Many cities around the world would argue they deserve the claim of ‘busiest city with the most hustle and bustle’, and while we’re by no means qualified to give that accolade to any one city there’s something unique about the constantly active nature of Marrakech which is hard not to love. Within the Medina, many of the roads are far too skinny for cars to fit down, but the locals don’t let that get in the way of their journey from A to B. Combined with the flurry of motorbikes, horses and sheer volume of people, you’ll often be reminded by friendly passers by to stick to the left for your own safety!
Which leads us onto another standout feature, the people are absolutely lovely. We’d heard a lot of mixed feedback about travelling to Morocco, and maybe our experience was unique, but we found the locals to be some of the friendliest and also most helpful people we have met. Being asked, ‘Where are you from and what are you doing here?’ whilst walking through the streets wasn’t uncommon, and we have to confess at first we were cynical but were left feeling shamed when we realised it was simply curiosity which led to these conversations.
If you go in with an open mind, Morocco will welcome you with equally open arms. Below is a highlight of what we saw in the 5 days we were there, however given more time we’d recommend venturing out of Marrakech to see more of the country, including some of the coastal towns. We’ve tried our best to organise them in order of what we think you shouldn’t miss while there.
Jemaa el-Fnaa / Souks – Free
Jemaa el-Fnaa (the main square) and the souks are likely the most famous places to visit in Marrakech. They both completely encompass the spirit of Marrakech, bustling with friendly people buying and selling fresh foods, herbs and spices. These are an absolute must see if you’re going to visit!
The square almost has 2 personalities. There’s the calmer daytime square, full of stalls selling fresh juices (avocado, lychee, orange and plenty more), fresh mint and a whole host of other foods and sweets. It’s a great place to wander around, and the square is surrounded by restaurants which, despite having slightly touristy prices, offer a great view of the square (and still a cheap meal!).
At night the square transforms into something different, centred on eating out and entertainment. Where mint selling stalls once stood, they’re replaced with no shortage of places to eat (which we’ll cover in the food of Morocco post). The entertainers also come out at night, with groups of musicians and dancers surrounded by hordes of locals. There are also snake charmers and some performing monkeys if that’s your thing – however it wasn’t really ours.
Outside the square, you could wander through the Souks for hours and hours it’s so easy to get lost in them… which we recommend you do! Turn off the GPS, give yourself a couple of hours and just wander around – but be prepared to spend some cash, there’s bound to be something which will take your fancy. We ended up leaving with a Moroccan tea pot set after about half an hour of haggling (in English & Spanish). It’s great fun though and was one of our highlights so don’t miss it off the list of things to do.
Atlas Mountains – £££
While not quite worth it’s own post like other treks (largely due to the length) the Atlas mountains was a fantastic getaway from the bustling city. Although not technically in Marrakech, it should be on the top of your list unless you’re really not a a fan of hiking at all – and we think everyone is at heart…
Located about an hour away from the city, we booked our tour with Pathfinders Treks, and paid around €140 each for the 2 day, one night Azzadan valley trek. We booked only a few days in advance, but we spoke to several tour companies and there didn’t seem to be a problem – they all had spaces. We may have been at low season however as we only saw a couple of other people on the whole trek – which was a result!
We were picked up on the first day at 9am, driven to a cafe where we met our guide who talked us through the route and gave us a bit of background about himself. After some traditional mint tea we were on our way, and walked for around 2 hours.
We then stopped for a beautifully cooked lunch, with some stunning views to match and continued walking to a small town to spend the night.
The scenery was beautiful, and different to the thick jungles of Colombia we’d trekked through the previous year. We finished in a small Berber village, met some of the local villagers and ate what was probably some of the most gorgeous lamb and dates anywhere! Then we headed to bed early, as we started the next day for sunrise at 6:30am.
The second day is an early start, but it’s worth it to see the sunrise over the mountains, and a lie in would be pretty tough in the beds we were put up in. After an early breakfast we did about 2-3 hrs of climbing up to a viewpoint and the peak of the day. There were still signs leftover from the recent marathon in the mountains there, and hats off to anyone who could manage a marathon in the unforgiving Moroccan heat! It’s definitely worth taking in the view from the top here and we took a 15 minute break to do just that (and catch a few snaps!).
After a 2 hour walk down we had lunch in a setting which was straight out of a painting, under walnut trees by a flowing river. It was a lovely way to end the trek, and after 90 minutes of relaxing we headed back to the rush of the city.
Jardin Majorelle ££
A view from the gardens
Another contrast to the bustling Medina, the garden Majorelle is a beautiful place to spend a couple of hours relaxing. It was originally created by Jacques Majorelle however was bought by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 1980 to avoid it being replaced by real estate.
The popularity today is obvious, and we’d recommend going early if you want to visit as the queue is a lot larger than we thought it would be. Thankfully there were water spray jets located along the line which made it a bit nicer to bear, but going around in the midday heat was definitely a mistake of ours!
You can walk here from the Medina, it’s around 25 minutes from the wall, and costs 70 Dirhams. You’ll need to add on an extra 30 Dirhams if you would like to visit the Berber museum inside too. We did, and thought the museum was a nice touch with information about Berber life and grand displays of the traditional jewels and costumes. Ideally you’d visit in the morning, and then in the afternoon have lunch at Amal Cafe – although worth booking the latter as it understandably gets busy.
Saadin Tombs £
The Saadin tombs were a little different from what we expected – definitely understated and not dedicated to large grand structures. Rather, there are a number of graves with beautifully intricate mosaics around them. The largest room actually has a bit of a queue to go and see, but the combination of detail in the mosaics with the grandeur of the room is definitely worth it – and the tombs really aren’t that big so there’s no excuse to miss it.
Ben Youssef Madrasa £
Another site which will be on all the visitor lists in Marrakech, the Ben Youssef Madrasa is well worth a visit. It was a college – the largest in Marrakech – and you can wander around at your own pace. This is probably a place where we’d most likely recommend a tour however, since as pretty as it is I think some context would make it a much more interesting visit!
That said, a look around was still interesting, to see the intricate mosaics you’ll see on everyone’s instagram and also the rooms the students stayed in were a great insight into how they would’ve been living.
One other thing to note, the main courtyard is a common instagram snap and always looks beautiful, however we went late morning and it was flooded with tourists. If you’re going to ‘get the snap’ you probably want to be the first people in there!
Bahia Palace £
If you could combine the gardens of Jardin Majorelle and the fine artistic decorations of Ben Youssef Madrasa what you’d end up with is something closely resembling Bahia Palace. This was the last place in Marrakech we visited and we’re glad it was, to make sure nothing else was overshadowed in comparison!
The name literally means ‘Brilliance’ and it doesn’t disappoint. With a gorgeous main square, surrounded by gardens which are designed and maintained to perfection you can see that this was never built with intention of being second best in Marrakech. It was around 10 Dirham so an absolute must see – and we were in there for just over an hour.