There’s more to Marrakech than the circus-like hustle and bustle of Jemma el-Fna, the stubborn hawkers and donkey-dodging madness of the souks. Beyond the walls of the medina (and sometimes even within them), you can find tranquility a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city – from the choppy Atlantic coast to hidden gardens, galleries and the High Atlas valley.
Marrakech Beyond the Madness
Marrakech is a fascinating city, partly because you never know what to expect. In one corner, there’s a maâlem (master craftsman) banging a brass lantern; on the other, there’s a snake charmer – trying to confuse you with your last dirham. Traffic swirls, people hurry, shrill prayers come from the mosque, and the beat of the Gnawa musician whips the crowd into a frenzy. Sure, it’s tempting, but after a few days, you may find yourself craving to kill time.
While Marrakech is a little quieter during the autumn and winter months, even in high season (February to May) it’s possible to avoid the crowds or just find a little peace. Read on for seven lesser-known sights and experiences. For more information on the city, check out our ultimate guide to Marrakech.
Peace & Private Medina Views in Le Jardin Secret
When the souks get too claustrophobic, go down a street to Marrakech’s “Secret Garden.” Until recently, this 400-year-old Saadian riad and its gardens were home to prominent politicians and restricted areas. Now you can visit Le Jardin Secret and enjoy the rare tranquility in the medina. The riad is a stunning display of Moroccan and Arabian Andalusian craftsmanship, featuring zellij (mosaic tiles), hand-carved stucco and inlaid cedar wood.
On a hot day, the greenery and flowing water in a traditional Islamic garden are almost thirst-quenching. Raised walkways take you along the stream, past olive and citrus trees. Relax in the shade, order a fresh fruit smoothie from the café, or climb the tower (as high as some minarets) for stunning views of the medina and the Atlas Mountains beyond.
Interested in staying a night or two in a luxury riad? Try one of our favorites accommodations in marrakech on this list.
Hunt for Treasure in Upscale Sidi Ghanem
Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL)
If contemporary art is your baggage, you won’t want to miss the newest addition to the Marrakech art scene: the Al Maaden Museum of Contemporary African Art (MACAAL). Located 10 minutes south of town, the museum is the brainchild of Moroccan art collector Alami Lazraq and his son Othman Lazraq, whose goal was to showcase African art from every angle. With its eclectic permanent collection and rotating exhibitions, featuring not only paintings and photography but installations, the museum is helping put the city on the map as a thriving arts hub.
Visit the Fashion-Forward VIP Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle is the most fashionable garden in Marrakech and was once the personal oasis of fashion designers Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. But the gardens of the Gueliz neighborhood actually owe it to the French landscape painter Jacques Majorelle, who gave the Art Deco villa its signature electric blue in the 1920s. He created a garden full of light and color, full of fountains, water lily ponds, rare foliage, succulent orange and lemon-colored planters, and small gardens lined with palms, cacti, and rustling bamboo. path. While you’re here, check out the Berber Museum, stuffed with Aboriginal artefacts from jewelry to leather, woodwork and High Atlas rugs.
Just steps away from the recently opened Yves Saint Laurent museum, its lace-like appearance hints at the weft and warp threads of the fabric. The museum showcases the French fashion designer’s haute couture, accessories and paintings, as well as a bookstore and terrace café that are worth checking out.
Try to arrive early (before 9am) to avoid the crowds and have your own garden. Or get a better look behind the scenes at Yves Saint Laurent with a VIP tour.
Tour a Revamped Colonial Farm, Perfumerie, and Art Gallery
On the edge of Marrakech, the wonderfully peaceful Musée de la Palmeraie is an easy half-day trip and a great escape from the constant hustle and bustle of the medina. Take a small taxi and take a short ride outside the city to reach these landscaped gardens on an old colonial farm dating back to the 1940s. They were a haven for the botanist Abderrazak Benchaâbane, who worked with Yves Saint Laurent to restore the Majorelle Gardens to its former glory. There are three gardens to explore: a dry cactus garden, a water garden filled with palm trees and an Andalusian garden filled with fruit trees. Best of all, it’s rarely busy.
There is also a perfumery and a small but excellent contemporary art gallery, showcasing international and Moroccan paintings, sculptures, photography, calligraphy and installations.
Take a Day Trip
No time to go to the Sahara Desert? Well, you can still enjoy the full desert experience in Agafay, less than 20 miles southwest of Marrakech. It may be close to the city, but it feels wild and wonderful on this rocky, barren sand of pale ochre. This is a great place to see the sand dunes, camel rides (especially at sunset) and clear views of the High Atlas Mountains. When the stars start to twinkle, it’s a lot of fun to have dinner at one of the Berber tent camps.
Ourika River’s Valley
Cut into the High Atlas Mountains, the Orica Valley is a refreshing haven from the summer heat of Marrakech, with cooler air, bigger skies and inspiring mountain views. In spring, the valley blooms with almonds and cherry blossoms. Dull pink, mud-built Berber villages are glued to the hillsides above the river that runs through the valley.
At Jardin Bio-Aromatique d’Ourika, you can stroll through the fragrant herb garden, then drink herbal tea and maybe get a foot massage. Other attractions worth visiting include the Monday Berber Market at Tnine Ourika and the waterfalls at Setti Fatma. A guide is recommended for the latter as the trail can be bumpy and slippery in places.