Many people think about Marrakech holidays with desert tours and Berber adventures in mind. I went there with the same thought that I’d be able to take photos of impressive sand dunes, starry skies and camel caravans. Such things aren’t possible when you have only one week to spend in Marrakech and when you’ve booked the same accommodation for the whole period. Nonetheless, there are many cool things to do in Marrakech, so let’s see how you can spend a fascinating holiday in this intriguing city. Funny enough, I loved Morocco way more than Egypt, as I felt much safer.
Where Is Marrakech?
Marrakech (apparently, this is the French spelling of the name; the English spelling is Marrakesh) is located in the middle of Morocco, to the north of the Atlas Mountains. You may think this geographic position makes it the perfect home base for lots of trips across Morocco. That’s what I used to think, anyway, but life proved me wrong. Before getting there this April, I though I was going to take a few day trips from Marrakech to Ait Benhaddou and Ouazarzate, Essaouira, Agadir, and perhaps Casablanca. In reality, the only proper one day trip from Marrakesh is the one to Essaouira, to the Atlantic Ocean. All other places are too far away to return the same day. If you’ve already booked accommodation in Marrakech for your entire holiday, you may want to take some cool trips to the Atlas Mountains, to the beautiful Ourika Valley, to the Berber villages, and to the Ouzoud Falls.
Click here to see some interesting tours from Marrakech. Make sure you book yours before it sells out. I’ll cover the Three Valley tour I’ve taken in a future article.
Cool Things To Do in Marrakech
Depending on how many days you can afford to spend here, you may be able to sneak in several Marrakech day trips. For the rest of the time, you’ll have plenty of activities to choose from. Let’s take a closer look at all things to do in Marrakech I’ve tried and enjoyed during my one-week holiday. I’d say that one week is enough to get the gist of this colorful city and its cultural heritage. The activities below aren’t ranked by any criteria. I list them as they come to my mind.
1. Get Lost in the Medina
The Medina is the old citadel of Marrakech. Surrounded by walls and featuring several impressive gates, the Medina is one of the most lively spots I’ve ever seen. It is probably the best place to stay, because most things to do in Marrakech are inside the Medina. I stayed at Chems Hotel, nearby La Koutubia, and I warmly recommend it. Nonetheless, if you prefer to stay in a riad, check out these interesting options.
The Medina is cosmopolitanism at its best. You’ll find here people of all colors, races, beliefs, and walks of life. The snake charmers, the acrobats and the artists do their performance on Djemaa El-Fna Square, while locals and tourists alike watch them. If you ever wanted to find a safe place on Earth, a place where you can’t stand out from the crowd no matter what you’d wear, say or do, come to Marrakech. It will fit you like a glove, no matter your age, gender, race or any other label that irreconcilably splits our world.
This is the central point of Marrakech, the Djemaa El-Fna Square, with La Koutubia mosque on the clouds background.
We’ve got some rainy days in Marrakech. The first thing I’ve bought here was an umbrella. I took this photo in the park in front of La Koutubia mosque. Unfortunately, La Koutubia isn’t open to tourists who aren’t Muslim.
Even though it doesn’t accept visitors, La Koutubia is a very beautiful building. Get here by the golden hour and you’ll take some amazing shots.
I’ve seen so many travelers wondering about safety in Marrakech and in Morocco, in general. You have nothing to fear, people! It is as safe as can be, at least in the areas I’ve visited.
2. Taste the Harira in Jemaa El-Fna Square
Harira is a traditional Moroccan soup made with broad beans, chickpeas or lentils, and served with dried figs. Apparently, the traditional variant is cooked with lamb, but I think I’ve tasted the vegetarian version in the Djemaa El-Fna Square. I’m not sure whether the right spelling is Djemaa El-Fna or Jemaa El-Fna, as I’ve encountered both.
The Harira soup is good and extremely cheap (I think it was less than one dollar for a bowl). However, the best part of this experience is that you get to sit and eat together with a bunch of strangers, locals and tourists, young and old, hungry or less hungry. I still remember the beautiful eyes of the Moroccan girl sitting in front of me, across the narrow wooden table, dressed in a traditional outfit, obviously very pleased to be there. As I used my hands to eat the dates, I didn’t take any photos of the Harira. You’ll find below photos of other food stalls that had a similar setting.
Mountains of food wait for the hungry. The long tables are already set. Traditional loaves of bread are waiting for the clients. Everything is tasty and very cheap. You get to sit and eat with strangers in a lively atmosphere. Beware, though, this can also be one of the most dangerous things to do in Marrakech, as hygiene may not be at its best in these places. Go where you see local people eating; that’s a sign that the food is good.
3. Try the Fresh Mint Tea with or without Six Sugar Cubes
Most restaurants and terraces in Marrakech offer fresh mint tea. In some places, you get it already sweetened. Others bring you sugar cubes separately so that you can add as many as you like. Once I’ve got six cubes for a cup of tea. If you don’t want your mint tea sweetened, make sure you mention it to the waiter. Even so, getting unsweetened tea isn’t always possible.
4. Visit the Old Jewish Quarter
Apparently, Marrakech has always been a city of acceptance. Although the majority is Muslim, there is still a vibrant Jewish community living here. You can either book a tour to visit the Old Jewish Quarter or find the way by yourself. One of the entrances is nearby the Bab Agnaou gate, in the area where the souks are. The souks are the stalls where thousands of merchants sell their stuff. These stalls are lined up on the sides of narrow alleyways that go for many miles, intersecting each other in a colorful and lively maze where walkers, cyclists and motorists coexist. Here you’ll find anything from shoes, earrings and scarves to eggs, meat and even living chickens.
5. See, Smell and Photograph the Tanneries
We found the tanneries by accident while searching for the Jewish neighborhood. A guy we asked for directions told us that we should visit these tanneries. As we agreed, he introduced us to a guy who happened to work in a tannery, and who was just going back to work after his lunch break. We walked for about 10 minutes. We crossed a part of the city that was out of the touristy areas, with very narrow streets, craftsmen at work, and children playing. I found this to be one of the most amazing things to do in Marrakech, so I think it deserves a separate article, with more details and images.
For now, let’s see the “trailer” of this story.
Our guide introduces us to another guy. This one handed us a bunch of fresh mint leaves. I thought it was just a gift, in case I would have wanted to make fresh mint tea in my hotel room. A few minutes later, as we passed the gate of the tannery, the smell hit me in the face and I understood the role of the fresh mint.
For the equivalent of a few dollars, these people allowed me to take as many photos as I wanted. They even invited me to climb to the top of a building to have a wider perspective. I took my photos with tears in my eyes and with the nose in the mint leaves. Tanning leather is hard work. Seeing this makes you not want to bargain in a leather shop ever again.
6. Play with the Kittens at the Saadian Tombs
You don’t have to play with any kitten, but that could be a good pastime while you do the line to take a photo of the biggest tombs. The Saadian Tombs are located just outside the Kasbah Mosque.Here‘s the history of this necropolis which was just about to be destroyed together with other vestiges of the Saadian dynasty.
The entrance is a bit tough to spot, as it is quite narrow. While seeking for it, I’ve noticed a calico cat carrying a big piece of meat. I was going to meet that cat again on the other side, as the meat was food for the kitten.
7. Visit Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle is one of the most visited tourist objectives in Marrakech. I usually avoid touristy stuff, but I had a feeling I had to see this one. I was glad I did it. Jardin Majorelle is an oasis of peace and beauty. Too bad it is extremely crowded. I had to do the line for over one hour to get inside. If you want to avoid the crowds, get there about one hour before it closes. You need about 30 minutes to visit the gardens. If you also want to visit the Berber museum and the Yves Saint Laurent museum, you’ll need more time. If you buy a ticket for all three objectives, you can skip the line.
Jardin Majorelle is named after the painter who built it. It took this French painter 40 years to build this vibrant place. At some point in time, there were plans to demolish the residence, in order to make room for a modern hotel. Back in 1980, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge bought it, and saved it from destruction. They populated the garden with countless species of exotic plants, renamed the old Villa Bou Saf Saf to Villa Oasis and lived there until 2008, when Yves Saint Laurent died. After that, Pierre Berge donated the Jardin Majorelle and the Villa Oasis to the foundation in Paris which bears their names.
8. Have a Drink on a Rooftop Bar in Gueliz
Gueliz is at about 30-45 minutes walking from Medina (starting from La Koutubia). It is one of the most modern neighborhoods of Marrakech. Here you can find all international shops and brands you’ve been used to. It is neat and beautiful, although not as charming as the Medina. There are also lots of restaurants, hotels and bars. I visited Gueliz on a weekday. The rooftop bar I took these photos from had very few clients. I imagine it gets more animated during weekends, when local people go out.
9. Have a Dinner with a Show
The Jewish Quarter hides some cool secrets. Beyond the huge doors to the left and to the right of the main street there are riads and underground restaurants that blow your mind off. Dar el Salaam restaurant has good food and a neat dinner show. There are belly dancers and traditional musicians, and the decor is simply fabulous.
Can you dance while holding that tray on your head? Now you have a chance to find out, as this lady would let you try.
They have some appetizers to die for in Marrakech. This is only a small sample of what you can taste here.
10. Visit La Mamounia (and Have a Pricey Beer in a Movie-Like Atmosphere)
La Mamounia is a five-star palace hotel in the Medina. Apparently it has been ranked the 6th hotel in the world. The garden and the Churchill bar are worth a visit. You don’t need to live in the hotel to eat or to have a drink here. Nonetheless, at about 10 Euro for a small beer, you may not want to get drunk here (unless money doesn’t matter to you).
There are more than 10 things to do in Marrakech. I haven’t mentioned the other museums and palaces, the kalesh rides, the hot air balloon rides among others. Stay tuned, there’s more to come in the future articles.
I did some research before going to Marrakesh. Many travelers mentioned how bad Marrakech toilets are, and how you need to bring your own toilet paper. This is a myth that has to go. All toilets I’ve tried were spotless. They all had toilet paper and soap. Even the clean ones were very good. I wish all countries had such clean toilets!