Smart Luxury: Play, Eat, and Stay in Marrakesh Without Breaking the Bank

by  Elena Sonnino | Updated on Mar 5, 2023
Marrakech / jon chica parada/iStock

Marrakesh lures travelers with promises of spices, vibrant colors, and evocative sounds like the repetitive adhān — the call to prayer — broadcast from minarets five times daily. With so much to see and do, planning a trip to this Moroccan city can be as confusing as navigating the chaotic souks. Here’s how to find luxury in Marrakesh without breaking the bank.

What to See & Do in Marrakesh

Although you might want to focus your time in Marrakesh with aimless wandering through the medina — or old city walls — there are a few must-see sites. Travelers can take a crash course in culture and history outside the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest in Morocco, or the Saadian Tombs, built by Saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour. Short on time? Imagine what life was like as part of a harem at the El Bahia Palace or as a Koranic student at the Medersa Ben Youssef.

Of course, no trip to Marrakesh is complete without a round of haggling in the souks. Don’t be afraid to make your best I'm-willing-to-walk-away face. Instead of paying tourist prices in Spice Square, explore the Mellah Market in the Jewish quarter like a local if you'd like to buy spices and herbs. For traditional items with contemporary flair, seek out the boutique of artist Hassan Hajjaj — AKA the Moroccan Andy Warhol — at Riad Yima for babouches, totes, and poufs made of recycled bags. 

When day turns to dusk, get a bird’s-eye view of Jemaa el-Fnaa from the roof of Le Grand Balcon Cafe Glacier. For the price of a soda or tea, the terrace provides the perfect vantage point to watch the sunset, with epic views of the Atlas Mountains and Koutoubia Mosque.

Then, unwind with a stroll in the Jardin Majorelle, opened to the public in 1947 by painter Jacques Majorelle and later restored by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Don’t be surprised if you forget that you're in Marrakesh as you take in the vibrant blue hues, lush green gardens, and Berber culture museum

Where to Eat in Marrakesh

Dining out in Marrakesh often means filling up on couscous and aromatic tagines. For a modern twist, grab a table at the trendy Nomad for tasty dishes that range from herb-infused couscous and calamari to Agadir and lamb brochettes. On a sunny day, make sure to get a seat out on the rooftop overlooking Spice Square.

For decadent street food you eat with your hands, spend an evening elbow-to-elbow with other diners at Jemaa el-Fnaa. Want to learn more about the food scene in Marrakesh? Combine sightseeing and food with a food tour, which takes guests on a three-hour culinary tasting adventure through the medina. 

Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki, an expat and local expert, also suggests two restaurants for excellent meals that give back to the community. Visit the Amal Women’s Training Center and Restaurant, which also offers cooking classes.

Where to Stay in Marrakesh

There's no better way to understand local life in Marrakesh than by staying in a riad, a traditional Moroccan house with an interior courtyard. The Riad Camilia is our pick for affordable luxury with five-star service within the heart of the medina. Each of the six rooms is lavishly appointed with rich textiles, Moroccan lamps, and unique art.

Hotel amenities also include a lush courtyard with a dipping pool, the ideal spot for afternoon tea or wine with freshly baked briouats, or puff pastry treats. Alternatively,  soak up panoramic views of the mountains and city from the rooftop. It's also where you can feast on a traditional breakfast of tea, breads, jams, and beghrir — Morrocan pancakes — each morning. 

Want to take that trip for free — and score some valuable miles for your next excursion? Check out our top pick travel credit cards for the best welcome bonuses, perks, and plenty of cash back. 

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