Marrakech has become an ever more popular destination in recent years, and more often than not it's a Marrakech medina hotel or riad that people want to stay in. Marrakech has the advantage – for northern Europeans at least – of being a) just four hours flying away, so reachable by the low cost airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet, and b) exotic. It's the Marrakech Medina, above all, that gives it it's exoticism.
Medina is an ancient Aramaic word meaning city, and in Marrakech it simply denotes the oldest part of town. It's a warren of small winding alleys, souks (marketplaces) and squares, with shops, houses, mosques and hammams crowded cheek-by-jowl in a space little larger than Soho in Central London. So if you want to have an authentic experience when holidaying in Marrakech, in the most atmospheric part of the city, a hotel or guesthouse in the Marrakech Medina is the best place to stay.
However, before choosing one – and we list our favourites below – you should bear in mind that these hotels and guesthouses – called riads or riyads in Morocco – differ from regular hotels in a few important respects. First, they are often hidden down dark back alleys, where the lighting is often not the best, so for nervous travellers they may seem daunting. Second, they are all in converted old buildings, so the construction will be traditional, the electrics and facilities not up to the standard of western hotels, and the fittings not as slick. There are also over 1000 converted riads in Marrakech, not all of them licensed. This, perhaps is the most important point – you need to choose a reputable riad if staying in the Marrakech Medina, because being in such old buildings, it's doubly important that fire regulations and safety aspects have been adhered to. With the boom in tourism to Marrakech it's become all too easy for unscrupulous landlords to turn their old houses into riads, converting them cheaply, with no regard for regulation. And don't just rely on Trip Advisor – the cleverest riad owners know how to game the system, with multiple faked reviews pushing their riads to the top.
If all of this seems challenging, there are plenty of four and five star hotels with all the mod cons in the New Town, just outside the medina. You can stay in comfort, and explore the old town and souks by day. But if you want atmosphere, head for one of our recommended riads in Marrakech medina.
In the heat of summer, Marrakech Medina comes into it's own, with it's cool, dark alleys, shaded courtyards and tinkling fountains. However, the riads can still be hot, so you may want to choose one with air-conditioning. Also a swimming pool – though in these riads, because of the lack of space, these are generally little larger than plunge pools. For one with a larger than average offering the Riad Sapphire is a good option. Riad Al Boraq boasts a flower filled courtyard with plunge pool, and Riad Madani has beautiful spacious grounds with a large pool at their centre.
There are numerous delights about staying in Marrakech, but one of the most special is being able to sit outside and gaze across the rooftops as the muezzin call to prayer or the storks settle on the chimney pots, as you sip your orange juice (freshly squeezed) or sweet hot moroccan tea and plan your excursions for the day. For a great roof terrace we'd suggest booking into either Riad El Fenn or Riad Kaiss. The last riad in our list, Dar Les Cigognes, is in one of the oldest parts of the Marrakech Medina, right opposite the Royal Palace and it's numerous nesting storks, providing a fabulous view across the Medina from a delightful rooftop garden of orange trees and bourgainvillea.
Another attraction of Marrakech is the plethora of good cooking classes laid on by a number of the riads. Moroccan food is not just about cous-cous and pidgeon - there are a wealth of dishes, pastries and salads, all using a wide variety of the freshest ingredients. For example, Dar Les Cigognes' owner Eben Lenderking has written a charming book on Moroccan cuisine, and his riad was voted Best Cooking School in Morocco in 2012 (see above). Another couple of other riads worth considering if you want to come away with a new skill are Riad el Cadi and Le Riad Monceau. Oh, and you eat well here too...
If you are on honeymoon, or if you simply want to splash out on a little more comfort, there are a handful of so-called luxury riads in the Marrakech medina. However, it's somewhat of an elastic concept in Marrakech, because the best riads have been lovingly restored by passionate and cultured owners with more or less luxury according to their personal style - and they come from from all nations. You can really tell, as these are not just places to stay for guests, but often homes too, and they provide a lifestyle for the owners that is hard to beat. I'm thinking here of Vanessa Branson and the Riad El Fenn, Meryanne Loum-Martin and the beautiful Jnane Tamsna (in the Palmerie), Herwig Bartels' Riad El Cadi (now run by his daughter Julia) or Eben Lenderking and his Sansouci Collection. So by all means consider the two more traditionally luxurious riads we recommend here - Maison MK and La Maison Arabe, but remember that some of our favourite riads don't have flat screen TVs - or indeed TVs at all! (PS - the Maison Arabe is right on the edge of the Marrakech Medina, but accessible by car).
Planning a 40th? Or 50th? Or 60th? Marrakech is a popular destination for group events and parties, partly because it's cheap to get to, and you get alot of 'bang for your buck'. Nearly all the riads in the Marrakech medina can be booked for exclusive use, given enough notice, and the vast majority have less than 20 rooms - our two recommendations are especially perfect, by virtue of the fact that the rooms are all grouped around a central courtyard, so the 'feng shui' for a group stay feels just right, and they are small enough for intimate groups - of seven rooms and five rooms. The first of them, Dar Fakir, played host to the 'Made in Chelsea' set - an added attraction maybe, at least for teenage girls like mine. The second - the Riyad al Mezouar - is a favourite of Mick Jagger's, which appeals to their father...
Other Marrakech hotels and riads
To see our complete list of riads and hotels, both in the Marrakech medina and outside, as well as some lovely country-house style hotels in the Palmerie, see our Best hotels in Marrakech list, as well as our Best Marrakech riads list.
Marrakech (Sidi Ben Slimane)
Brand new stylish riad situated in the heart of the Medina. Eight cool suites offer simple yet elegant furnishings with plenty of local craftmanship on display. Two marble courtyards for relaxing after a day at the souks, roof terrace to soak up mountain views and spa with hammam for pampering.
A cosy, authentic riad with charming staff and great-value prices. Simple and fresh - a great base from which to explore Marrakech.
Marrakech (Derb Dabachi)
An eclectic mix of furniture fills a warren of rooms at this unique riad set in beautiful grounds. Shabby-chic at this eccentric home from home. An oasis of peace with a swimming pool in the centre.
A designer riad, owned by Vanessa Branson, and furnished with flair in the heart of the Marrakech medina. Lush gardens, secluded terraces and courtyards, surrounding fragrant rose gardes, and magnificent views of the city. The ultimate place for wellbeing.
Marrakech (Riad Zitoun Kedim)
The beauty and elegance of this riad stands out from the crowd. Light airy rooms with striking furnishings, indulgent spa, and traditional cuisine - serenity amidst the bustle of the city.
Understated elegance created through fusion of Moroccan and European styles in these two riads. Beautifully decorated rooms, fantastic views from the roof top terrace, and delicious food - an award winning haven in the heart of Marrakech.
Calm, stylish refuge filled with fine furniture and art. Beautiful white washed patios and roof top sun terrace. A place of tranquility and calm. Its accommodations are well suited for families.
Stunning, luxury riad-hotel, featuring a gastronomic Moroccan restaurant and Cookery School. Stunning bedrooms with private jacuzzis, attractive patio with swimming pool, traditional hammam spa, and one of Marrakech's best restaurants. For those who like the finer things in life.
A fabulously relaxing and romantic retreat in a frenetic city. Subtly lit rooms with neutral tones and sensual shapes. Sensational food, fantastic hammam, and wonderful roof top terrace. Truly luxurious.
Marrakech (Bab Doukkala)
Iconic restaurant turned luxury hotel with magnificent interior. Understated elegance - sublime combination of traditional Moroccan craftsmanship and smart European style. Fountains, swimming pool and delicious cuisine. For those who like the best.
Marrakech (Kennaria, Medina)
Romantic central Riad with flickering lights and cosy rooms. Exceptional value for money. Elegant rooms in Berber style in creams and beiges. A place to impress.
Marrakech (Issebtinne 40000)
Boutique hotel with an elegant aristocratic ambience. Its understated style avoids fake orientalism. It provides authentic peace and harmony with simpler white washed walls, orange trees, and a beautiful inner courtyard.