Is Marrakech the most charming city in Africa?
We have travelled a lot throughout this amazing continent and, without a 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 Jemaa 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 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 a quiet 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 of this surrounded by storytellers, monkey trailers, women who want to draw your hands with henna, healer selling medicines, musicians and dancers, teeth sellers and indeed the famous snake charmers with their music that echoes in the air.
Tips: in the late evening we suggest tasting a mint tea on the terrace of Le Grand Balcon Cafè Glacier for enjoying a beautiful view on the square (pic below).
2) The Souk
The huge souk of the medina stretches right behind Jemaa el Fna square. 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 Semmarine for clothing, the Souk Siyyaghin for jewels, the Souk El Kebir for leather and other many shops selling colourful spices, dates, olives, candies, fruit, vegetables and indeed souvenir.
Tip: bargaining is an everyday occurrence in Moroccan culture; therefore be ready to haggle with the sellers. Usually, the first price they quote is often double the real value of the item you want to buy. Obviously it also depends on what you want to buy, but if you are not sure about the price, walk away and look for your item in another shop. Among the labyrinthine streets of the souk, you will find many shops selling the same items; therefore, the best thing before buying is to ask the price in any of them to get an idea. However, we found higher prices in the Marrakech souk than in other cities such as Fes and Meknes
3) Koutoubia Mosque
Al Koutoubia is a beautiful mosque situated about 300 meters from Jemaa el Fna. It was built by the end of the 12th century, and it is a perfect example 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 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, in 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 Medersa consists of two parts, a school and a mosque, all adorned with carved wood, marble and decorations.
Opening hours: the Madrasa could be still closed due to renovation works (February 2020).
5) Almoravid Koubba
The Almoravid Koubba is the oldest building in the Marrakech, 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 Ben Youssef Medersa, is the Museum of Marrakech, housed in the Dar Menebhi Palace. The palace dates back to the 19th century, and it is built in the typical style of a traditional Moorish house. It features fountains, traditional seating areas, Hamman, zellige tiles and carvings, whereas the museum exhibits both modern and traditional Moroccan art.
7) El Bahia Palace
In the north side of the Mellah (the Jewish quarter where the Jewish community had lived and worked for centuries with Muslims), you’ll find the historic El Bahia Palace, a typical example of the traditional Moroccan architecture. The palace dates back to the 19th century and features beautiful 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 the Islamic style.
Opening hours: 9 am – 5 pm; ticket fee 70 MAD.
8) El Badi Palace
El Badi Palace is a ruined palace built in the late 16th century by the Sultan Ahmed al Mansour Saadian 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 am – 5 pm; 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 Marrakech. 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 the Kasbah Mosque if you are non-muslim; anyway, during your tour through the medina, it is worth having a look 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 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 am – 5 pm; 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 by foot 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 poo and cow urine mixed with ash.
Warning: when you reach the dyers 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. If you check on google, you’ll find many bad reviews from tourists who visited the place.
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 Gardens
Majorelle Gardens feature 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). The place 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 am – 5.30 pm; ticket 70 MAD (garden) + 30 MAD (Museum).
Need to know about the attractions in Marrakech
First of all, if you need to organise your stay in this beautiful and chaotic city, click here to read our article on Marrakech, where you will find information and suggestions.
The attractions of Marrakech can be easily reached on foot, without catching local transportation. Our advice is to spend at least a couple of days here, to have time to enjoy the beautiful city with no rush. If you stay longer, interesting day trips can also be made from Marrakech. Click here to discover the best day tours you can arrange from Marrakech.
The main attractions can also be visited in one day. Obviously, you will have to leave early in the morning. Indicatively, start with Bahia Palace, then the Jewish quarter with the Synagogue, then El Badi Palace and the Saadian Tombs. Return to Jemaa el Fna square and continue to the Marrakech Museum and the nearby Ben Youssef Madrasa. From here, in a few minutes, you will be in the labyrinthine souk where you can enjoy shopping. Return to Jemaa el Fna square and end the evening here. Click here to see the itinerary with google maps.
Alternatively, a very simple way to visit the main attractions of Marrakech is to book a tour with the reliable web platforms GetYourGuide and Viator that advertise tours and activities offered by the various local tourist agencies.
Have you visited Marrakech? Do you want to share tips and tricks, or do you need the information to organise your tour? Leave us a comment below!