Unmissable Sights- the best things to do in Marrakech

23rd November 2022

There are so many unique and vivid experiences to have and things to do in Marrakech that it can be hard to know where to start! As soon as we arrived in Marrakesh we were hit with the sights, sounds, and smells that make Marrakesh such an incredible place to visit. Bustling souks and markets, pyramids of brightly coloured spices, snake charmers, soaring minarets, and loudspeaker prayer calls. Here’s a guide to 17 essential things to do in Marrakech.

The Magic of Marrakech

Marrakesh is known as The Red City. Much of the historical city center buildings are made from tabia bricks, which are a mixture of red mud and water from the Hazou plains. But red is just one of the kaleidoscope of colours that you’ll see here.

It’s only a four-hour flight from London but this ancient city feels like another world away.

Horse and carts are still widely used in Marrakesh and the rest of Morocco.

Horse and carts are still widely used in Marrakesh and the rest of Morocco.  

When in Marrakesh expect the unexpected. There’s no predictability here as you’ll be seeing new things around every single corner and in Marrakech, there are a lot of corners! Within the walled medieval city, it’s a labyrinth of alleys and streets zigzag in all directions. Forget the map, it won’t help you here. You will get lost but that’s part of the fun of being in this maze-like city.

 

Jemaa el fina at night, Marrakech, Morocco

Jemaa el fina at night, Marrakech, Morocco

This mysterious and bustling city is blessed with epic scenery everywhere you look, as it sits below the stunning peaks of the Atlas Mountains. From miles around it is possible to see the Moorish minaret of the 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque, which is a symbol of Marrakech and a sight to behold.

Visitors love to stroll around the maze-like narrow streets of the medina (the walled medieval city center from the days of the Berber Empire) and see the best colourful and bustling souks with their combination of rich scents, music, and conversation permeating the atmosphere.

Marrakesh is perfect for a weekend getaway but has enough to see and do to keep you busy for much longer. We visited the city for 7 days and could have stayed much longer. So what are the best things to do in Marrakech?

Related articles:
Check out our 48 Hour Marrakech Itinerary if you’re short on time in the city.
Looking for a place to stay? Read our guide to Where to Stay in Marrakech: The Best Areas & Hotels
Why not explore further afield with these best day trips from Marrakech!

 

17 Best things to do in Marrakech

1. Browse and haggle at the Souks

Just north of Jemaa square, you’ll find the famous souks. Souk means market, but there are no markets quite like these.

Nut and dried fruit seller in one of Marrakesh's many Souks.

Nut and dried fruit seller in one of Marrakesh’s many Souks.

You could spend days exploring the endless maze of markets and is one of the most popular things to do in Marrakech. Prepare for a sensory overload- it’s hard to take it all in.

Your dirhams can be spent on a huge array of items from sumptuous spices, brightly coloured textiles, some incense, a piece of unusual jewelry, Moroccan sweets, locally made lanterns, pottery, and ornate tea sets to the biggest tagines known to man.

Selling fresh fish at a local Souk in Marrakech, Morocco

Selling fresh fish at a local Souk.

The heaving souks are an experience whether you put your hand in your pocket or not, but if you do, be prepared to barter! It’s standard, and if you don’t, you’ll probably pay way over the odds.

Nothing in the markets has a set price so feel free to haggle with the vendor but remember to smile and be realistic. Is it worth haggling over a small number of dirhams that isn’t of much value to you as a western traveler but could feed his or her family that night.

Even if you have no plans to buy anything the Souks are fascinating places to just wander. They’re a real feast for the senses and the ultimate way to immerse yourself in Marrakech’s vibrant colors and watch various Moroccan scenes play themselves out. The most popular Souks are those off the main square of Jemaa el-Fna.

marrakech souks

                                                                     One of the many Souks

Being more frequented by locals makes them feel more authentic and you’ll get yourself better bargains than those of the square which have been known to rip off tourists. Some of the starting prices for items we wanted to buy were unrealistically high in the Souks off the main square. So high in fact that we could have bought the same items cheaper in London!

Other Marrakech Souks

If you aren’t over the sights and sounds of souks yet (and souk cuisine), check out Souk Semmarine and Souk Place des Épices.

 

2. Take in the sights of Jemaa el-Fna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Jemaa el-fna during the day. Marrakech, Morocco.

Jemaa el-fna during the day.

Jemaa el Fna (Jemaa el Fnaa or Djemaa el fna) can be found in the centre of the old town. It’s the heart of old Marrakesh and is one of the most epic city squares we’ve visited. The large open space quickly fills up with activity from the early morning onward. Here you’ll see small merchants, hawkers, and entertainers of all kinds.

There are likely to be snake charmers coaxing cobras out of their pots with a flute melody or two, magicians pulling tricks, and storytellers beguiling tourists with incredible tales.

 

Shelley at one of the many fresh orange juice stalls in Marrakech

Shelley at one of the many fresh orange juice stalls

Snake charmer at Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech.

Snake charmer at Jemaa el-Fna.

By day it’s a little more sedate but when the sun sets the square comes alive with a circus of activity. Snake charmers, monkey handlers, dancers, musicians, storytellers, and acrobats populate the square which brings huge crowds of locals and tourists.

Amongst the madness are stalls selling anything from shoes to henna tattoos and a large choice of old carts selling freshly squeezed orange juice. The juice is sweet, delicious, and cheap so we often found ourselves sinking a cup several times a day in the shade.

As night falls the square transforms into a massive open-air dining area full of lantern-lit stalls and mouth-watering smells. Dozens of pop-up food kitchens suddenly appear from nowhere all competing for your tourist dirham. There are lots to choose from including tagines, grilled meats, kebabs,  sausages, and vegetables.

If it all gets too much, you can always order a delicious mint tea from a rooftop bar and look down upon the frantic madness that is Djemaa el fna at night!

3. Stay at a traditional riad

Why go to Marrakesh and stay in a bland city center hotel when you can stay in a traditional riad? This has to be one of our favourite things to do in Marrakech.

Our traditional riad looking into the central courtyard from our room.

Our traditional riad looking into the central courtyard from our room.

 

Marrakesh has a great choice of beautiful riads for all budgets. From larger 5-star riads with luxurious rooms and pools to budget-friendly but still beautiful and authentic smaller riads. 

We booked our French-owned budget-friendly riad through AirBnB. Based at the Southern end of the old walled city it was an oasis of calm from the crazy city streets outside its walls.

Shelley enjoying breakfast at our riad

Shelley enjoying breakfast at our riad

Traditional riads consist of an internal outdoor courtyard circled by the other rooms in the house. All room windows face the internal courtyard so the outside noise is kept to a minimum. Having breakfast in the small courtyard to the sound of bird song was such a lovely way to start each day. Most riads also have sunny roof terraces too to enjoy the city’s unique skyline and if you’re lucky, there might be a swimming pool in the courtyard.

From the outside, all riads look the same as are all simple doorways in a windowless wall. This is deliberate as in Moroccan culture it’s considered distasteful to show any kind of wealth. So it’s impossible to tell if the owners inside are poor or rich.

4. Visit the Koutoubia Mosque

The Koutoubia Mosque is Marrakech’s most famous landmark and symbol. Its minaret towers over the rest of the city so can be seen near and far. At 77 meters it isn’t actually that high but local planning law forbids any other building in the medina to be higher than a palm tree.

The minaret of Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech.

The minaret of Koutoubia Mosque.

Non-Muslims are not allowed inside since it’s still an active place of worship but we still enjoyed walking around its exterior and gardens so add it to your list of best things to do in Marrakech.

5. Eat like a local: Discover Moroccan Culture through Moroccan Cuisine

You’ll find rooftop terraces, and food stalls, and amongst all those Moroccan carpets for sale, you can always find a little tucked-away eatery in a souk that offers tasty Moroccan cuisine.

The unique tasting Pastilla, Marrakech.

The unique tasting Pastilla.

Me trying a delicious Camel burger in Marrakech

Me trying a delicious Camel burger

The star of Morocco’s culinary show is the Tagine, a pyramid-shaped clay cooking pot seen bubbling away in almost every cafe and restaurant across Morocco. Tangine dishes include lemon chicken and minted lamb, all stewed with a selection of fresh vegetables and served with rice, couscous, or bread. Delicious!

Kefta’s are also a popular choice. Beef or lamb mince with garlic, parsley, coriander, and cinnamon rolled together into balls and cooked in a tomato and onion sauce. Near the end of cooking, eggs are cracked into the sauce to finish.

Le Foundouk

With only 48 hours in Marrakech, anyone who knows this city would recommend a visit to Le Foundouk when the urge to eat calls.

The restaurant oozes Moroccan charm and style, and the menu is something special; it’s packed with international foods (think Thai chicken, or duck in sour sauce) so there’s no need to stick with Moroccan cuisine if it’s not your thing.

Le 68 Ba à Vin

When you’re done in the gardens, you’ll be perfectly placed to wander over to Le 68 Bar à Vin on Rue de la Liberté for a delicious evening meal of something like grilled chicken with creamy mushroom sauce, roasted chicken with potatoes, or a selection of tapas; wash it down with a lovely glass of wine or a cold beer and relax after your busy day.

Alcohol

A note about Marrkaech’s famous rooftop bars – many bars don’t sell alcohol, so if you’re hoping for a beer or a wine, don’t settle down for the evening in a bar or restaurant without checking if they’ll serve alcohol to you!

6. Visit Ben Youssef Madrasa and Ben Youssef Mosque

You’ll find the Madrasa (an Islamic school) and mosque in Place de la Kissaria, an open space surrounded by public buildings, situated at the north end of the souks.

Central courtyard inside Ben Youssef Medersa, Marrakech.

Central courtyard inside Ben Youssef Medersa.

Founded in the 14th century, the Ben Youssef Madrasa was a Quranic school dedicated to teaching Islamic scripture and law. For a time it was the largest madrasa in North Africa. It was later enlarged in the 16th century and then more recently given further polishing in the 1990s to make it what it is today.

It’s a beautiful example of Moroccan architecture at its best. A large serene courtyard with a water-filled basin in its centre, surrounded by ornately decorated walls with detailed carvings and colourful patterned tiles.

At the far end of the courtyard is the even richer decorated domed prayer hall which offers a great photo opportunity through the arched entrance looking into the courtyard. Overlooking the courtyard on the level above are more than 100 small student chambers.

Some are windowless with tiny internal light wells providing the only natural light. It feels like a school from a bygone era but was in fact still in use until 1962!

Next to the Madrasa is the Ben Youssef Mosque which was totally rebuilt under the Almohads, and has been again a few times since then.

Grab a combined ticket at the Marrakech Museum and adjacent to that you’ll find the Almoravid Koubba, a little two-storey building below ground level. This modest building is the only one that survived eleventh-century Almoravid dynasty, which is responsible for today’s typical Moroccan style.

7. People watch at a local cafe

Sometimes it’s the simplest of things to do in Marrakech that can be the most enjoyable. For religious reasons, not many Moroccans drink alcohol so instead of pubs and bars, you will see groups, especially men, gathering at cafes.

Local mint tea and coffee in Marrakech

Local mint tea and coffee with milk.

Cafes are everywhere in Marrakesh so we regularly grabbed a seat with a view to watch the hive of activity on the city’s streets. Accompanied by mint tea or Moroccan coffee it’s an enjoyable way to get some respite from the African sun.

There are also many rooftop terrace cafes that overlook Jemaa el-Fna so we recommend finding a table to see the sunset over the Red City and for a bird’s eye view of the square transforming from day to night. It’s a fascinating watch.

Get some lunch at Café Dar Touareg

Café Dar Touareg on Rue Tougma boasts a lovely terrace overlooking the Medina, so you can sit out in the fresh air and satiate your appetite with typically Moroccan hearty dishes that are perfectly spiced.

If you prefer to sit indoors in the homely atmosphere, you can – the café is quiet and peaceful, the service is excellent, prices are good and there’s even free WiFi if you want to catch up on your emails.

8. Visit the Palaces of Marrakech

The palaces of Marrakech – Badii Palace, Bahia Palace, and Dar el Bacha Palace, in particular, are worth visiting.

Bahia Palace

We love that a slave turned into a rich “Grand Visier” to Sultan Moulay al-Hassan I, and set out to build the most opulent 150-room palace he could imagine.

 

Courtyard at El Bahia Palace, Marrakech, Morocco. In the middle are small white fountains

Courtyard at El Bahia Palace, Marrakech, Morocco.

The courtyards of his Bahia Palace are beautiful examples of Moroccan architecture, and they’re filled with the sound of running water and the smell of citrus from the orange trees.

The Bahia Palace is unparalleled in terms of architecture; it oozes nineteenth-century grandeur, and inside you can gaze upon some of the finest ceiling art of that century.

The name ‘bahia’ means ‘brilliance’, and the palace was built with the aim of being the greatest palace of that era.

Just south of the courtyard you will find a sizeable riad dotted with pretty fruit trees and there are plenty of gorgeous gardens to wander around.

Badii Palace

The ruins of the El Badi Palace should definitely be on your list. The ruins are as vast as they are mesmerising, with their sunken gardens and pavilions.

Inside the expansive courtyard of the ruined Badii Palace, Marrakech.

Inside the expansive courtyard of the ruined Badii Palace.

The palace is one of the two principal monuments of the Saadian era with the Saadian Tombs being the other. Constructed between 1578 and 1607 its walls once were encrusted with gold from Timbuktu.

Within the walls is a huge courtyard (Moroccans love a courtyard) with a huge pool in the centre and four sunken gardens. There are also underground servants’ quarters to explore with long passages gaining access to what would have been servants’ bedrooms and kitchens.

Overlooking Badii Palace, Marrakech.

Overlooking Badii Palace

It’s also possible to see the original minbar (pulpit) from the Koutoubia Mosque, but you’ll have to pay 10dh at the door on arrival. Originally commissioned from Córdoba in Spain back in 1137, many Muslims consider this pulpit one of the most significant pieces of artwork ever created.

The whole place is a huge tranquil open space which is in total contrast to the city’s busy and claustrophobic streets. Its peace and quiet may encourage you to hang around longer than planned as it did to us.

9. Take some downtime at a Hammam

After a few days of exploring all the best things to do in Marrakech, do as the locals do and treat yourself to a Hammam. A Hammam is a steam room, similar to a Turkish bath where men, women, and children gather at least once a week for a few hours to socialise and cleanse their bodies.

Typical Moroccan interior decoration

Typical Moroccan interior decoration

Men and women bathe separately but be prepared if you’re more of a reserved Westerner. Even though outside the Hammam many Moroccans cover themselves with clothing from head to toe, this is not the case inside a public Hammam! Once you are used to all the naked bodies, find your spot for washing, exfoliating, or simply just chill out.  

If you’re keen, the best well-known Hammans are probably Les Bains de Marrakech and Hammam Dar El Bacha.

10. Visit the Saadian Tombs

Another of the city’s big attractions is the Saadian Tombs. The sepulchres date back to the time of the Saadian dynasty sultan Ahmed el Mansour (1578 – 1603). At one time these tribesmen had conquered all of southern Morocco.

Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco

Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco

Sealed up for centuries until their rediscovery in 1917, and subsequently renovated by the Beaux-arts service, the Saadian Tombs are the opulent final resting places for one-time royalty. The tombs are magnificently decorated with colourful tiles, detailed carvings, and Arabic script.

The enclosure consists of two main mausoleums, with 66 tombs laid out within them and over 100 more outside in the gardens. Many prominent citizens are buried here, the last being the “mad sultan” Moulay Yazid in 1792, who ruled for 22 violent months.

Access to the tombs is via a small passageway at the right-hand corner of the Kasbah mosque. Today these tombs are very popular with tourists, so you’ll need to get there very early if you don’t want to get caught up in the crowds. Be prepared to queue!

11. Museums you must see!

Try to make time to explore Marrakech Museum, the Berber Museum, and Dar Si Said Museum.

Dar si said marrakech

Dar Si Said, Marakkech

Inside the palace-like Dar Si Said (which has been likened to a miniature Bahia Palace), you’ll find the Museum of Moroccan Arts, a museum that displays extravagant woodwork and costumes, as well as ornate artisanal objects including Berber jewelry, carpets, and ancient chests. It is worth visiting for the artistic Hispano-Moorish ceilings, plasterwork, and carved cedar woodwork alone.

12. The Beautiful Gardens of Marrakech

Even if only for a short stroll, step outside of the Medina and into nature. Wander through Majorelle Garden, the Secret Garden, or the Botanical Gardens.

Jardins Majorelle in the heart of Marrakesh

Jardins Majorelle in the heart of Marrakesh

The Majorelle Garden in Marrakech is one of the country’s most popular sites. French painter Jacques Majorelle spent forty years creating it, between 1886-1962.

The result was a stunning twelve-acre garden full of lily ponds and diverse cacti species. So appealing was this ornamental garden that it was bought by fashion designers, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 1980. Yves Saint Laurent died in 2008 and his ashes are scattered in the garden.

You’ll find the Berber Museum (Musée Berbère Jardin Majorelle) and a gift shop inside the Majorelle Garden.

The Marrakech Botanical Garden, the Secret Garden (south of Rue ar el-Bach), and the Majorelle Garden are great places to take a peaceful break from the frenetic nature of Moroccan life.

13. Cooking Classes

If you fall in love with particular Moroccan dishes, and you have a few days in Marrakech, why not try a Moroccan cooking class?

Spice and herb shop in the medina, Marrakech.

Moroccan cuisine has been influenced by the cuisines of the Berbes, Arabs, Andalusians, Mediterraneans, and North Africans. It’s no wonder it uses interesting spices and has unusual flavourings like lemon pickle!

14. Visit the Tanneries

Be warned, the tanneries are going to challenge your nostrils! However, they educate on the process that animal skins go through to become leather.

Tanneries in the medina of Marrakech. Morocco

Tanneries in the medina of Marrakech. Morocco

The tanneries of Marrakech are ancient and basic in appearance, but they manually transform smelly animal hides into workable leather all day long and it’s quite interesting to witness.

View the tanneries from the rooftop terrace or resolve to put up with the smell and make your way down to the ground level while the operatives are working.

The latter option is only available in the morning, so head back tomorrow if you’re particularly interested in the process.

15. Pass through the Bab Agnaou gates

Bab Agnaou is one of the nineteen gates of Marrakesh built in 1885 during the Almohad dynasty.

Bab Agnaou, one of the gates to Marrakesh, Morocco

Bab Agnaou, one of the gates to Marrakesh, Morocco

Bab Agnaou is one of two original entrances to the Kasbah and is widely considered to be the most magnificent gate in the city. Between the arches, the intricate carving, and the captivating blue granite, this gateway is the subject of many artistic photographs.

You’ll find it at the southern end of the Medina.

16. Visit the Jewish Quarter

The Old Jewish Quarter is called the Mellah and is within walking distance of the Medina.

You won’t find lots of tourists here but you can visit the Synagogues and get a different glimpse of this complicated old city’s history as it welcomed Jews from all over the world.

17. Day Trips to do around Marrakech

So now you know the things to do in Marrakech you must do before you leave this spectacular city. But modern Marrakech is so full of Moroccan culture, astonishing Morrocan architecture, and sensory experiences that it deserves at least a week!

Hiking in the Atlas Mountains

Hiking in the Atlas Mountains

If you’re planning on visiting Marrakech for more than a day or two, take yourself on a walking tour (or three!) down the narrow alleyways, or consider heading out of Marrakech for a few day trips.

The Atlas Mountains are a great day trip and only a stone’s throw away. In the hour or so it takes to travel to the Mountains, you’ll pass through the valleys in the foothills of the mountains as well as traditional Berber villages.

On the other side of the Atlas Mountains is the Sahara Desert. It’s not really possible to get to and from the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert in one day, but staying overnight in the desert means you can fall asleep stargazing. The dark night sky over the Sahara attracts stargazers from all over the world.

Mountain biking is a popular activity in the Mountains, but you can also take a bike or camel ride in the palm groves area northwest of the city. These are easy day trips from Marrakech.

 

 

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