Of all the options for accommodations in Morocco, Marrakech riads are by far the best choice. Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure the all-inclusive resorts are luxurious, and plenty of travelers will want to get their rewards program loyalty bonus points at their favorite hotel chain. But if you’re in Marrakech, you won’t want to spend all your time (or hardly any time) at a resort. More importantly, you don’t want to miss out on the history, charm, and incredible hospitality available at Marrakech riads.
What is a Riad?
A riad is actually an old house in the Marrakech medina – the fortified old town of the city center. These houses were the luxurious homes of the wealthy and often had numerous bedrooms and bathrooms, dining areas, and perhaps even a private hammam. The origin of the word riad seems to have some controversy, but it accurately goes back to the Arabic word for garden. Over the centuries, that changed to “houses with a garden”. I got different opinions on whether a riad was only built around just a simple courtyard, or if the courtyard had to have a full garden complete with orange trees.
Certainly, all riads are built around a central courtyard. Often the courtyard has a pool in it, whether just for decoration or actual use. Some riads also have a full garden, complete with four orange trees. As one guide pointed out, a riad with a courtyard but no garden would only be a dar, a.k.a. a house. Although the word is a bit ambiguous these days, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a riad that’s not charming, luxurious, and vying to be called one of the best riads in Marrakech.
How to Find the Best Marrakech Riads
There are currently about 1,500 riads in Marrakech, with more opening all the time (and some closing down). Some are designed with content creators and Instagrammers in mind, some are targeted at wealthier clients, and some have a fantastic history and stories connected to them.
It might feel overwhelming to find a good riad in Marrakech. The truth is that you’ll be hard-pressed to find one below 4 stars on Google Maps, and most are 4.5 stars or higher. I guess you could say the real problem is finding one that really sticks out above the rest. Some have beautiful rooftop terraces, some have their own hammam spa, some include restaurants with excellent chefs, etc.
Types of Riads
Which riad you stay at will depend on your preferences for style, budget, location, and amenities. Some have a dozen or more rooms, while others have very few. Some are just off Jemaa El-Fna Square, while others are on the medina’s edge. For instance, if you don’t want an incredible experience at the Heritage Spa, you might want to consider booking a Marrakech riad with its own hammam.
Perhaps the biggest difference is the matter of budget. Some riads are actually hostels with very cheap rooms, while others practically come with an attendant for every room and are priced accordingly. Riad Princess Karmela is a collection of buildings with different rooms and suites catering to a range of budgets. It would be almost impossible to give a price range for all riads. You could get a room in a hostel riad for as little as $10 a night (plus hotel tax), or in an opulent riad for $500 per night.
Using Google Maps in Marrakech
The one true difficulty with finding Marrakech riads is finding them physically with Google Maps. Many of the small alleyways around the medina aren’t on Google Maps, Street View isn’t available in Morocco, and, for some reason, most of the establishments aren’t exactly where Google Maps says they are.
To find a specific riad in Marrakech, the easiest option is to meet one of the staff in the main square or even get picked up at the airport, as many of the riads will happily do. Otherwise, find the riad on Google Maps, and then be willing to wander around the general vicinity, looking carefully at all the signs, and perhaps asking a few locals for directions. And don’t be afraid to knock on a door or two, which I did myself to find the right place more than once.
Opulent Riad Camilia
Wandering around the medina on my second trip to Marrakech, I stumbled upon Riad Camilia. I thought I had visited on my first trip, but I could never have forgotten the interior, nor how tricky it is to find in the first place. This was one of the establishments where I knocked on the wrong door before finding the right one.
Riad Camilia is easily one of the best luxury riads in Marrakech. There are only six bespoke suites, each with a unique design, layout, and amenities. The French couple that manages the property keeps everything immaculate, and there is a staff large enough to cater to everyone’s needs, including chefs, masseuses, cleaners, etc.
This riad also has one of the largest rooftop terraces in the medina. With space such a premium, that’s quite the luxury, especially considering there are only six suites downstairs. The courtyard in the center of the riad is beautiful too, with four orange trees and a pool off to the side.
Unsurprising, every suite was booked when the owner gave me a tour. Even though there are 1,500 Marrakech riads, there’s a good chance most of the better ones will be fully booked, especially during the high season, so consider making reservations as far as advance as you can.
Staying at Riad Princess Karmela
Riad Princess Karmela is perhaps one of the most Instagrammable riads in Marrakech. In 2006, the owner Joël opened his first riad in the northern part of the central medina. The riad has now spread to eight buildings close to each other, catering to different budgets and travel styles.
The original riad was a wealthy merchant’s house, as were many of the Marrakech riads. Another home belonged to a rich candle merchant. In other words, each house has its own history and story. Some of the rooms are perfect for couples, while others can accommodate groups of 10-12 people. More importantly, every room and suite has an amazing, unique design.
Welcome and Decorations
The decorations of Princess Karmela Riad are beautiful, starting with the doors before you even enter. Each entrance door is unique. Some are the large, modern doors, and some are the original small doors of the medina. As I learned on a walking tour, the doors were low to prevent people from seeing into the dwelling as well as the face of the women who answered the door.
As we entered, we were immediately greeted, brought to the central courtyard by the pool, and offered tea and sweet pastries. The check-in process was very easy and quick. When we finished our tea, we were brought to our suite. We were also given a little tour around the riad and learned the breakfast schedule…which I was very much looking forward to. I love discovering different breakfasts around the world.
I was amazed at all the decorations, and the attention to detail. In Edinburgh, there’s an art installation called the Scotsman Steps, which has 104 stairs representing every major marble quarry on Earth. Riad Princess Karmela had a similar staircase, although with far fewer stairs.
There are several courtyards, dining areas, relaxation rooms, and hidden nooks, not to mention a very extensive rooftop terrace at the riad. I spent quite a while just wandering around and taking photos of all the decorations.
A Suite for a Princess
Vanesa and I had the Art Déco Céramique Suite. Where do I even begin? The decorations are described as the “art of earthenware.” The mellow yellows, browns, and blacks were exactly what I would expect in an African dwelling, although some Berber huts in the desert are festooned with brilliant colors.
The website lists the bed as double-size, but it turned out to be king-size (super-king by UK standards), and super comfortable. The room was large, with a great desk to get work done (which I didn’t have time to do while exploring Marrakech). The bathroom was similarly large, with three rooms – a central room with two sinks on opposite sides, a toilet room, and a large walk-in rain shower (my favorite kind of shower).
Another amazing feature of the room was the wrought-iron spiral staircase leading up to a private terrace nearly the same size as the room. As we were visiting in December, it was a bit cold for sunbathing, but I’d love to stay up there for a couple hours in the summer warmth someday.
A typical Moroccan breakfast is usually just bread and butter or jam, and coffee. As such, I wasn’t expecting too much for our buffet breakfast. Boy was I surprised.
On display were a dozen different breads and pastries, countless cheese and meat slices, several jams and other toppings, homemade yogurt, cereals, shakshouka (an egg tagine), different nuts and other toppings, fresh fruit, fresh juices, etc. And everything to top Moroccan food standards. In other words, on par with what you would expect to find at a high-class boutique hotel.
Similar to other high-class Marrakech riads, Princess Karmela had all the best facilities, including a full restaurant, an extensive rooftop terrace, and, best of all, a hammam spa. If you’re not familiar with hammams or haven’t read my articles on them, hammam spas are some of the most luxurious, relaxing experiences in the world…in my opinion.
A hammam is the Moroccan version of a Turkish bath. The locals have used them for centuries as public bathhouses, but more recently, a luxury version has been created for tourists. You start off with a full cleaning and exfoliation scrub in a steam sauna and then get pampered with a very high-quality massage. Believe me, that’s an extreme over-simplification of the experience.
While I usually avoid overly-touristy attractions in my travels, a hammam spa is a must when visiting Marrakech, and it’s great that you can take advantage of one in a riad. Granted, I didn’t get to experience the hammam at Princess Karmela as I ended up at Heritage Spa instead.
Booking Riads in Marrakech
As mentioned above, finding the perfect riad to stay at can be a little overwhelming with all the choices. They cater to wildly different budgets, some have hammam spas or delicious restaurants inside, and some of the most romantic riads in Marrakech are easily the best honeymoon or anniversary options on the planet.
You can always use Booking.com or Agoda.com to book a riad. if you use these links, I’ll get a small commission at no additional expense to you. However, although it’s counter-productive to my commission, you’ll almost always get a better deal when booking directly with a riad or any other accommodation, and often get additional perks, such as free airport transfers.
Headed to Morocco? Here are some other articles to check out which will help with your adventures in the country.
- How Easy and Hard Getting Into Morocco Was for Me
- Marrakech Excursions: A Day Trip to the Coastal Town of Essaouira, Morocco
- A Fantastic African Desert Safari at the Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp
- What an Authentic Hammam for Men in Marrakech is Really Like
- Why Just a Hammam Spa is Worth a Visit to Morocco
- A Complete Guide to Visiting Marrakech on a Budget
- A Moroccan Food Tour to Find the Best Dishes of Marrakech
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