The Gyde & Seek Skinny: 10 Things to Know Before You Visit Marrakech
Wondering how to reconcile the dress code to the forecast? Which apps to download? Where to find the coolest statement ceramics in a town that is positively flush with gorgeous artisanal loot? Whether you’re heading to Morocco’s hippest, most humming imperial city for the first time—or just the first time in a long time—here’s your 10-step Marrakech to-do list.
1. Dust off that high-school français. Still working on your Darija? (Yes, that's Morocco's very own Arabic dialect, and it's virtually unintelligible to classical Arabic speakers!) The good news is that Marrakech has a fabulously multilingual populace; many Marrakshis, as residents of the city are known, speak perfect Parisian French in addition to Tachelhit (Berber), and if you're lucky, English.
2. Pack your palazzo pants. Marrakech may be Morocco's most cosmopolitan metropolis, and yes, the woman who just whizzed past you on that scooter was definitely wearing skinny jeans. But the city's 11th-century medina remains a very traditional cultural space, and locals tend to dress accordingly. Fortunately, it’s a good moment for footloose, free-flowing silhouettes. If you're still looking for your Marrakech uniform, the wonder weavers over at Marrakshi Life will hook you up with heat wave-ready, dress code-friendly threads.
3. Download an offline navigation app. Exploring on foot? Even with a decent map, finding your way around the urban labyrinth requires faith, hope, and seriously good intuition. You can conserve your data, if not your sanity, by using a mobile navigation app featuring offline maps (expats swear by MAPS.ME). Bon chance! And watch out for those mopeds.
4. Get your gates straight. Marrakech's walled medina has 19 monumental gates, all of whose names begin with the word, "bab"—as in Bab Agnaou or Bab Laksour. If traveling by taxi to a pedestrian-only quarter, it may be helpful to provide your driver with the name of the closest gate rather than the address of your final destination. You want a "petit taxi" by the way (you'd hail a "grand taxi" if you were venturing beyond the city limits). In theory, taxi fares are fixed. In practice? Negotiate up front—or risk getting fleeced!
5. Think outside the tagine. Tagine fatigue is real. The hearty, aromatic national stew can be beautiful when expertly prepared, but if you're in Marrakech for more than a day or two, especially during the warmer months, you're probably going to want to branch out. We loved Le Foundouk's seven-grain couscous, Le Petit Cornichon's super-fresh ceviche, and Nomad's amlou ice cream. Desperate for something green? Hit up the organic juice bar at Ayaso in Gueliz. Psst! When dining out in Marrakech, it's customary to leave a 10-15% tip; some restaurants do include gratuity, however, so before parting with those extra dirhams, scan your bill for the words service compris.
6. Meet your new favorite street pastry. Its name is m'smen, and well, we wish it could apparate. Warm, chewy, stretchy, and flaky, this square-shaped pick-me-up can go sweet (honey-drizzled) or savory (griddled with spiced onion and tomato paste).
7. Treat yourself to a morning of pure visual pleasure in Gueliz. It's worth pre-booking the tony neighborhood's trifecta of must-see cultural institutions (hint: our gydes will make sure you have skip-the-queue tickets). If you want to photograph the Majorelle Garden in relative peace, be sure to arrive first-thing. After tea on the terrace, make your way through the petite-but-powerful Berber Museum, then mosey next door to YSL's (stunning) musée.
8. Find your oasis. Marrakech can leave you parched and dizzy in the heat of the afternoon, but it sure knows how to do green space. From Islamic heritage gardens to contemporary art gardens to five-star hotel gardens to internet gardens, there are shady sanctuaries all over (and also just beyond) the city. Tucked within the medina walls, Le Jardin Secret is our go-to for a lush lounge sesh after a hard-bargaining afternoon in the souks. Looking for an extended retreat? Decamp to Berber Lodge for a chaise by the pool and lunch under the olive trees.
9. Scout modern Moroccan-made wares at the design atelier of our dreams. Pick up a hand-painted ceramic jug (and perhaps a braided wool pillow—or maybe a knockout framed textile?) at the Sidi Ghanem studio of Belgian expat-artist LRNCE. The talented transplant's light-filled workspace is a sophisticated, desert-inspired celebration of line, shape, and color.
10. Make a difference with your dirhams. One of the more rewarding ways to spend your local currency is with organizations that are changing the game for the city's most vulnerable residents. Seek out Al Nour, a weaving workshop staffed by artisans with physical disabilities, for sweet children's tunics and exquisite linens. Or make a breakfast reservation at Amal, a non-profit kitchen that provides culinary training and professional development to disadvantaged women.
The single most powerful piece of travel advice we can offer in advance of your trip to Marrakech? Hire a gyde. Enlisting local expertise is the simplest, surest way to avoid tourist traps, explore ethically, and get beyond this city’s glossy surface to the quiet courtyards, family couscous dens, and yes, wholesale tile studios you wouldn’t be able to access on your own.