5 things to do in Marrakech
Visiting Marrakech, one of the more mythical cities in Africa, is a mixture between the authentic and the touristic. The city has all the structures of a historic city with the squares, the mosques, the palaces, the narrow streets but the centre of the old medina (town) is earmarked for tourists although having said that most people who eat in the main square in the evenings are locals. This means that tours, guides, riads are all easy to find. This also makes everywhere clean and there is lots of entertainment from monkeys to donkeys to snakes but it also takes a little away from what Morocco is really about. Exploring the large souk is pleasant and colourful but annoying on occasion as everybody wants your business. As I outlined in things to do in Fes, the city and souk there is built for locals so it gives an insight into how locals do business even if that is in a slightly smelly environment and you are buying a carpet beside a block of meat and a hungry cat but in Marrakech there weren’t too many locals buying their carpets and trinkets in the souk off the main square (Jamaa Al Fna). Marrakech though is a great city to explore and is perfect for people who are new to the Arab culture or is a first time outside Europe/North America.
Time to Do: All of the 5 things to do in Marrakech below will take approx 1.5 days, with the day trip to the Atlas Mountains taking, well a day!
Here are my top 5 things to do in Marrakech.
The main haunt for tourists in Marrakech, this huge historic square is a great introduction to the architecture and life in the city. The surrounding pale red buildings provide a calming backdrop to the usual mayhem of tourists, sellers and charmers in the square. The square provides a good landmark to base your expeditions on and turns from polite selling during the day in various moveable stalls to serious entertainment and restaurants at night time. Surrounding the square are several old style French cafes that are a perfect spot to take a break, drink some coffee or eat some delicious tagine and watch the world go by.
Just off Djamaa Al Fna is one of the highlights of any trip to Morocco and especially Marrakech is the souk. The souk is one of the mainstays of Arab culture and you will find no matter how good you are at haggling, these guys are better! Even if you aren’t interested in the stereotypical carpet you will find colourful clothes, jewellery, spices, tea pots, kaftans, shoes, etc. It is a great place for photos and to while away an afternoon taking stock of the locals trying to reel you in and some tourist buying a pillow cover that they don’t want.
- 5 Things to do in Marrakech – The Koutoubia Mosque
The largest mosque in Marrakech, the Koutoubia Mosque dates from the 12th century and is located an easy walk just off Djamaa Al Fna Square. The minaret is 77mtrs (250ft) high and gives a commanding view of the city. In order for no scaffolding holes to be left in the minaret the builders built a soil mound that high around the structure and removed it when finished. A very impressive feat. The gardens and space around the mosque are nice for a stroll in the park. The Koutoubia Mosque provides a visible landmark that means you can find your bearings no matter where you are in the area. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque.
- 5 Things to do in Marrakech – Bahia Palace
Built in the late 19th century the Bahia Palace was supposed to be the greatest palace of its time and it name means the modest ‘brilliance’. With superb decoration on the woodwork and tiles the palace is well worth a visit when in Marrakech. The palace has huge reception halls, 160 rooms and a large garden to roam in. Open 09:00-12:00, 15:00-18:00 Mon-Thurs, Sat, Sun. Friday 15:00-18:00,
- 5 Things to do in Marrakech – Saadian Tombs
Tombs from the 16th century that weren’t discovered until 1917 because of a hidden entrance means these tombs are almost exactly as they were left 400years ago. The tombs don’t take long to see but the decoration on the zelij (Moroccan tiles) is beautiful. Inside members of the Saadi family are buried along with some Jews and Christians that can be told apart by the different markings. Open daily 08:30-12:00, 14:30-18:00
- 5 Things to do in Marrakech – Visiting the Atlas Mountains
Not often are you able to visit a mountain range like the Atlas Mountains and day trips from Marrakech are a perfect opportunity to get away from the heat and eat some fresh cool air. Places like Asni are only 45min south of Marrakech in the High Atlas but if you plan on doing a small amount of walking then Imlil is the best village to go to and is 1.5hrs south of Marrakech. This is one of the best areas for trekking and is also the starting point for climbing Mount Toubkal (4167mtrs), the highest mountain in North Africa. Mount Toubkal can be done in 2days (1 night) from Imlil and no special training is required. Toubkal though has the disappointing vista of seemingly being smaller than the surrounding peaks although there are still some great views. It’s a tough climb but worth it when finished. I might write about my time at the summit at some stage. There are plenty of tour operators around Djamaa Al Fna that will bring you on day trips to the High Atlas Mountains.
Practicalities – About Morocco
€1 = 11.2 Moroccan Dirham, US$1 = 8.2DH
- Language – Arabic. French is the second language and many people have good French. English is spoken well by anybody involved with the tourist industry. ie. hotels, tour operators, etc but not by the general public
- Bus – Morocco has a good bus service in CTM (www.ctm.ma, in French), Satcoma Satas Voyageurs and Supratours (www.oncf.ma) and run regular comfortable buses on most trips. For example CTM runs Marrakech to Fes 4 times a day and costs 160DH (10hrs) and 15 buses go daily to Agadir. Supratours is part of the same company that runs the trains so they complement each other. Supratours buses leave from the train station. CTM ticket office is located at Gare Routiere.
- Flights- Marrakech Menara international airport (RAK) is 8km south west of the city. A taxi can bring you or there is a shuttle bus (number 19, 30DH one way) that goes into the city. The main airlines that fly into Fes are Royal Air Morocco (www.royalairmaroc.com/Marchand/Eng/Home.jsp), Ryanair (www.ryanair.com), Easyjet (www.easyjet.com), American Airlines, British Airways (www.ba.com), KLM, Etihad among others.
- Train- All trains arrive and depart from Marrakech main station located on Av. Hassan II, 3km northwest of the main square Djamaa Al Fna. Trains only go to the west, north or south and not into the desert. For example there are 8 trains a day between Marrakech and Fes www.oncf.ma/Pages/Accueil.aspx (in French)
- Accommodation – US$30-$40 per night for an average double room
- Beer – Morocco is a Muslim country so beer is only sold in restaurants, cafe’s and supermarkets. There are some low key bars. A pint is around 20DH
- Visa: All foreigners must get a visa for Morocco but a number of countries can get a visa on arrival (USA, EU countries, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Canada, Japan, many African and Arab countries). A tourist visa last for 90days on arrival in the airport/border. Your passport must be valid for at least the following 6 months and you have a return ticket. To see if your country is on the list see www.moroccanconsulate.com/visa.cfm
- Population of Marrakech, Morocco: 1,060,000
5 Things to do in Marrakech – Map of Marrakech, Morocco
|Djamaa Al Fna Square - Marrakech|
Place Jemaa El Fna, Marrakesh, Marrakesh-Tensift-Al Haouz, Morocco
|Koutoubia Mosque - Marrakech|
Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakesh, Morocco
|Bahia Palace - Marrakech|
Bahia Palace, Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid, Marrakesh, Marrakesh-Tensift-Al Haouz, Morocco
|Saadian Tombs - Marrakech|
Saadian Tombs, Rue de La Kasbah, Marrakesh, Marrakesh-Tensift-Al Haouz, Morocco
|Train Station - Marrakech|
Gare de Marrakech, Marrakech, Marrakesh-Tensift-Al Haouz, Morocco
|Gare Routiere - CTM bus Station|
Gare routière, Marrakech, Marrakesh-Tensift-Al Haouz, Morocco
Photo Gallery from my visit to Marrakech, Morocco