Although Morocco is a part of Africa, it’s miles away from the usual picture of it.
Morocco’s most visited city, Marrakech, does the magic. It teleports you at once to bustling streets and winding bylanes. It overwhelms you with the wonderful visuals, colors, scents, and sounds of Islamic Africa.
You begin conjuring the images of busy bazaars, the aroma of spices, intricate zellige tilework, stunning mosques, and the old eastern esoteric charm.
Get the picture? If you’re intrigued, this list of the 14 best things to do in Marrakech will make you want to pack your bags and buy a one-way ticket to the city ASAP.
Where to Stay in Marrakech
Marrakech is divided into two parts; the old and the new. The newer part of the city is called Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle and looks like a district in modern Europe. It is lined with chain restaurants, popular clothing brands, etc.
The older part of the city is called the Medina, and it’s like a large labyrinth of narrow streets huddled together in a chaotic setting. There’s so much activity throughout the day. Living in the Medina is an experience and this is where you should stay during your travel to Marrakech.
The Medina has accommodations called “Riads”.These are two-story houses with a big courtyard in the middle. A lot of these riads have been converted to hotels and Airbnbs.
Getting Around in Marrakech
If you’re staying in the Medina, you’ll always be on foot. There will be plenty of walking so you can hit that 10K step count every day. *fist bump*
To get outside of the Medina, you can simply hail a taxi off the road near Djemaa El-Fna, but do your research beforehand and be assertive in the amount you think is reasonable to pay. If you’re going to the airport from the Medina, the taxis typically charge MAD 70 (6.8 EUR). Any more than that is too much; keep walking along if the taxi driver doesn’t yield. They’ll come around.
The bus infrastructure in Marrakech is pretty good and very cheap. For a mere 4 MAD (0.39 EUR), you can catch a bus to almost anywhere from the centrally located bus station at Djemaa El-Fna square. The square is half a kilometer away from the Medina.
Communication: Being a fairly touristy city, most people in Marrakech speak English, at least in the main spots. They also speak French, Arabic, and Berber (a group of languages indigenous to North Africa). You’ll also get the occasional Ola, Halo, and basically any language you can think of. People in Marrakech can be surprisingly multilingual. Being from India, I got a lot of “Shah Rukh Khan” and “Kareena Kapoor”, so looks like Bollywood’s doing okay! 😉
Top Things to do in Marrakech
1. Witness the Chaos at Djemaa El-Fna
Djemaa El-Fna is not only the busiest square in Marrakech but also one of the largest in Africa. There’s a good chance you’ll walk through it several times a day. All the roads of the city converge at this square.
The Djemaa El-Fna is lively, morning through night. You’ll always find something to do here, from getting your hands painted in henna to ODing on fresh fruit juice (there are tens of fruit juice sellers scattered across the square; the portions are huge and the juice is sublime, more so on a hot day!).
If you manage to start your day early, you can catch men sitting on the patios in cafes, turning the pages of a newspaper and sipping mint tea. You can see school children lining up for buses, escorted by their teachers.
However, the square truly comes alive in the evening and that’s also when it’s the busiest. Street performances, music, arcade games, hoopla – you name it.
The smell of food is pervasive and animated men will persuade you to take a seat to eat at their stall. The prices at all food stalls/stations are more or less the same.
That said, a few things at the Djemaa El-Fna border on unethical, like the monkey dance, snake charming, and the illegal open trade of protected wildlife (especially the spur-thighed tortoise). Partaking in these is among some of the things you shouldn’t do in Marrakech.
But you must spend an evening, if not many, at the square to experience the spirit and vibrance of the city.
Protip: During sunset, find a table at one of the terrace cafes near the square and watch the chaos unfold below.
2. Shop at the Souks
Souk is another word for a market.
The souks of Marrakech lie just off the Djemaa El-Fna. From here, you can buy things like spices, meats, dried fruit, dates, sweets, kaftans, earthenware, and pretty porcelain.
If you’re looking to shop, bring out your inner haggler and drive a hard bargain. Chances are you’ll still end up paying more than a local would, but would steal a bargain nonetheless.
Besides shopping, you can enjoy walking through the bazaars, embracing the crazy pace of the city, and taking a bazillion photos of the Moroccan ceramics arranged in the souks in perfect symmetry.
3. Explore Photo Ops at Bahia Palace
The El Bahia Palace was built by one of the sultans of Morocco in the late 19th century, as a token of love for his wife. It took over 40 years to build.
The word “Bahia” means beautiful. And the palace does true justice to its name.
The interiors are adorned with elaborate zellige tilework, with many different patterns and whimsical designs lining the floors through the ceilings. With ornate glass panels, carved stuccos, and grand cedar wood doors, the Bahia Palace is nothing short of breathtaking.
Keep an eye out for gorgeous fountains, bright alcoves, and effortless window framing. And as soon as you catch an empty room, hallway, or courtyard, jump in and get a dozen photos clicked – and then a few more for good measure. Because, you know, YOLO.
4. Admire the Koutoubia Mosque
Sitting right next to the Djemaa El-Fna, the Koutoubia mosque is one of the most iconic landmarks of Marrakech.
No matter where you go in the city, you’ll always be able to catch a glimpse of the main minaret of the Koutoubia, all the way up to Gueliz.
Non-muslims aren’t allowed to enter, as with all mosques in Morocco. Our walking tour guide gave us an interesting explanation about why this is. The mosques are considered virtuous, pious places where people should go for the sole purpose of praying. So if a tourist enters intending to only take photos or admire the architecture, that sort of undermines the ethos of faith and religion. Makes sense if you think about it.
The mosque is named after the Arabic word for a bookseller, ‘al-Koutoubiyyin’, since there was a large book market in its place, back in the day.
The Koutoubia looks particularly stunning in the evening with the sun setting in the backdrop.
5. Get Lost in the Medina
While in Marrakech, you’ll be spending most of your time in the Medina.
Navigation can get confusing as there are many lanes, all intertwined and all looking pretty much the same. Google maps mostly work but only to a certain level of accuracy.
But getting lost in the Medina can actually be quite fun. The more you wander, the more hidden treasures you’ll uncover. Think serpentine streets, and houses lined with beautiful Moroccan doors up to 15 feet high and intricately carved with woodwork and metal details. Or a local school where you can hear the children laughing and playing from outside.
Getting lost in the Medina is not only part of the Marrakech experience, but it’s also how you discover all the best-hidden spots that guidebooks don’t tell you about.
The Medina is only walkable; you can’t drive through it. You’ll witness dozens of scooters zipping by you with great panache, so keep your wits about you. Oh, and carry a good pair of walking shoes!
6. Cleanse at a Hammam
If you’ve never been to a Hammam, now is your chance.
Hammams are public baths, and they have been around for centuries in Morocco. The best part about Hammams is that they are not just for bathing. It’s a complete cleansing experience – both for your body and your soul.
The locals go to their neighborhood Hammam weekly or biweekly to relax, get a good body cleanse, and catch up on the latest buzz on the community grapevine.
Every neighborhood in the Marrakech Medina has five traditionally essential elements: a mosque, a madrasa (school), a community bakery/oven, a fountain, and a hammam.
There’s a good chance your riad will also have a hammam and you can choose to go there. Else, there are standalone private ones; we visited the Hammam Rosa Bonheur and it was G-R-E-A-T. Very nice people, good service, tons of mint tea (keep reading for more on that) – we felt like royals.
There are also public Hammams that you’ll spot at various places in the Medina. At these, you’ll find yourself stripping down in the company of strangers (no separate sections for men and women), but it doesn’t get more authentic and local than this.
7. Get the Desert Experience at Agafay
The Sahara is inarguably beautiful and worthy of a visit, while in Morocco. But if you’re making a shorter trip, you might not find the time to go there. A Sahara tour needs a minimum of 2-3 days.
A great alternative to this is the Agafay. At just 25 km from the city, you can accommodate the grand desert experience in a convenient and time-effective day trip from Marrakech.
In addition to the mesmerizing desert landscapes, Agafay is also a great place for outdoor activities like camel riding, hiking, and mountain biking.
8. Visit the Imlil Waterfall
While technically not within Marrakech but just a short drive away, visiting the Imlil Waterfalls is an experience that will be one of the highlights of your Marrakech itinerary.
Imlil is a small Berber village outside of Marrakech, on the steep side of the High Atlas mountains, and it has a series of cascading waterfalls.
You have to do a fairly easy hike to get to the waterfall and the view is completely worth the effort. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Toubkal – the highest mountain peak in North Africa.
The hike to the waterfall is only about an hour, and you can easily do it on your own. But if you want a local guide to show you around and give you some insights into the village and the area, you can book a tour.
9. Eat all the Tagine and Couscous You Can
The tagine is a delicious Moroccan stew, usually made with chicken or lamb, but it can also be cooked with vegetables. It gets its name from the earthenware pot in which it is prepared and served. Slow-cooked over charcoal or wood fire, a good tagine bursts with flavors that melt in your mouth.
Another Moroccan staple is couscous, usually served with vegetables. It is made from semolina wheat and looks like small grains of rice.
You will find these dishes on almost every restaurant menu in Marrakech. And every place puts its own spin on these traditional meals. So make sure to try as many different kinds as you can!
10. Drink Your Body Weight in Fruit Juice
As you head to Djemaa El-Fna, it’s easy to spot the fruit juice stalls. They are the ones with giant mounds of fresh fruits, and a crowd of people around them.
These stalls are a cornerstone of Marrakech’s character. Drinking freshly squeezed fruit juice, while people-watching in the square is an experience you shouldn’t miss.
The most popular fruits here are oranges, and there is the evergreen mixed fruit juice as well. But there are also less common ones like prickly pear, figs, and dates.
11. Enjoy a Cuppa Mint Tea
Mint tea is to Morocco what chai is to India. It’s ubiquitous, and an integral part of the culture.
You will find mint tea being served everywhere – in homes, on the streets, and in restaurants. It’s not just a drink; it’s a way of socializing and bonding with people over a cup.
Often served at cafes/restaurants as an appetizer, you can also enjoy it with the breakfast at your riad. The locals also offer their guests and visitors mint tea so it also has to do with the general Moroccan hospitality.
Moroccan mint tea is made by steeping green tea leaves with fresh mint, and lots of sugar. It is served in ornate glasses, usually with some savory snacks on the side.
The saccharine taste takes some getting used to but the flavor and freshness quickly grow on you.
And as Ned Stark would say:
12. Wander Through the Mellah
The Mellah is the old Jewish Quarter in Marrakech. Created by the Saadian dynasty in the 16th century, it was meant to rehabilitate the Jews who were fleeing from persecution in the Iberian Peninsula. The one in Marrakech is the second oldest Mellah in the country.
Today, the Mellah is a fascinating maze of winding alleyways and colorful houses. It’s a great place to explore, especially if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Medina.
Among the things to do in the Mellah, is to visit the 17th-century Slat Al Azama Synagogue, which is now a museum. There is also a small Jewish cemetery here. The Place des Ferblantiers, the main square lined with souks, is also worth visiting.
13. Bask in the Green Spaces
Marrakech is known as the garden city of Morocco and you’ll know why, when you visit.
Beautiful gardens are scattered all through the city. While a lot of them charge an entry fee, many are free to enter.
The Majorelle Garden, created by French artist Jacques Majorelle is one of the most famous ones. It was later bought by Yves Saint Laurent, and now houses a museum dedicated to the fashion designer. Thanks to their unique decor, the Marjorelle gardens feel like walking through a blue oasis within the predominantly red city of Marrakech. Entry to the gardens is MAD 70.
Other gardens worth visiting are the Agdal Gardens, Menara Gardens, and Le Jardin Secret. There’s also a neatly manicured garden called Parque Lalla Hasna, right next to the Koutoubia mosque. It’s perfect for soaking in the sun and relaxing for a bit after a busy day of sightseeing.
If you’re staying at a traditional riad, it will most likely house a courtyard with an aesthetically placed garden and a fountain.
14. Make Friends with Donkeys and Mules
About 25 km from Marrakech, there’s a rescue farm for abandoned donkeys and mules in Morocco, called Jarjeer Refuge.
Started by a British couple a few years ago, the farm provides shelter to abandoned and injured donkeys and mules in Morocco.
The condition of working animals in Morocco is quite bad, with many of them being overworked and abused. What’s worse is that a lifetime of drudgery doesn’t guarantee a peaceful retirement once these donkeys and mules get old or sick. They’re abandoned because the families can’t afford to provide for them anymore.
Jarjeer Refuge aims at giving Morocco’s equines a safe haven to live out their retirement years with dignity. At the farm, they provide medical attention to the animals and assist in their wellbeing.
You can volunteer at Jarjeer or make a donation to help their cause.
How to get to Jarjeer: You can catch bus no. L45 from Sidi Mimoun Region station in the direction of Amizmiz, and get off at Oumnass village. The refuge is within walking distance from here. Else you can also contact Susan and Charles (the couple running the refuge) through their website and they’ll guide you well.