Marrakech (sometimes also spelt as Marrakesh) in Morocco is a magical destination, a place where your senses can really come alive with all the captivating sights, sounds, and smells.
Whilst the narrow maze-like streets of the medina (old walled town) are a hive of frenetic and frenzied activity, with many people, bicycles, scooters, and the odd donkey here and there, labouring to pull a heavily-laden cart, you can still find pockets of peace and serenity in beautiful gardens.
If you’re craving a more familiar atmosphere, you can also head outside of the medina to the newer part of the city, Gueliz. Here you will find gleaming high-end shopping malls, chic and sophisticated cafes and restaurants, wide palm-lined streets, and a much less-chaotic vibe than in the old town.
The fourth-largest city in Morocco, and a former imperial city, here are some top things to enjoy on a trip to Marrakech:
1. Haggle hard in the traditional souks
Marrakech is well-known for its bustling souks, traditional markets, where you can buy almost anything, including things you never even knew you needed! Small shops are crammed into tiny alleys, their wares spilling out onto the pavement.
If the bright colours don’t manage to capture your imagination, the lingering aromas of spices are sure to tickle your nostrils! Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, a walk around the souks of Marrakech is highly recommended.
Enchanting lamps hang above, their beautiful metalwork and coloured glass begging for attention. Traditional leather shoes can be found in a dazzling assortment of colours, and you’ll find clothes galore. From kaftans (long and loose dresses, shirts, or tops that are available for both men and women) to t-shirts, there are many garments to entice you. Exquisite Arabian rugs proudly display ornate and intricate patterns, charming traditional tea sets are laid out, and there are plenty of knick-knacks to take home as small gifts and souvenirs.
Haggling is commonplace, and you should never accept the first price as stated by a vendor. Do remember, however, the economical differences between Morocco and your home country whilst agreeing a price, and keep in mind that, although tourists are often seen as fair game, people are still just trying to make a living.
2. Be wowed at Djemaa El-Fna
If you haven’t had enough shopping in the souks, there are plenty more stalls at Djemaa El-Fna! An enormous square, it is also well-known for its performers and street entertainers.
The atmosphere is a little calmer during the daytime; wander around and enjoy a tasty glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice (Morocco produces some of the most delicious oranges!), browse even more products for sale, and enjoy a local meal, such as tagine or couscous, at one of the food stalls and eateries.
Depending on your views on animals being used for entertainment, you can also have your picture taken with a monkey sitting on your shoulder. Even more enticing, however, is to see a snake charmer! Watch as fearsome cobras sway to the melodic tunes and feel yourself being dragged under the almost hypnotic spell yourself!
At night time, the square is at its most scintillating. Even more performers come to captivate the crowds, and you’ll see artists, fortune tellers, dancers, drummers, people creating henna tattoos, and more! It’s a place that has to be experienced to be believed!
3. See the impressive Koutoubia Mosque
The largest mosque in Marrakech, Koutoubia Mosque, dates back to the 1100s. On the site of an even older mosque, it is one of the city’s most significant places for the local Muslim population as well as being a major draw for tourists.
Although non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the mosque, you can still enjoy the striking building from outside. Its towering minaret can be seen from far and wide, proudly soaring 77 metres (253 feet) into the sunny skies. You will also hear a man called a muezzin issuing the entrancing call to prayer, the harmonious sound booming out from high up the minaret at different times of the day. This is the signal for Muslims to pray. The call to prayer occurs five times a day, around daybreak, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and a couple of hours after sunset.
Go through a stone archway to the side of the minaret, and you can head underground into an old washroom. You can watch an informative presentation about the mosque, whilst learning more about its history, present, and plans for the future.
There is no charge, although, as with many things in Morocco, you will likely be required to give a small tip (around 10 MAD / 1 USD) to the person at the entrance. Lush gardens sit to the rear of the mosque.
4. Relax in the peaceful and attractive Majorelle Gardens
There are several pretty gardens in Marrakech, with one of the most popular being the Majorelle Gardens. Home to a diverse collection of plants from all over the world, wander along paths that are shaded by overhanging bamboo, marvel at large prickly cacti, and admire shimmering ponds and vibrant flowers. Small lizards scuttle across the ground and you can delight in the sweet sound of birds singing. Interestingly, the gardens also have a commemorative monument to the late French fashion designer, Yves St Laurent.
Admission to Majorelle Gardens is 70 MAD (approximately 7.20 USD) for non-Moroccan visitors.
There is also a small onsite Berber Museum (admission 30 MAD / 3.10 USD) where you can learn more about Berber traditions and culture.
5. Journey back in time at ancient palaces
There are two significant old palaces in Marrakech: El Badi Palace and El Bahia Palace.
El Badi Palace now stands in glorious ruins, a reminder of how grand the city was in times gone by. It was built in the 1500s. Although reconstruction work is currently being carried out at the palace, it is still easy to soak up the character and ambience.
A large complex, make sure that you wear shoes suitable for dusty ground and climbing up and down steps! Head underground to stroll through tunnels, and climb to the viewing terrace for arresting views over the site. Storks nest on the ruined walls and cats wander through the courtyards. Admission costs 10 MAD (approximately 1 USD) for non-Moroccan visitors.
El Bahia Palace is much more decorative, letting you take a peek into the lives of the Moroccan elite in the 19th century. The gardens make for a pleasant stroll, and you can admire the rich décor and patterns of the small interior. The entrance fee for non-Moroccans is 10 MAD (approximately 1 USD).
Other fantastic things to enjoy in Marrakech
There are many historic and cultural sites around Marrakech; even just roaming around the streets will present you with many interesting pieces of architecture and great photo opportunities.
Other recommended places to visit include the large Medersa Ben Youssef, a former school that boasts gorgeous artistic and architectural details (admission 20 MAD / 2.10 USD), and the interesting Dar Si Said Museum with its varied items and exhibits (admission 25 MAD / 2.60 USD). Enjoy the tranquillity of Palmeraie with its many palm trees, and perhaps have a go at riding a camel or ATV (all terrain vehicle). The Saadian Tombs (admission 10 MAD / 1 USD), with their mosaics and decorative touches, are another popular attraction in Marrakech.
Book your trip to marvellous Marrakech and fall in love with this vibrant and exciting city of contrasts.
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