The view from here
"I went to Marrakesh without any expectations and was completely blown away by its incredible beauty, welcoming people, fascinating history, stunning architecture, delicious food, and rich traditions."
In June 2018, three of my best friends and I travelled from Germany to Morocco for a weekend getaway.
Anyone who is from - or has lived in - Europe knows how easy it is to get to almost anywhere on the continent within a few hours and on a shoestring budget. Our flights were just over 100 Euros and accommodation and food in Marrakesh is very cheap.
We stayed for a long weekend, Friday to Monday, and even though we would have loved to stay longer, we really maximised our time and felt like we did and saw everything we had planned to. I'd encourage you to take a longer trip to Morocco and see some of the beautiful coastal towns at the same time, but if you can’t combine both, you will at least have an excuse to come back ;-)
Below is a list of the top 10 experiences I would highly recommend for your trip to Marrakesh.
1) Jemaa el-Fnaa
This is where the Moroccan magic happens! It’s a huge market square in the middle of Marrakesh’s medina (old town) and gives you a fascinating insight into what life in Morocco is like and has been since the beginning of time. Be prepared for a lot of hustle and bustle: locals, tourists, merchants, hawkers and entertainers come together in this place all fighting for your attention. You won’t know where to look first! There are so many colours, shiny objects, foreign smells and sounds, and people trying to sell things to your wherever you turn. All your senses will be challenged when visiting this place, your eyes and ears as well as your nose while you walk past dozens of little spice and food stalls, with merchants trying to sell your drinks, fresh fruit, Arabian sweets, clothes, souvenirs and everything you could possibly imagine! You will feel overwhelmed at first but if you immerse yourself and dive right into what Jemaa el-Fnaa has to offer, you’ll have the time of your life exploring, tasting, observing and bargaining your way around Marrakesh.
A part of the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa market place from above
2) Majorelle Garden
The Majorelle Garden is a beautiful botanical garden in Marrakesh. It expands over 2 acres and was owned by the famous fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent between 1980 and 2008. Here are a few things you should know about the beautiful garden and the famous blue and yellow villa that are now open to the public:
All museums are worth a visit but for me, the highlight by far, was the beautiful garden itself and Majorelle’s wonderful cobalt blue and yellow color scheme which gives this place its very special flair. We easily spent hours wandering around the garden, taking photos, admiring the artwork and resting on the beautiful blue benches dotted everywhere around the park. The huge palm trees planted throughout the garden offer plenty of shade and relief from the sun even on a very hot day. The gardens are open every day of the year but it’s worth going there early in the day as the queues to get in can be pretty long. Admission is 70 Dhs (dirham) which is around 17 Euros or US $19.
The Majorelle Garden and its famous blue and yellow villa
3) Bahia Palace
If you want to see some of Morocco’s finest mosaic art in all its glory, make sure you visit the Bahia Palace! It was built in the late 19th century and was meant to be the greatest palace of its time. Its name can be translated as “brilliance” or “beauty” and if you’ve seen it for yourself you know why. The amount of detail that has gone into building and decorating this palace and its 150 rooms (!) is simply outstanding. Wherever you look, you can admire incredibly intricate artwork from beautifully carved wooden ceilings, and painted floors to colorful tinted windows, original woven-silk panels and beautifully composed mosaic tiles - you won’t know what to marvel at first. The palace is also surrounded by an enormous, beautiful, 2-acre garden that’s worth exploring further with lots of precious plants and flowers. You’ll wish to transport yourself back in time and experience this stunning palace as the sultan himself.
The grand courtyard inside the Bahia Palace
4) Saadian Tombs
The Saadian Tombs are one of Marrakesh’s most visited sight these days. They were built back in the late 16th century under Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, of the Saadi dynasty. They consist of two big mausoleums - one of them was built as the main resting place for the sultan himself and the other one was built for his mother. A few interesting things I learned when exploring this place are:
Despite their popularity, you won’t find many signs pointing you towards the tombs. We struggled a bit at first to find them, even with the help of good old Google maps. They can only be accessed through a small walkway in the Kasbah Mosque. So make sure you find your way to the mosque first. From there, locals will be able to point you in the right direction.
The Saadian Tombs and the mausoleum of Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur
5) Koutoubia Mosque
The Koutoubia Mosque or Kutubiyya Mosque (which translates to Mosque of the Booksellers) is the biggest mosque in Marrakesh. The mosque was finished in the 12th century and is properly aligned with Mecca. Five times a day you can hear the muezzin call everyone to prayer through the loudspeakers outside of the mosque. It’s a beautiful building and, like most places in Marrakesh, has a huge garden attached which offers a welcoming place to relax after a day of sightseeing in Morocco’s heat. There are, of course, lots of mosques to visit in Morocco but this one is definitely one of the most important ones historically as well as in terms of its architecture. It has inspired the style of other religious buildings since, like for example, the Giralda in Seville, Spain.
The Koutoubia Mosque and its garden
6) Experience a traditional Hammam
My friends and I indulged in a traditional Hammam experience and it was something none of us had ever done before. To be honest, we didn’t quite know what we were in for, and some of us were a bit taken aback at first by some of the techniques that are part of this traditional bathing and cleansing experience. However, none of us have ever felt more refreshed, polished and blissed out after we were finished. Even though different places might offer slightly different treatments, traditionally the Hammam experience can be divided into three steps:
After the cleansing part in the steam room is done, you usually get to relax for a bit in big soft bathrobes, sipping mint tea and enjoying small baked goods on a rooftop terrace or lavish relaxation area. I’d recommend you treat yourself to a full body massage - after which was hands down one of the highlights of our trip and a blissful end to our eye opening and truly cleansing hammam experience. Despite not knowing what we were in for, at no point did I regret immersing myself in this traditional experience and I’d highly recommend experiencing it for yourself if you get the chance!
Inside a traditional hammam in Marrakesh
7) Bargaining on the traditional souks
If you’ve been to foreign markets before you probably know what you are in for. Merchants in Morocco are very friendly but can also be quite pushy when it comes to convincing you to buy from them. In general, you can probably get away with offering them about half of what their starting price is to begin with and then slowly come to an agreement that both of you are happy with. Usually, as soon as you start walking away, they’ll lower their prices again automatically. We were also told by our hotel manager that it sometimes helps to pretend that you are from a different country than you actually are as the merchants rise or lower prices depending on whether or not they deem the country you're from as wealthy.
No matter what you buy, it helps to compare products and prices if you have a few days in Marrakesh. A lot of merchants offer the exact same products at different prices so it helps to shop around before you buy. Also, make sure to check the quality. If threads become loose as soon as you pull the garment a little, it’s probably wise not to buy it; and some souvenirs look gorgeous and shiny on the outside but once you open them up (e.g. small leather wallets or handmade baskets etc), you can tell that the finishing touches are missing and the production was rather rushed.
We did end up purchasing some amazing souvenirs though that we are very much in love with! Anything from small rugs to beautifully crafted plateware and some unique jewelry pieces and silk scarves remind us of our unforgettable Marrakesh adventure on a daily basis.
A typical market stall at one of Marrakesh’s traditional souks
8) Getting lost in the small streets in and around the Medina (old town)
Getting lost in a new city is one of my favourite things in the world. I love exploring new sights and alleyways without knowing where the next turn will take me. If you are into the “getting lost travel style”, Marrakesh is your place! Its long winding streets and alleyways take you places you never knew existed and hold a new surprise with every corner you turn. You’ll be surprised with beautiful buildings, colourful mosaics, an abundance of market stalls and little shops, wonderful hidden cafes and restaurants and insights into Moroccan life that will exceed your wildest dreams. Get a map to pinpoint the main sights and attractions you want to see and then throw it away and let Marrakesh take you on an adventure by simply following your eyes, ears and nose wherever it may take you ;-)
One of Marrakesh’s typical alleyways that lead you through the gorgeous apricot coloured city
9) Accommodation - Treat yo self (to a luxurious Riad)
You don’t have to spend much money on accommodation in Marrakesh to reside like a king or queen - or sultan - in this case. The offerings of luxurious Riads are absolutely endless. These little gems are dotted all over the city and range from small private riads to bigger complexes that feature a variety of different size suites featuring rooftop terraces and gorgeous courtyards with pools that function as a wonderful little oasis to relax in after a busy day exploring the city. No matter where you decide to stay, a traditional breakfast with freshly baked treats, condiments, yoghurts, fruit, tea, coffee, juices and special Moroccan treats is usually included. We also found the hotel staff to be extremely helpful and accommodating. They literally treated us like royalty and catered to our every need. They also provided lots of useful insider tips around sightseeing and shopping in Marrakesh and knew the best places to eat and ways to get around.
Courtyard with pool in a traditional Moroccan Riad
10) Embrace the friendliness but don't be fooled ;-)
The locals in Marrakesh are incredibly friendly and welcoming. We were surprised at how many of them spoke all sorts of languages, more than just the standard "Hello, how are you?", and how quick they managed to work out where we were from. If you ask someone for directions, don't be surprised if they take it upon themselves to bring you straight to where you asked to go themselves. A lot of times they won't ask you for anything in return. But occasionally they will take you on a detour to some of their "special vendor friends", trying to usher you into little shops where people will try and sell you all kinds of things, promising you better prices than you could get at the markets and better quality, of course, both of which is hard to be sure about. So if you find yourself being taken on one of those detours, kindly thank them for offering you their help and then make your own way to wherever it is you wanted to go ;-)
Traditional Moroccan spices wherever you go
I went to Marrakesh without any expectations and was completely blown away by its incredible beauty, welcoming people, fascinating history, stunning architecture, delicious food, and rich traditions.
It’s a place that offers endless opportunities to explore, try and taste new things. It’s a city you want to get lost in, one where you can embrace your desire to discover something new wherever you turn. On one hand, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time, yet on the other, you’ll feel like you’ve arrived in a modern version of a One Thousand and One Nights fairy tale.
Let yourself fall and immerse yourself in all the foreign beauty and wild traditions and then come back to reality transformed and with a little bit of Arabian Nights magic ;-)
Author - Natalie Gruner
Nat is one of the co-creators of Travelher and loves travel, family and all things beach. She is currently working in NZ and getting away for an adventure as often as she can.