10 must do’s in Marrakech
After two weeks in Morocco, if I had to pick only one place to return to, my choice would be Marrakech, no second thought. Of all the cities we visited, Marrakech was the most vibrant, fun, photogenic, interesting, busy, with the best geographical location, and with plenty of attractions and activities. Above all, Marrakech is exactly how I pictured Morocco to be, impressive.
By 2020, King Mohammed VI wants Marrakech to be among the top 3 travel destinations in the world. Ambitious huh? Can he make it? I don’t know, there is still a lot of work to be done, but the potential is there. In the meantime, I will give him a hand and inspire you to visit Marrakech.
In total, we spent 5 nights and 5 days in Marrakech, it was the first and last stop of our Morocco itinerary, and also where we spent most of our time while in the country. We’ve had the chance to visit everything we wanted, from the souks to museums and gardens, we had an incredible experience staying in the medina, and discovered some pretty good places to eat and have a good time. Before I spoil the rest of the post, here are my 10 must do’s in Marrakech and, of course, some of my essential tips.
Let the Jemaa el Fna impress you
The famous square Jemaa el Fna is the heart of Marrakech, and a must. There is nothing like seeing this place for the first time, all the people, the noise, the henna tattoo ladies, the monkeys and snakes, the food and orange juice stalls, the music, the view of the Koutoubia Mosque and the sunset, make up for a incredible and unique experience.
Tip: watch the sunset from one of the café terraces around the square (our favorite was Café de France), then go for a meal or a bite in one of the food stalls (we recommend number 1).
Visit the Medersa Ben Youssef
Probably the most photogenic place in Marrakech. The Medersa Ben Youssef used to be an Islamic college, or Koran school, founded in the 14th century. It is thought to have hosted over 900 students and it is the largest Medersa (Madrasa) in Morocco. Architecture, design and detail lovers will have a great time there.
Admission: 20 Dhs
Take a look at the Saadian Tombs
In French, Tombeaux Saadiens. It is a necropolis or funerary complex, where tombs with remnants of the Saadian dynasty are found. The Saadian was a very important dynasty in Morocco, known by the Golden Age of Marrakech. The place was discovered in 1917, though it dates back to 1578-1603, it is a small site with 3 big rooms, and a small garden, accessed by a corridor, which entrance is behind the Moulay El Yazid Mosque.
Admission: 10 Dhs
Fall in love with Jardin Majorelle
This incredibly beautiful and colorful garden was originally designed by the French artist Jacques Majorelle between 1920 and 1930. In 1980 it became property of the famous designer Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. YSL lived for a long while in Marrakech and here is where he spent most of his time, so when he died, his ashes were scattered in the garden and a mausoleum was built for him. There you find also a museum, a café, a YSL boutique, a book shop and the Galerie Love.
Admission: 70 Dhs for the garden only, and 30 Dhs for the museum.
Get lost in the Souks
Even if you have no interest whatsoever in shopping or bargaining, you need to experience the souks in Marrakech. It is a labyrinth of possibilities and craziness; in case you get lost, just follow the signs leading to the Jemaa el Fna square.
Tip: if you want to avoid the busy times, try to go in the middle of the afternoon rather than at night, when it’s the busiest!
Enter Palais Bahia
The Palais Bahia is the result of the collection of a big old house and a set of houses, work done by the Moroccan architect El Mekki. The exact dates of its construction are unknown, but the building was used between 1859 and 1873, and completed in 1900. Nowadays, the beautiful palace, located in the Jewish quarter of the medina, Mellah, is also used for events and wedding ceremonies.
Admission: 1 EUR
Enjoy the view from a rooftop
Who doesn’t like rooftops? I know I love them, and there are many in Marrakech’s medina, ideal to watch the sunset, either drinking a mint tea or a Moroccan wine (just remember that it’s not allowed to serve alcohol near the mosques, so not every place has a liquor license).
Tip: you can’t miss Zwin Zwin.
Stay in a Riad in the Medina
If you want to have a real Marrakech experience, you need to stay in the medina, and in a Riad. One of the highlights of our stay in the city was our Riad, Dar Alif, not only for its cozy rooftop and rooms, but because of how it provided us a very original experience, as we stayed in a residential part of the medina and got to interact with the locals a lot.
Have a mint tea and try Moroccan food
Not that you will have many other options, as mint tea is served everywhere and restaurants mostly serve local dishes. Tagine, couscous and mint tea are 3 things you will, at some point, try while in Marrakech or in Morocco in general. I loved the tea, not only for how heathy it is, but how it’s prepared (sweet) and served. As for the food, couscous is the best!
Give Guéliz a try
Guéliz is the new part of Marrakech, and if you have the chance to go there (in case you visit Jardin Majorelle, for example) you will be able to make a comparison of both areas. The medina is basically the old town, while Guéliz is more modern, with tall buildings and shopping centers with international brands. It is nice to see and compare both, it’s a different perspective.
More suggestions on what to do in Marrakech:
Palais El Badi: it was closed when we were in Marrakech, so we didn’t get to go inside, but I hear it’s beautiful.
Photography museum: for the photography lovers.
Marrakesh Museum: not only for the history, but for the beauty of the place, which is inspired in Andalusian architecture.
Take a day trip: Marrakech has a great geographical location, making possible to visit in one day some wonderful places, such as the High Atlas Mountains, the famous Kasbah Aït Ben Haddou, and even Essaouira. We had the chance to visit some villages and hike in the Atlas Mountains.
Hammam: is a steam room, normally public, where Moroccans go to clean themselves and gossip with friends and family, a very important part of the local culture. However, many hotels have their own hammam and offer this experience in a more “luxury” way. It’s an incredible and different experience to have while in the country, just be ready to be cooked and scrubbed!
Cooking class: many places offer cooking classes in Marrakech, in which you normally get to go to the market and buy the ingredients and cook with a local. It’s a very nice experience for the foodies who want to learn more about the local culinary.
Where to stay
Where to eat
NOMAD: it has a beautiful and cozy rooftop terrace. Don’t miss their slow cooked beef couscous and ice cream! It’s located right next to the souks and near Jemaa el Fna.
Zwin Zwin: lovely café and rooftop terrace. It can get pretty busy, so either arrive early or make a reservation. You can’t miss their Apple Pastilla, it’s heaven!
Snack el Bahriya: incredible amazing fresh sea food, where you choose what you want, from squids to lobsters and fish. Located in Guéliz, it’s a cheap and simple place, but with delicious food, which is also a hint among the locals.
Food stall n. 1: recommended to us by the owners of our Riad as good and safe to eat, we tried it in our first night and enjoyed the experience!
Café Clock: the original café is located in Fez, but after trying there and loving it, we decided to try the one in Marrakech and is just as good, as they have the same menu. Need to try: the homemade iced tea!
Le Jardin: a beautiful and quiet place near Medersa Ben Youssef with great food and a mini turtle who say hello to the guests once in a while.
Be careful with…
Motorcycles: they are everywhere and their drivers don’t care about pedestrians, so keep your eyes and ears open. A tip is to walk near the walls on your right side and always watch your back if moving to the other side of the street.
Scams: from someone offering to give you directions to the guys with a monkey in the Jemaa el Fna square, be careful. They won’t do anything to you, but will ask for money.
Marrakech is a safe city, but of course, pay attention to your belongings. In case you feel threatened by someone for any reason, just scream “Police”, there is a special tourist police in the city to protect tourists; most policemen are undercover and the locals fear them.
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