Earthy colors, vibrant mosaics, narrow alleys and spicy smells pretty much sum up this Moroccan city. One of the best things about it is that it’s divided into two parts: an old town and a new town. This means that there is something for everyone – markets, palaces and traditional cooking as well as shopping centers, spas and fast food. You can even throw in some adventurous activities for the adrenaline junkies!
Here’s my bid on must-see attractions and suggestions for activities in Marrakech, except one thing I didn’t get to see – the Majorelle Gardens a.k.a. the garden of Yves Saint Laurent. The line was simply too long, and I’d put it off for my last day, so I never made it inside. What I can say about the place is: it costs 70 MAD to get in, and you should aim to get there well before they open!
Places to visit
The soukhs are the market stalls that sell, well, everything. There are different kinds (and qualities!) of traditional garments, jewelry, kitchenware, shoes and lamps (oh, the lamps – I still wish I’d been able to take home a few).
Located in the old town, just next to the main square Djemma el Fna, the soukhs basically form a maze. I had to check Google maps once in a while, otherwise I’d probably still be lost there! Nevertheless, getting lost is part of the fun – as well as bargaining for a fun souvenir to take home.
Medersa Ben Youssef
Once a school and home to its students, this now Instagram-famous establishment was by far my favorite of all the sights in Marrakech. The tiled mosaics, the symmetry of the architecture and the open courtyard with a pool in the middle are just mesmerizing. Visitors are even able to walk the old hallways and visit the rooms that the students used to live in.
The Saadian Tombs
This is a stunning place with a really cool story to it: The tombs and mausoleum date back to the late 16th century and are the final resting places for sultan Ahmad el-Mansur and his family, among others. The place was somehow forgotten about and not rediscovered until the early 20th century, when a photographer flew over the area and spotted it.
Entrance fee: 10 MAD.
El Badii Palace
Built in the late 16th century, this palace was probably one of the most spectacular of the time. It’s said to have been adorned with gold, onyx and marble and had up to 360 luxurious rooms, stables and dungeons. Unfortunately, it’s been stripped of all these precious materials, but the massive property with its pools, sunken gardens and structures is still very impressive and so beautiful in the late afternoon.
Another gorgeous and well-kept palace. Moroccans sure know how to build beautiful architecture! Also a collection of mosaics, fountains and open-space, lush gardens, Bahia Palace is the wet dream of any Instagrammer.
Entrance fee: 10 MAD.
The Seven Saints
Located on the outskirts of the city, near Majorelle Gardens, stand seven tall brick constructions that represent seven men who were “known for their righteousness, their detachment from the world, their faith in god” (visitmarrakech.com)
While the towers are quite majestic in themselves, the area doesn’t really do the Seven Saints justice. Homeless men are occupying the benches on the square, while trash is floating around everywhere. It’s safe to visit during the day, but I’m not sure I’d want to be there at night-time.
If you’re a die-hard Instagrammer, you know what I’m talking about. You probably even know, if you aren’t! This 5-star luxury hotel and spa ranks as one of the best hotels in the entire world, and it’s not hard to see why (except, you can’t see it from the outside due to the 10-meter-tall wall). Getting in can be a bit of a hassle, as the security wants to know why you’re there, if you don’t live there. I just said we were going for lunch in their (overpriced) café, as advised by a fellow Dane at our hotel. The security will ask you to leave your bags in a locker outside, so if you had planned to change clothes inside, this is your last (and very inconvenient!) chance to do so.
Once inside, it’s breathtaking. The details, the decor, the rooms, the gardens – everything is just beautifully made. The most popular room, the one with the columns, is locked during the day, but if you ask the staff nicely, they will unlock it for you. The pool area is limited to paying guests – unless there’s no one in there.
Things to do
With desert surrounding the city, there’s ample opportunity for you to go out and get some wind in your hair and adrenaline through your veins.
The tour I was on was a little lame; we weren’t allowed to go at full speed, drift or drive off-road, which is kind of the point, right? They even cut our tour short. If I’d known the name of the agency, I would tell you. The only thing is, the guy we bought the tour from approached us in the street and took us to an office inside a little mall, which wasn’t his own. Of course, he wasn’t with us on the day of the activity, so we complained a whole lot to the guide, but to no avail.
I have to admit, I’m not sure if this is ethical. The camels we rode on looked healthy and had lots of space to walk around on, breaks between each ride and only one person to a camel. There were no signs of cruelty or violence to the animals, and I know that camels have been used like horses for centuries, but I don’t know if that makes it okay.
Either way, we went for a short ride on the camels outside of the city limits to a little, local village, where children of came out to wave at us. In the village, we went to a house, where someone had prepared some tea and bread for us. Seeing how these families lived was really fascinating.
One of the things I always try to squeeze in on my vacations is some kind of wellness. Whether it be a massage or getting my nails done, it’s nice to be pampered – especially when it’s so much cheaper than back home!
The good hotels often have their own spa, which was also the case with mine, where I got a full-body scrub with coffee beans and gloves, and a relaxing massage on a big concrete block in a steam-room. It was soooooo gooooood.
Drinks and a bit of culture
In spite of alcohol not being part of Muslim culture, it is possible to buy it in licensed places; typically at hotels and in touristy areas. There is a great bar at the Radisson Blu Hotel, which is part of the Carré Eden Shopping Center, with live music every night. As a bonus, a handful of men come out and do a little traditional dance wearing traditional clothing, including a fez, which is very entertaining!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by crowded, narrow alleys, incense and haggling in the soukhs, go visit Carré Eden Shopping Center. It’s very modern – including a Starbucks and a nail spa – and has some great quality shoes and handbags at very low prices.
Personally, I didn’t find the other major shopping center, Menara Mall, worth visiting at all.