The top tourist attractions and places to visit in Marrakech – a travel guide to Morocco’s most beautiful imperial city.
Would you believe me when I told you that Marrakech is the most vibrant city in the world? Imagine, the smell of spices wafting through the air, the haggling of tourists and merchants, the call of the muezzin – all amidst the mosaic-tiled mosques, madrasas, and riads. Now picture among all this madness a tourist group treading through the labyrinthine alleys of the ancient medina looking for the best things to do in Marrakech.
Now, since I don’t want you to get lost (not necessarily a bad thing in this colorful city, where every back alley promises another adventure), I compiled this detailed Marrakech travel guide for your convenience.
It is loaded with all my personal experiences in the imperial city and of course all the stories I heard from knowledgeable local guides throughout my trip to Morocco. If you scroll down, I’ll also talk about the best time to visit and the very best places to stay.
So, let’s get rolling, eh?
1. Jemaa el-Fnaa & Medina
One of the best places to visit in Marrakech is the Jemaa el Fnaa – the central square in the heart of the old town. It’s a buzzing square with merchants, shops, cafés, and showmen. But Jemaa el-Fnaa is just the starting point. From here, hundreds of little roads branch into the old Medina, where you can stroll through the colorful Souks (and maybe buy a souvenir or two).
The square will only truly come to life at night. Close to dusk, restaurant stalls will pop-up all over Jemma el-Fnaa like mushrooms after a rain. You’ll find some of the best food in Marrakech here, but be aware that the cooks might try to convince you off their skill a bit too enthusiastically at times. Take a deep breath, prepare your best poker face, and walk through the stalls like you own them & embrace the intoxicating madness of the main square. If you are scared a bit, do read my guide about travel safety in Marrakech (hint: it’s perfectly safe).
Note: The various animal owners (monkeys, snake charmers, birds, etc) will only let you photograph them if you give them a couple of dirhams. They will run after you, if you don’t!
Insider tip: Join the crowd at one of the rooftop bars close before sunset and watch the tangle of the night unfold from a unique viewpoint.
2. Majorelle Garden
Do you like gardens? Well, then you absolutely have to put the Jardin Majorelle on your list of things to do in Marrakesh. The small landscape garden was conceived by the orientalist and french painter Jacques Majorelle starting from 1923.
Later, in 1980, renowned French fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent (and his partner Pierre Bergé) bought the villa and restored it to its former glory. The garden is not very large, only two and a half acre, but extremely beautiful. The extensive use of blue makes it appear almost surreal. Here is the official website for further information.
Note: The garden is located a bit on the outskirts, so go here first thing in the morning before you move on to the Medina. As the garden ist quite popular, prepare for long queues.
3. Koutoubia Mosque
The largest mosque in Marrakech is the perfect starting point for your adventure in the old town. It sits right in front of the main access avenue to Jemaa el-Fnaa and will function as a beacon to find your way back to the parking lot like a charm.
Non-muslims are not allowed to enter the unique mosque dating back to the late 12th century. But, definitely walk around it once and enter the beautiful gardens at the backside. It’s worth it!
4. Bahia Palace
One of the most beautiful tourist highlights in Marrakech is certainly the Bahia Palace. It’s not all that old (dates back to the late 19th century), but was built to capture the essence of the Moroccan style.
Wandering through the many rooms of the extensive palace (8,000 m² or around 2 acres) will give you a unique glimpse into what life must have been for the grand vizier Si Moussa who built the ensemble for his personal use. You will even be able to walk through the ancient harem. Quite fascinating!
5. Saadian Tombs
Throughout Morocco’s long and winded history, quite a couple of dynasties came and went. One of the stronger ones were the Saadians who ruled the kingdom between 1549 to 1659. The successfully defended the country against the Ottomans and defeated the Portuguese. Not all that much remains of their glory, though. Luckily, the former tombs of the Saadian rulers were rediscovered in Marrakech in 1917.
If you haven’t seen royal Islamic tombs before, these 16th century beauties will be quite an eye-opener. Just in case you were wondering: the gravestones just mark the site of the grave. The bodies (or what is left of them) of the rulers are way down in the ground.
Note: As only two people can view the inner tombs at a time, the queue in front of it is usually quite long. Prepare for waiting an hour or so.
6. El Badi Palace
The ‘Incomparable Palace’, or El Badi Palace in Arabic, is another relict dating back to the rule of the Saadian dynasty. Of what once must have been one of the most spectacular palaces in the Arabian world, little remains today. Ruined walls, a gigantic courtyard with a huge pool and a scant few mosaics here and there. Still, I found it to be quite interesting!
Note: The Palace is just around the corner of the Mausoleum (makes sense, eh?), but sadly you have to walk aaaall the way around to get to the entrance.
8. Ben Youssef Madrasa
Instagrammers beware, here comes your wettest dream: The Ben Youssef Madrasa is probably the most beautiful building in Marrakech and one of the best examples for an Islamic religious school in the world.
It was founded in the 14th century and once housed as many as 900 students up until 1960 when it was closed. Ever since 1982, it is open to the public as a historical site, and you certainly should put it on your list of unique things to see in Marrakech. The interiors are beyond amazing!
Note: The Ben Youssef Madrasa is currently closed due to restoration works; probably until 2020
9. Dar Si Said Museum of Weaving and Carpets
One of my favorite places to see in Marrakech was the Dar Si Said Museum of Weaving and Carpets. Now, I will admit that I am not a huge fan of Berber carpets. But even if you aren’t as well, I urge you to visit the unique museum.
Why? Because the building itself is quite fantastic and you don’t want to miss all those beautiful courtyards and gardens within. Definitely go all the way up the second floor, where the most beautiful halls can be seen!
Note: I’ve seen a lot of travel guides confusing this museum with the Marrakech Museum. No idea why. Locals will know the difference anyway.
10. Tanneries of Marrakech
Fez, one of the four other imperial cities in Morocco, is usually associated with tanneries. And I really have to admit that the tanneries in Fez are more spectacular than the ones in Marrakech. If you don’t plan to go all the way up North or you are looking for a way to spice up your Marrakech itinerary a bit, then you should definitely check out the tanneries (Dar Dbagh) in the very east of the Medina.
You will find them at the very end of the Avenue Bab El Debbagh (basically walking straight to the east from Marrakech Museum; use google maps or get a guide). Locals will show you around the tanneries for a couple of dirhams (prearrange the price!!) and give you a couple of fresh mint leaves against the intense smell.
Note: You don’t need a guide to walk around the tanneries and you really don’t have to pay a guide either, no matter how insistent they are. As it’s not all that easy to navigate around the grounds, you may want to get one anyway.
11. Yves Saint-Laurent Museum
Right next to the Jardins Majorelle you will find an enchanting little museum dedicated to the work of Yves Saint-Laurent. The museum is not very large and the exhibition quite small, but you will be able to see some outstanding haute couture dresses nevertheless. Here is the official website of the Museum.
Pro tip: If the queues in front of the Jardins Majorelle are too long, you can try to go to the Yves Saint-Laurent Museum before – there is a combi ticket to skip the queue in front of the gardens.
12. Marrakech Museum
I want to be honest with you: I thought the Marrakech Museum was quite awful. The displays and cabinets seemingly weren’t changed in the last hundred years and so it’s all a bit uninspiring. The building itself, however, is a whole different story. The grand courtyard with its gigantic chandelier warrants a place among the top points of interest in Marrakech. They only have a french website, sorry guys.
13. Day trip to Imlil / High Atlas Mountains
Especially in summer, Marrakech sometimes feels like a veritable furnace. So, it might be a good idea to head into the High Atlas Mountains for a beautiful and refreshing day trip. The Toubkal National Park is probably the best idea, with the town of Imlil only about 2 hours away from Marrakech.
Hire a driver or get your own car (roads are quite good in that part) to explore the tiny Berber villages dotting the landscape. Or splurge on a stay at Richard Branson’s luxury hotel Kasbah Tamadot. The Kasbah du Toubkal in Imlil is also a favorite lunch spot among tourists.
There are certainly other excursions you can take, but I found this one to be the most rewarding. Some people go on Sahara desert tours from Marrakesh, but these are no feasible day trips (I recommend staying 2 nights). A hot air balloon ride might be an option, though.
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14. The Mellah
Mellah is the Moroccan name for a Jewish ghetto. Starting from the 15th century (first in Fez), the Jewish population was segregated from the dominating Muslims. Ever since the creation of the State of Isreal, few Jews remain in Morocco. But their houses and graveyards remain. In the Mellah, there even remains a beautiful synagogue and quite the lively Souk. Definitely one of the more interesting free things to do in Marrakech!
15. Menara gardens
Marrakech is home to quite a couple of beautiful gardens. Apart from the Menara gardens, there are also the Agdal Gardens. These gardens are gardens in the truest sense – no horticultural marvels, but places for agricultural plants to grow. The UNESCO put these gardens on their list of World Heritage sites, to preserve the ancient reservoirs and qanats supporting the ancient greenery.
Go here for a stroll around the ponds and to enjoy the quietness. Don’t expect an English landscape garden, but the views of the High Atlas mountains and the suburbs of Marrakesh still make this a worth of your time.
16. Royal Palace
Marrakech is one of the four imperial cities, and it goes without saying that there is a royal palace as well. You cannot go inside. Only the adjacent Agdal gardens are open to the public on two days of the week. But this part of the wall around Marrakech is particularly beautiful, so its worth a detour!
17. House of Photography in Marrakech
Deep within the ancient Medina of Marrakech, you will find quite a peculiar museum: The House of Photography. The collection comprises around 4,500 historic photographs documenting Marrakech and its inhabitants starting from around 1870. Here is the official website for more information.
To the north of Marrakech, you will find the ancient Palmeraie. A gigantic oasis with more than 100,000 date palms. The garden of palm trees was created some thousand years ago and is now home to quite a couple of luxury resorts. Camel rides through the palm trees is quite popular among tourists.
Marrakech has a population of almost a million people and certainly not all live and work within the confines of the old city wall. Gueliz is a particularly vibrant quarter, with many shops – from luxury brands to artisanal craftsmen.
I found the quality of the products to be way superior to almost anything you would find in the Souks branching off from Jemma el-Fnaa. So, if you plan for some serious shopping, you certainly have to check out the quarter of Gueliz.
20. Le Jardin Secret
One of the newest addition to Marrakech’s cornucopia of tourist attraction is Le Jardin Secret – an ancient Saadian palace with a beautiful garden within. The complex has been restored over the past decades and opened to the public in 2008. If you are wondering about alternative things to do in Marrakech beyond the tourist crowds, this is the perfect place for you. Here is the website.
Other things to do in Marrakech
Phew. This was quite a list. But harken! There are certainly quite a lot of other places to see in Marrakech. I merely mentioned the most popular highlights. Personally speaking, Marrakech’s charm is defined by its colorful everyday life, its food and the constant chatter of its many merchants.
To be quite honest with you, there are more beautiful mosques, squares, gardens and madrasas in the Arabian world. This should not be the reason you are visiting Marrakech. Marrakech’s living traditions are what makes it unique, and it’s those you should put your focus on.
Simply strolling through the old Medina, breathing in all the scents you smell, looking at all the colorful shops and people should be your main focus. The rest is a nice bonus. So, don’t hesitate to sit down in one of the many cafés, drink some mint tea (Thé à la Menthe), traditional Moroccan coffee or some fresh orange juice and eat some sweet pastries.
In doing so, you are not wasting time you could spend on rushing from one highlight to the next, but rather embracing the Moroccan culture to the fullest! And if you got some spare time, consider going to a Hamam! I found it to be a very great experience, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy a little relaxation in a heated bathhouse as well!.
What to avoid in Marrakech
Funnily enough, a lot of friends have been asking me about things to avoid in Marrakesh. Like the city was dangerous or anything. Personally speaking, I’d really stay away from all the animal handlers on Jemaa el-Fnaa. I’m nowhere close of leading a vegan lifestyle, but the way those poor monkeys and snakes are held in tiny cages to serve as mere staffage for a pretty picture seems inhumane.
I also am not a big fan of the souks in the central medina. The quality of the items is, in most cases, quite poor, 90% of the shops just sell for tourists and in between, you got a couple of shady persons trying to scam the unwary traveler. Fez will offer you the way better experience and you won’t end up buying leather goods that fall apart after wearing them twice.
Where to stay in Marrakech
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Marrakech is quite huge and there is virtually no public transport. So, you really got two choices in my opinion. Either pick a traditional Riad in the center of the city or one of the many luxury resorts on the outskirt.
If you plan to stroll through the city at night and breath in the multi-colored confines of a traditional Moroccan guesthouse, a Riad is probably what you want. If you like to enjoy a nice big pool and some quality time in the sun, then I recommend picking one of the many, many resorts. Usually, a taxi will get you into the city within 15 to 20 minutes, so this really is nothing hindering you to explore Marrakech itself.
Luxury hotels in Marrakech
- Royal Mansour Marrakech (the luxury version of a riad)
- Mandarin Oriental Marrakech (beautiful pool suites)
- Palais Namaskar (beautiful, but a bit cheaper)
- Four Seasons Resort Marrakech (reliable standard)
- Amanjena (read me review here)
Excellent mid-budget hotels
- Le Meridien N’fis Hotel
- Sofitel Marrakech Palais Imperial
- Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech (beautiful property, but unfriendly management)
- Savoy Le Grand Hotel Marrakech
Budget / fair value accommodation
Best time to visit Marrakech
Like all big cities around the world, Marrakech is beautiful throughout the year. The tourist high season is from September to October and then from April to May. These four months are pleasantly warm, while not being too hot (like July or August) or quite cold at night (like the winter months). By general acceptance, May and October is the best time to visit Marrakech.
But each coin has two sides, and the peak season also means a lot of tourists, queues and higher prices. Luckily Marrakech (being so close to the High Atlas Mountains), doesn’t get too hot in summer. Expect maximum temperatures around 35° Celsius / 95° Fahrenheit. The climate is considerably dry and the small alleys offer plenty of shade. It’s certainly hot, but not unbearably so.
Winter, on the other hand, is probably not the best idea. It does rain quite a bit and the sky is often not very clear. It’s not really that cold (except at night), but you will be running around in a jacket anyway (temperatures around 15° Celsius / 59° Fahrenheit). It’s still manageable, but all in all the least favorable time of the year to visit Marrakech.
So, this was my little travel guide to the best things to do in Marrakech, Morocco. Hope I was able to inspire your itinerary. Got any questions? Feel free to comment below!
Picture credits: Jaume Escofet