9 a.m.: Let’s get wet
Start your day with a relaxing hammam, Morocco’s version of a Turkish bath. Go with the locals at upscale public hammams like Hammam Ziani, or have a small one all to yourself by booking an appointment at a hotel’s private hammam. The hammams at La Maison Arabe and Caravan Serai are some of our favorites. (Expect to pay between $65 and $80 for a hammam and massage at an upscale hotel, and as low as $5-$10 at a local hammam.)
10:30 a.m.: On the town
It’s time to see the sights. Start off at the breathtaking El Bahia Palace for a lesson in architecture. Once home to a harem, it’s a jaw-dropping display of the best in Moroccan painted ceilings, ceramics, and garden design. Next, head north to the tanneries for the quintessential postcard shot of men dyeing animal skins as they’ve done for centuries. Next, spend some time in the peaceful courtyard and labyrinthine dormitories of the amazingly preserved Ali ben Youssef Medersa, North Africa’s largest Koranic school. Dating to the 16th century, the delicate intricacy of the stucco plasterwork and mosaics in the courtyard will take your breath away.
1:30 p.m.: Mid-afternoon feast
Immerse yourself in the energy of the Djemâa el Fna, a centuries-old square that is the heartbeat of Marrakesh. The square bustles with bazaars, snake charmers and acrobats all day long and well into the night. It’s also loaded with eateries and is a great place to stop for lunch. Choose from the wide variety of kefta (beef patties), Moroccan salads, beef brochettes, and soups supplemented by bread, olives, and hot sauce. Wash it all down with fresh orange juice or the ubiquitous mint tea. Go easy, though, as you’ll want to leave lots of room for dinner.
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2:30 p.m.: Learn the art of the bargain
It’s time to shop. Marrakesh’s souks (covered outdoor bazaars) are the city’s main attraction. The vast labyrinth of narrow streets at the center of the medina is a wonder of arts, crafts, and workshops. Here, you’ll see artisans making rugs on looms and hammering iron into lanterns. There’s an area for almost every kind of product; you can buy babouches (pointy-toed leather slippers) in an infinite number of colors, stock up on spices, and buy silver jewelry for the folks back home. Bargain hard, and compare prices at different stalls before purchasing.
4 p.m.: Visit a sylvan setting
You’ll probably be exhausted after your souk exploration, so relax by taking a calèche (horse-drawn carriage) ride over to the Menara Garden in the Ville Nouvelle. You can pick one up near the Djemâa el Fna; the ride should cost about 100 DH. Not only is the half-hour ride a welcome break from the intensity of the medina, but the Menara’s olive groves and elegant lagoon are relaxingly peaceful.
6:30 p.m.: Cook like a local
Work up an appetite by learning first-hand the secrets of Moroccan cooking. Cooking classes are quickly becoming all the rage in Morocco, as the country’s cuisine gets ever-increasing international attention. Most classes last a full day, but Dar les Cigognes, a riad in the medina, offers a quick, one-hour introduction every day at 6:30 for only 150 dirhams. Book ahead to be sure of getting in.
8 p.m.: Eat like a local
Now that you’ve gotten your hands dirty, it’s time for dinner. It’s easy to overdo it with Moroccan food. Many restaurants offer set menus with what seems like an unending succession of courses. Don’t try to finish each one, because even when you think you’re done, there’s always another one on its way. Expect to start with Moroccan salads and small briouates (pastries similar to Indian samosas), followed by a meat tagine, a couscous dish, and almond pastries for dessert. For a splurge, reserve a table at Dar Marjana, Le Tobsil, or Stylia in the medina; both serve copious amounts of traditional Moroccan food in palatial surroundings. For those on a budget, El Fassia, in the new section of town, gets rave reviews for its a la carte home cooking and pleasant atmosphere.
10 p.m.: Party Marrakesh style
Once you’ve digested dinner, it’s time to party. The wealth of nightlife opportunities in Marrakesh has exploded in recent years. Some of the most happening places are a bit out of town on the road to the Ourika Valley, so you’ll probably need to take a taxi. Trendy Pacha (Avenue Mohammed VI, on the way to Ourika Valley) can satisfy even the most demanding dance fiends. It has live music, two restaurants, a lounge, and a swimming pool.
1:30 a.m.: Hit the hay
Bedtime. Head back to the medina and your romantic riad (a traditional mansion house built around an interior courtyard or garden). Marrakesh has hundreds, each decorated in a variety of sumptuous styles. One of the best is Riad Enija, with sunken baths, exquisite tile work, and a fountain-filled courtyard. Counting pennies? Try Riad Amazigh, which has rooms with two levels linked by spiral staircases and a beautiful, candle-lit Berber-inspired dining room.