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What to do in Marrakech, the red city of Morocco

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The best tours and experiences to visit Marrakech The best tours and experiences to visit Marrakech from 24€ DISCOVER THE OFFERS

First time in Marrakech? Get ready to be astonished! The red city is the ecstasy of the senses. From the vibrant Jemaa el-Fna square to the luxuriant Majorelle garden, to the fabulous riads hidden in the alleys of the medina, Marrakech will drag you into a whirlwind of scents, colours and sounds.

 

Marrakech, the enchanting power!

Palaces, gardens, souks and riads. The wonders of Islamic art will be revealed to your eyes along the pink alleys of the medina, full of musicians, illusionists and vendors of all kinds. Not only tourist attractions to be visited in Marrakech, but also trendy restaurants, art galleries and concept stores to be experienced: Marrakech is a cosmopolitan city where modern life cohabits with ancient traditions. An irresistibly seductive vibe.

Things to know before leaving for Marrakech

  • When to go? Spring and autumn are the best seasons of the year, but winter has its charm too.
  • How to dress? Wear casual clothes and put on a pair of comfortable babouches.

The best things to do in Marrakech

Here are the places you should not miss in the "red city" of Morocco.

Jemaa el-Fna Square: Exciting sounds, colours and smells

Whenever you arrive in Marrakech, the first place you should go and see is Jemaa el-Fna square. Plunge immediately into the Medina without being afraid to get lost, just follow the signs or ask for directions to the famous square of Marrakech. Crowded and noisy at any hour of the day, the main square of Marrakech is the beating heart of the city.

piazza jemaa el fnaphoto by Oscar Carvajal via flickrQuieter in the morning when the first orange juice sellers arrive, Jemaa el-Fna wakes up in the late morning among the shrill sounds of snake charmers' flutes, gnaoua dancers, jugglers and fortune tellers.

At lunchtime the square is warmed up by the smell of grilled meat, tajines and local specialities such as sheep's brains, only for the more audacious.

But it's in the evening that Jemaa el-Fna becomes more lively with the fiery colours of the sunset, the belly dancers and the Berber musicians. If you can't stand the smoke of the stalls and the hustle and bustle anymore, climb to the terrace of a café and enjoy the show from the top.

PLUNGE IN THE ATMOSPHERE OF JEMAA EL-FNA WITH A GUIDED TOUR

Medina of Marrakech, the heart of the red city

Built in 1070 by the Berber dynasty of the Almoravids, the medina of Marrakech is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

medina marrakechphoto by John Bridges via flickrA huge labyrinth of narrow streets with pink walls extending over 700 hectares.

Explore its narrow alleys behind the high walls where magnificent palaces and religious buildings are hidden, donated by the sultans and pashas of Marrakech to their imperial capital.

VISIT THE MEDINA OF MARRAKECH WITH A GUIDED TOUR

Marrakech Souks, the ancient commercial tradition

After seeing the bustling Jemaa el-Fna square, continue towards the magical souks of Marrakech: a maze that seems impossible to get out of. So leave your city map at the hotel and enjoy this unique experience.

marrakech babbucce colorateThe souks are the heart of the old caravan stopover where merchants used to sell, buy and barter in the past.

Nowadays, although travellers have changed, the ancient commercial and artisan tradition of Marrakech still remains. Plunge into the crowded pink alleys of the central souks where you will find, one after another, small shops and stalls selling clothes, babouches, spices, handicrafts and typical products.

  • I recommend you to pay no more than a third of what you were initially asked to during the negotiation. The best time to shop if you don't like crowds of people is definitely sunset, before shops close.

Koutoubia Mosque, the golden stone mosque

Located south of the Medina is the Koutoubia Mosque, one of the most complete examples of Almohad Islamic architecture. Started to be built under the sultan Ali ibn Yusuf, the mosque still oversees the old city. Five times a day  the voice of the muezzin from its minaret can be heard to call believers to prayer.

koutoubia marrakechphoto by TheBigLebowski67 via flickrVisible from all over the city, the minaret with its enchanting interwoven arches and battlements was used as a prototype for the Giralda in Seville and the Hassan Tour in Rabat.

On the top of the minaret, a spire of copper spheres sparkles in the sun. Originally, the spheres were made of gold, which, according to legend, came from the jewels of the sultan Yacoub al-Mansour's wife, who was found eating during Ramadan. As a punishment, the Sultan melted all her jewels.

  • Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque but only to admire it from the outside. If you want to rest from the hustle and bustle of the Medina, the gardens of the Koutoubia Mosque are a perfect oasis of peace to stroll and relax at sunset.

BOOK A TOUR TO VISIT THE KOUTOUBIA MOSQUE

Palais de la Bahia, the sumptuous palace of Marrakech

"Luxe, calme et volupté", Baudelaire would have said this, admiring the Palais de la Bahia. It is a sumptuous palace adorned with magnificent decorations made of elaborate carvings, zelliges and zouak roofs (painted wood).

Start exploring the Palais de la Bahia from the Petit Riad, through the twilight of the main hall, the carved arcade and the small green courtyard. You will arrive to the Grande Cour, a huge open space covered with Carrara marble and surrounded by a gallery decorated with blue and yellow tones.

palais de la bahiaphoto by Jelle Goossens via flickrIt was here that the citizens waited for hours in the sun to be admitted in front of Bou Ahmed. Continue to the Grand Riad, the oldest part that shines among plants and fountains.

Finally, get to the Harem where the four wives and 24 concubines of Bou Ahmed lived. The apartments of the favourite, Lalla Zineb, are the most beautiful with silk panels and wooden ceilings.

PLUNGE INTO THE SPLENDOUR OF THE PALAIS DE LA BAHIA

Mellah and el-Badi Palace

Mellah is the district that once housed the Jewish ghetto of Marrakech, as shown by the synagogue of Lazama and the cemetery of Miaara.

palazzo el badiphoto by a.rey via flickrAfter walking through the spice souk of Bab Mellah, head to the el-Badi Palace, a magnificent structure built by Sultan Sa'diano Ahmad al-Mansur al-Dhahabi in 1578 and covered in gold, turquoise and crystal.

Nowadays only the ruins remain to tell us about its majesty, which can be seen in the four water pools of the inner courtyard.

VISIT THE RUINS OF THE EL-BADI PALACE OF MARRAKECH

Gueliz, the Jardin Majorelle and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum

Leave the Medina and go to visit the Ville Nouvelle, the modern area of Marrakech. Especially explore the district of Gueliz, where you will find art galleries, trendy boutiques, hotels and elegant restaurants  among the wide streets of the French era. The other side of Marrakech, dynamic, artistic and contemporary.

Don't miss for any reason the Jardin Majorelle: a complex of botanical gardens and landscapes designed by the French artist Jacques Majorelle during the colonial period, then acquired by Yves Saint Laurent. Explore the garden among bamboos, palms, cacti and the 300 botanical species from the five continents.

jardin majorellephoto by voyageur-gourmand via flickrThen admire the electric blue villa in which Majorelle had set up her studio and which today houses the Musée Berbère. It is worth a visit to plunge into the culture of the Berber people of Morocco.

Finally, cross the Galerie Love, where the greeting cards sent by Saint Laurent to his closest customers are displayed. Get around freely among the blue Majorelle and green vegetation before continuing your visit to the Musée Yves Saint Laurent.

VISIT THE MAJORELLE JARDIN OF MARRAKECH

After the Yves Saint Laurent museum in Paris, the Yves Saint Laurent museum in Marrakech has opened in 2017. The building is decorated with bricks outside, while the interior is soft and bright, just like a silk dress.

The Museum  of Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech is a journey into the heart of his inspirations: the feminine androgynous, the black, Africa and Morocco, imaginary journeys, gardens and art, guide you discovering rare models through an evocative audiovisual installation.

The other best palaces in Marrakech

Here are other magical places not to be missed in Marrakech:

Dar Si Said: crafts, jewellery and ceramics

A younger brother of the Palais de la Bahia, Dar Si Said was built in the 19th century as the home of Si Said, brother of the visir Bou Ahmed. Less spectacular than the Palais de la Bahia, however Dar Si Said is certainly worth a visit.

One more reason to visit Dar Si Said, is the Museum of Moroccan Arts, located inside of it. Admire traditional Moroccan crafts, Berber jewellery and Fès ceramics before climbing up to the dome where the wedding ceremonies were held.

VISIT THE DAR SI SAID PALACE AND THE MUSEUM OF MOROCCAN ARTS

Saadian Tombs

Sultan Al-Mansour commissioned the spectacular Hall of Twelve Columns to celebrate his glory beyond his death. But the majestic funerary monument was walled up a few decades later by Alawite sultan Moulay Ismail. The Saadian Tombs were re-discovered only in 1917.

Through the doorway at the bottom of the Hall of the Twelve Columns, you can admire the hall with its dome decorated with zelliji and golden motifs where the sultan Al-Mansour lies next to his sons. Also notice the Carrara marble and "muqarna" (honeycomb ornamental stucco) covered with gold that decorate the tombs of various Saadian princes and high court dignitaries.

ADMIRE THE TOMBS OF THE SAADIANS OF MARRAKECH

Medersa by Ali ben Youssef

Once the largest Koranic school in North Africa, the medersa is a Hispanic-Moorish masterpiece from the 14th century that should not be missed. The best perspective of its interior can be admired from the dormitory floor, where a series of windows offer a magnificent view over the courtyard.

Musée de Marrakech

Quieter than other museums, you will certainly get more impressed by the sumptuousness of the palace rather than by the collection of Moroccan art and famous local painters. Take a minute to admire the inner courtyard surmounted by a crystal roof, where the view gets lost among zealots, decorated windows, old wooden portals and the immense brass chandelier above the central fountain.

The best Marrakech tours and excursions

Have you completed the tour of Marrakech and want to explore the other wonders of Morocco? Here are all the excursions and guided tour you can join in the surroundings.

You could visit La Palmeraie riding a camel, it’s a spectacular palm grove in the outskirts of the city; you can reach the desert by quad, explore the Atlas Mountains and Berber villages, or fly over the desert in an air balloon at sunrise watching Marrakech waking up.

TOURS AND ALTERNATIVE EXPERIENCES IN MARRAKECH

Another day trip not to be missed is that to the beautiful Essaouira, on Morocco's Atlantic coast. What to see in the city? The harbour area and the vibrant Moulay El Hassan square, the characteristic ochre-walled buildings, the jewellers' district and the souks to be strolled around through the streets of the old medina.

VISIT ESSAOUIRA WITH A 1 DAY EXCURSION FROM MARRAKECH

Experiences you should have to feel like an autochthonous

  • Hammam: for the more audacious, try public hammams like Mouassine, Dar el-Bacha or Bab Doukkala, otherwise enjoy a private Western-style hammam like Le Bain Bleu or Sultana Spa.
  • Henna tattooing: Jemaa el-Fna square is full of henna artists, always ask for natural henna. At the Henna Art Cafe you can order mint tea while getting tattooed.

What NOT to do in Marrakech

  • Do not drink alcohol in public places and in the proximity of holy places.
  • Do not take pictures of local people without asking permission.
  • Don't wear succinct clothes and eye-catching jewellery especially in the Medina.
  • For women traveling alone: do not walk at night in the darkest and most isolated streets of the Medina.
  • Never accept the first price proposed by souk traders or taxi drivers: always negotiate!

Where to eat in Marrakech: the gastronomic addresses not to be missed

Let yourself be inebriated by the scents and flavors of Marrakech!

For a quick lunch stop near the Palais de la Bahia, climb to the roof of Dar Anika and enjoy Moroccan specialities or a mint tea at the Kosybar. Take a seat on the terrace of Un Déjeuner in Marrakech to try Moroccan dishes or at Naranji for Lebanese specialities if you are close to the Dar Si Said palace.

For the best tanjia, go to Hadj Mustapha's. If you're at the Ville Nouvelle, choose the historic Café de la Poste. After an aperitif on the terrace at the Café des Épices or Café Littéraire, treat yourself to a stylish dinner at La Maison Arabe, the fashionable Le Jardin or a typical couscous dinner in the familiar Naima.

If you're looking for a relaxing break with traditional music, head towards Café Clock, where you can try the camel burger. Finally, for a thousand and one nights evening, choose the Dar Kaiss riad, a symbol of elegance, romance and poetry.

One more tip: all the restaurants in the medina are always crowded, so it's always worth booking a table!

BOOK A GASTRONOMIC-CULINARY TOUR IN MARRAKECH

Nightlife in Marrakech

In the medina there are few restaurants and bars allowed to serve alcohol. Among these, the Café Arabe, known for its cocktails at sunset with a view over the medina and the Piano Bar, for a cocktail in the evening on a jazz music background.

The Ville Nouvelle is the real fulcrum of nightlife: Djelabar or Comptoir offer cabaret with belly dance shows, Alternatively, you can check out the Raspoutine or Theatro.

How to reach and get around Marrakech

Marrakech is provided with a modern airport where you can land comfortably. You can rent a car to get around the city. Otherwise, city buses are cheap with frequent rides but often crowded.

So, if you are staying in a hotel in the medina, the best thing to do is to move around on foot and, if necessary, take a taxi. Beige taxis are the fastest and most convenient way to get around the city. A ride between the medina and Guéliz should not exceed Dh20 by day and Dh30 by night.

For those travelling with a partner, a ride in calèche is a must, it usually lasts an hour and a half and the cost is Dh120 per hour.

What to buy in Marrakech: souks and independent shops

Remember to save enough space in your suitcase!

spezie marrakechphoto by Ian Duffy via flickrTake home a load of spices from the souk or get ready for long negotiations if you want to buy a carpet. We recommend the carpet souk, La Criée Berbère.

If you are looking for ceramics, fabrics or leather goods, look for Anamil in the central souk. Snoop through silver lanterns, jewellery of all kinds, but above all, don't come back home without a pair of babouches from Marrakech. You'll find typical Moroccan babouches at every city corner!

However, if souks make you feel tired and you prefer to go shopping quietly, despite the slightly higher prices go to the Ensemble Artisanal. Furthermore, as you leave the Jardin Majorelle reach 33 rue Majorelle, where contemporary design meets local influences. Finally, for the high quality coloured moccasins, go from Atika to Ville Nouvelle.

Where to stay in Marrakech: Hotels and Riad for all budgets

Marrakech is famous for its riads, traditional Moroccan urban residential buildings. There are all sorts of riad for every budget. A riad in the Medina is the most recommended option for your accommodation. Please note that riads must be booked well in advance. Groups  can reserve an entire complex.

  • Good value for money is the Riad Dar One Hotel Marrakech. For fairytale nights we recommend the Riad Kaiss or Azoulay
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