Marrakech is one of the most visited and popular cities in Morocco. Marrakech is famous for the hustle and bustle of its Medina; the walled medieval city centre with maze-like streets and souks, for its luxurious palaces and lush gardens. If you’re planning a trip to Marrakech and you’re looking for the best things to do, this is the guide for you! Read on to discover the most unique things to do in Marrakech to help you plan your Morocco trip!
- 1 Best things to do in Marrakech
- 2 Best things to do around Marrakech
- 3 Where to stay in Marrakech
Best things to do in Marrakech
Get lost in the souks
One of the most iconic things you can do in Marrakech is to get lost in the souks. A souk is an Arab marketplace. The souks of Marrakech are the largest in Morocco, and the perfect place to go shopping for your travel souvenirs. You can find the souks in Marrakech everywhere along the little streets of the Medina; the walled old town. As soon as you step in the Medina you will find yourself lost amongst the winding little streets, don’t try to resist it, embrace getting lost amongst the shops and you’ll find the most interesting souks in Marrakech.
Local people might try to walk you to places if they can see that you’re lost, it might be useful to het them help you but just beware they will ask for a fee once they bring you to destination. If you don’t need help reply with a polite “no thanks” and walk on. If you do shop in the souk make sure to haggle! Negotiation is a big part of shopping in souks, if you agree to their first price you are definitely overpaying! Rumour has it that you could bargain as low as 1/10thof the first price they quote you and it would still be a fair price, but I’ve personally never managed to get it to less than half.
Visit Bahia Palace
Bahia Palace is a set of gardens and palace built in the 19th century, at the time it was built it was intended for it to be the greatest palace of its time. Palace of Bahia means palace of the beautiful or brilliant, and after a quick walk around its courtyards and spacious rooms, it’s easy to see why! Every room and courtyard is decorated with elaborate and colourful mosaics, marbles, carvings and paintings. The palace was fairly busy when we visited so make sure to visit early in the morning if you want to enjoy it for yourself.
Visit El Badi Palace
El Badi Palace in Arabic means “the incomparable palace” and it’s a ruined palace built in the 1500s. El Badi Palace is very different from Bahia Palace, it’s much bigger and even if it gets quite busy, people will be very spread out around the main courtyard and other rooms, never quite giving it the crowded feeling of Bahia. It lacks the delicate carvings and mosaics of Bahia and with its red rocks has a rougher vibe. When it was built El Badi was actually designed as a lavish display of the sultans riches, built with gold, onyx and Italian marble, some of the most expensive materials of the time. After the fall of the Saadian dynasty however it went into a sharp period of decline, with the following sultan stripping it of its decorations to use in the construction of his own palace. The palace is very large so make sure to allow yourself some time to wander around all the different rooms, courtyards and museum exhibitions. Access to El Badi Palace costs 70 Moroccan dirham (MAD).
Jardin Majorelle is one of the most famous and popular attractions in Marrakech. Designed by the French Orientalist artist Jacques Majorelle the garden is characterised by colourful blue walls, a wide variety of plants and a tranquil atmosphere that attract tourists from all over the world. Construction of Jardin Majorelle started in 1923 and took almost 40 years. In the 1980s famous fashion designers Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé purchased the property. Today it’s also the home of the Islamic Art Museum, the Berber Museum and the MUsee Yves Saint Laurent. If you can get there early in the morning when there aren’t too many people there you will have a lovely and peaceful experience wandering around the colourful gardens.
When we visited it was so busy that there was a queue of people waiting to purchase their tickets and enter the garden. I walked to the front of the queue to ask the lady at the door if there was another way to purchase a ticket (eg. online) and she just let us queue jump, I’m not quite sure how I managed that! Yes I know queue jumping is wrong, but it saved us about half an hour of standing in line so I wasn’t complaining, if you’re not against queue jumping you might want to try this out too! We paid the lady 70 MAD each for entry, which is the usual price anyway so it’s not like we bribed her.
Le Jardin Secret
Le Jardin Secret is the younger and not so famous brother of Jardin Majorelle. Located inside the bustling hear of the Medina this garden is a secluded haven, where you can relax in peace and quiet and feel like you stepped into another world. Access to Le Jardin Secret costs 70 MAD, you can purchase a ticket on the door, unlike Jardin Majorelle it wasn’t particularly crowded when we visited.
There is also a small café on a rooftop that gives you a pretty view over the garden. From there you can go a floor above and visit the tower, which has stunning views over the rooftops of the Medina. To visit the tower you need to wait for the guide as they only let in a maximum number of people all at the same time and they will give you a brief explanation of the architecture and history of the garden.
Do a traditional hammam
We had the opportunity of doing a traditional Moroccan hammam at the spa of La Sultana Hotel, however there are lots of other places in Marrakech where you can experience this. Hammam is a traditional Moroccan experience, where you get cleaned and exfoliated in a steam room. It’s a very relaxing experience, I was there with just my friend so I didn’t mind wearing only a paper thong as they applied black soap and then scrubbed us with exfoliating gloves. We then also had a relaxing back massage.
Try the Wellness Programme at Mandarin Oriental
If the hammam wasn’t quite enough and you want to pamper yourself a step further, considering doing the Wellness Programme by Jennifer Thompson at the Mandarin Oriental. We experienced it for one day but you would usually book it for a period of 3-7 days. The programme is designed to unwind and give you an opportunity to relax from everyday life. It includes healthy meals, private training sessions and rejuvenating massages and spa sessions.
Do a food tour
On our first day in Marrakech we did a Medina walking food tour with Marrakech Food Tours. This was a great way to start our trip since it allowed to see all the main areas of Marrakech and try all the best foods according to our local guide. That way whenever we sat down at a restaurant any time after that we already knew what was good and what dishes to avoid. It gave us a great introduction to Moroccan cuisine, which helped us during the rest of the trip. Our guide was also really helpful and took us to all genuine local places.
Stay in a riad
A riad is a traditional house in Morocco. It’s characterised by having an inner courtyard or garden as the main element of the house, even the name comes from the Arabic word for garden; “Ryad”. During your next trip to Marrakech choose to stay in a riad over a resort or hotel, and you’ll get to live a true Moroccan experience. Some riads have truly beautiful courtyards, where you can relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the Medina.
Best things to do around Marrakech
So we’ve now covered the most uniquely Moroccan things to do in Marrakech, but what about outside the city? If you’re planning a long trip to Morocco, but don’t really want to travel around the country too much, there are plenty of cool things you can do around Marrakech that will keep you busy besides the city itself.
Day trip to Ouarzazate
When I saw pictures of Ouarzazate online I knew I had to visit it. Ouarzazate is a city 196 km away from Marrakech, and the home of Ksar Ait Ben Haddou; a traditional pre-Saharan habitat and fortified village. It has also been the set of a number of famous movies and TV shows, amongst which Game of Thrones and The Gladiator. To reach it you have to drive through the mountains, which will considerably slow down your driving, making it a 4 and a half hour journey from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. We travelled there on an organised day trip that our riad arranged it for us with their local tour company. We were in a small bus with around 10 other people.
Ksar Air Ben Haddou is built in the red rock and as you walk around it you truly get the feeling of how incredible a place it is. You can walk up the hill and get a view over the whole town and surrounding mountains, which will leave you amazed. It is the most famous ksar in the Ounila Valley and a striking example of southern Moroccan architecture. The village is formed by small houses that are crowded together inside the defensive walls, reinforced by corner towers. Most citizens that live there and provide services to tourists live in the more modern houses on the other side of the river (which you will get to hop across to reach the ksar!) although there are is a small number of families also living in the village.
The town itself is incredible and I highly recommend visiting it, however if I were to go back I would not do so on a day trip from Marrakech. This because we drove for 9 hours in one day, only to spend 2 hours there at most. When we were there we were rushed by the guide who only gave us 45 minutes to walk around Ksar Air Ben Haddou and then rushed us onwards to have lunch at his friends place, where we spent almost 1 hour. As the food was quite pricey and we knew it would take forever to get served we chose to eat something on the go and spend more time exploring our surroundings. Even if you paid for the tour already the local guide will still ask you for 30 MAD each when he drops you off for lunch. If you only have one day to visit Ourzazate I would recommend instead hiring a private car or driver for the day, so that even if you have to drive 9 hours in one day you will be free to manage your time there are you please. Alternatively if you have the possibility I would recommend doing one of the 2 or 3-day tours and add some time in the desert to your trip.
Sleep in the desert at Scarabeo Camp
This leads on to my next recommended activity in the surroundings of Marrakech; spending a night in the desert! A short 45-minute drive away from Marrakech you will find the Agafay desert. The Agafay desert is a great alternative if you don’t have time to visit the Sahara desert (which would be a 9-hour drive and across the mountains)! The desert is characterised by rough, dry, rocky land, not sand dunes as you would imagine, but that doesn’t make it any less picturesque.
We spent two nights at Scarabeo Camp, a luxury camp in the Agafay desert. After the hustle and bustle of Marrakech you will find the desert extremely peaceful and it will provide much needed relaxing time. It’s not all relax though, Scarabeo Camp offers lots of activities for the more active guests, ranging from camel rides, quad bike rides, trekking and yoga. If you’re lucky enough to be there when the sky is clear they also offer astronomy sessions. The food at Scarabeo Camp was amongst the best we’ve had in Morocco.
Where to stay in Marrakech
We spent 10 days in Morocco and changed accommodation a few times. We tried both hotels and riads, but as I’ve mentioned before riads offer a much more unique Moroccan experience. My favourites that we stayed at are the following.
Riad Star is located in the heart of the Medina. It has two inner courtyards, one with a small pool and a bigger one where they usually set up breakfasts and dinners. There is also a big rooftop with seats and couches where you can relax at the end of the day, sipping mint tea as you watch the sunset over the roofs of Marrakech. The staff was incredibly nice and always ready to help with any requests we had.
Riad Dar Baraka Karam
Another riad we stayed at that I can highly recommend is Riad Dar Baraka Karam, also inside the Medina but just outside the souks. The location is ideal since it’s slightly out of the chaos of the souks, but it’s still very central and a short walk away from all the main attractions. The riad is also very big, with three inner courtyards, each with a different colour theme. There are lots of areas where you can relax and enjoy the lovely service of the staff.
Have you been to Marrakech before? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below! I have been to Marrakech twice already and loved it both times. It can be a very chaotic city but part of its beauty comes from the busy streets that are full of life. In this post I tried to list the most unique things to do in Marrakech, which you can’t really do anywhere else, in the hope you will find them useful in planning your own trip to Morocco!
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