The majestic city centre surrounded by crimson walls, the visual and auditory appeal of old-world streets and street performers, added with the aroma of the fresh spices from the stalls at the local souks or traditional bazaars would bring you to an illusion of having travelled into the yesteryear. And yet, that's exactly the way you shall feel standing in the midst of any Marrakech locale!
The bustling Moroccan city has been a major draw for avid travellers for long now, but continued efforts to promote tourism have resulted in the city developing a wider appeal in recent years. But before you start planning your next vacation, consider placing yourself in a suitable neighborhood beforehand. Here, we have come to you with a comprehensive guidebook to help you with that, listing some of the best neighbourhoods of Marrakech and what they might have in store for you traveller!
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Home to the bustling Jemaa el-Fna square, the central neighborhood of Medina is where the Marrakech is at its vibrant best. The souks selling traditional textile and gourmet fairs line the cobblestone plaza, which stands as a citadel connected to a labyrinth of alleyways. Following sundown, the neighborhood comes alive with street performers, storytellers and theatre artists taking to the open theatre spaces. All things put together create an old-world atmosphere, one that's captivating like no other!
And that's without even mentioning the cultural capital of the neighborhood; the Musée de Marrakech and Dar Si Said, Almoravaid Koubba, the Musée Boucharouite and several others showcase Morocco's historic past and age-old association with arts and handicraft. Also extremely popular are the Bahia Palace and Le Jardin Secret, drawing huge crowds to their lush courtyards and ornate facades. And what better place to end a long day than a relaxing bath at one of the several traditional Hammam houses!
Medina is one of the most frequented parts of Marrakech by virtue of being the city's cultural capital of sorts. It can get a little crowded at times, but at least you never have to worry about issues related to commuting. Hotels are in plenty and offer a nice range to choose from, in terms of budget as well as luxury options.
The one Marrakech neighborhood that goes one up on Jemaa el-Fna in recreating the yesteryear glory of the city is Kasbah, situated just south of the central Medina. Much like it's predecessor, historic landmarks and palatial complexes dominate the cityscape. Ruins of the beautiful 16th century El Badii Palace is a good starting point; from there, you can find your way around to the Saadian Tombs and the Royal Palace. But the peculiar features that really set the neighborhood apart are the majestic gates guarding the old city walls - of which Bab Er Robb and Bab Agnaou are fine examples.
Kasbah is also home to several souks and street markets that contribute most of the earthy appeal that has come to be associated with it. The street markets not only make it one of best areas for shopaholics, but also a top choice for travellers looking to try out the local cuisine. While the odd fine-dining restaurants will lure you in, the real big draw remains the street vendors selling some of the best charcoal-grilled dishes and bessara in all of Morocco!
Located just south of the central Medina district, it is still fairly easy to access. Most means of public transport will get you into Kasbah, but you can always opt for a rental taxi for a more convenient experience. The hotel and accommodation options are decent and centred around the western part of the neighborhood.
Mellah was once home to the city's Jewish population and while that number has dwindled over the years, the neighborhood's association with the community has lived on through varying mediums. The cityscape is characterised by narrow streets and alleyways - resembling the ones around the city's central square. But you will find marked differences in the appearances of the marketplace and storefronts; the Slat Al Azama Synagogue accentuates Mellah's Jewish heritage by showcasing local history.
Going back to the marketplaces, this is one the inner circle neighborhood where you will find a lot of the European style eateries, a decent number of fine-dining options, as well as bakeries selling fresh breads and cakes. While some of the establishments can trace their origins back to the days of French Jewish residents, most of them have come up after recent developmental projects. They lend Mellah a somewhat modern vibe, something which might feel like a bit of a rarity in the midst of the souk and bazaar-heavy quarters.
Mellah is one of the two neighbourhoods lying just south of Medina (the other being Kasbah). The close proximity to the city centre resolves a lot of the commuting issues that one might face in a few other parts of the city. The Mellah Market has a good number of reasonably priced hotel options to choose from, but you will also find some luxury brand names in the vicinity.
The compact western neighborhood of Gueliz is full of European charm, and the go-to choice for travellers looking to explore the more laid-back side of Marrakech. The neighborhood streets are among the most walkable in all of Morocco; most are lined with a slew of restaurants and cafes - which variously serve European and Moroccan delicacies in chic indoor dining halls as well as modern looking shopping avenues with a fair mix of top designer brands and home-grown businesses.
Gueliz also makes for a great destination for someone who enjoys an outdoorsy vacation. The neighborhood has several sports complexes, green spaces and gardens that offer a nice change of scenery: the low-key Parc El Harti has picnic spots and serene lawns, while the gardens around the nearby stadium offer tennis courts. However, all of that might fade in comparison to the Jardin Majorella's masterfully designed botanical gardens; the iconic venue has come to be known for much more than just its collection of exotic plants.
The other thing that makes Gueliz a top choice for travellers are it's several must-visit art galleries (Matisse Art Gallery, Musée MACMA, David Bloch Gallery among others) and performance halls (including the Royal Theatre), housed in posh mansions that can be easily mistaken for their more mainstream counterparts in Europe.
Hotel and homestays correspond to Gueliz's chic appeal, but the best of neighbourhood's boutique hotels can be on the pricier side of the spectrum. The compact quarters here also ensure hassle free travel from one place to the other.
Onto the most modern part of Marrakech then! Lively and vibrant, Hivernage envelopes the smaller Gueliz and goes one up on its neighbour in offering you an exquisite gourmet experience. Global eateries and restaurants aside, the neighborhood is also home to cafes and clubs with live music. Most of these establishments stay open till late in the night and are frequented by night owls, while groups of the city's Gen Z crowds also throng local bars for evening drinks.
And despite the overall modern outlook, Hivernage also packs quite a lot of character - especially with the outstanding public parks in its vicinity. Cyber Park is effervescent in its appeal, with several leafy lawns and flowerbeds surrounding ornate centrepieces and functional fountains. Also equally impressive are the Menara Gardens located just outside of neighbourhood's western end; centred around a majestic looking pyramid-roofed pavilion, the park also has a small artificial lake, an olive garden and offers views of Atlas mountain range.
Hivernage lies a little east of Merana, the neighborhood which is home to the international airport. That makes it fairly easy to access; accommodation options are also in plenty and you should not have too much trouble finding a good hotel in any budget range.
Lying in the southern corner is the often overlooked neighborhood of Agdal. Closest to the Marrakech Menara Airport out of all the listings, this is the place for in-transit travellers and the ones looking to avoid the bustling crowds of the city centre. Not to say that neighborhood has no activity of its own; the Al Mazar shopping centre is home to several merchandise stores, a giant supermarket and a food court. Other such modern entertainment options as trendy eateries and take-out joints, movie theatres dot the big nearby plaza.
Agdal is also surrounded by serene-looking botanical gardens on either side. The historic Agdal Gardens on the west date all the way back to the 1100s; listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, they are best known for vast orchards and picturesque olive tree lined walkways. All of these elements put together make the venue one of the best suited places for both family outing as well as your getaway afternoon strolls!
The neighborhood is great for travellers looking to stay near the city centre, but also wanting to remain in close proximity to the Marrakech airport. Hotel options are business-like and largely centred around the aforementioned Al Mazar Commercial Centre.
And for the last neighborhood on the list, we bring to you the expansive eastern neighborhood of Annakhil. It is in this part of the city that you will come across the desert parks and safari tours, so if those are your calling this is definitely the place for you. Local service providers are fairly easy to reach and offer guided excursions into the desert on camelback buggies, a major draw for sport enthusiasts and travellers who are fond of the outdoors in general.
Several opulent resorts have sprung up around Annakhil, promising all amenities needed for a relaxing vacation: gigantic outdoor pools, spa treatment, golf courses, their own private palm groves and gardens among other luxuries. Also surrounded by a beautiful garden is the MCAAL museum, a state of the art facility showcasing mostly contemporary art by African artists. But even with all the glitz, there's a humble side of the neighborhood - one characterised by residential colonies and small local restaurants serving the best tagine and keftas anywhere in the city!
Don't let Annakhil's vast area discourage you from choosing it as your base. The presence of big holiday clubs and tourist oriented businesses ensure that there's easy access to any and all parts of the neighborhood. The hotel options - limited as they might seem - are all grand, so take your time while going over the amenities and choosing your ideal fit.
And that's our complete list from Marrakech, traveller. Take a look and have a great time planning your next vacation; the Red City awaits!