At first, most of my dream destinations and places used to originate from classic adventure books. With the help of Jules Verne, Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain they took me from dry prairies and erupting volcanos to the deepest depths of the ocean.
After that, I discovered colourful images between the glossy travel magazine pages, but nowadays I find a lot of inspiration in surf magazines and on social media.
I still remember seeing a picture of Ben Youssef Medersa, the largest Qur’anic teaching college in Marrakech for the very first time on Instagram. Profoundly smitten by its baroque designs, brightly coloured zellij tiles and wood carvings, I was instantly filled with a stubborn yearning to see it.
Over time, I found myself glued to the computer screen or a magazine page, whenever a photo or a blog post of Ben Youssef Medersa popped up, unable to stop slobbering while I inspected every single impeccable detail of this somewhat unique place.
Three years ago, shortly after moving from Dublin to Sligo, we eventually fulfilled our dream of visiting Marrakech and came home overloaded with sensory experiences that are going to stay with us for a long time. Prior to our trip, I spent hours online browsing the vibrant photos of the souks and traditional riads, but no guide could prepare me fully for Marrakech.
Marrakech’s new town, Gueliz couldn’t be in more significant contrast to the old medina and its maze of narrow streets and magical souks. Residential houses, hotels and fast food restaurants mix with supermarkets, cutting-edge galleries and international cafes. The main street, Avenue Mohammed V, is beautifully lined with palm trees and travelling from a bus station to our riad we spotted KFC, Pizza Hut and even Zara shops.
To make sure we interacted with locals and learned as much as possible about the history of Marrakech, we arranged a guide to steer us through the labyrinth of Old Medina. Having lived in Marrakech for over 20 years, he was more than happy to provide insights into what life is actually like in one of the biggest cities and helped us focus on the details that make the medieval walled city so unique.
Six Wonderful Things to Experience in Marrakech, Morocco
Marrakesh is one of the largest cities in Morocco and home to 1 million people. There is an incredible amount of sights, places and attractions to see. We are appreciative to have been able to spend time in Marrakech and would love to come back one day for more because as much as we wanted to visit every single place, we just run out of time.
In this blog post, we wanted to highlight a few spots worth visiting. If you are tempted to see incredibly beautiful architectural wonders and roam around the sunlit souks of Marrakech, go visit once it’s safe to do so!
#1. Visit the beautiful Bahia Palace
Bahia Palace is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Marrakech. It’s hard to describe precisely what you feel standing in the middle of the central courtyard with white Carrara marble floor underneath your feet and surrounded by the intense colours and those gorgeous patterns – it’s almost like embroidery.
While you are busy admiring hundreds upon hundreds of intricately placed tiles and ornate geometric patterns, don’t be surprised to find out that the name of the palace translates to ‘brilliance’. This nineteen-century place is one of the true masterpieces of Moroccan and Islamic architecture and also one of the busiest places we visited in Marrakech.
Here you’ll find displays of impressive mosaics, colourful patterns, cedar-wood carvings, stained glass windows, painted cedar ceilings and marble features. In the pretty gardens, you’ll see a great variety of trees – jasmine, olive, banana, lemon as well as date palms and loads of orange trees.
Address: Avenue Imam El Ghazali, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
Opening times: The palace is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (may be subject to changes or closures during royal visits and other events).
The entrance fee is 10 Moroccan dirhams, or about $1 US.
#2. Walk around Jemaa el-Fnaa Square
If there is one place that defines this incredible city, it’s definitely Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, a big open space with an electric atmosphere. Overlooked by the distinctive Koutoubia mosque tower, this is where you can find citrus fruit stalls, snake charmers, donkeys charts and a healthy mix of foreign visitors and locals. Horse-drawn carriages called Calèches can be found near the square and can be used to go for a ride.
Early in the morning and during the daytime hours Jemaa el-Fnaa Square is much quieter compared to when the night rolls in. If you wish to see it during the night, but don’t feel like walking around on your own, put your feet up in one of the rooftop cafes (consumption is required), and watch the square transform in front of your eyes.
Absorb how the guys pull charts through the square to set up the food stalls for the night. Witness how the square becomes even more alive when street performers try to attract tourist attention with rhythmic music and dancing. And be prepared for an exotic mishmash of fortune tellers, henna artists and monkey-tamers
While nearby rooftop cafes provide an escape from the chaos and the great viewpoints for fantastic pictures, it’s hard to capture the tones of traditional Berber music and the smell of fried food that fills the warm air.
#4. Pay a visit to the Marrakech Museum
This museum is situated just beside the Medersa Ben Youssef and to understand all the descriptions of exhibits you will need the knowledge of French or Arabic.
Although there wasn’t much on display regarding artwork or any other exhibitions you would expect from a similar type of museum, the interior of the building was worth going to see as the wooden ceiling and tile work was stunning.
Make sure you leave the main hall behind and visit smaller rooms as well, we found lovely paintings, fountains, mosaics and decorative art objects (most of them actually were dusty and poorly arranged, nevertheless we absolutely loved it).
Entrance – 50 MAD / 5 USD
#5. Explore Marrakech Souks
Marrakech Medina is enclosed by 19-kilometres of pink walls built around 1122. Until just over 100 years ago, the whole city lived within these walls. There are plenty of things to keep you entertained in the medina; palaces, mosques, museums and souks to get lost in.
Even in your wildest dreams, it’s hard to imagine that places like Marrakech souks exist. The souks of Marrakech are the largest in Morocco and famous globally as some of the most exotic marketplaces to shop in the world. The rhythm of life here is so authentic and unique that even the best adjectives are nowhere near describing this place. It has to be seen in person.
If you are a first time visitor, it can be a bewildering experience to explore the maze of shadowy alleys and passages dotted with overflowing stalls. Each souk is still named after the product being sold there, and many of the products on offer are still similar to how they would have been a hundred years ago.
Be prepared to take your time and get lost, it’s part of the cities charm. Don’t rush and devote a few hours to slowly walking around dimly lit alleys and absorbing eye-catching patterns and colours. Try to identify exotic aromas, be in awe of delicate-looking glassware and let the silk scarfs run through your fingers.
#6. Relax at Le Jardin Secret
Our last day in Marrakech involved more sightseeing. Exclaiming with sheer joy, we entered through the simple door into a place that could only be found in the storybooks. Visiting Le Jardin Secret was something I needed to refresh my soul.
Walking around the gardens, listening to the tinkling water and bird sounds, I realised that some places are so simple yet so surreal! There are two beautifully symmetrical gardens, a small rooftop café and a museum.
Once owned by the powerful U-Bihi, this place exchanged many hands before it was abandoned entirely. Today Le Jardin Secret is beautifully restored and open to the public. It was our tour guide who suggested we visit these blissfully quiet gardens. I am glad we did! We enjoyed the entire experience while learning about the complexity of the flowing water, trying to identify fragrant herbs and many trees.
Entrance – 50MAD, Panoramic Tower – 30MAD
How to set yourself up for a successful visit
It’s good to know the lifestyle and to understand the customs when going to Muslim or any other country for the very first time. Fortunately there is a wealth of useful information online, from tourist board websites to personal travel blogs you can use to educate yourself.
Arrange a transfer | If you are staying in one of the traditional riads within Marrakech’s old city, organise a transfer, because arriving at your hotel may be a bit more complicated than you realize. Most taxi drivers will leave you off outside of the Medina from where you can hire someone to help you with bags.
Pick a good place to stay | We choose our riad located in the heart of medina because of the great reviews and good value—both of which proved to be true. The ancient Medina is arguably one of the best places to stay in Marrakech as many of the city’s top attractions can be found within its walls.
Hire a guide | If you are traveling solo and it’s your first time in Northern Africa, hire a guide. Some of the official guides are qualified historians that can help you acclimatize if you are feeling overwhelmed.
Communication | In addition to Arabic and Berber, French is also widely spoken in Morocco. If you speak none of those languages, you’ll be OK with English.
What to wear | Showing bare shoulders and legs is frowned upon. Street harassment is common and very often the amount of attention that you get will depend on what you wear.
Use sun protection | The sun in Morocco can be intense throughout the year, especially during the summer month. Bring sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen.
… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …
Now over you!
Have you been to Marrakech? What sites did you see?
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Marrakech and have travel-related questions