Discover Marrakesh through these top 10 amazing activities
Marrakesh is so unique and it has its own rhythm moving at a frenetic beat. The way I describe Marrakesh is a vibrant place that overwhelms your senses because of the mix of smells, sounds, and colors. It is a city where donkey carts, spice sellers, and storytellers intermingle with luxury spas, coffee shops, and tour buses. Read on for the top 10 things to do in Marrakesh that will make your trip unforgettable.
The city contains a number of culturally and architecturally important sites. Marrakesh’s medina is labyrinthine, where you will get lost and find yourself again and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
The real experience starts when you try to cross the busy streets where the traffic never stops for pedestrians. You'll find yourself adventuring among the cars, the zip-zappy motorcycles and following the locals. They've mastered the skills to get from one side to the other without losing a body part.
Ideally, I would try to plan for at least 2- 3 days in Marrakesh to really explore the city and see all the main highlights.
In the first moment, I got confused and overwhelmed by the complexity of Marrakesh, but after a while, I knew that it was a city I would love to spend time and just wander around. Marrakesh is not for everyone, but it doesn't matter if you like or dislike this place, anybody who visits Marrakesh won't leave this city without an experience that will last a lifetime.
I have listed my top 10 best activities to do in Marrakesh and I hope you enjoy this city as much as I did.
1- Experience Jemaa el-Fnaa
Jemaa el-Fnaa is the main square/marketplace where stalls are set up selling a wide variety of crafts, food and daily necessities. During the day you will see cars, motorbikes, donkeys, and people crisscrossing the square in a well-choreographed dance.
People from different cities come to perform at night and show their skills such as playing instruments, dancing, and storytelling. I was a little overwhelmed when I first stepped into this place as the mix of colors, smells and different sounds all blend together making you wonder " where should I start?". After a while, you get used to and when you feel situated you just want to immerse yourself and start to explore the surroundings.
The history of this square goes back almost 1,000 years, and today you’ll find a mix of ancient customs and modern tourist experiences. It is also known for being the busiest square in all of Africa! Around the perimeter of the square, you’ll find a large number of shops, cafes, the post office, and an entrance to the souks, alleyways lined with shops and stalls.
Day & Night - The square changes from morning to evening so I definitely recommend walking through at different times of the day. The day is a bit less busy and the square is filled with orange juice stalls, local vendors and henna artists. In the evening, you see more musicians and dancers, storytellers, acrobats, magicians, and boxers. The food stalls also come to life as the evening approaches serving all kinds of hot food. It is a truly wondrous experience.
Pro Tip: Be aware that the vendors range from being polite to downright aggressive, so just be prepared for this before going into the square or walking through the souks. If for example a henna artist grabs your hand be prepared to firmly say “no” and walk away if you are not interested in buying anything. But on the other hand, if you are interested in buying something, make sure to negotiate the price upfront and you should pay about 50% of the original asking price.
2- Shop in the Souks
The souks are the traditional markets of central Marrakesh where a dizzying number of shops and stalls sell everything from rugs to lanterns and spices to shoes. You can enter the souks right off Jemaa el-Fnaa Square and they are a definite must-visit if you are in Marrakesh. They are amazing places to walk around and just get lost.
The souks can be a confusing labyrinth and a bit intimidating for first-time visitors. Just go in knowing you will inevitably be lost and rest assured you will make your way out eventually, but wandering around aimlessly is part of the experience.
3- Experience the amazing food
The food in Marrakesh is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! It is a perfect combination of fresh ingredients and an explosion of tastes from exotics local spices.
The number one dish in Marrakesh is Tangia. I recommend looking for a less touristy place, as you will have an amazing experience, as I did and I had one of the best meals of my life.
When you walk around you can smell aromas of piping hot couscous, grilled meats and simmering vegetables from the food stalls. Be prepared to try different flavors and fall in love with the local cuisine.
4- Spend the night at a Riad
Riads are traditional Moroccan houses built around a central courtyard or garden, and they were historically the city homes of the wealthy Moroccan citizens. They are generally quite large, some even resemble palaces.
Many of the riads have been renovated in modern times for use as guest houses, hotels, apartments, Airbnb and restaurants.
I would recommend booking a riad in the city center or within walking distance of Jemaa el-Fnaa, and as always, you get what you pay for and prices vary from luxurious riads to family-owned. Check here for options.
5- Koutoubia Mosque
Within walking distance of the bustling Jemaa el-Fnaa, lies Marrakesh's most recognizable landmark, Koutoubia Mosque. Featuring intricate tile work, salmon-hued walls, expansive archways, and an impressive 253-foot-tall tower, this 12th-century Moorish mosque has served as the model for several other notable religious sites, including the Hassan Tower in Rabat, Morocco, and La Giralda in Seville, Spain.
The sad part is that non-Muslims are not allowed to enter this gorgeous mosque. But you do get to enjoy the call to prayer, which is one of the most mystical experiences; listening to the passion in the singer's voice emitting from the mosque’s speakers. This intense prayer is called the Adhan and is recited by the muezzin five times a day. The muezzin is the chosen person at a mosque who leads the call to prayer.
6- Bahia Palace
This palace has countless rooms and courtyards at the heart of this sprawling example of nineteenth-century Moroccan architecture.
Stunning pieces of ornate decoration can be found at every turn – even on the ceilings.
Bahia is roughly translated as ‘brilliance’ and that’s definitely not an overstatement. Escape from the heat of the midday sun to the palace’s shaded spaces and get lost in all of the intricate detailing.
7- The Saaduab Tombs
The Saadian Tombs are located just outside Marrakesh and were constructed during the reign of Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur in the late 16th century. This is the resting place of al-Mansur, his family, and other notable officials from that era. These tombs were discovered in 1917; restoration began shortly thereafter.
An interesting fact: you won’t see any names on the tomb (no coffins are used) and the height of the stone (if any) from the floor shows the social class of that person. The visiting time takes around 45 minutes.
It is a must-see for history and architectural lovers!
Steam baths, scrubs and massages are something of an institution in Morocco, so if you’re going to Marrakech, visiting a hammam has to be close to the top of your to-do list.
There are hundreds of different options available, and you can check here. I recommend to book ahead to guarantee your slot, and remember to relax as you have the living daylights scrubbed out of you.
9- Jardin Majorelle
The name comes from the creator of the garden, the French painter Jacques Majorelle (hence the name), the botanical garden is home to more types of cacti than you can shake a terrarium at and has a stunning indigo blue art deco house as its centerpiece.
It is a great place for pictures, and it's impossible to take a bad picture here – but arrive early to avoid unwanted photo bombers.
10 - Maison de la Photographie
This is a 3-story space in the east of the Medina that’s home to a number of exhibitions that document the history of Morocco. The photographs surprisingly reveal that, in more than a century, some things remain exactly the same.
Immerse yourself in a visual history of Marrakesh and its surrounding area – one of the only places you can do this in the city. The rooftop café is a great spot for a drink and a bite to eat during your visit too.
How to explore Marrakesh
The best way to explore Marrakesh is on foot. You won't need a rental car or use public transportation unless you are planning side trips outside Marrakesh.
If you are interested in learning more about the rich history and culture, whether it be the Jewish history, Islamic school, palaces, or city history I would consider hiring a guide or booking a walking tour. Very little information is available in most of the museums and palaces, and a good local guide can provide a large amount of background and context for your visits.
I recommend hiring Morocco Trip Sahara as they offer a very authentic experience with local and very professional multilingual guides and they will make your experience unforgettable.
And don't forget: be ALWAYS ETHICAL in your choices
While you are walking around Marrakesh, especially at the Jemaa el-Fnaa square, you will see many live animals being used to entertain for the tourists' money. It is sad to see monkeys and snakes being forced to perform and being mistreated by their "owners".
They will try to drape a snake around your neck or make a monkey jump on your shoulders just to trap you for money. Be prepared to show you are not interested and just walk away. These "entertainers" will be very persistent that you hold the animal and take photos. Be insistent that you will not support this type of abuse.
Also, avoid camel rides - I know, the picture would look so cool! But just like elephants, camels aren’t born to be ridden by humans. They have to be trained to bear riders, and that training involves violence. They are beaten with sticks, whips, or bullhooks; are constantly overloaded, and are often chained and muzzled. On top of that, constantly being overloaded with people and gear can cause permanent damage to their backs.
Respect the animals and politely decline offers to partake in their abuse.