Long known to travelers looking for a truly exotic getaway, Marrakech has come into its own as a world-class destination. It’s a city where you can visit a newly built shopping mall with the latest fashions, then quickly descend into the Medina, where nothing has changed for centuries. From beautiful gardens, to old palaces, to bustling markets, to incredible mountain views, to sultry nightlife and some of the top chefs in the world, Marrakech is simply a city that has it all. While there’s no way you can do and see all the incredible things this city has to offer in just 48 hours, this two-day itinerary will help you get the most out of a short stay.
Most people will enter the city via the airport, or via train from a city such as Fez or Casablanca. Either way you come in, it’s quite easy to catch a taxi to your hotel. Just be mindful that the taxis have set rates to transport visitors to the hotel zones, so bargaining will do you no good here.
One of the most posh and convenient places to stay in Marrakech is the Sofitel Marrakech Lounge and Spa. Make it your base for the weekend and you will have absolutely no regrets. When your taxi pulls up, you’ll see the large fountain, limousines, red carpet and lavish garden awaiting your arrival. You’ll get red carpet treatment while staying there, too. There are actually two Sofitel hotels in the same complex, the other being the Sofitel Marrakech Palais Imperial. No matter which you pick, you’ll still have access to all the amenities of the complex.
Check in to your hotel and get situated, then head out for lunch to gear up for a day of walking at one of the top restaurants in the city, Amaia. It’s about a five-minute taxi ride or less from the Sofitel, right at the edge of the Gueliz (the new city). The decor is classy and fun, with beautiful wine glasses lined up on the bar and whimsical decorations. The owners relocated to Marrakech from France, and serve up gourmet Mediterranean fare like freshly cut beef carpaccio and classic French seafood dishes.
Once you’re full, catch another taxi, or if you’re up for it, walk over to the Medina and spend the afternoon inside. Head straight for the Djemaa El-Fna, a square famous for its snake charmers, food stalls, and hawkers of all kinds. Once you’re there, you can head in any direction to explore the souk, a maze of vendors selling leather goods, purses, dresses, jewelery, spices, and Berber trinkets. You’ll also find horse carriages lined up to give rides outside of the Medina, and (sadly) small monkeys chained up for photo opportunities. You could literally spend days walking through the souk admiring items from the array of interesting vendors — it’s certainly the star attraction of the city.
After you’ve loaded up on Moroccan goods, you’ll probably have a big appetite (if you haven’t already sampled too many free honey-coated pastries). Wander deep through the souk to the Arset Ben Chebli district — about a 20-minute walk meandering through streets from Djemaa El-Fna — until you find Latitude 31. The scenery in this area of the Medina is much different, with extremely narrow alleyways, motorcycles passing between people, and sunlight beaming through the cracks of the wood ceilings and illuminating the dust in the air. Once at the restaurant, you’ll be transported into a tranquil atmosphere full of orange trees, reminiscent of what you’d expect in a Mediterranean villa. The restaurant specializes in gourmet Moroccan cuisine, with tasty dishes like seafood tagine and heavily spiced chicken thighs. If you stay late enough, a DJ often sets up on the patio to spin some chill-out house music late into the evening.
Concluding the meal, walk north from the restaurant until you reach one of the Medina gates, where you can easily grab a taxi (instead of walking back through the Medina). Once back at the hotel, and if you aren’t exhausted from the heat, head downstairs to the SO Lounge and dance the night away to high energy music while enjoying some of the best cocktails in the city. It’s not quite as crazy as the scene you’ll find in Ibiza or Cancun, but the Moroccan and international crowd will keep the party going until four in the morning — easily.
In the morning, have a fabulous breakfast at the hotel’s large buffet spread, or discover its fantastic tea lounge overlooking the pool to get some caffeine in your system. Then take a taxi to the beautiful Majorelle Gardens, which will smell fantastic as the sunlight evaporates the morning dew.
Once the home of the famous fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, Majorelle Garden is now a botanical and architectural paradise for tourists. It also features an extravagant house designed by world renowned architect Louis Majorelle, who is famous for his Art Nouveau-style furniture. Today, visitors can browse through the well-preserved home to see the Moroccan-meets-modern interior and stroll in the garden afterwards. The garden also houses high-quality Islamic art, gorgeous water fountains and an impressive cactus collection. While there, be sure to look for birds, as the garden is known for its numerous colorful species.
After relaxing in the morning light of the garden, take another cab to El Badi Palace, which was built in the 1500s but now lays in beautiful ruins. Lore has it that the palace was built as retaliation by 29-year old sultan Mulay Ahmed Mansor, who wanted a way to celebrate victory after a deadly, gruesome battle with the Portuguese. The palace was filled with treasures such as gold and jewelry, and workers spent years carving fine details into the buildings. Take a walk along the still-standing walls of the palace, and browse the museum to learn more about its rich history. (If you want to party it up, swing by later in the evening when it turns into a popular nightclub.)
Then head back to the Gueliz and pop into Eveil Des Sens for lunch. It’s a pretty casual place that evokes the ambiance of the gardens and palace while you’re dining. The menu at the restaurant isn’t huge, but features a well-rounded selection of fish, beef, pastas and tagines at extremely favorable prices for Marrakech. The staff here is also incredibly helpful and knows the area well — this is the time to ask lots of questions instead of stopping strangers on the street!
After filling up, take an easy walk further into the Gueliz until you reach the main shopping area. Once you’re in the center of the action, you’ll have to stop and check that you’re still in Morocco, and not Las Vegas. The newly built shopping area has strong European architecture with Moroccan touches. As you stroll through the area, you’ll find multiple upscale cafes with outdoor seating and lively crowds enjoying their lunch. This is also where you can find some of the best fashion designers’ boutiques, along with plenty of popular chains like H&M. If you need some food to hold you over after all of the exploring, pop into Patisserie Amandine Marrakech for some of the best pastries and macarons outside of France. This charming little patisserie has been delighting people in Marrakech since 1977. The teas here are also exquisite and go well beyond mint tea — you’ll search long and hard before finding any place that tops it.
Head back to the Djemaa El-Fna to see the scene at night, when things really get busy and smoke wafts up to the sky through the light of the restaurant terraces above. After a few minutes of gawking at the action in the square, head south down busy Prince Street to La Perle Du Sud. You might want to ring them in advance to ensure a fantastic seat overlooking the bustling streets and the mosque’s glowing minaret. The atmosphere on the rooftop terrace is superb, and there is a large open cooking area where chefs grill up kebabs, letting the intoxicating aromas drift through the air. A live band plays every night as well, and the trance-like music helps to create a mystifying atmosphere as you watch the streets pulsate below. If you need a few hours to chill and eat, this is definitely the spot.
And to end your night out on the town, head out for a late evening of club hopping, starting at the Lotus Club where you can see live flamenco dancers or a DJ spinning the latest hits. Then head to Jad Mahal, where you’ll get a taste of traditional belly dancing before the night heats up and people pour onto the dance floor. It might be quite late by the time the show is over, but you’ll have just enough time to head back to your hotel, get to the airport, then go to sleep on the plane. After a whirlwind weekend like this one, you’ll definitely need it.