This really depends on the experience you want. I'd even go so far as to say there is no single best area. It may help to understand the major areas of Marrakech when making your choice.
What You Should Know about Riads
There are three complaints that I often hear from people staying in the medina areas;
1) Water and Plumbing Issues
Know that Marrakech is an old city and in the medina areas some buildings are several hundred years old. The plumbing, while reliable most of the time can face issues. Sometimes the water does go out without a reason and there isn't always a set answer as to when repairs will be made.
This is usually not the fault of the riad but is simply part of life in this part of the city. When you have water systems that were not built to accommodate multiple homes with multiple showers there are bound to be issues.
Even with the most clean environments it is still possible you might encounter a cockroach or ants. This is an old city in a warm climate and it's really just a part of life. Those of us that live here do our best to combat this issue but don't be too surprised if you do encounter one even in the most expensive accommodations.
3) The “Singing” in the morning
It's not singing, it's the call to prayer and it happens five times a day. The first prayer of the morning happens between 5am and 6am depending on the time of the year. There are mosques throughout the medina and each will do a call to prayer at the five appointed times. For some people this is not an issue however for others this might be difficult to deal with.
Medina means city in Arabic but in Morocco it's used to refer to the area of the city within the walls of the old parts of the city. This is a large area. It's also where most tourists tend to be. Within the medina it is divided into neighborhoods. Most riads are located within the medina and are separated by neighborhood.
There are thousands of Moroccans that also call the medina home and so it is an area that is a mix of residential homes, commerce, shops, workshops, tourist attractions, restaurants and more. I have often heard from people that they choose to stay outside of the medina because it is so busy.
I would encourage you to rethink this. While the outside streets may be busy, once you are inside a riad you will find it to be a completely different experience. Staying in the medina also means you won't need to use taxis or other transportation to reach the majority of things you may want to do.
One of the negatives of staying in the medina is that it is car free so you will need to walk, so if you have mobility issues it can be difficult. Also the streets are very much like a maze so it is likely you'll get lost a few times.
Medina Neighborhoods to Consider
Note by clicking on the links below you'll be taken to a page that tells you a bit more about each area as well as suggested places to stay.
- Jemma el Fna
- Rahba Kdima
- Bab Taghazout
- Riad Zitoun Jdid/Riad Zitoun Kdim (south of Jemma el Fna)
I'm partial to this area because it's where we stayed the first time I visited Morocco. It's also where my husband grew up and I think it's not often considered by visitors – many don't even make it here to see, let alone book their riad here. It's a little detached from the larger medina area but it's still very much a lived in area.
So if you want to stay somewhere that still retains a residential quality consider the kasbah!
Mellah is the word given to describe the Jewish quarters of Moroccan cities. There are a lot of stories about why this word is used and no one can really say which is the true story. You'll find several places here to stay but do keep in mind there are some parts of this neighborhood that can feel a bit more rough around the edges.
Agdal refers to the area of the city near the Agdal Gardens, south of Marrakech heading towards the Atlas Mountains and Ourika Valley. There are quite a few larger hotels that have built in this area (because there was more land available for purchase).
There aren't many riads in this part of the city; again most are larger hotels which may be what you'd like. This also includes a few all-inclusive options. The other benefit of larger hotels is that they almost all have swimming pools – a great asset especially in warmer months.
The area is a bit too far to walk to the medina, unless you really like walking, however it's still in the city so you can get taxis fairly easily to and from the hotels.
The neighborhoods of Gueliz and Hivernage are two of the most popular for those wanting to stay outside of the medina but still within the city. In these areas you will find much of Marrakech nightlife happens. There are many large hotels in these areas. You may feel like you are in any other city in the world if you stay here.
In Hivernage you'll find a casino, nightclubs and restaurants. In Gueliz there are many shops with global brands, restaurants and boutique shops. Both of these areas are still relatively close to the medina so you may be able to walk around, though taxis are plentiful if you prefer.
Marrakech was actually built in part because of this natural palm oasis. Today this area is on the edge of the city. Many large resorts, all-inclusive resorts, and a few golf courses can be found here. If you don't plan to go into the city center often, then it might be a good idea to consider this neighborhood.
However, if you do plan to visit the city center look into whether the hotel offers a shuttle or know you will pay about 200 dirham each way to reach the city center and that the trip is between 20-40 minutes depending on traffic.
Numerous resorts and hotels are located outside the city. However many will list that they are “in” Marrakech. This is something you should pay attention to. In the address it will be listed as something like Kilometer 23 route de Ourika, Marrakech – this means the hotel is 23 kilometers outside Marrakech on the road to Ourika.
This also includes areas like the Agafay Desert that is approximately a 45 minute drive from Marrakech.
Just like with staying in the Palmeraie this may not be an issue for you, you may even choose it but it's not a great surprise to discover if you thought you were actually staying IN the city.
This is just a quick breakdown of some of the major areas that people stay in. Hopefully it can help you narrow down the area where you want to stay.