Updated May 2018. Marrakech needs to be experienced to be believed. When asking people if we should visit Marrakech, half would excitedly tell us what we must do in Marrakech and the other half would issue dire warnings not to go.
We are firmly in the “you must visit Marrakech” camp.
Over a staggering 1000 years, this southern market town has grown to be one of the most romanticised cities in Morocco. One of four imperial cities in Morocco, along with Meknes, Fez and Rabat, Marrakech has another name – Marrakucsh Al Hamra or Marrakech the Red – a name originating from it’s incredible red earth walls.
In this post we share sixteen things you must do in Marrakech Morocco. My views on must do lists, liken them to a travel smorgasbord – pick the most tasty things for your plate and go back for seconds later.
- Marrakech Adventure
- When to Visit
- Marrakech Etiquette
- Best Restaurants in Marrakech Medina
- Must do in Marrakech Morocco
- 1. The Red Walls
- 2. The Souks
- 3. Majorelle Gardens – the french influence
- 4. Jemaa El Fnaa Square
- 5. Eating Out in Marrakech
- 6. Juicy, Sweet, Orange Juice
- 7. Atlas Mountains
- 8. Desert Trip and Camel ride
- 9. Essaouira
- 10. Best place to stay in Marrakech Morocco
- 11. The Bahia Palace
- 12. Saadian Tombs
- 13. Bert Flint or Tiskiwin Museum
- 14. Katoubia Mosque
- 15. Natural Remedies at a Herboristerie near Bab Agnaou.
- 16. Menara Airport
- Things to Know before you go.
We’d not been to Africa before and my heart was racing with excitement as our Marrakech flight arrived at Menara airport. It is best to arrange a transfer from the airport in advance and we recommend doing this, especially if it is your first visit to Marrakech. We arranged a transfer beforehand and even so we had a real adrenaline rush with the adventure of it all.
Another thing to consider is that when you prepay you can’t be overcharged by a taxi driver.
Our arrival from the airport was arranged by our hotel (we paid in advance). It was a tired Mercedes taxi and as it lumbered 6 kilometres toward a gate in those imposing ancient red walls, my bones were whispering we would not forget this Marrakech adventure.
When to Visit
The best time to travel to Marrakech is generally touted as Spring (March to May). Spring air is fresh and the roses of Marrakech are blooming. Next best time is Autumn (October and November) when the heat of summer is fading from the collective memory. If you are from a cold climate (like England), Marrakech weather in Winter might be perfect with daytime highs of 20 degrees C. Winter will be cheaper also but desert trips would be unavailable.
Morocco is a muslim country. It may be moderate as far as muslim countries go, but it is preferred that visitors dress conservatively. This means no revealing clothes on women. It goes without saying there should be no boobs or midriffs showing and no short shorts.
Clothes to wear in Marrakech are long cotton pants and loose long sleeved shirts for both sexes, but the minimum is a collared and sleeved shirt and long pants for men and a non-revealing shirt for women covering from the neck down and elbows up, teemed with long skirt or long pants. If you intend nightclubbing in Marrakech bring a funky sleeved above the knee dress or a long classy jumpsuit.
No matter where you are in the world, Thank-you spoken in the host country’s language is always appreciated. Try Shukran (Arabic) and Merci (French) in Marrakech.
In a hammam, women can wear bikini bottoms and men boxer shorts or swimmers.
The left hand is traditionally used for sanitary hygeine and never used when eating. Take particular care when sharing food.
Best Restaurants in Marrakech Medina
We ate delicious pastries at Prince Patisserie and had drinks with bread and olives at another cafe near the souks. We did eat at the stalls in Jemaa El Fnaa and Marty did get sick.
Marocmama lives in Marrakech and has written a great post on eating in Marrakech which includes the medina.
Must do in Marrakech Morocco
1. The Red Walls
16 km of walls encase the Marrakech Medina. There are nearly as many explanations for the holes in the wall as there are holes. Two most likely are – they provide drainage preventing the walls crumbling, or they hold the scaffolding used when repairing the walls. What do you think?
Following the red walls within the Medina is one of the best free things to do in Marrakech.
- Access: Free
12th century gate Bab Agnaou.
2. The Souks
Colourful, exotic and crammed with coloured glass, sheesha pipes, spices, leather slippers, pots and lanterns, the alleys that form the souks and Marrakech spice market are in my opinion unmissable. While the stall holders have a reputation for being insistent and hard to shake, we didn’t have a problem.
We were lucky to have a guided tour in Marrakech compliments of Urban Adventures (we won the tour in a facebook competitiion) which could have had a positive influence on our experience.
This is food for thought. If you are nervous about entering the Souks why not arrange a guide? Even if you don’t purchase anything, the souk experience is what Marrakech is about. Don’t however pick a guide off the street. They will take you to a store where they get commission and things could get nasty if you don’t buy. When you pay for a guide there is no pressure at all to buy and other guides leave you alone.
Remember to take plenty of small change with you into the souk to avoid the “we don’t have change ruse”.
- Entrance: Free
3. Majorelle Gardens – the french influence
Just as the Moors from north Africa once controlled Spain, France and Spain jointly annexed Morocco in 1912 via the Treaty of Fez. Marrakech fell into the French section, leaving a population of French speakers. The most obvious influence is in the food, in particular Patisseries. Cafe France has a great view of Jemaa El Fnaa but we found it expensive with inattentive staff. Patisserie des Princes off the square has great reasonably priced cakes or try Grande Cafe de la Poste in the French Suburb of Gueliz in the new town.
Another lasting French influence is Majorelle Gardens, created by the french artist Jacques Majorelle and subsequently owned by Yves St. Laurent. When Yves died in 2008 his ashes were scattered here. Jacques’ bold colour creation named Majorelle Blue dominates the garden in a startling way. He incorporated the African love of water via ponds, fountains and channels. Open to the public since 1947.
- Entrance Fee 30 MAD.
4. Jemaa El Fnaa Square
Jemaa El Fnaa is the dominant square in the Medina – a meeting place extraordinaire – and our first pick of top things to do in Marrakech at night.
In the morning and afternoon it’s a meeting point for tour groups. The hawkers and juice vendors are there all day but when buildings glow orange in the setting sun, the pace in the square picks up. Monkeys arrive tethered to their owners, Snake Charmers settle in and nighttime food stalls start setting up.
My heart breaks for the chained monkeys (pay for a photo opp) but the practice only survives because tourists keep paying. I kept well away from the snake charmers lest they mistake my interest for a desire to join in.
Jemaa El Fnaa is my favourite free thing to do in Marrakech.
- Entrance: Free
By night the square is a blaze of food stalls with smoke billowing from braziers and touts strutting their stuff. In the range of Marrakech things to see this sight must be tops.
Photo taken from Cafe Terrasse Bab Ftouh vantage point.
- Coffee and Softdrinks 15>20 MAD.
Away from the bright glow of the food stalls, individual pools of light draw people to games and story tellers. It is the most exotic of Marrakech sights and great fun, but as always be conscious of your belongings.
5. Eating Out in Marrakech
Eating at Jemma El Fna
The nightly food stall offerings in Jemma El Fna, range from tasty calamari and sausages to Tangia from a stall displaying severed sheep heads.
Tangia are tall open topped pots as opposed to the saucer and lid arrangement of a Tagine. Before cooking a lid of parchment paper tied with string is added to the Tangia. Traditionally, it is cooked for up to 16 hours in the ashes of a wood-fired oven (like the one in the souk’s hammam). Originally the male only cooks used camel meat, spiced with saffron, cumin and lemon, but today lamb is often substituted.
Patisseries are laden with treats and Arab inspired pastries oozing honey. Bread is entrenched in the cuisine and the olives – from wizened black to bright green – fill souk bottles and cafe bowls.
6. Juicy, Sweet, Orange Juice
With temperatures over 40 degrees, I feel freshly squeezed orange juice is more of a necessity than a luxury. It is my favourite drink and deliciously affordable in Marrakech. Oranges are grown and picked locally but surely they don’t fruit all year round? Anyway this juice is a lifesaver.
- 4 MAD (0.55 AUD) per glass.
7. Atlas Mountains
The Atlas Mountains are one of the most fascinating excursions from Marrakech, along with day trips from Marrakech to the desert. You’ll drive through The Atlas Mountains on the way to the desert, or they can be visited separately as a day trip or for longer.
The slight green tinge to the Atlas below, is a left-over from winter rains. Temperatures are significantly cooler in the Atlas, another reason it is such an appealing excursion from Marrakech.
8. Desert Trip and Camel ride
A trip into the Sahara is mandatory in Morocco and the Erg Chebbi dunes near Merzouga are very achievable from Marrakech. We purchased our desert trip through Cameltrekking.com at a cost of 150 Euro ($243 AU)D) per person. The 560km trip involved two nights accommodation, one of which was in a desert camp. Transport was by A/C Prado 4WD’s with four passengers per vehicle. You will be put with other people if your party is not big enough to fill the vehicle.
We shared with the passenger from hell, but hey – the trip was still amazing and the camel ride into the desert doubly so. In mid-May the desert is hot and the sun obscured by a sandy haze. Ours was the last tour before the season finished.
Desert Trip Recommendation
If you have the time, a desert trip is a better option than an Atlas Mountain Tour as you will drive through the Atlas on route to the desert anyway. Although if you wanted to trek through the mountains a separate Atlas Mountain trekking tour would be best.
Bus from Marrakech to Merzouga.
It is also possible to go by public bus from Marrakech to Merzouga. Supratour have an 8.30 am bus departing from Marrakech (near the train station). It takes 12.5 hours but doesn’t allow for the awesome Ait ben Haddou, or stunning Dades Gorge or Todra Gorge. It would also then be necessary to arrange your own desert camping trip and diversions to Ait ben haddou and the gorges yourself. It certainly can be done if you have plenty of time and are experienced independent travellers.
Rent a Vehicle and Drive through the Atlas to the Desert.
Hiring a car would probably be a better option than the bus for those with limited time who didn’t want to do a tour as recommended above.
If you don’t have time to go the the desert there are options for camel riding on the outskirts of Marrakech.
Just a couple of hours outside of the walls of Marrakech is the laid back fishing port and tourist destination of Essaouira. Air conditioned Supra buses, owned by Marrakech Rail, ply the route. It is possible to visit on a day trip from Marrakech to Essaouria. But it’s such a delight staying in the old town, walking the battlements and strolling along the beaches favoured by kite surfers, we suggest staying for at least a couple of days.
Essaouria is perfect Ying to Marrakech’s Yang.
- Supra Bus. One Way. 80 MAD (11AUD).
10. Best place to stay in Marrakech Morocco
For an adventurous cultural experience stay in the Medina or old town where there are more than 1000 riads converted into tourist accommodation.
For a more spacious modern feel try a hotel in Gueliz – 4 km away in the new town.
You must Stay in a Riad
Riads, are large traditional homes with an internal courtyard and water features. Luckily today many have been turned into hotels and as accommodation goes they really add to the Marrakech experience.
Riad Maizie was purchased by the current owners (Miranda Innes and partner Dan) in 2001 as a wreck and rebuilt by men from the local mosque. You can read about it in Miranda’s book Cinnamon City.
Riad Maizie is located at the end of a steadily narrowing Derb al Cadi where, just as my overactive imagination was leading us to a grizzly end, the door opened to a peaceful welcoming courtyard.
The fountains were not working during our stay and are possibly still not!
Breakfast can be eaten in the courtyard or on the romantic rooftop. Dan was at the Riad during our visit and walked us into Jemaa El Fna square introducing us to some traders along the route. This made us feel at ease in the souk. At the same time having been introduced to them by our riad owners, the traders treated us in a friendly manner and I like to think it was why they never hassled us to buy.
Miranda’s son Will is the manager of the Riad and I believe he offers the same service. In any case we suggest taking photos on your mobile phone to ensure you can find your way home again. Marrakech is a full-on experience and we were grateful for a calm relaxing place to return to each night – a home cooked Moroccan meal can even be arranged.
Riad Maizie: 95 Derb al Cadi, Azbezt, Marrakech Medina
11. The Bahia Palace
This Palace has a history of intrigue. It was built in 1866 for Si Moussa the grand vizier of Sultan Moulay Houssan. Si’s son Bou Ahmed kept the Sultan’s death a secret so he could manipulate Moulay’s 14 year old son into Sultanship and install himself as Grand Vizier. Then he set about acquiring more land and houses to extend the Palace. When he died his servants trashed the place, but it was later restored during the French period. The Moroccan Ministry of Cultural Affairs is located here and you might well see visiting dignitaries arrive.
8 Rue de la Bahia. Opening Hours 8 am to 5 pm.
- Cost: 1 Euro.
12. Saadian Tombs
The final resting place of Sultan Ahmed el Mansour and his family. There are 66 family tombs in the two mausoleums and more than 100 servants and soldiers buried in the courtyard. Mansour himself was buried here in 1603 and in 1672 his successor, Sultan Moulay Ismail, set about destroying everything from his reign. He stopped short of destroying the tombs, instead sealing off all of the entrances apart from one hidden in the Kasbah Mosque. The French rediscovered them when doing an aerial survey in 1917 and set about restoring them. A story worthy of One Thousand and One Nights!
The Saadian Dynasty was a prosperous time for Marrakech but sadly, thanks to Sultan Moulay Ismail, the tombs are the only reminder today.
The tombs are in a narrow derb behind the southern side of the Kasbah Mosque. Arrive early or late to beat line-ups.
- Cost 10 MAD.
Inside the tombs.
13. Bert Flint or Tiskiwin Museum
Bert Flint is a Dutch Anthropologist who has lived in Marrakech since 1957. The artefacts on display are the favourites of his Amzigh Berber collection and now form part of the Marrakech University. This fully set up berber tent with implements, carpets and fabrics is inside the riad/museum. The riad itself is exquisite and the exhibits lead you through the Saharan trade routes from Marrakech to Timbuktu. Keep a look out for Bert who still hangs out in his office even though well into his 80’s.
- Entrance Fee: 15MAD
Tiskiwin – The best Marrakech Museum for African Artifacts.
14. Katoubia Mosque
Katoubia is a derivative of the Arab word koutoubiyyin meaning book seller– at one time more than 100 book vendors lined the streets at it’s base. Completed between 1184 to 1199 the interior of the mosque can only be visited by the faithful, but it has a public garden which is floodlit at night. The Minaret is a city landmark and it is forbidden to build anything higher than palm tree height around it. The Giralda tower in Seville was modelled on Katoubia which was in turn modelled on the Tinmel Mosque located 100km from Morrocco in the High Atlas Mountains. Tinmel is one of only two mosques in Morocco open to non-muslims. If you really want to see inside, this would be the perfect reason to visit the High Atlas!
Katoubia Mosque cut’s a romantic silhouette on the night sky from 200 metres away in Jemaa El Fnaa Square.
- Entrance: Free to Muslims. Forbidden to non-muslims.
15. Natural Remedies at a Herboristerie near Bab Agnaou.
Investigate the colourful world of natural remedies in Marrakech. It’ s quite interesting and they’re set up to sell to westerners with lists of ailments and cures. Amongst other things they sell cream for Eczema.
Another thing to buy here is Saffron. It makes a great gift for foodies and is lighter than a feather!
There are several Herboristeries in Marrakech, this one at:
Passage Prince My Rachid N°53 Rue la recette، Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
16. Menara Airport
Menara Airport is quite beautiful. I for one wasn’t expecting the modern diamond shaped portals, incorporating ancient Arabesque designs.
The domestic terminal connects with Casablanca in the north and shares the same building as the international terminal. Freight is handled from another.
The airport sees traffic of 4.5 million people per year.
- Ryan Air fly Seville>Marrakech one way for approx. 30 Euro! (probably the cheapest way to get to Marrakech)
- Jetstar fly London>Essaouria return for approx. £60!
Things to Know before you go.
Ben Youssef Madrasa is Closed
Once the largest Islamic School in Morocco and one of the largest in North Africa, Ben Youssef Madrasa was a popular place for tourists to view traditional architecture. A museum since 1960, it is unfortunately closed for two years as from October 2018. Tourism bodies and even your hotel or riad may not be aware of this. Expect re-opening any time in 2020.
The Koranic school was founded at the beginning of the 14th century and at one time had 900 students living there whilst studying law and theology.
Located at Kaat Benhadid access if through atmospheric narrow alleys.
Thanks for reading and commenting – we really appreciate it. If you have a blog, please add a travel post to the link below for Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday which we co-host with Ruth from Tanama Tales and Rachel from Rachel’s Ruminations.