Marrakesh Travel Guide

Even if you’ve come to Morocco for mountaineering or trekking, you should not leave without visiting a true Moroccan city. And if you only have time for one, Marrakesh is arguably the best choice. It combines all the essential ingredients: a medina (old city) with fabulous buildings, an exciting souk (marketplace), pleasant gardens, beautiful mosques and the main square, which is the most famous one of its kind in the whole country. It is crowded and sometimes even chaotic, but, strangely enough, also has a calm ambiance, which makes it a really enjoyable place to stay.

Riad in Marrakesh, Morocco. Riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard, Morocco.

Marrakesh is the fourth largest city in Morocco after Casablanca, Fez, and Tangier. It is one of the „royal cities” of Morocco, that is, one of the four former imperial capitals. It is often called „the red pearl of Morocco” or the „red city”, referring to the 8-mile long red city wall surrounding it.

The city was founded in 1062, and soon became a flourishing center of trade, culture, and religion. It served as the capital of Morocco for much of its history, only rivaled by Fez, until finally Rabat was established as the capital of modern Morocco.

Top things to do and see in Marrakesh

Djemaa el-Fna, the main square of Marrakesh

Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Medina of Marrakesh, Morocco UNESCO World Heritage Site

Djemaa el-Fna was founded in the eleventh century and is today the beating heart of Marrakesh and a symbol of the city. Contrary to its name (meaning “assembly of the dead”), which probably refers to the fact that it was a scene of public executions in the early phase of its history, it is throbbing with life throughout the day. If you’d like to enjoy the ambiance of a Moroccan city, this is the best place to go. During the day it’s filled with attractions like snake charmers, acrobats, henna crafters, herbs vendors and monkeys. When the evening comes, it becomes a paradise of snack stalls selling all kinds of traditional delicacies, while snake charmers and acrobats are replaced by story-tellers, boy dancers, and magicians. The atmosphere is terrific, with noises and exotic smells that evoke 1001 Arabian Nights. The Marrakesh Souks, just beside the square, are also very much worth a visit. It’s a true Moroccan marketplace, and although it is, of course, a vital part of the tourist trade, it hasn’t lost its authenticity.

Bahia Palace

In the late nineteenth century, a couple of old houses were combined and converted into a splendid palace. Bahia Palace, which was originally set up and embellished by viziers (ministers) of Morocco for their private use, is now one of the most visited tourist attractions in Marrakesh. True to its name meaning “brilliance”, this elaborate building is so rich in architectural details that it’s really worth taking a couple of hours to slowly walk around and explore everything. You will be dazzled by the beautifully decorated rooms and the stunning courtyards. The building also houses the Moroccan Ministry of Cultural Affairs, so only parts of it are open to the public. Since there are no English information boards, you might prefer to join a formal tour, but if you’re not that much thirsty for information, it’s also nice to ramble around at your leisure.

The Koutoubia Mosque

The Koutoubia Mosque, with its 77-meter tall minaret, is the largest mosque in Marrakesh. It is located in the medina quarter, not far from the main square, and can be seen from virtually everywhere in the city. It is built of the red stones so typical of Marrakesh and is an architectural masterpiece, with a beautiful garden adding to its splendor. Although non-Muslims are not allowed in the mosque, the sight of the building itself, especially around sunset will not leave you dissatisfied.

Ben Youssef Madrasa

Ben Youssef Madrasa, originally an Islamic theological college, today a historical site, has a building just as elaborate as the Koutoubia Mosque, and the good news is that it’s open to the public. It was founded in the 14th century, operated as a college until 1960 when it was closed down and carefully restored to be reopened for visitors in 1982. Want to see what a Moroccan student’s room looked like in the Middle Ages? Take an hour to wander around the narrow (and pleasantly cool) corridors and peek into the rooms, but also don’t forget to admire the fine Italian marble floors and mosaic walls.

Jardin Majorelle

The Majorelle Garden is a botanical garden and artist's landscape garden in Marrakech, Morocco.

If you feel a bit overwhelmed by the bustle of the medina, escape to Jardin Majorelle, a charming garden in the heart of the city. It was designed by French painter Jacques Majorelle in the early 20th century and has become one of the most popular tourist sites with its orange trees, an amazing variety of cactuses, fountains, and ponds with water lilies. Even if you are not a big fan of gardens, you will be stunned by the beauty of this place. It has plenty of awesome themes for photographers, but you can also sit on a bench, close your eyes and enjoy the calm atmosphere – provided that you arrive early enough to avoid the crowd. If you come after 10 a.m., though, be prepared for a long queue and hordes of tourists inside. Also, tickets are on the expensive side, so if you are on a budget, we suggest going to other tranquil gardens. You will find plenty of them in Marrakesh and most of them are free.

Pictures of Marrakesh

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