Experience the Sights, Sounds, and Flavors of Marrakesh in One Chaotic Weekend
Senior Travel Editor, Amanda Stuermer
Book an early flight from most cities in the UK or EU and arrive in time for lunch at La Terrasse des Epices, located in the heart of Marrakesh’s Medina. The rooftop restaurant offers a gorgeous view of the Atlas Mountains and the minaret of the Koutoubia.
After lunch, visit the nearby Ben Youssef Madrasa. The Quranic college, founded in the 14th century and turned into a museum in 1960, is one of the most stunning sights in the city. The delicate stucco work and mosaics make the madrasa a perfect example of Islamic art and architecture.
For dinner, pre-book a table at the wildly popular Nomad, a modern Moroccan restaurant and rooftop bar, encompassing four floors in an old carpet store. It has wonderful views of the city’s minarets and some delightfully light options on the menu.
After dinner, stroll through Jemaa el-Fnaa Square to wonder at the snake charmers, monkey handlers, acrobats, and belly dancers. It’s a dizzying experience. Trust me, I nearly stepped on a cobra. Once back at your hotel, you’ll be ready for the ubiquitous mint tea nightcap and sleep. The first call to prayer begins before sunrise. It’s a beautifully haunting, but incredibly early, wake-up.
You will have discovered by now that Marrakesh is a labyrinth. To make matters a bit more tricky, the streets are often filled with donkey carts, cars, bicyclists, and the occasional monkey or cobra. Those who wander are not always lost, unless they are in Marrakesh. Booking a local tour guide to lead you through the Souks is highly recommended. They can miraculously weave their way through the winding tunnels to the perfect stalls where you can purchase whatever Moroccan treasures your heart desires: embroidered tunics, brilliantly colored exotic spices, exquisite textiles (you may want to bring an extra suitcase or grab a large bag here and have it wrapped at the airport). It is easy to spend a full day in the Souks, but you might want to reserve some afternoon time for a visit to one of the many hammams.
The Farnatchi Spa, located in a boutique hotel in the center of the Medina, offers a hammam experience that includes a full-body traditional scrub using an exfoliating glove and black soap with essential oil of eucalyptus, followed by a mask of aromatic seven plant ghassoul. The hammam ends with a gentle beldi massage based on stretching and rinsing with rosewater. Forewarning to the bashful traveler: when they say full body, they mean full body (when in Marrakesh…). For dinner, check out the rooftop restaurant of Si Said situated in the Medina, close to the Bahia. The menu is Moroccan with a sprinkling of Atlantic and Eastern influences, and thankfully includes both vegetarian options and a wine list. Head back to your hotel for more mint tea as you try to figure out how to pack the rugs you purchased earlier. Trust me, they’ll be worth the extra baggage fee.
Reserve your last morning for a visit to Palais Bahia, a 19th-century palace with over 100 elaborately decorated rooms, including a harem section next to the Court of Honor. You’ll marvel at the high, gilded ceilings and rooms filled with paintings, mosaics and stuccos. If you decide to extend your trip through Monday (you won’t be the first), spend the afternoon at the Riad Yima Tea Room, the home and gallery of Hassan Hajjaj, the so-called “Andy Warhol of Marrakesh.” It is like falling down the rabbit hole into pop art paradise.
The Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech Museum is another fabulous option for an extended stay, especially for any fashion lover. Alas, if you must leave, remember the Moroccan proverb: “Never say I regret, always say I learned.” It may be that you learned you want more time in Marrakech. Note, I don’t mention camel rides. Book one if you must, but expect an old-school county fair vibe except your camel is tied to the French Instagram influencer in front of you who just got home from the clubs, is hungover, and chain smokes between photos.