The last week my mum and I went on a week-long holiday to Marrakech. I have always dreamed about Marrakech; it seemed like such an exotic and magic place. Marrakech did not disappoint me; it was as exotic as I had imagined. Marrakech is different from every other place I have visited – even though the city somehow reminded me a bit about some Indian cities and Istanbul. The streets are full of donkeys and motorbikes, the streets are filled with the smell of spices and you never know what you will meet around the next corner.
Marrakech is the forth-biggest city in Morocco and has around 1 million inhabitants. Marrakech is an old city, and the big square “Jemaa el Fna” was earlier known as the busiest market in Africa. The old town of Marrakech, the medina, is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
There are many things to see and do in Marrakech, and here are my top five advices for how you should spend your time in the city!
Marrakech is a very busy city, and can be quite exhausting– no one can deny that. What makes the city survivable, are the many parks and gardens in Marrakech. I only had the chance to visit two of them, but I have heard that there are many green areas worth a visit.
Jardin Majorelle is probably the most famous and most visited garden in Marrakech. It was design by Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s, and Yves Saint-Laurent bought the garden in 1980 and it is today a memorial of him here. The entrance fee is 70dh (expensive for being in Morocco, but totally worth it!).
The Menara Gardens are far from as nice as Jardin Majorelle. Most of the areas are dry and not taken care of. The size of the park is still impressive, and in the middle of the park you will find a small palace overlooking a “lake”. The gardens were established almost 1000 years ago, and the palace was built around 500 years ago.
2. The medina
The medina is as mentioned the place to see old buildings and architecture. Most of the famous sights in Marrakech are located within the walls of the medina, and this is where tourists spend most of their time.
The medinas main square, Jemaa el Fna, is called 1001 nights by the locals, because there is always something going on here – it never sleeps. Personally, I found the square a bit exhausting because there are so many crazy sellers here – they are nearly attacking the tourists! One woman grabbed my hand and started drawing a henna tattoo on it – luckily I had read about similar “attacks” and ran away, ha-ha! There are also people holding monkeys and snakes so you can take pictures (for money). I didn’t want to do this because I don’t support the way they treat animals, but even though I was only walking by the snake holder with my camera around my neck, he ran after me and said I needed to pay him because I took a picture of his snake (which I didn’t)… The restaurants around the square are overpriced and very touristy. So my advice is to not spend too much time here – but you have to go there once, just to get the “feeling”. And you have to watch the sunset from one of the terraces surrounding the square – it is amazing to see how the square gets filled with stands and people (and it is surprisingly picturesque – check out the picture in the top of the blog post).
But, the medina is so much more than Jemaa el Fna. Wandering around in the tiny streets is how you experience Marrakech the best way. You will see how the locals live their lives, and you will suddenly walk into an amazing palace or a great restaurant.
3. The souks
Marrakech is a popular shopping destination. In the medina you find many souks/markets, which sells clothes, leather, interior, spices and so on. The sellers will tell you “this is homemade, good quality” – but most things are not. I heard that 99% of everything sold in the souks are mass-produced in China, so bargain hard! I bought spices for 15 dirham per 100 grams (I think even that is way too much), but the starting price was 1000 dirham per 100 grams – crazy! I found several lists online recommending what to pay for different goods, which was quite helpful. The souks can be seen as labyrinths – you will get lost, I promise you. But I always felt safe, and I always found the way back after some time. I think getting lost is a part of the “Marrakech experience”. And even though you are not planning to buy everything, it is fun to walk around and look at the shops.
4. Palaces and Moroccan Architecture
In the medina, you will find several decorative buildings worth a visit.
Bahia Palace is maybe the best known palace in Marrakech. It was built in the 19th century by the sultan. The palace has amazing architecture and is a good place to admire the traditional, Moroccan tiles.
El Badi Palace was completed in 1563, and is today more like a ruin than a palace. I recommend a visit anyways, and the view from the terrace of the palace is nice. Today, huge storks and stray cats have invaded the palace – and the nesting storks are quite a sight, not something you see everyday.
Dar Si Said museum is a museum located in an old palace. The architecture of the palace is similar to the one at Bahia Palace. This is a museum housing Moroccan art, and there were barely any visitors when we went. I didn’t find the art and exhibitions very interesting, but the architecture and decoration of the palace is worth a visit.
Ben Youssef Madrasa is an old Koran school founded in the 14th century. By visiting the school you can see how the students lived in dorms (the smallest dorms I have ever seen!) and the bigger rooms for prayers etc. The school was actually used until 1960, and is today a popular tourist attraction.
5: New city
The old part of Marrakech takes you hundreds of years back in time. I was surprised when I went to the new part of the city. The new part is very modern, with big malls and western stores. Along Mohamed Avenue V there are stores like Zara, Mango and H&M – I didn’t expect that! Even though you aren’t going shopping, I think it is important to see this part of Marrakech as well. I think most people are more modern than what I first thought when I entered the medina. Marrakech is a city with big contrasts, and it is interesting to see this. There are also several good restaurants in the new part of Marrakech.