Marrakech is a destination that comes with mixed reviews – some love its vibrancy, while other travellers return with less than favourable reviews of the city’s hecticness.
When I first started planning my first trip there, I started to grow worried about my impending visit, worried about which side of the fence I would find myself sitting on.
Perhaps it’s because I’d already prepared myself for potentially not liking it, or perhaps I just didn’t spend a lot of time in the Jeema el-Fnaa market square (more on that later), but while this city is often described as an ‘attack on the senses’, I personally didn’t find Marrakech to be the ‘culture shock’ destination that some travellers deem it to be. Whatever the reason, I can honestly say that I had a great time in not only Marrakech but further afield in Morocco too.
So if you’re currently planning your trip or are thinking about whether to visit, here’s everything I did that I can recommend, and some honest thoughts about what you should consider avoiding.
Things to do in Marrakech Morocco
Visit Jardin Majorelle
Every city has its one major landmark or attraction, and I think Jardin Majorelle is Marrakech’s. Designed by French painter Jacques Majorelle, it’s a beautiful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Following Majorelle’s divorce, the house and acres of land were sold, and the garden fell into disrepair until the fashion designers Yves Saint-Lauren and Pierre Belge rediscovered it in the 1980s and restored it to the oasis it is now.
Inside the garden are an array of exotic and unique plants from around the world, as well as the beautiful villa at its heart, painted in the iconic shade of Majorelle blue.
Jardin Majorelle is located a little further out from the old city in Marrakech, but we managed to walk there and back quite easily from our riad in the Kasbah.
Entry costs 70 DHs / £5.60 and can’t be purchased in advance online, so make sure you get there early to avoid the inevitable long queues. Tip: if you’re interested in visiting the Yves Saint Laurent Museum nearby too, then you can purchase a combo ticket there with Jardin Majorelle as it’s much quieter, meaning you’ll then be able to go straight into the garden.
See the ruins of El Badi Palace
Built in the 16th century to mark the victory over the Portuguese in the Battle of the Three Kings, the El Badi Palace is now a vast ruined site once containing over 300 lavish rooms around a huge fountain courtyard. Nowadays, however, it’s home to a flock of cranes who can be seen nesting high on top of the palace’s crumbling walls.
The entry here costs 70 DHs / £5.60, and as the site is so vast, it wasn’t too busy when I visited luckily.
Stroll through the beautiful Bahia Palace
With a name that means ‘brilliance’, you’d be amiss not to stop by the Bahia Palace while you’re in Marrakech.
Constructed in the 19th century, Bahia Palace was built to be the greatest palace of its time and consists of a number of intricately decorated rooms and courtyards that sit among tranquil gardens. Expect beautiful mosaics, stained glass windows, and intricately carved columns in traditional Moroccan architecture.
Drink orange juice and mint tea
The food was great in Marrakech, but the drinks were just as good.
I didn’t realise oranges were so intrinsic to Morocco until I visited, but I’ve never tasted OJ as delicious as in Marrakech, or for as cheap. When I was there in February, the streets were lined with orange trees (with all of the fruit within arm’s reach missing from them). From vendors in the street to upmarket restaurants, you’ll never be far away from getting a freshly squeezed glass.
Another drink you should try is Moroccan mint tea. I didn’t actually expect to like this since I don’t really like mint, but I enjoyed it so much I ended up having it every morning for breakfast and even bought a bag of the stuff home with me.
It’s a traditional hot drink which you’ll find across the country, usually poured into a small glass cup from a great height (to get foam on top) and served with plenty of sugar for a sweet, minty flavour.
Spend a night in the Sahara Desert
Without a doubt, the best thing I had the opportunity to do on our first trip to Morocco was spending a night in the Sahara Desert under the stars. Unfortunately, the big dunes of the desert are located over a 10 hour’s drive away from Marrakech, and so you’ll need three days to make the journey as part of a small group tour, but I can assure you it’s absolutely worth the journey.
For more info on what it’s like and how you can do the same, read my separate post here:
Head out of Marrakech
Even if you don’t have the time to go as far out as the Sahara Desert, I’d still recommend heading out of the city to see a little bit more of the country. I had no idea the landscape was so varied in Morocco, and some of the scenery on our way to the desert was really beautiful.
Some of the most popular day trips from Marrakech include the Atlas Mountains, Ouzoud Waterfalls, and Ait Benhaddou, a stunning ancient city built out of clay.
If you want to see the desert but don’t have the time to go to the Sahara, then there are also shorter trips to Zagora which is closer to Marrakech, but the landscape here is rockier and flatter than the big sand dunes of Erg Chebbi which I visited.
Get a hammam
For the ultimate treat in Marrakech, you should absolutely, definitely, without fail, go and get a hammam.
It’s a spa experience that’ll leave you feeling like new, while also giving you a taste of a traditional Moroccan bath.
We booked our treatment on the last day of our trip and it was the perfect way to end our week of sightseeing. I can highly recommend Alphais Spa located in the medina and their hammam, scrub and massage package. Over a few hours in the evening I was cleansed with black soap, scrubbed all over removing dead skin cells, purified with ghassoul, and then washed clean, before having a one-hour full-body massage – all for just 580 DHs / £47! Plenty of other treatments are also available, but whatever you go for, make sure you book in advance.
You should note, however, that you’ll be pretty much completely naked throughout the treatment – you’ll be given disposable underwear to wear (bottoms only), but they’re so small it might as well not exist. I got used to it quite quickly (the staff make the experience feel very comfortable and the whole thing was very professional), but it’s something to consider if you’re unsure about that, or will be going with someone other than your partner as you’ll have your treatments together in the same room.
Stay in a riad
I’ll hold my hand up, I didn’t really understand the real difference between a riad and a hotel before I went to stay in one, but I can definitely recommend booking one for your trip.
While hotels are the usual private rooms you come to expect, riads are based in traditional Moroccan houses that have a courtyard or small garden inside. Some will also have a roof terrace, and if you’re lucky, even a pool.
We stayed at two riads during our week trip, and it was such a surprise to wander through the narrow lanes of the medina to find the riad’s nondescript door, only for it to open up into the most beautiful tranquil courtyards inside.
For a budget-friendly but beautiful stay, I can recommend Riad Sashema where we stayed for two nights (£105 including breakfast).
For a little more money but still not breaking the bank, I absolutely loved Riad Kasbah where we also stayed for three nights (£215 altogether including a wonderful breakfast) – the only problem with staying here was that I didn’t want to leave.
Go shopping in the medina
You might expect me to save the best for last, but on this occasion, this isn’t the case. The ‘famous’ Jeema el-Fnaa market square is well-known as a must-see in Marrakech, but if I were you, I’d avoid it altogether.
There are great stalls located nearby if you do want to do some shopping, but Jeema el-Fnaa is not where you want to spend a lot of your time. One of the reasons those travellers who return hating Marrakech might be because they stayed a bit too long here, and if that’s the case, then I can understand how their view of this city could’ve been tainted by the hordes of stallholders and vendors here, shouting anything they can think of at you to get your attention while you try to cross the square, dodging the touts who are trying to sell you hennas, watches, hats, t-shirts, and everything in between.
I don’t know why this is still recommended as a ‘must do’ in Marrakech, but for me, it was the worst part of the city. I’m sure it was once the authentic bustling market that’s still sold to us as being today, but for me, seeing snake charmers with their reptiles lying on the hot concrete ground and the men with baby monkeys on chains felt nothing but upsetting and outdated – does anyone still want to see this in 2019? Judging by the tourists I saw who still stopped to have their photo taken with the monkeys, it appears the answer is yes.
If you want to experience the atmosphere of the square, by all means, go. But you’ll likely have a better time taking in the scenery from one of the terrace bars that overlook the market (at the expense of some severely overpriced food and drinks).
As I didn’t enjoy the market during the day, I didn’t come back in the evening, but I hear it was much more enjoyable at night as street food stalls take over the square after dark.
When to go to Marrakech
I visited in February in search of winter sun and it was the perfect time to visit. The weather was ideal throughout our stay, with warm sunshine every day and a high of 27C, but cooler evenings. With hot and dry weather pretty much all year round, you can visit Marrakech at any time, though I’d probably stay away in the summer unless you can handle 40C!
Where to stay in Marrakech
As mentioned above, I stayed at Riad Sashema and also loved Riad Kasbah. If you don’t fancy staying in a riad (why not?) and would prefer a more resort-style or upmarket hotel, then there are also plenty of big all-inclusive style hotels outside of the city you can choose from.
Most of the main sights in Marrakech are found within the old city walls, and so I’d recommend basing yourself within this area. We walked everywhere with the help of Google maps and didn’t have any problems, but taxis can also be found all over the city.
To reach the city from the airport, we booked a private car with our riad for €15 each way. Make sure you don’t get charged any more than this, as a couple we met during our trip got into a cab outside the terminal and paid way over the odds!
Where to eat in Marrakech
Eating out in Marrakech is largely budget-friendly if you avoid the touristy/high-end establishments. My personal favourite eateries from the week were:
- BlackChich Cafe just off the medina served delicious food from Senegal
- Zeitoun Cafe in the Kasbah, just opposite the Moulay El yazid Mosque (for meat-eaters, they serve a camel tagine)
- Cafe Kif Kif, who have tasty and super budget-friendly dishes with a view of Koutoubia Minaret from their roof terrace
- La Table de la Kasbah – pricier, but the food was great and the restaurant was beautiful with a relaxing romantic feel.
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