For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to go to Marrakech. Maybe the movies are to blame for the image in my mind of a mysterious city with colorful busy souks (markets), smell of exotic spices and a touch of romance. And let me tell you, Marrakech is all that and a so much more! There are so many things to do in Marrakech that time seems to go very quickly.
If you are thinking of going to Morocco and only have a short amount of time, Marrakech is a must see even if you don’t get time to see anything else in Morocco. I have been there twice now and I plan to go again in the future. There are so many things to do in Marrakech that I think that there is never enough time to do everything.
I found that there is pure raw energy pulsing through the old city. I must say that I don’t think that Marrakech (or even Morocco in general) will appeal to everyone. It is dirty, crowded, noisy and the sellers at the market shops can get really pushy and angry if you don’t buy something. I also did not see a lot of tourists with small children there because it is chaotic. Saying that, you don’t really need to go to the busy market areas and can just appreciate the beautiful gardens, amazing sites with stunning Islāmic architecture and decorations, and just chill in your beautiful riad (private hotels).
And, of course, there is the food! Oh my god, the food!
Moroccan food is in my top 5 of best world cuisines and this is saying something. I even did a couple of cooking courses and a food tour while in Morocco which started my love affair with Moroccan food.
- Currency is Dirham (MAD or Dhs). 1Dh = 100centimes. Notes in 200,100,50,25 and 20. Coins are 10,5,2 and 1. Centimes in 50, 20,10 and 5.
- I had to to Casablanca, Train from airport to Casablanca Voyageurs ( Casa Voys) train station is 45min away. Then change trains to Marrakech. About 4h15min trip all up. Cassablanca Airport website is www.casablanca-airport.com. For the train timetable, go here and use Google translate to get around.
Marrakech does have an international airport so please check if you can ply directly there.
- All petit (small) taxis should display a sticker on the windscreen in front of the passenger seat displaying fee charges. At the bottom of the sticker are the phone numbers for the Prefecture de police (headquarters) and the Wilaya (local government).
- Can buy a cheap pre-paid sim card at the airport. The instructions and messages will be in French but the shop will install it and set it all up.
- When shopping at the markets or shops, remember to bargain. Shopkeepers expect this and set the original price way too high. My rule of thumb is to aim to pay about 50-60% of the asking price. For an opening counter offer I never give a price and ask for a better price. Then take it from there. And remember, this is probably not the only place that sells this particular item. Walking out is a good bargaining tactic too.
- Ignore touts on the street. They might be friendly and chatty but if you give them time of day, they will continue to walk next to you and pester you. Politely shake your head No and ignore them after.
- Before taking photos of the locals posing with cobras, monkeys or in traditional dresses, ask how much it will cost. Otherwise, they will chase after you for money and they are relentless so it can get unpleasant. If you ask and they say “Whatever you want to give” or “up to you”, then give them something small (say 5-7Dh). They will always complain anyway that it is not enough but I just reminded them that they left if up to me and that is all I can pay and walked away.
- Carry tissues and small coins for toilets and for food stalls
- most people in shops and services speak good English and, of course, French and Arabic
- Getting lost in the maze of streets is a lot of fun and a thing to do. Google maps work in some parts but not others. If totally lost, ask one of the shop keepers, not people who come and ask you if you are looking for something (they will expect money for their service or will take you to a shop for commission). Or look for Koutoubia Mosque which is the tallest structure in the old city and can be seen from afar.
Things to do in Marrakech – Sights
- Koutoubia Mosque – the largest tallest mosque in Marrakech. Great site to orient yourself on and learn how to get to your accommodation from there. If you are hopelessly lost in the medina (more of a norm than an exception) look for the mosque and use it as a beacon. Easy.
- Djemaa El-Fna (or Jemaa el-Fnaa) – a huge public square and the market place.
The heart of Marrakech.During the day, the market is filled with cobra handlers, entertainers and various market sellers. At night it gets absolutely packed with locals and when I enjoyed it the most. There are story tellers, gambling (such as trying to land a coin on a particular spot), parlour games like fishing for soft drink bottles, musicians, sellers and a lot more other happenings. Plus food stalls. Most of the plaza is dark but with lots of portable lights. Very cool and a great spectacle. BTW, I wouldn’t eat there except for snails (yes you must try them).
- Majorelle Garden – Rue Yves Saint Laurent. A beautiful garden and building all painted in vibrant blue. I think this is a must see place. Open 8am-5.30pm daily. Admission 70Dh.
- Go early or late. When come out, take a right turn towards Gueliz. Hail a taxi for the metered rate instead of taxis outside for flat rate which I found a ripoff.
- Don’t eat in the garden café. Instead, go across the street to Kaowa (a small cafe). Cheaper and better quality.
- Saadian Tombs. – another great example of Islāmic architecture. 10Dh
- Bahia Palace (Palais de la Bahia) -another place I think is a must visit. Stunning example of Arab and islamic architectural style . 30Dh
- Walk in the Mellah (Jewish quarter) – See if you can find the synagogue (it is no longer operational) and be sure to visit the spice quarter across from the Gold Souk
- tannery district – Interesting to see how the hides are soften and processed. After finding a Tannery, ask one of the workers if you can visit it and take pictures. The tanneries are at the east end of Avenue Bab El Dabbagh. That ‘main’ tannery, Dar Dbagh, where they seem to channel all the tourists is near the Bab Debbagh gate. You’ll be quickly approached by a guide who’ll give you a sprig of mint and tell you that the tour is no charge. At the end of the tour you may be asked for as much as MAD100 for a “tip”. This is far too much (€9). Give no more than MAD10-20 and ignore the evil looks they may give you. BTW, it does smell but not so bad that you need to use mint.
- Rahba Kedima – colourful spice market square with entrance to carpet souk.
The market is not limited to spices and you can see ingredients for magic spells, natural cosmetics, snails, baskets and everything in between. Makes for great photos.
- Dar Si Saïd Museum – Although it is known as a Museum of Arts, Dar Si Saïd is a must see if only to see the magnificent interiors. 25Dh
- The Ben Youssef Medersa islamic school – Once the largest Islāmic school around, this is a worthwhile place to visit just to see the exquisite tile work.
- El Badi Palace – Place des Ferblantiers (no phone). Open 9am-4.45pm daily. It’s ok but leave it till last if you have the time. If you do make it, go to the terrace – stunning view of Atlas mountains.
- Ville Nouvelle – new city. Ok for restaurants and bars but pales into insignificance when compared to the old Medina
Things to do in Marrakech – Eating
- Said fruit smoothies, cnr of Rue Dabachi and Derb El Hejra. 5Dh – This drink is amazing. I have no idea what goes into it but I got addicted. Don’t wait to order, just go to up ot the counter and use fingers to show how many you want. I didn’t know what was going on so I watch the locals order first.
- Cafe Clock – camel burgers and date milkshakes, ‘Kech Platter of salads, grilled chicken . Tue is amateur story tellers but in English. Milkshake was way too sweet for me but burgers were excellent.
- Nomad – Modern Morroccan, might need to book. I found the food good but the service was a little lacking.
- Amal Women’s Training Center & Moroccan Restaurant, Rue Allal Ben Ahmed – another place I enjoyed. This place trains women from poor homes how to work in hospitality industry. Great lunch. Couscous on Fri. They also do cooking courses but they are not really hands on as such.
- Al Fassia, 55 boulevard Zerktouni, Guéliz – all women run restaurant, great food.
- Dar Moha – an upmarket restaurant situated around a swimming pool (yes, I thought it was a bit weird). Has a few set options. I have mixed feelings about this place. I think it is a great option for a romantic meal and the food was great and plentiful. It is pricey for Moroccan standards but not for westerners. However, I got violently sick the same night I ate there and continued to be so for the next 5 days (not a great thing when you are in the car for the next 3 days and in the desert. Let’s just say I can write a good review on the toilets in all the roadside diners.). So, not sure if this was a coincidence or not.
- food stalls on Rue Semmarine – one of the first shops there specialises in baking sheep’s heads which is an interesting dish to try if you are not too squeamish 🙂
Places I didn’t get to visit but come highly recommended
- Tiznit ( Restaurant ), no frills, rabbit tagine is good , N°28 Place Jamaâ Lefna , Souk El Kassabine
- Softy Sweet ,Rue Ibn Toumerte Et Souraya En Face de la Clinique Chifa Marrakech – cheap food and great desserts. Open 12-21h , not on Sun
- Gastro MK, 14 derb Sebaai, Bab Laksour, Medina – upmarket gastronomic experience in Morocco
- Cafe Arabe, 184 mouassine (medina near dar el bacha). – They have a Moroccan and an Italian cook, so there are two menus to choose from. There is beautiful seating on three floors including the downstairs courtyard which is lovely for lunch. The top floor terrace has fantastic views over the medina and is great at sunset. You can lounge on their sofas whilst sipping a cocktail or glass of wine and watching the sun go down over the medina
- Chez Yassine – 5min north from the Koutoubia mosque, 70 Rue Fatima Zohra Rmila (next to the Bacha hamam). Not much choice but excellent food at rock-bottom prices, served by very friendly people. Tajines and pizzas are great and you can also order skewers that are not on the menu.
- Hivernage area has nice outdoor cafes. Try Cafe Glacier L’Opera Avenue Mohamed VI, Hivernage. Mixture of different breakfasts.
- La Creperie de Marrakech, Rue du Capitaine Arrigui, Gueleiz – savory french crapes with gluten-free flour from France.
- MarocMama insider food tips – MarocMama is a local blogger and runs food tours with her husband (see under Activities). I found her site very informative and interesting. And the food tour was fantastic. Here are some of her tips that I found useful
- Do not buy cookies from carts in Djem Al Fna. Stick to patisserie shops
- Patisserie Prince just of the square – really good cookies and pastries plus nice interior.
- Most of the restaurants in the immediate square are not good.
- Food stalls in Djem al Fna are also not good. Avoid touristy places and look for Moroccan families. Stick with grilled foods and not tajine or couscous. If you must eat there, Stall 93 or 31 for grilled foods and Stall 14 (Krita) for seafood. (I tried both and I found them ok but not great).
- Avoid fried fish and other fried food like chips. Fish is not fresh and if oil is dark, its old.
- Eat from small shops. Grilled chicken skewers with salads and bread might cost 20-30Dh
- Watch Craftsmen at work. The further back in souks , the more you see people in workshops. Ask to take a pic and offer some money (change of 5-10DH). (I have done that while lost in souks and saw some magnificent craftsman work)
- If eating ground beef, make sure it does not have pink bits.
Things to do in Marrakech, Morocco – Night out/bars/pubs
- Kosybar, Place des Ferblantiers، Rue de Berrima، Marrakech 40000, Morocco – A nice bar with a great roof top. Great atmosphere.
- Le Comptoir, Avenue Echouhada, Hivernage – Very decadent, full of trendy people.
- Churchill Bar, Mamounia Hotel, Avenue Bab el Jdid, Medina – nice drinking lounge with a jazz piano.
Things to do in Marrakech – Shopping
- rue Semarine (aka Souk Semarine) – Full on souk route
- rue Mouassine – choice boutiques
- Ensemble Artisanal – shooping for arts, crafts and clothing. Fixed prices
- Souk cherifia – fixed prices cool shops. Some closed Tue
- Rahal Herbes 43-47 Rahba Kedima, Medina. – magic store
- Bab Es Salam market in the Jewish quarter for soaps and spices
- Lovely cashmere shawls can be had for less than a fiver with a little bargaining.
- For slippers, always check they have no paper inside the plate (‘sole’ in French) because it is very common. Don’t be fooled by demonstration of how they bend the shoe and straighten it back. Try it yourself by feeling and hearing how the paper bends. For poor quality ones, you shouldn’t pay more than about Dh 40 and for good ones no more than Dh 90. Shop around and learn the difference between the quality.
- Also of interest are items made of the local cactus silk, which is really rayon, a natural fiber made of plant cellulose and produced in Morocco. Rayon holds the chemical dyes well which accounts for the vibrant range of true colours (natural dyes cannot produce a “true” colour). On offer are scarves, handbags, tablecloths, bedspreads and throws in stunning colors. Some merchants try to charge a premium price for this “cactus silk”. Check well because there are many fakes and sellers will usually tell any lie to get you to pay a high price.
- Chaz Fouas leather – 56 bis rue Fatima Zorha, Marrakech
- If you cannot stand the bargaining, there are two government-run shops where you can buy handicrafts at fixed prices. Look for boutique d’artisans. One is near Djemaa El-Fna while the other one is in the Ville Nouvelle.
Things to do in Marrakech – Activities
- Sanssouci Cooking School. Dar Les Cigognes, 108 rue de Berima – one of the best cooking experiences I ever had abroad. They do a private class which starts with a visit to the market and then a full hands on cooking class with of the their cooks. You can ask to learn to cook whatever you choose to. I even learned how to make couscous from scratch and there is a big difference in taste from that of a packet made. Then, after you finish the cooking, you get to sit on their beautiful rooftop terrace and eat what you made. The price was about the same as doing a group cooking class back home.
- Marrakech food Tours – I can’t recommend this tour company highly enough. I did the evening walking tour and it was perfect. The tour guide was a local and very knowledgeable not only on the food aspect but on Marrakech in general. He chose great places with excellent food. The highlight was a restaurant specializing in homemade couscous. Oh boy, that was amazing. As a bonus, I met some interesting people with a shared love of travel and food and has become good friends with one of the people from the tour. Definitely worth the time and money.
- A day trip to Essaouira.Essaouira is a nice laid back port city. There is also a large beach with is very popular for surfing, windsurfing and kite surfing due to the strong trade winds. If you have exhausted all the day activities in Marrakech, then it is a good day trip.I used a Supertours company to do the return trip. They had a nice comfortable large bus. The trip is about 3 hours including a 15 min toilet/snacks stop each way (there is no toilet on the bus).
Cost was about 80Dh each way or 100Dh for Comfort Plus bus. Note: There are lots of smaller buses that offer day trips. There will be cheaper but they will be slower to get there and much less comfortable.
- hammam experience – your Moroccan spa activity. Not your typical Western spa.
Things to do in Marrakech – Accommodation
I think the best way to experience Marrakech is to stay in one of the riads. Riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. There are a multitude of riads. I stayed in Riad Argan.
It was a nice place run by a French couple who treated me like a family member. They took care of the taxi to meet me at the train station, took me around and oriented me on arrival (it’s not so easy to find places in small alleys), booked a day trip for me to Essaouira and took me to a hammam, all for no extra service charge. I even got to ride on the back of the bike when they gave me a lift to the cooking course (don’t think my heart ever pumped so fast while we were darting around donkeys and people).
Since I stayed there, the riad was sold to another couple so I am not sure if the service is still the same but the new owners did contact me with a lovely email so I think you will be in good hands there. However, do ask your riad owner or manager for anything you need as I found most of the people in Marrakech very friendly and helpful.
Things to do in Marrakech Morocco – General Info
- Police ☎ 19
- Ambulance/ Fire ☎ 15
- say “non merci” or “la shukran” to street sellers and continue moving. Seer means go away.
- Laundry – There are many dry cleaning shops inside and outside of the Medina. It takes only one day to clean and will cost from Dh10-30 per piece. If you stay at a hotel, you can hand your dirty clothes to a housekeeper. Usually they wash it by hand. They do not have a price list and usually say “up to you”. You should not pay more than Dh 50-100 per plastic bag.
- Lost in Marrakech Laundry Service,156 Derb Snane, Mouassine, Medina, ☎ +212 5 2438 4121 ([email protected]), . 09:00-16:00 Mon-Sat. Laundromat with used books, wifi, coffee and smoothies. Finish in same day or in next day. Dh20 for 2kg
- Taxis inside Medina cost no more than about 40Dh. Always ask to use the meter (compteur in French); otherwise, you are contributing to a culture of ripping off people. During the day you can generally get them to use the meter (if they refuse, just get out, stop another one).
- At night, tell them “ashreen” (20dh). If you go to nightlife locations, avoid the taxis that are waiting outside as these will rip you off. It’s best to get the telephone number of someone honest and ask them to pick you up. Other locations where you will have problems with waiting taxis is near Jema el Fna square and at tourist sites. Here it is best to stop a taxi that is passing in the street and not those that are waiting. Generally the older and more beat up the taxi and the older the driver, the better. The less they talk the better (no “where are you from, first time in Morocco, etc.”).
- Medina takes about 15 min to walk from south to north.
- Haggle hard. Aim for 50% of asking price
- 5Dh is good enough tip for asking for directions. Taxi, round to nearest 5Dh, 10% in restaurants.
To see more of Marrakech, see Marrakesh in Photos.