Marrakech is without a doubt the most visited destination in Morocco. Located at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains the fourth largest city in Morocco was founded nearly a thousand years ago as an oasis in the arid Haouz plain. Today the city is formed of two distinct parts, the Medina (the old historical city) and the new city. The medina is known for its narrow, winding streets in beautiful ochre hues giving Marrakech the nickname of the ‘red city.’
Whilst many spend a whole week exploring Marrakech alone, most of the cities highlights can be seen in just one day.
What To See And Do in Marrakech
Almost all of the sights to see in Marrakech are located in the old Medina so it’s a good idea to base yourself here as most sights are within walking distance from each other.
The palace was built in the late 19th century with the intentions of being the most grand palace of its time. The name translates to ‘palace of the beautiful’ which fits it perfectly. The 160 room palace is set on eight hectares of gardens to get wonderfully lost in. Entrance is 40 Dirham.
The 12 acre botanical garden was designed by the French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920’s. In the 1960’s Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé discovered the gardens and quickly fell in love with it. When they heard it was to be sold off and replaced with a hotel they purchased the land themselves and brought it back to life. The studio was later transformed into a museum housing the Berber collection from the designers. When Yves died his ashes were scattered in the rose garden of the oasis.
The line to enter the gardens was the biggest of anywhere I experienced in Morocco, waiting at least an hour in the hot Moroccan sun for our tickets. It was also the most expensive place we visited at 70 dirham for the entrance fee. Whilst the garden was a beautiful and colourful oasis I didn’t love it enough to justify the long queue or price.
Ben Youssef Madrasa
The Islamic college was founded in the 14th century and is the largest medrasa in all of Morocco. It was closed down in the 1960s before being refurbished and reopened to the public in 1982. The architecture, like all Moroccan buildings, is stunning! Entrance costs 20 Dirhams.
D’Jemaa En Fnaa
Firstly, let me start with saying I have no idea what the actual correct spelling of this place is. Everywhere I look spells it differently but the one above is what I see the most, so if you have trouble finding it on google maps etc that is why.
The square is considered the heart of the city to the locals and is one of the liveliest attractions in all of Morocco. The mix of culture, colour, sights and sounds is a total hit of the senses. Jemaa means ‘congregation’ in Arabic and it perfectly describes the square that is filled with everything from storytellers, fortune tellers, musicians, snake charmers, magicians and dancers. It is recommended to visit the square during both the day and the night as the atmosphere changes drastically. One of the rooftop restaurants surrounding the square is the perfect place to watch the sunset and to people watch from above. Also, be sure to try a fresh fruit juice from one of the many stalls in the square.
The likelihood of getting scammed or pick-pocketed is much higher here so do be aware of your surroundings and your belongings. Annoyingly, as we left our Riad to enjoy exploring the square by sunset, we got hit with a massive rainstorm and as we only had one proper night in Marrakech sadly missed out on this experience (I’m not too upset though because I know I’ll be back one day – with an empty suitcase so I can go crazy shopping in the souks).
You will find people offering Henna Tattoos everywhere you go but be sure to choose someone who only uses the authentic red henna (the black is made with toxic chemicals). The best place to do this is at the Henna Café which guarantees that all henna is safe and that the women get paid a fair wage.
Explore the Souks
Opposite the square you’ll find the old souks of the medina where you can get wonderfully lost exploring the maze of stalls. The souks are full of fresh spices, intricate (and magic looking) lanterns, shoes, furniture and everything in between.
Where To Eat
We chose to eat at Roti D’or during the night of the storm as it was super close to our hotel, they did take-away and was rated the 8th best restaurant in all of Marrakech on trip advisor. We really enjoyed the shawarma and falafel wraps, which is a nice break from all of the tagine. It was also super cheap at only 30 Dirham.
Where To Stay
A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard in the center. Today many of these have been transformed into stylish hotels and no visit to Morocco is complete without staying in one yourself.
Whilst many luxury Riads cost in the hundreds (even thousands) per night you can still find many beautiful yet affordable Riads to stay.
We stayed at Riad Dabachi and I cannot recommend it enough. The Riad was perfectly located only five-minute walk away from the Jemaa El Fnaa Square (yet still so peacefully quiet), exceptionally clean and beautifully decorated in Moroccan architecture and textiles. The included breakfast was tasty and the staff very friendly and helpful. I would definitely stay there again in the future.