint tea, an assortment of Moroccan sweets and a delicious lunch. It was a great way to spend a portion of the day away from the city.
Day Trip to Ouzoud Falls
Located 150 kms northeast of Marrakech in the village of Tanaghmeilt is Ouzoud Falls. Comprised of a series of tall waterfalls, Ouzoud is a total of 330 ft in height, making it the second tallest waterfalls in Africa. We hired a driver through Le Riad Yasmine and he arranged a guide for us without asking, which turned out to be great. We wouldn’t have been able to find the right path to the top of the falls and down to the bottom if it weren’t for our guide. He shared a lot of stories and great information about the area and showed us 700 year old olive trees! The falls were stunning to see in person and we were able to get pretty close at a viewing platform before making our way back up. On our way up we passed monkeys and stopped for lunch before heading back to the city. It was a lot of driving for a single day with a toddler but we timed it so that he was napping on the way there and on the way back. We brought our infant carseat with us which we used to and from the airport as well as on our day trips. Atli is on the very small end of the spectrum and was just outgrowing his carseat so he kept him in it until after the trip to save ourselves from having to pack a much larger seat.
Marvel at Moroccan Architecture
La Bahia Palace - A 19th century palace with beautifully ornate archways, colourful tiles and surrounded by lush gardens. Located just off a busy main street, this was the most beautiful palace I’ve ever seen. Unlike other popular sites and gardens, La Bahia Palace offers a break from the crowds at a very reasonable price. To avoid day-time crowds, we visited right before closing and had the place all to ourselves before being the last few stragglers to leave.
Palais el Badi - Located just a short walk from La Bahia Palace is Palais el Badi, a 16th century palace built by Saadian sultan Ahmed al-Mansur Dhanbi. Today it’s mostly in ruin.
Ben Youssef Madrasa - A 14th century college, Ben Youssef Madrasa was converted into a museum in 1960. Centred around a courtyard and pool, it’s filled with beautiful wood carvings and stucco detailing. It’s currently being renovated and will reopen in 2020.
Dar Si Said - Dar Si Said is where you can find the National Weaving and Carpet Museum of Morocco. Although it is similar in architecture to Le Bahia Palace, it is much smaller. When walking tours visit, the museum quickly becomes crowded but it’s still a beautiful spot with a pretty courtyard and garden.
WHERE TO EAT
Enjoy Moroccan Cuisine
Plus61 - Australian meets Moroccan food in this new restaurant with a clean, modern interior. We had lunch here and I can confirm it is as beautiful and the food is as delicious as all the reviews.
Limoni - Italian food in a lemon filled courtyard. We ordered dinner here every night and brought it back to Le Riad Yasmine just around the corner. The restaurant is a beautiful and if you don’t have a little one who wants to play in fountains constantly, this is a great spot for dinner.
Le Jardin - The cutest restaurant hidden down an alley and like it’s name suggests, the courtyard is filled with plants. It’s a restaurant in a garden with many hidden alcoves for more intimate dining. There’s also a rooftop and it’s beautiful. When we visited there was a turtle just roaming around the ground and Atli spent 10 minutes following it around, it was adorable.
Nomad - Modern take on traditional Moroccan cuisine. Using fresh local produce and spice to create twists on traditional recipes. Located above Medina, you can sit inside or they have a rooftop. We got homemade vanilla ice cream with a kids meal and it was delicious!
Atay Cafe - A sweet spot with an awesome rooftop to watch the sunset over the city.
Le Salama - A bit overpriced but garden like atmosphere with a sunroom and hanging plants.
Tips for Traveling to Marrakech with a Toddler
Moroccans Love babies
We read this before heading to Morocco and thought nothing of it. But once we arrived, we realized what they meant. Never had we experienced that level of baby obsession in Canada or the United States as we had experienced in Morocco. Truly, they adore babies. Everyone took an interest in Atli. The chefs and staff at our riads showed him so much love. They’d scoop him up and play with him, give him bananas and snacks (they’d ask us first) and were so comfortable with him. Even out walking in the medina, strangers would wave at him and snap there fingers at him which is a playful act they do to their own children too. We were treated like royalty because we had a baby and it was such a refreshing feeling!
Be prepared to buy a lot of plastic bottles of water
They are really cheap (~$1 for a 2L bottle) but it’s best to buy them at shops outside rather than from your riad since they’ll charge more. Also, you can bring your bottles of water in to restaurants to save you from having to spend more buying one there. If you’re going at the start of summer or in summer, it’s very warm there. Make sure you are keeping you and your little one hydrated with lots of water, particularly you if you are still breastfeeding.
Pack lots of snacks from home
We brought a lot of familiar snacks from home and a few surprise ones he’d never tried before. These were great for when we were on the flight but also when we were out to give him to keep him happy while we walked/explored.
Bring a Compact Stroller
We didn’t find much information on stroller use while in Morocco. All the woman carry their little ones on their back with a wrap or scarf tied around them. It would be easy to get around with a carrier but we took the chance and brought a compact umbrella stroller with us. It was a great idea! The bumpy alleyways put our little guy to sleep so he was able to nap in the stroller while we were out which he might not have if he had been in the carrier (or not napped as long). Some restaurants are on rooftops and you have to go up stairs. We would just fold up the stroller and bring it up with us without any issues. We also packed this battery powered fan with us which we attached to the stroller and it kept him nice and cool. The locals and tourists thought it was the best idea and called him a king, he really was living his best life.
Book Your Stay at a Place with a Pool
Both riads we stayed in had plunge pools. Although we came at the end of spring, before the busy tourist season and before it got too warm, we still made use of the pool. Atli loved splashing around it in and it tired him out so he slept better at night. It was also a nice place to relax after spending the day in the busy medina.