Is Marrakech the most charming city in Africa?
We have travelled a lot throughout this amazing continent and, with no doubt, Marrakech is one of the most charming cities of the whole of Africa.
Cheerful and lively, with interesting architecture, souks selling any products, fiery sunsets and the song of the muezzin that echoes in the air, Marrakech is always a popular destination that attracts a million tourists every year.
Founded in 1070–72 by the Almoravids, Marrakech is the most visited city of Morocco and worldwide famous for its picturesque Jamaa el Fna square that in the evening it turns into a real open-air theatre.
Let’s go to discover the top attractions of Marrakech
1) Jemaa el Fna
Jemaa el Fna square is the beating heart of the Marrakech, the place where the life of the city is most concentrated and one of those must-visit places not to be missed.
UNESCO World Heritage since 2001, Jemaa el Fna is only quite square during the day, but in the late evening, it turns into a very crowded and bustling place.
In the middle of the square, the merchants set up tens and tens of stalls and grills selling fresh food, from fish to meat skewers, kebab, goat, mutton, chicken, soups, vegetables and any dish you wish. All surrounded by storytellers, monkey trailers, women who want to draw your hands with henna, healer selling medicines, musicians and dancers, teeth sellers and indeed snake charmers and their music that echoes in the air.
Tips: in the late evening taste a mint tea on the terrace of Le Grand Balcon Cafè Glacier for enjoying a beautiful view on the square (video below).
2) The Souk
Right behind Jemaa el Fna, it stretches the huge souk of the Medina. It is divided by-products, and the best thing to do is to get lost in this labyrinth and its narrow streets.
Strolling here you will find the Souk Addadine for metal objects, the Souk of the Dyers where the skeins of wool and silk are worked and the Souk Chouari for baskets and the turning of wood. But also the Souk Smata where the famous babouches (typical Moroccan slippers) and leather belts, Souk Attarin for copper and brass, Souk Smarine for clothing, the Souk Siyyaghin for jewels, the Souk El Kebir for leather and many shops selling colourful spices, dates, olives, candies, fruit and vegetables.
No worry, the souk is also plenty of souvenirs shops, be ready to haggle!
3) Koutoubia Mosque
Al Koutoubia is a beautiful mosque situated about 300 meters from Jamaa el Fna.
It was built by the end of the 12th century and it is a perfect work of Islamic Almohad architecture. The magnificent minaret is high 69 meters, and it is said that the buildings of Marrakech must not exceed its height.
Al Koutoubia means “mosque of the booksellers”, because allegedly in the past there were sellers of sacred books all around the mosque. As all the mosques in Morocco (except the Casablanca mosque), you can visit its interior only if you are Muslim.
4) Medersa Ben Youssef
Dated back to the 14th century and later rebuilt in 1564, the Ben Youssef Madrasa is one of the most important places in Marrakech and our opinion the most beautiful attraction.
It is one of the largest Koranic school in the whole Maghreb ad it could host up to 900 students.
Situated in the heart of the medina and masterpiece of Moorish architecture, the Madrasa consists of two parts, a school and a mosque, all adorned with carved wood, marble and decorations.
Opening hours: the Madrasa should be still closed due to renovation works.
5) Almoravid Koubba
The Almoravid Koubba is the oldest building in the city, and it was hidden until 1952 when it was discovered during some works. Located near the Marrakech Museum and the Ben Youssef Medersa, the Koubba is the only remaining example of Almoravid architecture in Marrakech.
6) Marrakech Museum
Close to the Ben Youssef Madrasa, there is the museum of Marrakech, housed in the Dar Menebhi Palace.
It dates back to the 19th century, and it was built in the typical style of a traditional Moorish house and boasts fountains, traditional seating areas, Hamman, zellige tiles and carvings, whereas the museum exhibits both modern and traditional Moroccan art.
7) Bahia Palace
In the north side of the Mellah (the Jewish quarter where the Jewish community had lived and worked for centuries with Muslims), it is located the historic El Bahia Palace, a typical example of the traditional Moroccan architecture.
This beautiful palace dates back to the 19th century and futures a set of gardens riches of carved wood, marbles, fountains and other typical decorations. The name means “brilliance”, and like other buildings, it was intended to capture the essence of Islamic style.
Opening hours: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., ticket fee 70 MAD.
8) El Badi Palace
Badi Palace is a ruined palace built in the late 16th century by the Sultan Ahmed al Mansour Saadien Dhahbi and strongly influenced by the architecture of the Alhambra in Granada.
Walking through the complex, you can appreciate the building that is thought to have consisted of 360 decorated rooms, a courtyard and a central pool.
Opening hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., ticket fee 70 MAD.
9) The Saadian Tombs and the Kasbah Mosque
The Moulay el Yadiz Mosque is located in the medina, just 5 minutes walk from the beautiful Bab Agnaou gate, one of the nineteen gates of the city. It is easy to confuse this mosque with the more famous Koutoubia because the minaret looks similar although much smaller.
As other mosques it is not allowed to visit if you are non-muslim the Kasbah Mosque; anyway, during your tour through the medina, it is worth having a kook of this beautiful building with its minaret built around the 12th century and decorated with green and white zellige tiles.
Next to the mosque, you’ll also find the Saadian tombs, a funerary complex with two mausoleums placed in a flower garden that symbolises the paradise of Allah. It’s an example of Islamic architecture that features amazing domed ceilings, marbles and mosaics, all built around the 16th century by Ahmed Al Mansour.
Opening hours of Saadian tombs: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., ticket 70 MAD.
10) Tanneries quarter
Less famous than the Chouara tanneries in Fes, the Marrakech tanneries are located just out of the medina (20-minute walk from Jemaa el Fna), close to the Oued Issil river and next to one of the beautiful gates of the city (Bab Debbagh).
Here, inside dyeing tanks, you’ll see the workers intent on cleaning the skins removing the hair, soften them, colour them and finally spread them to dry.
The smell is intense since the tanners still work with the old traditional method using pigeon poultry and cow urine mixed with ash.
Warning: when you reach the quarter, you’ll be approached by local lads (sometimes very annoying and persistent) offering to lead you to the tanneries. It’s not for free, and they’ll later ask you a tip. Be careful and set the tip with him before going there.
At the end of the visit, they’ll probably force you to visit some leather shops to buy something. Unlike Fes, in this quarter the people are very persistent, and they’ll try to make a buck in every way. Just be careful and keep your eyes open.
11) Mellah, the Jewish quarter
Just walking for a few minutes from El Badi Palace, it’s worth having a stroll in the old Jewish quarter of Marrakech and visiting its picturesque narrow streets and vibrant souk where you can find meat and agricultural products like fruit and vegetables but also colourful spices.
The Mellah was founded around the 16th century and during its most magnificent splendour, up to 50,000 inhabitants lived here managing above all tailor’s shops and a jewellery stores. If you have time, also have a look at the Synagogue Al Azama and the Jewish cemetery.
12) Majorelle Garden
It consists of a beautiful villa in Moorish style surrounded by a vast and lush botanical garden, rich of cacti (up to 1800), exotic plants and palm trees (up to 400).
It was created by the French painter Jacques Majorelle between the 1920s and 1930, and it also houses the Berber Museum with expositions of ceramics, old carpets and Moroccan handicraft.
The villa is famous because it was later purchased by the designer Yves Saint-Laurent. Located out of the centre it can be easily reached by taxi. Opening hours: 8 a.m. – 5.30 p.m., ticket 70 MAD (garden) + 30 MAD (Museum).
Need to know
1) When to go and how long
All year round but the best seasons are winter spring and autumn to avoid the intense heat of the summer and enjoy the beautiful city without stewing. We visited Marrakech in December, and the weather was perfect: around 25 during the day and a bit colder in the early morning and at night.
The best way to enjoy the city and its attractions is to spend here at least full 2 days.
Marrakech is also well located, and in case you decide to stay longer, it allows you to make a nice day trip out of the city (for example Ouarzazate and Draa valley, Ait Ben Haddou, Ouzoud waterfalls, Essaouira, camel ride or overnight in the desert…).
2) How to get there
If you are travelling around on your own, the cheapest way is by bus or train (about 3 hours) from Casablanca. If you want to visit the country, the best way is to book a private car with a driver through a local agency to avoid wasting time and do your visits with no rush. In our 2 trips around Morocco, we arranged the vehicle with driver with Tizi trekking and Atlas discovery. If you are looking for an alternative way to discover the city and surroundings, check on Viator and GetYourGuide, reliable online platforms where you can find many activities and tours.
Several low-cost companies also serve Marrakech, so it’s effortless to find good deals to spend there a weekend. In this case, the Marrakech Menara International airport is located only 5 km from Jemaa el Fna square.
The easiest way reach your accommodation from the airport is to book in advance a private transfer using the web platforms GetYourGuide, Viator (where you can find many deals and companies) or the private company Navette Casablanca.
Alternatively, you can take the local taxis (petit taxis – up to 3 people – or Grand taxi – up to 6 people). The fare should be fixed (70 MAD for Petite taxi and 100 MAD for Grand taxi), but with no doubt, the driver will try to ask you much more. Therefore remember always to haggle the price before entering the cab. At the terminal, you’ll also find not-official taxis, skip them and always take the official ones.
The cheapest option is to catch the airport bus service (line 19) that operates from 6.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m. and leaves every 30 minutes from outside the terminal building (it costs 30 MAD and directly go to Jamaa el Fna square).
3) Where to sleep
The Medina (around Jamaa el Fna) is the best choice since it allows you to visit all the attractions by walk. It’s also plenty of affordable accommodations like Riad and guesthouses. We slept at Riad Venice (Derb el Kebir alley), 10-minute walk from Jamaa el Fna square. The owners are lovely, and they also arrange guided tours of Marrakech and, in case, all the things you need. Moreover, if you want to experience a Hamman bath, just 5-minute walk from this Riad you’ll find the Isis Spa Marrakech. Alternatively, you can look for your accommodation here.
4) Where to eat
The best place for eating is undoubtedly Jemaa el Fna square with its many street food stalls and grills. Alternatively, you’ll find around the square and its alleyways several restaurants. Do you want to know more? Here you can check the best TripAdvisor restaurants list of Marrakech.
5) Currency exchange
Don’t change your amount at the airport (just the indispensable) but go in the many currency exchange shops around Jemaa el Fna square). Here you’ll also find several ATM. We found an excellent rate at the currency exchange shop next to Ali Hotel.
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