Marrakech was the first stop on itinerary for a trip to Marocco, and as a first stop, I have to say it has been quite intense. Morocco leaves no room for in-betweens. It’s all either black or white and in Marrakech this aspect is emphasized.
I had to wait a while before writing this article about the best things to do in Marrakech, because I like to set each post with a critical and objective approach and I mean not just mentioning the locations where to go or where to stay. I needed to process part of this trip and think calmly, to have a free minded opinion about Morocco and the sensations it gave me.
Marrakech, as I said, was a challenging start. I consider it one of those cities that you love or hate, a bit like Bangkok that I madly adore. The conclusion I have come to is that if it were not for the constant oppression of the local people, this city would certainly be on the podium of my favourite cities.
If we exclude this stress, because we could actually talk about stress, derived from the continuous avoidance of requests, denial of offers and possible scams, etc. We would realize that Marrakech, as well as having a lot of things to see, is a disarmingly fascinating city.
Will you visit Marrakech? What to do before
First practical tip: to avoid wasting time during your visit to Marrakech and above all to arrive safely (even in the evenings) I advise you to definitely book the transfer service between the airport and the city that takes you directly to your hotel. -> CLICK HERE for Airport Transfer – City Centre/Hotel
If you want to discover Marrakech in total peace and quiet and having already purchased the tickets to the attractions and tours without risking the risk of being ripped off on site, I recommend these tours with an English guide that you will surely appreciate:
It’s about visiting Marrakech with someone who will make you appreciate it at its best. A private tour allows you to ask any question without feeling embarrassed, so you can fully immerse yourself in Moroccan culture! One little thing not to underestimate: they will pick you up directly from the hotel or riad where you are staying. Not bad!
One more tip: a tour not to be missed is the Marrakech food tour (in ENGLISH), also highly recommended. Exploring the food culture with someone who knows it very well is very recommendable.
Excursions from the city of Marrakech: the Desert
A stay in Marrakech could also be a good choice to make the city your base for excursions in the surroundings. Those who make a trip to Morocco want to fully immerse themselves in scenarios such as the desert, the charm of camels at sunset. If you want to try these beautiful experiences I can do nothing but recommend the 3-day excursion to Merzouga (also includes the beautiful Dades gorges) or 2 days in the desert of Zagora (at this price is not to be missed)
Where to stay in Marrakech? In Riads, of course!
Marrakech is a city where silence is an utopia. The Jemaa El Fna square is crowded from dawn to dusk.
Music of snake charmers, screaming merchants, the Muezzin call to prayer (5 times a day), etc. In addition, as soon as you set foot in the city, you will notice that the traffic is heavy. The classic circular sign with the barred horn that is often found in urban centers, just forget it, they have probably never seen it in their lives. I think there is also a “code for the honking” because some people play it loud, some just tap it, some other tap it twice… I think they have different meanings.
Staying in a Riad: one thing to do in Marrakech
To say that one of the things to do is to get away from the blender called Marrakech and sleep in a riad. The chaos and noise of Marrakech’s medina suddenly vanishes and you enter a haven of peace and serenity that clashes with what happens outside.
The Riads are typical Moroccan square-shaped houses. They are developed vertically and were once homes inhabited by entire families. They often have small pools in the central open-air patio, decorated with different types of plants.
The riads are located in secondary streets and from the outside you can’t see anything inside. The entrance consists of just one main door, and once it is open you enter a dimension different from the chaotic Marrakech.
I stayed at the beautiful Riad Dar Yema which is located on a side street 5 minutes walk from the main square of Marrakech. I had a great time, there is a lot of attention to detail, cleanliness and kindness, I don’t know how many mint tea with cookies I was offered! Plus, they give lot of attention to the breakfast, which is perfect!
What to see and do in Marrakech
Like many other Moroccan cities, the imperial city of Marrakech is divided into the old city and the new city. The old city is none other than the medina, a term that you will hear over and over again on a trip to Morocco. The old part and the new part are extremely different from each other and are bounded by the walls that surround the entire medina. Most of the things to do are within the walls.
7 Best things to do in Marrakech
Just like many other Moroccan cities, the imperial city of Marrakech is divided into old and new city. The old city is nothing less than the medina, a term you will hear over and over again when travelling in Morocco. The old part and the new part are extremely different from each other and are marked by the walls that surround the whole medina. The majority of the things to do lies within the walls.
1 – Visit the medina of Marrakech
We could say that the medina represents the foundation of the Arab cities. In Marrakech it is quite vast, a maze of narrow streets and alleys that sometimes leave room for small squares. I would say, as far as other destinations are concerned, that the best way to visit a city is to get lost in its alleys and discover corners and nuances of a place that sometimes is missed. This is not the case in Marrakech. Here, in my opinion, this approach is not advisable.
The places of interest in Marrakech can also be reached independently but if you are going to “get lost in the alleys” it is better to ask for an official local guide.
A small mention about the walls of the medina. You will notice that they are characterized by several holes; the scaffolding used to build the wall was inserted inside the structure itself, at the time of removing it there are still these holes that now also have the purpose of allowing air circulation.
Discover the medina with this suggested tour with an English PRIVATE TOUR.
2 – Visit Bahia Palace and the Saadian tombs
A place of interest in Marrakech strongly related to the cultural and historical aspects of the city. As soon as you enter the Bahia Palace it feels like you are thrown into the Alcazar of Seville. The Bahia Palace stretches over 8 hectares but only a small part of them are open to the public.
The palace was built around 1860 and was home to 4 wives and 24 concubines. Beautifully decorated with a central patio which is contrasted by much larger spaces, a beautiful place just a few steps from the center of Marrakech.
The Saadian tombs are a short distance from the Bahia Palace. In this case there is not much to see apart from standing completely astonished in front of the royal tombs. I assure you that you will be truly amazed before the luxury of the decorations.
Both the Bahia Palace and the Saadian Tombs entrance fee cost 10 dirhams, approximately 1 euro.
Please note: when you buy a ticket, always ask for the entrance coupon. Often and willingly they do not give it to you and this is not beneficial for the maintenance of the site. If you don’t get the ticket, they keep the money.
The source of the information I have just given you is an official guide of Marrakech.
3 – Reinvigorating at the Majorelle Gardens
In Marrakech, if there is a place where you can come back in peace with yourself, it is surely this one, even if with the huge amount of anonymous selfie or photos in a thousand postures and with different types of gradients and blue shades, the magic tends to fade away.
The Majorelle Gardens are an oasis within the new city of Marrakech. A pathway across the water and plants of all kinds that ends near the blue building, coloured by the majorelle blue that characterizes all the gardens. A particular shade of blue which, although intense, contributes to relaxation.
The gardens are relatively recent. They are just over a hundred years old. They were built around the year 1900 by Jacques Majorelle and were later opened to the public a few years later. In 1980 Pierré Bergé and Yves Saint-Lauren, after Majorelle’s death in the 1960s, bought the gardens and donated them to the city.
The Majorelle Gardens are absolutely a site to see in Marrakech. They are not in the city centre and it takes about 20 minutes to reach them on foot from Jemaa El Fna Square, partly among the souks of the medina and partly under the scorching sun in the new city. My advice is to consider calling a taxi if you have problems with the heat. In about 10 minutes it takes you to the gardens and the cost is approximately 50 dirhams, which can be negotiated.
I went on foot on the way out and on the way back, because of the hot sun, I called a taxi.
Be careful: don’t ask for the taxi right outside the gardens because they are part of a cartel and ask for 100 dirhams to get you downtown. I advise you to go back to the main road and catch one of the taxis driving by, the price will be lower.
The entrance fee to the Majorelle Gardens is 50 dirhams, 70 if you want to visit the Museum in the complex..
Tip: access Majorelle Gardens with the free-stress private tour (click for the tour).
4 – Visit the Medersa Ben youssef
It has been a great discovery. It wasn’t originally planned, but I’m glad I changed my mind and included it. Be careful that to visit it you will pass through the souks of the artisans, so study your way before getting lost in the alleys.
The Medersa is the former Koranic school and is said to be the largest and most beautiful in all of Morocco. There is a similar one also in medina of Fez but even according to the guide who followed us in Fes, the one in Marrakech is much more beautiful. And in fact it is so. Even here, thanks to all the magnificent decorations, you can feel the hidden charm of Marrakech. It’s one of those places where you have to stop and simply marvel at its beauty.
The entrance fee is 20 dirhams, a little bit less than 2 euros. Also in this case you must get the entrance ticket.
5 – Try the Hammam
I admit that I did not try hammam. The Augustan heat of Marrakech was already sufficient. However, the experience in a hammam is something to enjoy in Morocco. It is a purifying ritual that is very rooted in the Muslim tradition and in addition to filling in daily moments it is also a milestone at certain moments of life such as the celebration of a wedding.
Book a hammam -> A recommended experience! Click here to find out how
6 – Enjoy a sunset in Jemaa El Fna Square with Koutoubia in the background
Jemaa El Fna is the main square of Marrakech, you will cross it over and over again. It is a “transformist” square and always busy. There are several stalls in the morning, afternoon and evening. The square changes its face for the umpteenth time and an indefinite number of street food restaurants appear. This term is not really indicated, the stalls of the restaurants are almost identical, they all make the same food and all have their own area beyond which they can not bother possible customers passing by.
Jemaa El Fna is famous for its undisputed charm that can be enjoyed from one of the many terraces of the bars adjacent to the square.
Mind you, there is not just one bar, almost all of those present on the perimeter feature a panoramic terrace. The most famous and most photographed is undoubtedly that of the “Le Gran Balcon du Café Glacier” from which you can watch the sunset and the Koutoubia overlooking the entire city.
The square is a continuous buzz, tourists and traders merge into the large crowd, the music of the snake charmers echoes with the setting sun. Marrakech and its square change, the lights give it a touch of magic that you can only perceive from the top of a terrace in the silence between sips of a good mint tea.
The square of Marrakech is the true icon of the city but be careful not to be overwhelmed and charmed. The “rip-off” is always just around the corner. Don’t get involved with snake charmers or women who make henna tattoos, don’t be fascinated by the little monkey who will want to get close to you. Everything is beautiful and curious, but every medal has its reverse, everything has a cost and so, after the little monkey has gently greeted you, you will be less gently asked for money. Anyway, be aware of this.
Height is the “way to salvation”, do you want to admire Jemaa El Fna Square? From the top of the terraces is the best solution, you can also admire the sunset. Marrakech with its colours of the sunset and the Koutoubia in the background shows the best of itself and captivates with its charm.
7 – Visit the Souks of Marrakech
The souks represent the soul of Marrakech, the place where the trading and craft life of the city unfolds. A maze of narrow alleys with shops on the right and left. There are those who sell jewelry, shoes, glasses, food, lamps, items I have never seen … in the souks of Marrakech you can find everything.
Walking around in the souks is one of the best things to do in Marrakech, but I sugggest you to do it with a private tour as I said before. Visiting a souk means shopping among mopeds that whizz by at ten centimeters and mules that you have to give way to, is one of the activities that you can not miss in Marrakech.
The souks are also fascinating and even more so in the area of the artisan workshops where all the products are processed. From the area of iron to the area of wood, watching the artisans at work is a pleasure. The problem is that you will hardly be able to linger for more than a few seconds.
In a short time someone will ask you if you need information. Someone will ask you what you want to buy,. Someone else will tell you that you are similar to Moroccans and will try to empathize with you and then be able to get confidence. I mean, it’s all very nice, if only you could enjoy it.
In spite of this, once you have got used to the Moroccans of Marrakech, you will be able to alienate yourself and focus on what you are interested in. However, the first hours in Marrakech will be a continuous awe, especially if you begin visiting the city from the souks.
If you need further information I suggest you to visit the official Marrakech page of Visit Morocco.
Is Marrakech dangerous?
This is a question that many people ask. Honestly, after 3 days spent visiting Marrakech, I was consumed by the behavior of the locals, I was fatigued by the continuous feeling of not being able to trust anyone because this nobody would have buried me with information partly truthful and partly convenient.
Within only 10 minutes in 4 people had approached me saying that I was similar to a Moroccan, guessing my city of origin. Each of them had an uncle, a cousin, a brother, in short, someone known who lived in my town. Well, I started to suspect from the fourth guy. In fact, all four of them ended the conversation by pushing me to go on to the tanneries, since it was the last day of the “festival of colors”, it was the last day that those from the mountains were coming to the city … in short, I could not miss it.
So, I started asking myself… are they all “clairvoyants”?
Of course not, but they all wanted to take me to the tanneries, to the tanneries’ scam. It’s not true that there was an event that was held only that day, in Marrakech there are some tanneries not as famous as the ones in Fes… it seems that once the visit to the tanneries is over, you have to pay quite a lot of money. The fact is that if they should approach you with this excuse, remember to refuse it.
So, back to the question ” Is Marrakech dangerous?” Maybe you’d say YES, but the real answer is NO.
I’ve never had a moment when I felt truly in danger. Marrakech is as dangerous as an Italian city. You wouldn’t go to certain places and suburbs of an Italian city, right? Well, the same goes for Marrakech, just be careful where you go.
Marrakech is NOT dangerous as long as the classic logic of common sense is put into play, it is simply chaotic and pushy, sometimes annoying for the reasons I have described in this article..
What do I think of Marrakech?
Let me pick up on the initial post…the problem of this city is its inhabitants’ mindset. It’s not about some tourist price increase that can happen in the souks, it’s about the general feeling that overwhelms you during the visit of the city.
You are too stressed and, in my opinion, you cannot be charmed by Marrakech. In the souks, for example, I would have spent hours there, and yet that’s not what happened, I didn’t buy anything. I know, one of the characteristics of the Arab peoples is trade and bargaining, but that is not what I am talking about; I am talking about the constant feeling of being scammed, which is less noticeable in other cities, although it has been a common thread throughout my trip to Morocco.
So I think that Marrakech is one of the most beautiful and original city I have seen so far and if it would be possible to limit that claustrophobic feeling of oppression, I think that from a touristic point of view it would be very beneficial to this fascinating city.!
Maybe you can be interest in this my article: Is it safe to travel to Morocco?