How to Spend a Perfect Weekend in Marrakech

Where to eat, stay and play in the former capital of the Kingdom of Morocco

March 30, 2024 6:21 am
Mosque Tower in Marrakech
Mosque Tower in Marrakech
Peter Orsel/Unsplash

With its storytellers and snake charmers in historic Djemaa el-Fna square, opulent palaces, and labyrinthine souks, nowhere evokes notions of the faraway and exotic quite like Marrakech. The legendary city dates back nearly a millennium and has attracted everyone from expatriate aristocrats, writers-in-exile, rock stars like The Rolling Stones and fashion luminaries such as Yves Saint Laurent. Still a little wild and brilliantly entertaining — whether spending time in the centuries-old medina with its endless array of handicrafts, relaxing within the confines of a boutique riad, listening to traditional Gnawa music while being mesmerized by belly dancers, immersing yourself in an ancient hammam ritual or savoring an aromatic tagine — the former capital of the Kingdom of Morocco will dazzle and enchant the most seasoned traveler. 

Hotel bookings bounced back quickly after the devastating earthquake in September, and with tourism dollars helping fund charities working in the High Atlas Mountains, like Education for All Morocco, visiting Marrakech continues to support the economy and ongoing relief efforts. Here’s how to spend a perfect weekend there.

How to Get There 

Although Royal Air Maroc runs a nonstop service to Casablanca from JFK and IAD (Dulles) there are no direct U.S. flights to Marrakech, and “weekending” there would quite rightly be considered madness. So this guide is written from the perspective of having days to spare when already in situ somewhere like London or Madrid. That said, the best and fastest way to reach Marrakech when departing stateside is by flying direct to Paris with Air France from Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD) or Atlanta (ATL) and connecting with the national flag carrier from Charles de Gaulle, perhaps adding a night or two in the French capital to break things up a bit. 

The YVES suite at IZZA was inspired by the French fashion designer
The Yves suite at IZZA is inspired by the French fashion designer.
IZZA Marrakech

Where to Stay

Opened in September, IZZA is already considered something of an art hub around Marrakech, thanks to its multi-million dollar private collection, pieces from which adorn almost every wall — think NFTs by Sebastião Salgado and Ethiopian collective Yatreda, and sketches by influential designer Bill Willis. Seven separate homes (one of which belonged to Willis) were restored and connected to create IZZA, a 14-room boutique riad hotel hidden inside the medina whose charming moniker is “House of Friends.” Room sizes vary, but 1970s-era Saint Laurent inspired the palatial pink Yves suite, while the first-floor Talita pays homage to the Getty heiress. 

Plunge pools punctuate private courtyards, and two sets of winding stairs (one passes through a library with leather chairs and wall-to-ceiling bookshelves) lead to the beautiful rooftop and locavore restaurant helmed by former El Fenn head chef Ahmad Elhardoum. Back downstairs, there’s a coffee shop and Bill’s Bar, where guests gather for a glass of wine or a cocktail before dinner and to peruse photographs and memorabilia from the lavish life of Mr. Willis. An exquisite attention to detail is evident wherever the eye falls at IZZA, from arabesque motifs and mosaic zellige tiles in the petite hammam to ornate wooden doors. Even the towels and pillowcases have a bespoke label that reads, “If at noon the king declares it is night, behold the stars.” 

Le Jardin Secret is a peaceful little oasis inside the medina
Le Jardin Secret is a peaceful little oasis inside the medina.
Le Jardin Secret

What to Do 

With its snake charmers, fortune tellers and performers, public square Jemaa el-Fnaa square comes alive at sunset, but it’s also where you’ll meet with affable local guide Kharoubbi Youssef before diving into the nearby souks on his Airbnb shopping tour. A smart way to check out which crafts to go back and bargain for — perhaps a Berber rug made with cactus silk, some colorful leather slippers or handblown glassware — it’s also a great way to get acquainted with the city. Youssef talks passionately and in fluent English about the history, culture, traditions and civilization of the old medina where he grew up and could navigate with his eyes closed.

Although famous for its souks and distinctive pink-hued buildings, Marrakech has plenty of beautiful gardens that provide respite from the hustle and swirling dance of the city. Arrive early or buy tickets online in advance to beat the crowds at its most famous green space, Jardin Majorelle, a 12-acre, cactus-filled botanical oasis designed by painter Jacques Majorelle that’s anchored by a colorful cubist villa that was later famously owned by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (and whose namesake museum is just steps away). A more low-key and mostly Instagram Influencer-free alternative is Le Jardin Secret, an enchanting and ornate Islamic garden set in a 19th-century palace complex with a chilled-out cafe and small gift shop.

For museums, Musée Macma celebrates the work of contemporary and historic Moroccan artists. Maison de la Photographie, a private collection of 8,000 photographs, provides a glimpse of old Morocco and will take you on a visual journey through time from 1870 to 1950.

Get pampered with a private hammam at day spa Les Bains de Marrakech
Get pampered with a private hammam at day spa Les Bains de Marrakech.
Les Bains de Marrakech

The traditional Moroccan bathing experience is an age-old ritual — sometimes spiritual, always social — that has survived centuries, and the Red City has plenty of hammams to experience a steam and scrub. At the famous but no-frills Hammam Mouassine, expect to pay about 150 MAD (Moroccan Dirhams), or $15, for a hammam that includes a black soap scrub and body wrap. But if getting buck naked in the presence of strangers doesn’t appeal, Les Bains de Marrakech is a well-regarded destination spa for a more upscale and private experience. Signature packages include The Extravagance, a four-hour hammam, mud treatment, bath and massage or facial combo that will leave you feeling reborn for $150.

Inside Marrakech’s Riads and Other Luxury Stays
The key to an authentic Moroccan experience
BE the Souk concept store on Rue Yves Saint Laurent
BE the Souk concept store on Rue Yves Saint Laurent
BE the Souk

Where to Shop

You could spend days scouring the souks for a rug that really ties the room together, but for fixed prices and perusing a more curated assortment of artisan wares, check out some of the concept stores, which are totally having a moment in Marrakech. Several are located on and around the tony Rue Yves Saint Laurent (near Jardin Majorelle), with Morro, BE The Souk and 33 Rue Marjoelle, all standouts for fashion, jewelry, home decor and one-of-a-kind fragrances by local labels like The Moroccans. Grand dame hotel boutiques at El Fenn and La Mamounia carry fun pieces by young designers and tastefully branded keepsakes from candles to kimono robes. But if whimsical ceramics and abstract textiles by Belgian creative Laurence Leenaert top your wish list, hop in a taxi to reach her LRNCE studio in a trendy industrial area to the north of the city where cool interior shops like Chabi Chic and Maison Sarayan are also located. 

Fusion Moroccan food from the highest rooftop in the medina at L'Mida
Fusion Moroccan food from the highest rooftop in the medina at L’Mida

Where to Eat and Drink

One of the greatest war movies of all time, Casablanca, may have been set in Morocco’s principal port city. But “gin joint” manager Rick Blaine himself wouldn’t look out of place — cigarette in hand, of course — on the terrace at Grand Café de la Poste. Located in the Guéliz quarter and built during the French protectorate period in the 1920s, its first incarnation was a post office and café that became a popular meeting spot for legendary locals, like artist Jacques Majorelle. An elegant and long-standing favorite in the neighborhood, it’s the place to come for breakfast or a last drink in the salon during one of the live jazz evenings. 

Traditional dancers at restaurant-meets-nightclub Comptoir Darna
Traditional dancers at restaurant-meets-nightclub Comptoir Darna
Comptoir Darna

To refuel inside the medina, head to modern Moroccan spots NOMAD or L’Mida, which both serve fresh mezze, salads, tajines, impressive mocktails and killer views from their rooftop terraces. Another alfresco perch for prime people-watching is Café de France atop L’Hôtel Restaurant Café de France, opened in 1912 and overlooking Jemaa el-Fna. Grab a table on one of the terraces and order mint tea or drinks to people watch at sunset, but go elsewhere for food. Definitely check out the female-owned and operated Sahbi Sahbi, where the beef and okra tagine is a must-try and the minimalist interiors were styled by coveted French designer Studio KO. Also, you’ll want to round out one evening with dinner and a belly dancing show at restaurant Comptoir Darna, a sprawling and ever so slightly touristy (but still chic) Arabian nights fantasyland in Guéliz where well-heeled locals and hip expats linger over shisha and mint tea on the patio or stay late for Souktronic sounds at the Comptoir Darna Club.

BE Agafway The Hideaway is a serene desert oasis
BE Agafway The Hideaway is a serene desert oasis.
Viola Jay Photography

Where to Make it a Long Weekend

For an otherworldly escape among dunes and a lunar-like landscape — without actually trekking into the Sahara proper — the Agafay Desert is a 45-minute drive from Marrakech, and BE Agafay is a sweet spot to while away an afternoon or spend an entire day. Luxe Berber-inspired tented suites and equally hippie-chic social spaces furnished with traditional decor are the vibe here, where it’s also possible to ride a camel, take a dip and soak up a few rays beside the pool. Or stay for a sunset apéro and dinner with a live Touareg band and fire performance. Day passes range from $55 for lunch and pool access to $82 for dinner and a show; but for $350, you can spend a night in a glamping yurt with dinner and breakfast included. There’s a tastefully curated boutique, too, should a Mrirt wool rug catch your eye and you have enough room in the suitcase.


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