Marrakesh was one of four imperial cities of Morocco and home to many sultans. Often called the “Red City” because of its rosy sandstone walls, the thriving city sits intriguingly at the crossroads of modernity and traditional history. From the sprawling medina where donkeys, motorbikes, and vendors jockey for space to the luxurious calm of the Palmeraie oasis, Marrakesh was a favorite of luminaries like Yves Saint Laurent and the Rolling Stones. Today, it continues to draw in and enchant creative travelers, like Nomadic Friends founder Daniela de Lara Campos.
Daniela was inspired to start clothing and accessories brand Nomadic Friends after spending months in a Brazilian fishing village surrounded by incredible artisans. Now, she employs artisans from all over the world (including Marrakesh) for Nomadic Friends’ globally minded collection. It’s a win-win: We score exquisite Moroccan kaftans, and our purchases help support local artisans and their craft. Naturally, we asked travel expert Daniela to share her favorite spots in Marrakesh as well as her tips for traveling. (We couldn’t resist adding a few of our own recommendations as well.)
Stay at a riad
“I stayed at Riad el-Fenn, a beautiful riad [a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard] that was restored by Vanessa Branson (Richard Branson’s sister) and her business partner Howell James. Everywhere you go is decorated with amazing taste and style, full of art and craftsmanship. It’s a boutique hotel that you feel completely at home in. The location is perfect—inside the medina and walking distance from the souks and Jemaa El Fna square. If you prefer bigger hotels, there is the famous La Mamounia and also the Royal Mansur, but these are less centrally located, and you have to take a taxi to go to the souks. ”
Wander the streets
“It’s very easy to get lost in the streets of Marrakesh, so on the first day at least, it’s good to get a guide. I was a little worried because sometimes that can end up being really boring, but it was the right call. Our guide Mustapha was really pleasant and explained the history of the places and the local culture.”
[Ed. note: If you prefer to strike out on your own, Google Maps is surprisingly accurate in the narrow streets of the medina. Horse-drawn carriages are also a fun (if a little cheesy) way to explore the extensive city.]
Explore the souks
“Morocco is famous for its craftsmanship, especially in leather, ceramics, and metals. In the souks (marketplaces), there are thousands of little shops with handcrafts, bags, kaftans, babouches, carpets, and unique pieces. Reserve some time to find your treasure and be prepared to bargain. I’m not very good at it, but sometimes they can say the price is three to five times higher than what they usually sell.”
[Ed. note: For fine dining, check out DarMoha. Housed in the former home of French designer Pierre Balmain, the restaurant serves an innovative take on modern Moroccan cuisine—plus, live music and the chance at a photo with celebrity chef Moha. The Cafe des Epices or Terrasse des Epices are both centrally located in the medina, just a few minutes walk from the bustling Jemaa el-Fnaa where snake charmers, traditional musicians, and tourists rub shoulders. Cafe Arabe is just a short walk from the magnificent Medersa Ben Youssef. Founded in the 12th century, it’s a former college and the largest madrasa (old institution of learning) in Morocco. The intricate tiling alone makes it worth a visit after lunch. With a beautiful rooftop dining area and modern Moroccan cuisine focused on fresh ingredients, Nomad is the perfect spot to rest your legs after a morning of sightseeing.]
Take in the sights
“The Jardin Majorelle is one of the most visited sites in Morocco. An amazing home and garden built by French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) and then updated in 1980 by the new owners Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, it now hosts Laurent’s ashes and a museum dedicated to local Berber culture. Nearby, there is also a boutique called 33 Rue Majorelle that carries a well-curated selection of Moroccan designers.”
If you want to escape the busy city, Kasbah Tamadot, Richard Branson’s retreat in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, is magical. If you can, stay at least two days there to relax and recharge, surrounded by the natural beauty of the mountains.”
[Ed Note: In the heart of the medina is the Maison de la Photographie, a museum of Moroccan photography that also has a cute restaurant on the roof. Grab an afternoon cup of mint tea and honey pastries. The Bahi’a Palace is a 19th-century gem, a series of interconnected houses and gardens for the sultan’s grand vizier. Stroll through the courtyards and admire the lavish details like the painted ceilings and ornately carved archways.]
“In June and July there is Ramadan, a religious time when Muslims are obligated to fast from dawn until sunset. The exact dates vary from each year, so be aware that everything is going to be on a slower pace if you go during that time.
In the summer, the weather is really hot. Due to the local religion, it’s recommended (not required) that women cover their shoulders and legs. I saw some tourists wearing shorts and tank tops, but I think it’s nice to respect their culture.”
Have you visited Marrakesh before? Let us know what we missed!