Lay of the Land
“If you have one day to spend in Morocco, spend it in Marrakech… it’s the most lovely spot in the world. ”~Winston Churchill
When people speak of Marrakech, they refer to the central area, which consists of the centuries-old medina behind the city walls and the Palmeraie. Great shopping is found in the New Town (Gueliz) and further afield in the so-called Industrial Zone. Here are the neighborhoods to know:
Medina: The center of the city, both physically and in spirit, is the medina. Still surrounded by its 12th-century walls, it is about double the size of New York City’s Central Park. Along its meandering narrow streets, visitors will find riads (courtyard houses), souks (markets) and hammams (baths). Many of the city sights are within the medina, including the Koutoubia Minaret tower, the 14th-century divinity college Ben Youssef Medersa and Place Djemaa el Fnaa, the city’s lively central square. It also contains many palaces, such as El Badi Palace, La Bahia Palace, El Makhzen and Dar Si Said museum. The Menara Gardens is in the medina, and the lush Agdal Gardens and historic Majorelle Gardens are just outside its walls to the north.
Palmeraie: This district lies to the northeast of the medina (about a 25-minute drive away). An oasis of palm trees, it is home to many luxury hotels, such as the Selman and Palais Namaskar, golf courses and villas.
Gueliz: The so-called nouvelle ville (new city), lies just northwest of the medina. Many of Marrakech’s best shops are found along its main thoroughfare, Avenue Mohammed V, as well as lots of restaurants and shops around such piazzas as Place de la Liberté, Place 16 Novembre and Place Abdelmoumen Ben Ali.
Industrial Zone: About an hour’s drive north of Marrakech is the industrial zone (Sidi Ghanem) home to design studios that make and sell carpets, ceramics and textiles. Marrakech taxis can easily take shoppers from the medina to this area, but it is best to go with a guide.
Off the Beaten Path: The Atlas Mountains begin about an hour’s drive south of the city, and the Agafy desert lies about 45 minutes out of the city; it is not the Sahara (you need to fly to the south of the country for that) but it does have sand dunes, camels and an untouched quality.
Whether you stay in Marrakech or its environs, you will want to walk around the medina, so pack comfortable walking shoes. Women should note that Islamic tradition is the rule here and should dress accordingly, in a modest, non-revealing way. Crime is not a major issue, but there are many hawkers and beggars who will spot you as an easy mark if you wear expensive jewelry or come off as an obvious tourist, so stick to an understated style. It’s not advisable to rent a car and drive yourself, as navigating the medina is complicated and local drivers can be quite aggressive; your hotel can arrange a driver for a day, a half-day or shorter, and hotels and restaurants can call for taxis.