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Marrakech Travel Guide: What to See and Do in Marrakech

January 16, 202319 min read.

Photo by Beatrice Sana on Unsplash

General Information of Marrakesh

Marrakech, also called the “city of Morocco” by early foreign travelers, has always been a kind of market where Berber tribesmen and villagers bring their wares, spend their money, and find entertainment.

Its heart is Jemaa el Fna square, an open space in the center of the city, and the scene of a long-established ritual in which shifting circles of spectators gather around troupes of acrobats, drummers, pipe musicians, dancers, storytellers, comedians, and fairground acts.

The architectural attractions of the city are no less convincing: the magnificent ruins of the El Badi Palace, the delicate carving of the Saadian Tombs, and, above all, the Koutoubia Minaret, the most perfect Islamic monument in North Africa.

Also known as the red city, its natural red ocher pigment that adorns its walls and buildings can sometimes seem overbearing, but there is no shortage of other colors.

Like all Moroccan cities, it is a city of two halves: the old walled medina, founded by Sultan Youssef Ben Tachfine in the Middle Ages, and the colonial Ville Nouvelle, built by the French in the mid-20th century.

Each has its own delights: The Medina with its palaces and ancient mansions, labyrinthine souks, and deeply traditional lifestyle. For its part, the Ville Nouvelle is characterized by its outdoor cafes, fashion boutiques, gardens, and boulevards.

Marrakech has become Morocco's capital of elegance, attracting the rich and famous from Europe and beyond. Although the vast majority of its residents are poor by any European standards, a growing number of wealthy foreigners are settling in, and their influence on the tourist experience is evident.

Geographical Location of Marrakech

Below, we show you where the city of Marrakech is located.

Map of Marrakech on Google Maps

Brief History of Marrakesh

Marrakech has Berber rather than Arab origins, as it developed as the metropolis of the Atlas tribes. Once, it was the meeting point for goods, slaves, gold, ivory, and even "Moroccan" leather caravanned from the ancient empires of Mali and Songhai via its great desert port of Timbuktu.

All of these branches of commerce and population shaped the city's souks and their way of life, and even today, in the crowds and artists of Jemaa el Fna square, the West African and nomadic influence can still seem quite distinctive.

Despite its size and the maze of its souks, Marrakech isn't too difficult to navigate. The wide-open space of Jemaa el Fna square is in the heart of the medina, with the main souks to the north and most major sights within easy walking distance.

Just to the west is the unmistakable landmark of the Koutoubia minaret, and from here the city's main artery, Avenue Mohammed V, leads through the walls of the medina at Bab Nkob and up along Guéliz, the center of Ville Nouvelle. You may want to consider hiring a guide to explore the Medina, but given a decent map, it's really not necessary.

Marrakech in Modern Times

Under the Alawites, Marrakesh lost its capital status to Meknes, but it remained an important imperial city, and the need to maintain a southern base against the tribes ensured the regular presence of their sultans.

From the 17th to the 19th century, it moved away from its medieval walls and lost much of its old trade.

Since independence, the city has undergone considerable change, with rural emigration from the Atlas Mountains and beyond, new farming methods on the Haouz plain, and the development of a significant tourist industry.

After Casablanca, it is the second largest city in Morocco, with just over a million inhabitants, and its population continues to increase.

It has a thriving industrial area and is the most important market and administrative center in southern Morocco.

Main Sites of Interest in Marrakech

Here we will tell you about the main attractions of Marrakech so that you do not miss any during your trip to Morocco.

Visit Place de la Kissaria and Its Surroundings

Place de la Kissaria, an open space surrounded by important public buildings, is located at the northern end of the souk area.

Its north side is dominated by the Ben Youssef Mosque, the successor to an original built by the Almoravid founders of the city.

The mosque was completely rebuilt under the Almohads and several times since, so the building you see today dates largely from the 19th century.

Get to Know the Almoravid Koubba

The Almoravid koubba is the only Almoravid building to have survived intact in Morocco, its style is at the root of all Moroccan architecture.

His motifs, such as pineapples, palm trees, and acanthus leaves, reappear in later buildings such as the nearby Ben Youssef Medersa.

The windows on each of the different sides became the classic forms of Almohad and Merenida design, as did the battlements, the complex "ribs" on the outside of the dome, and the square and star-shaped octagon on the inside. , which is itself, and repeated in each of its corners.

It was probably just a small ablutions annex to the Ben Youssef Mosque, but its architecture gives us our only clue as to what that mosque might have originally looked like.

Excavated only in 1952, the koubba had previously been covered over amid the numerous reconstructions of the Ben Youssef Mosque.

It is well below the current ground level and you have to go down two flights of stairs to reach the level on which it was built, now discovered once again thanks to excavations.

Once there, you can also look around the ancillary facilities, including a large water cistern, and remains of latrines and ablution fountains, much the same as you will still find next to many Moroccan mosques.

See the Ben Youssef Madrasa

The Ben Youssef Madrasa was a Koranic school attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque, where students learned the Quran by heart.

This is the most beautifully decorated building in Marrakech, with laces of classic Moroccan decor: zellij tiles, stucco plasterwork, and carved cedar wood, all worked to the highest standards.

Like most of its counterparts in Fes, Ben Youssef was a Merenid foundation, established by the "Black Sultan" Abou el Hassan (1331–49), but rebuilt in the 1560s, under the Saadians.

As with the slightly later Saadian Tombs, no surface is left undecorated. The overall quality of their craftsmanship, whether in carved wood, stucco, or zellij tiles, is astonishing.

Photo by Milad Alizadeh on Unsplash

The central patio, with lintels of carved cedar worn nearly flat on the more exposed side, is unusually large. Along two sides run wide, stout colonnaded arcades, which were probably used to supplement the teaching space in the neighboring mosque.

Above them are some of the dormitory windows, which are accessed by stairs from the entrance hall, and from which you can get an interesting perspective, and try to understand how more than eight hundred students were housed in the building. One room is furnished as if it were in use.

At its far end, the courtyard opens into a prayer room, where the decor, softened on the outside in the familiar pink hue of the city, is better preserved and more elaborate, with pineapple and palm motifs predominating.

Above them are some of the dormitory windows, which are accessed by stairs from the entrance hall, and from which you can get an interesting perspective, and try to understand how more than eight hundred students were housed in the building. . One room is furnished as if it were in use.

At its far end, the courtyard opens into a prayer room, where the decor, softened on the outside in the familiar pink hue of the city, is better preserved and more elaborate, with pineapple and palm motifs predominating.

Walk through the Fondouks

One of the most characteristic types of construction in the Medina is the fondouk or caravanserai.

Originally inns used by visiting merchants when in Marrakech to trade in its souks, the fondouks have a courtyard in the middle surrounded by what were originally stables, while the upper level contained rooms for the merchants.

Some date back to Saadian times (1520–1669) and others still has beautiful original wood carvings or stuccos.

At present, the fondouks of Marrakech are in different states of conservation; some have been converted into private residences, others into commercial premises.

Some have been converted to house tourist souvenir shops and welcome visitors, but even in others, the patio doors are often left open, and no one seems to mind if you go inside to take a look.

Have Fun in Jemaa el Fna Square

There is no place in Morocco quite like Jemaa el Fna, a place you will surely want to return to for more.

During the day, most of the plaza is just one big open space in which a handful of snake charmers charm their cobras with flutes, healers (especially in the northeast of the plaza) display cures and noses, and tooth pullers. , brandishing fearsome pliers.

In the afternoon, people go for a walk (especially on Rue Bab Agnaou) and the square gradually fills up until it becomes a whole carnival of storytellers, acrobats, musicians, and entertainers. Go downstairs and soon you will be immersed in the ritual: wandering around, squatting in the middle of the circles of spectators, and giving a dirham or two as a contribution.

If you want a breather, you can move to rooftop terraces, like the Café du Grand Balcon, for a view of the square, its storytellers and musicians, and the crowds that come to see them.

For refreshment, stalls offer orange and grapefruit juice (but squeeze it in front of you if you don't want it adulterated with water and sugar, or even pumpkin), while neighboring handcarts are packed with dates, dried figs, almonds and nuts, especially delicious in winter when freshly picked from the surrounding countryside.

At dusk, the square becomes a huge open-air dining room, lined with stalls lit by gas lanterns, and the air is filled with wonderful smells and columns of cooking smoke that spiral up into the night.

Explore the Souks of Marrakech

The souks, north of Jemaa el Fna, are huge and varied markets, and are often known as “the cradle of haggling”.

All of them are found in alleyways, which seem impossible to navigate the first few times you visit them, even though they cover areas that are quite compact.

If you stay for a few days, you'll probably return to the souks often, and this is a good way to welcome them, highlighting a couple of specific crafts or products to view, rather than being overwhelmed by the whole.

To familiarize yourself with the general layout, you might find it useful to go through the entire area once with a guide, but it's certainly not essential: with a reasonable map, you can easily navigate the souks on your own, besides, getting a bit lost is part of the fun.

The most interesting times to visit are early in the morning (6:30 to 8:00 in the morning) and late in the afternoon, around 4:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon. When some of the souks auction products to local merchants.

At night most of the stalls are closed, but you can wander around undisturbed to take a look at the elaborately decorated doors and arches; The positions that stay open, until 7:00 or 8:00 PM, are usually more willing to trade at the end of the day.

The easiest access to the main souks from Jemaa el Fna is off Rue des Banques, where a lane to the left of the Terrasses de l'Alhambra restaurant leads to Souk Ableuh, dominated by olive stalls. Continue this way and you will come out in front of the arch that marks the beginning of Rue Souk Smarine.

Photo by Esteban Palacios Blanco on Unsplash

Visit the Bahia Palace in Marrakech

The Bahia Palace was originally built in 1866-1887 for Si Moussa, a former slave who had become Moulay Hassan's chamberlain and then grand vizier.

His son, Bou Ahmed, who served as chamberlain under Moulay Hassan, became kingmaker in 1894 when Hassan died while returning home from a Harka (tax-collecting expedition). Ahmed concealed the news of the sultan's death until he could declare Hassan's fourteen-year-old son Moulay Abd el Aziz sultan in his place, with himself as grand vizier and regent.

In this way, he gained virtually complete control over the state, which he exercised until his death in 1900. He began expanding the Bahia (which means “brilliance”) in the same year as his coup, adding a mosque, a hammam, and even an orchard.

When he died, his servants ransacked the palace, but it was restored and, during the Protectorate, housed the French Resident General.

Meet the El Badi Palace in Marrakech

Though substantially in ruins and reduced entirely to its red-pile walls, enough remains of El Badi remain to suggest that his name (the “Incomparable”) was not entirely immodest.

The palace was originally commissioned by the Saadian Sultan Ahmed el Mansour shortly after his accession in 1578. The money came from the huge ransom paid by the Portuguese after the Battle of the Three Kings.

His 17th-century successor, Moulay Ismail, required more than ten years of systematic work to strip the palace of everything of value. There is still a lingering feeling of luxury and grandeur.

What is seen there today is essentially the ceremonial part of the palace complex, planned on a large scale for the reception of ambassadors, and not intended for everyday life.

The scale of the palace, with its sunken gardens and vast swimming pool ninety meters long, is unrivaled. You can also walk through their vast corridors and even dungeons.

Step Inside the Majorelle Garden

The Majorelle Garden, or Jardin Bou Saf, is a five-hectare botanical garden. It is meticulously planned and was created during the 1920s and 1930s by the French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962). It later became the property of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

The sense of tranquility in the garden is enhanced by verdant groves of bamboo, dwarf palms, and agave, the cactus garden, and lily-covered pools.

The Art Deco pavilion at the heart of the garden is painted a striking cobalt blue, the color of French workmen's overalls, Majorelle said, though it appears to have been enhanced by Moroccan light.

This brilliantly offsets both the plants (multicolored bougainvillea, rows of bright orange nasturtiums, and pink geraniums) as well as the strong colors of the pergolas and concrete walkways: pinks, lemon yellows, and apple greens.

The enduring sound is the chatter of bulbuls, flitting among the leaves of the date palms, and the pools you'll see there also attract other bird residents like turtle doves and house buntings.

Photo by Kostas Fotiadis on Unsplash

Leaving the garden, he ignores the taxi drivers waiting outside, who won't take him unless he pays beyond the odds. The answer is to just walk to the main road and take a taxi there.

Visit the Berber Museum

In Majorelle's former studio, located inside the pavilion, the Berber Museum begins with an exhibition about the Berbers of Morocco, their culture and languages, and where in the country they live, before launching (in the next room) into an exhibition of traditional Berber crafts, including textiles and rug making, and showing the tools used to make them, as well as the finished items.

There is even a beautiful, but slightly rickety wooden minbar (mosque pulpit) from the Middle Atlas, decorated with Berber designs.

The next room is dedicated to jewelry, all silver since gold is considered unlucky in the Berber tradition.

The last room contains a sample of Berber costumes from different regions of the country.

When to Visit Marrakech

Marrakech's high season is from April to November, so we recommend that you take these months into account if you want to enjoy the heat of summer.

And if you are one of those who suffocate quickly, or prefer to visit the city when there is less tourism, don't worry, you can visit it at any time of the year because it has a climate with little rainfall that will allow you to visit the city practically at any time.

Just keep in mind the Islamic religious calendar, to be able to find the open attractions.

Eating and Drinking in Marrakech

Guéliz has most of the city's French-style cafes, bistros, and restaurants, as well as most bars.

In the Medina, there are the food stalls of Jemaa el Fna, many cheap cafes-restaurants, and several luxury palaces-restaurants.

The dish that Marrakesh is known for throughout Morocco is tanjia, or jarred meat, usually beef, but sometimes lamb.

Strictly speaking, the tanjia is the jar itself, and the traditional way to make a tanjia is to go to the butcher with your jar (or use one of the butcher shops), buy the meat and spices to put in it, and then take it to the butcher shop.

Most reasonably fancy Marrakech restaurants offer tanjia, as do the cheaper tanjia diners, like the stalls opposite the olive souk, where it's best to order ahead.

Don't forget to try the flavors and spices that characterize the markets of this region!

Photo by Laura Cortesi on Unsplash

Entertainment and Nightlife in Marrakech

Entertainment and nightlife in the Medina revolve around the Jemaa el Fna square. For a drink in the Medina, the options are limited; In addition to the Tazi, you can have a beer, or more likely a cocktail, at Café Arabe, Kosybar, or Le Tanjia, all of which double as upscale bars.

In the Ville Nouvelle, there is more variety; some of the bars are more masculine but women should be fine in Chesterfield and also in hotel bars like Akabar and Ibis as well as Comptoir Darna which is an upscale bar and restaurant.

Nightclubs can be fun, although some at the higher end of the market are a bit snooty and may frown, for example, in jeans or sneakers; most play a mix of Western and Arabic music, but it's the latter that really packs the dance floor.

None of them really get going until around midnight (in fact, some don't open until then) and they usually stay open until 3 or 4 am.

Festivals and Events in Marrakech

The two-week-long Festival National des Arts Populaires, held each year in June or July, is the country's biggest and best music and folklore festival, featuring musicians and dancers from all over Morocco and beyond, spanning the range of Moroccan music.

Shows start around 9 p.m. and they are preceded by a fantasy at the Bab Jedid, with Berber horsemen at full gallop firing weapons into the air.

Marrakech also has an annual marathon, held on the third or fourth Sunday of January, and the Marrakech Film Festival in November or early December, in which featured films are shown in cinemas throughout the city and on screens. great ones in the El Badi Palace and the Jemaa el Fna.

The Marrakech Biennale is a visual arts festival held in even-numbered years at the end of April or the beginning of May, with events taking place around city venues.

In March of each year, TEDx Marrakech is a series of TED-style talks delivered in Saadian.

Stay in Marrakech

The Medina is the area where you will find the main concentration of small and cheap hotels, especially in the area around the Jemaa el Fna square.

It's also where you'll find most of Marrakech's riads, usually tucked away in its alleyways. Guéliz, whose hotels tend to be concentrated in the mid-range, is more accessible to transportation, especially the train station.

The hotels in Hivernage and Semlalia are upmarket, in modern buildings with swimming pools, but they are rather soulless. Advance reservations are a good idea, especially for the more popular places in the Medina.

The busiest times are the Easter holiday periods and the Christmas and New Year periods when practically all decent places can be full.

Haggling in Marrakech

In Marrakech you will find one of the largest and most important traditional markets in Africa, so shopping is an experience in itself.

However, shopping in this city entails exercising an art that Moroccans appreciate very much: the art of haggling.

And is that, unlike other places where trying to get a lower price can be considered disrespectful, in Morocco, there is a whole tradition of haggling, and, in general, the first price offered by the seller is usually excessively high waiting for let the negotiations to begin.

So, if you plan to do some shopping in Marrakech be prepared to haggle, with a mint tea through.

Shopping in Marrakesh

There are plenty of shops in Marrakech selling all kinds of handicrafts, but nothing that isn't cheaper elsewhere.

The appeal of Marrakech is that you don't have to go anywhere else to get it, and if you're flying home from Marrakech, buying your souvenirs here means you won't have to carry them with you across the country.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Looking to marvel at some incredible historic architecture? Do you want to know the most important market in Morocco? Do you want to delight yourself with exquisite gastronomy from another culture?

If your answer is "Yes", at Greca we have several proposals for tourist packages to Marrakech, which you can modify and adapt according to your needs and times.

You can also contact Greca for personalized attention for your next trip!

Which month is cheaper to travel to Marrakech?

May to September is the low season for Marrakech.

What is the best time to travel to Marrakesh?

Marrakech enjoys good temperatures to get to know it practically all year round, however, we recommend that you take into account its religious calendar to make sure that its attractions are not closed.

What clothes should I take to Marrakech?

To travel to Marrakech we recommend you take light linen or cotton clothing and the occasional jacket since the average temperature is 25 degrees.

What are the requirements to visit Marrakech?

You must have a passport valid for 6 months to enter Morocco.

Are the tours in Marrakech in Spanish?

Yes! The tours hired from Greca can be in Spanish or English. Check with your travel agent.

Private transfer in Marrakech

From Greca we can assign you a private transfer so that you can enjoy your visit to Marrakech comfortably and safely.

Availability of excursions in Marrakech

With Greca we make sure that you have availability of excursions in all destinations. Best of all, you won't have to wait to buy your tickets or wait in long lines for each attraction!

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