Morocco is one of the most interesting countries in the world. A combination of influences from North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe create a melting pot of cultures unlike anywhere else.
The best place to take in everything that this wonderful nation has to offer is the city of Marrakech. From the world famous medina and souks to centuries-old palaces that once housed some of the great former leaders of the region, for centuries Marrakech has maintained its place as a central part of Moroccan life. As one of the busiest and most chaotic cities in the world, Marrakech can be daunting at first. To help you through the chaos I’ve listed some of the most tourist-friendly things to do and see if you have only a few days to experience this wonderful city.
Number one on many travellers’ lists is Jemma el-Fna, the largest market square in North Africa. But don’t look at this square as just another tourist spot; the market is still a center of life and community to the citizens of Marrakech. At all hours of the day, you can find vendors hawking their wares. Browse the products ranging from intricate metalwork and handmade crafts to traditional clothes and housing items. At night, the square comes alive as performers appear, offering an almost carnival-like atmosphere in the middle of the crowds.
After drinking mint tea in the square and practicing your haggling skills it’s time to dive deep into the markets and souks that Marrakech is famous for. Be warned though, the medina is not for the faint-hearted! It is easy for anyone to get lost (literally!) and wander for hours. If you do get lost, don’t worry. There’s always an entrepreneurial person nearby happy to show you out for a couple of dirham. Browse the endless souks, pick up souvenirs for family and friends back home and don’t be worried if you get beaten while haggling; these guys are pros and that’s the fun of it!
Standing in the middle of the city at 77 meters tall is the Koutoubia Mosque. Built over 800 years ago, the mosque has stood out among the buildings of Marrakech ever since and has inspired similar buildings around the world. Still in use today, the mosque is a great example of Almohad period architecture and was a forerunner of Moroccan-Andalusian architecture. Check it out at sunset for some great photos!
With a name that literally means ‘brilliance’, Bahia Palace is a perfect example of the Islamic and Moroccan architectural style. The decorated mosaics of the columns and ceilings were designed to make this palace the grandest of its time, with the central courtyard built for the King’s harem a particular highlight.
El Badi Palace
The second palace on this list, El Badi Palace was built in the 16th century by the Saadian Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur. The palace was stripped after the accession of the Alaouite dynasty and its famous pavilions were left in decline. Although we can no longer see these aspects of the palace today, it is still worthwhile to wander the grounds and the pools of the palace and imagine the festivities that went on in times gone by.
The gardens of Louis Majorelle are so famous that the colour Majorelle Blue is named after them. Open to the public since 1947 and previously owned by Yves Saint-Laurent, the gardens are a creative landscaping masterpiece. Get there early to avoid the crowds and you can sit quietly and relax with the native birds and animals. The gardens are also the site of the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech.
See Marrakech on foot and stop to take it in
The best way to truly experience Morocco is to walk the streets and immerse yourself! Most of the main attractions are within walking distance in the city center. Walking between them gives you the opportunity to take in the sights, smells, and movements as the citizens go about their day. At the end of it all, find a cosy café to reward yourself with a mint tea. Take some time to reflect on everything this great city has to offer.
So there you have it, a taste of one of the great cities of the medieval Arabic world. But it’s not enough to take my word for it, book a flight and go!