Marrakesh is undoubtedly one of the most important, fascinating and completely chaotic cities in Morocco and is home to about 1-million inhabitants. It is one of Morocco’s four former Imperial Cities and the history of Marrakesh dates back thousands of years before its official founding in 1062.
Marrakesh is nicknamed the ‘red city’, as the walls and buildings were originally constructed in red sandstone. Much of this remains today and you can really feel the history as you wander through the medina (old town) and surrounding areas.
Jemaa el-Fnaa is the the main square and marketplace in Marrakesh and this should be the first stop you make when exploring the city.
This square is full of venders during the day before becoming completely hectic once the sun starts to go down. Thousands upon thousands of people will flock to Jemaa el-Fnaa to take part in games, concerts and to eat at one of the many food stalls/restaurants. It really is a sight to behold!
As you can see above, the main square in Marrakesh contains everything from snake charmers to monkey’s on leashes. Despite its supposed illegality, animal trade here is prolific, and Marrakesh is one of the biggest perpetrators in North Africa.
Moving along, you’ll see a clear opportunity to try your hand at gambling, as small games are set up every few meters!
Jemaa el-Fnaa is the busiest square in all of Africa (!) and its frenetic pace can completely overwhelm at times. For good or bad, I think you’ll agree that this square is the first thing you need to see when arriving in Marrakesh!
Marrakesh also has the largest traditional market (markets are called ‘souks‘) in Morocco and spending an afternoon wandering through the maze of stalls while haggling with the local venders, is an absolute ‘must-do’. Visiting the souk is stop #2.
As you may or may not have heard, Morocco is notorious for over-aggressive venders – trying to sell you absolutely everything for exorbitant prices. They can be (and most likely will be) pushy, demanding and somewhat disrespectful to anyone looking like a tourist.
While this can be frustrating at times, if you enter the market with a friendly mindset and an ability to haggle, shopping can be quite fun and amusing!
Although, you may not be completely sure what you’re buying…
Seeing as Marrakesh was my introduction to Morocco, I found the act of walking through the souk to be a little overwhelming. However, as I visited other cities throughout the country, the general aggressiveness became commonplace and it was actually pretty fun to take part in!
Outside of Jemaa el-Fnaa and the souk, there are a few other notable things to do/see throughout the city. Bahia Palace sits atop my list and should be stop #3.
Fairly modern, the Bahia Palace was built at the end of the 19th-century. Combining intricately designed courtyards alongside gardens, the palace was supposed to be the ‘greatest palace’ of its time. While that is debatable, the unique design does adequately display the essence of both Islamic and Moroccan styles – and is absolutely worth checking out!
Next on your list of things to see (and stop #4) is the Koutoubia Mosque.
Completed by the end of the 1100s, this mosque is impossible to miss as you walk around Marrakesh as it is one of the tallest points in the city. Unfortunately, non-muslims aren’t permitted to enter, so I was unable to capture the inside.
The Saadian Tombs are stop #5 on the list!
Dating back to the mid-1500s, these tombs weren’t unearthed until 1917. The mausoleum contains about 60-members of the Saadi Dynasty and is one of the main tourist attractions in modern-day Marrakesh.
The tombs will only take about 15-20 minutes to explore and they are open until 4:45pm everyday. It costs 10 dh ($1.40 cad) to enter!
#6 on my list is to try some traditional Moroccan food. We will start with a dish you can (and will) find in just about any Moroccan restaurant. Tangine!
This vegetable, couscous and meat mixture is absolutely delicious and will cost you between 40-50 dirhams ($5.50 – 7 cad) at most restaurants.
Next, be sure to sample some lamb that has been slow cooking in an underground pit.
The last (#7) and arguably most important thing to do in Marrakesh is to visit a traditional Hammam.
In the style of a Turkish bath-house, a Hammam requires visitors to first strip down into your underwear. Next, you’ll enter a hot, damp room without any lights and lay on the floor sweating. Before long, a man (also stripped down into his underwear) will violently scrub all of the dead skin off your body and pour buckets of hot water on your head. Lastly, a different almost-naked man will ‘massage’ you, bending your knees until they crack, before dumping a bucket of ice cold water on your head.
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it …
Although this may not sound like the best way to spend 100 – 150 dirhams ($13-21cad), visiting a hammam is a fantastic opportunity to experience Moroccan culture, while at the same time, unwinding from your travels!
Marrakesh is an absolutely fascinating city that visitors will either love or hate. For me, the city is super unique and it was unlike anywhere I had previously travelled. In my opinion, three to four days is a perfect amount of time to get a taste of the surroundings – although you may want to give yourself more, as you can bank on getting lost a handful of times each day.
I hope this post was helpful / inspiring.
Shukran (thanks) for reading!