“A visit to Marrakech was a great shock to me. The city taught me colour.” – Yves Saint Laurent
After three days in the Sahara Desert we drove west through the Atlas Mountains to our final destination in Morocco – Marrakech. Although I had heard plenty of stories from fellow travelers, nothing had prepared me for the vibrant sensory overload that was the famed former imperial city of Morocco. Everything from the saturated colors to the intricate textures to the ornate tile work and equally stunning patina to the smell of spices in the Medina was intoxicating.
Although it was most certainly overwhelming at times (look one direction and you’re walking head on into a motorbike, look the other and a donkey is coming right toward you), there was something mystical about Marrakech that made it feel like you had stepped back into a different time. Scroll down for the full story and for my recommendations on where to stay, eat, and explore in Marrakech.
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- Private Guide: We hired a private guide for our first day exploring Marrakech and it was truly the best decision we could have made. The Medina is by far the most confusing place I have ever tried to navigate (it makes the winding streets and canals of Venice seem easy), and our guide was incredibly helpful in recommending everything from the best places to shop to some of the more artful little alleyways for me to photograph.
- Bahia Palace: This 14th-century palace whose name translates to ‘brilliance’ was created for a former Sultan has interesting architecture and gardens to explore.
- Souks: The historic souks located in the center of Marrakech’s Medina are absolutely overflowing with beauty and inspiration. Berber rugs, hammered silver platters and tea sets, velvet kaftans, and spices are just a few of the amazing handcrafted Moroccan pieces to pick up during your explorations.
- Hammam: A visit to at least one traditional hammam is a must while in Morocco. My absolute favorite hammam was at our hotel, the Royal Mansour, but La Mamouina‘s was also lovely, too.
- Ali Ben Youssef Medersa: If you’re looking for classic Moroccan tilework and keyhole-shaped doorways, this is where you want to be. Bring your camera but be ready to fight off countless bloggers and Instagrammers.
- Koutoubia Mosque: The largest mosque in Marrakech, Koutoubia was constructed in the 12th century and is truly the heart of the city. I loved the view of its beautiful minaret from the rooftop terrace of El Fenn.
- Rahba Kedima Square: This square is home to one of my favorite souks in the city. The surrounding buildings are draped in Berber rugs and the spice stalls offer one of the most beautiful photographic opportunities in Marrakech.
- L’Hotel: This uber chic riad with a decidedly French-Colonial feel is in the heart of the medina and offers some of the most beautiful interior design inspiration in the city. We chose to eat on their lovely rooftop terrace, but a word of caution – it is nearly impossible to find. Be sure to call them in advance and ask for explicit instructions on how to locate the riad (and for someone from the property to meet you in the square to walk you the rest of the way).
- Villa des Orangers: A beautiful hotel with amazing cuisine. I loved the poolside dining area while dinner inside by the fire in cooler winter months would be so romantic.
- La Grande Table Marocaine: The flagship restaurant of our hotel, the Royal Mansour, this eating at La Grande Table Marocaine was truly the epitome of a Moroccan fine dining experience. With high ceilings, ornate moldings and tilework, and live music played by traditional Moroccan musicians, eating at this restaurant truly transported us to another place and time. Headed by three-Michelin starred chef Yannick Alléno, the food was truly a gastronomic delight.
- El Fenn: This beautiful boutique hotel is home to a bohemian-chic rooftop bar with an amazing view of Marrakech and the surrounding Atlas Mountains. We spent hours in the late afternoon sun drinking cocktails with freshly muddled strawberries and basil.
- Le Comptoir: On the recommendation of our hotel, we spent an evening at Le Comptoir enjoying dinner and traditional Moroccan performances which included music and belly dancing. The food was average but the ambiance and entertainment were truly one-of-a-kind.
Royal Mansour: We spent five nights at the Royal Mansour, and although it was a splurge, it was truly the most incredible experience. From beginning to end our stay was perfection – it was truly and every bit the Morocco I had fantasized about since childhood.
L’Hotel: This uber chic hotel in the Medina has a decidedly French Colonial inspiration and is truly a beautiful little respite from the bustling souks, just steps away. Be aware that it is *VERY* difficult to find so just prepare yourself for that!
Amanjena: While we have not personally visited this hotel, Aman properties are always lovely and I have heard very positive reviews about this hotel located 10 minutes outside of the city. Also, as a Marrakech wedding photographer, it looks like a very beautiful venue for a destination wedding!
Photos by Marrakech wedding photographer Molly Carr Photography