Marrakech (also spelled Marrakesh) is thought to be either rooted in the Berber phase murr akush meaning “the land of God” or the Arabic words murra kish, which translates to “pass by quickly”, used to warn travelers of thieves and wild animals. After spending a few days in Marrakech, you’ll probably agree that both are accurate.
With a population of about one million people, Marrakech is still only the 4th largest city in the Kingdom of Morocco. Situated at the base of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, on a clear day, the view from the many rooftop restaurants and patios is absolutely unbelievable!
Tourism has been steadily increasing in Marrakech and 2017 was a record year. For the first time in history, the city welcomed over 2 million tourists in a year with more than 6 million overnight stays. On the international level, Marrakech ranked 6th in the most visited cities by the French during 2017. Tourists are flocking to Marrakech for the beautiful architecture, the vibrant colors, the inexpensive shopping, and the delectable cuisine!
There’s never a dull moment in this bustling city. Read on to learn all about the best things to see and do during your trip to the magical city of Marrakech!
- Marrakech, Morocco Travel Basics
- 1. People Watch in the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square
- 2. Explore the Bahia Palace
- 3. Relax in the Le Jardin Secret
- 4. Snap Some Photos at the Jardin Majorelle
- 4. Visit El Badi Palace
- 6. Stay in a Riad
- 7. Dine on Delicious Moroccan Food
- 8. Enjoy a Coffee at the Spectacular La Mamounia Palace Hotel
- 9. Stroll Through the Marrakech Museum
- 10. Admire the House of Photography
- 11. Check out the Saadian Tombs
- 12. Tour the Ben Youssef Medersa (Madrasa)
- 13. Wander Through the Souk Semmarine
- 14. Shop at the Ensemble Artisanal
- 15. Watch Sunset in the Main Square
- 16. Bathe in a Hammam
- 17. See the Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret
- 18. Take a Day Trip to the Desert
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Marrakech, Morocco Travel Basics
Things to Know Before you Go
- The currency in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham (Dhs). At the time of writing the conversion rate was about 9.62 Dhs to $1 USD. We’ll be referring to costs in Moroccan Dirham so just keep in mind that if we say something costs 100 Dhs, that’s just about $11 USD.
- There are a number of languages spoken in Morocco but the two official languages are Modern Standard Arabic and Amazigh (Berber). The second language for most Moroccans is French. You’ll also find that many people speak at least a little English.
- Learn a few phrases in Arabic to get around! “Al Salam Alaikum” (pronouned sall-em wall-a-come) is a nice way to say “hello”. “Shukran” (pronounced shoo kran) is “thank you”. “Ma’-Elsalama” (pronounced ma sell lem-a) is “goodbye”.
- In general, non-Muslims aren’t allowed to enter mosques around Morocco. Marvel at their beautiful architecture from the outside but don’t attempt to go inside (unless you are Muslim).
- Friday is the Muslim prayer day so don’t be surprised if some restaurants and shops are closed.
Safety in Marrakech
The crime rate in Morocco is fairly low. Petty crime like pickpocketing is common in tourist areas and on beaches so be sure to keep an eye on your belongings. And women traveling alone in Morocco will likely get some unwanted attention from aggressive men.
Travelers who want to keep in touch with their friends and family back home needn’t worry, WiFi is available in pretty much every hotel, restaurant, and coffee shop in Marrakech. But as with every public WiFi connection, you can’t always guarantee the security of your data. To ensure your online safety, be sure to download a VPN before departing, just in case. ExpressVPN provides VPN apps that allow you to access content from your home and ensures that your browsing experience is not affected by censorship.
As with anywhere in the world, most people generally mind their own business. So if someone is going out of their way to be helpful when you’re not asking for it, they probably have ulterior motives. And lastly, be sure that you receive the correct change when you pay for anything in cash.
Scams in Marrakech
Because Marrakech is made up of hundreds of narrow alleyways and very few street signs, finding your way around can be challenging. You’ll likely encounter quite a few (male) strangers offering to “help”. They’ll want to show you the way and then point and say “it’s just right there around the corner” and ask for a tip. Unfortunately, they’ve just gotten you more lost than you were to begin with. You’ll also get quite a few people telling you “nothing is down there” or “you don’t want to go that way” or “that site is closed today”. They are lying.
Download an offline map via Google Maps so you don’t have to listen to those scammers. Google is surprisingly accurate and considering that there are very few street signs (or any signs for that matter), it will keep you from having to ask for help.
Best Time of Year to Visit Marrakech
The best time to visit Morocco will depend on the areas of the country that you plan on visiting. If you are keen to visit the Sahara Desert, you’ll find the summer months of June to August to be sweltering. But the coastal town of Essaouira will be incredibly pleasant during those months.
The winter months of November to February experience mild temperatures although if you plan to visit the Atlas mountains (and the blue city of Chefchaouen) they can be exceptionally cold during that time.
You’ll find the most pleasant temperatures throughout the varying regions in the spring (mid-March to May) and in the Fall (September to October). If your Morocco itinerary includes visiting Marrakech in the summer months you’ll likely be uncomfortably hot when venturing outside so plan accordingly.
How Long to Spend in Marrakech
Marrakech is the most popular tourist destination in Morocco and for good reason. You could spend 4-5 days exploring the historic sights and wandering the winding souks of Marrakech. Even if you only have one week in Morocco, plan on spending at least 2 days in Marrakech.
What to Pack for a Trip to Marrakech
Islam is the established state religion in Morocco and 93% of the population claim to be Muslim. And the vast majority of those are Sunni Muslim. As with most conservative countries, women are expected to cover their knees and shoulders when venturing out of the house. Remember, you’re not here to change the culture, you’re here to experience a new one.
Women in Morocco are expected to cover their knees and shoulders but the country can be incredibly hot or incredibly cold depending on the time of year and the city that you are visiting. Long, comfortable pants, button-down shirts, long dresses, a warm sweater, and a scarf to cover your head if you ever feel out-of-place are recommended.
You’ll be walking a lot and the streets can be dirty or cobblestone or anything in-between. Opt for comfortable, closed-toe flats over flip flops. Check out my entire Moroccan Packing list here!
Getting To and Around Marrakech
- The international Marrakech airport is Menara Airport (RAK). Many cities around the world have frequent flights into and out of Marrakech. Ryanair and Vueling offer low-cost flights from many European cities.
- When you initially arrive in Marrakech, the easiest way to get from the airport to your riad is to arrange a shuttle ahead of time. Because of the narrow alleyways, most cars can’t drop you off in front of your riad so you’ll have some walking (and navigating) to do. And with those annoying scammers on the prowl, it can be an incredibly frustrating experience. If you arrange with your riad in advance, they’ll have someone meet you at the drop-off point to carry your bag and walk you directly to the front door.
- You’ll find taxis everywhere in the city but especially congregated at the entrance to tourist sites. Most prefer not to use the meter so be sure to negotiate the price up front. Check with your riad manager on what a fair taxi fare is to various sites around town.
The Top 18 Things to Do in Marrakech, Morocco
1. People Watch in the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square
Jemaa el-Fnaa (also spelled Jemaa El Fna) is the name of the central square in the heart of Marrakech. It is absolutely buzzing with activity at all hours of every day. During the day you can get fresh-pressed juice or dried figs at one of the many street vendors and wander around watching people try their luck at street games. Don’t be surprised if someone tries to put a monkey on your shoulder for a fee. If you stop to look at any of the entertainers you’ll be expected to give a small tip (10 Dhs should suffice).
At night the square is packed with people eating at the food stalls, watching the male belly dancers, or sitting on stools listening to the many musicians jamming out. This is a prime time for pickpockets so watch your belongings closely!
The food stalls in Jemaa el-Fnaa offer fresh, fast, and cheap food in the middle of the bustling square! Beware that the touts trying to get you to sit at their stalls are incredibly aggressive and can be very rude.
We loved the food at these little restaurants but always dreaded the act of walking through them to find one we liked. While these stalls are definitely not the best food in Marrakech, it’s a fun dining experience. Just try your best to ignore the touts.
2. Explore the Bahia Palace
The massive and ornate Bahia Palace is from the nineteenth century and is absolutely a must-see in Marrakech! The name Bahia means “brilliance” and with lush gardens, large courtyards, and ornate architecture, it more than lives up to its name! It was considered to be the largest and most luxurious palace in all of Morocco in its heyday.
3. Relax in the Le Jardin Secret
In the middle of the hectic, winding alleyways of the medina, Le Jardin Secret is the perfect place to relax your feet and unwind. It is one of the largest and oldest riads in the medina and took 3 years to restore the grounds to what you see today. Wander around the gardens and enjoy a coffee with a view from the terrace.
4. Snap Some Photos at the Jardin Majorelle
The Jardin Majorelle is a beautiful art deco house and stunning surrounding garden that was owned by the French orientalist painter, Jacques Majorelle in the early 1900s and was purchased by the designer, Yves Saint Laurent in 1980.
You can visit several museums or simply wander around the courtyard, admiring the strange cacti, the splashes of the signature bright blue painted throughout, and the coy fish swimming in the reflection pools. Go early in the morning or after 16:00 to avoid the crowds.
4. Visit El Badi Palace
The El Badi Palace was built throughout the reign of the Saadian sultan, Ahmed El Mansour from 1578 – 1603, this was a lavish palace at it’s prime. Unfortunately, it has fallen in ruin but is constantly being renovated. A courtyard with sunken vegetation and several pools sit inside of the thick walls where large storks now nest. There are several small museums as well as a terrace overlooking the courtyard.
6. Stay in a Riad
Rather than staying in a hotel while visiting Marrakech, many tourists opt instead for a more traditional experience. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house that has an interior courtyard. Many of the riads in Marrakech are brightly colored and filled with lush plants. The sun shines in from the open roof above the courtyard to bathe the riad in the afternoon light. Many riads also offer rooftop lounge areas where you can relax on comfortable cushions while enjoying views of the entire city.
Riad ChiChi is a quaint, charming riad centrally located in the heart of Marrakech. It is a simple and classic riad, with white-washed walls and splashes of vibrant blue throughout. Intricate Moroccan lamps hang from the ceilings of the spacious, modern rooms.
If being in the center of the bustling medina is not your cup of tea, the Riad Ariha is farther north in a less touristy part of town. Similar in style to the ChiChi, this riad has a beautiful central courtyard with lush greenery growing up the walls and windows covered in intricately patterned shutters. You can’t go wrong with either option!
7. Dine on Delicious Moroccan Food
If you’ve never tried Moroccan food, you’re in for a real treat! Bubbling hot tajines, thick soups, and all the mint tea you could ever dream of await you in Marrakech. We loved the food in Morocco so much that we wrote an entire post about our favorite Moroccan foods! Here are just a few you should try:
- Tajine – a variety of meats and vegetables are slow cooked inside of a clay pot with a conical lid. Beef, lamb, chicken, and meatball tajines are incredibly common and can be found at almost any restaurant serving Moroccan food.
- Couscous – consisting of very small steamed balls of crushed durum wheat semolina (resembling rice), usually served with stew spooned on top and some type of meat with vegetables.
- Moroccan Soup – a thick, creamy soup made of chickpeas. It is served in most restaurants and by many street vendors all over the old city.
- Msemen – flattened square-shaped dough is kneaded together with a mixture of peppers, onion, and tomato and then grilled, rolled, and eaten on the go! You can find a few street food msemen vendors around the Medina.
- Mint Tea – this sugary sweet tea is full of fresh mint leaves and expert pourers can hit a small glass from a foot or more above!
And be sure to check out a few of our favorite restaurants around Marrakech:
- Bazaar Cafe – for stunning city views on their rooftop terrace and a delectable lamb tajine! You can also get alcoholic beverages here (which you can’t find at many restaurants in the old city).
- Atay Cafe – for a casual atmosphere and a fresh and delicious avocado tomato salad. The pastilla made of cinnamon, almond, and chicken is a must-try as well!
- Restaurant Dar Zellij – if you’re looking for high quality food in a more upscale atmosphere, this is a must-visit spot right near the Riad Ariha.
- Hôtel Restaurant Café de France – the TripAdvisor reviews are harsh but we thoroughly enjoyed our mint tea and lemon chicken tajine while watching the sun set over Jemaa el-Fnaa!
8. Enjoy a Coffee at the Spectacular La Mamounia Palace Hotel
La Mamounia Palace Hotel is a strikingly beautiful property that was formerly a palace and has been transformed into arguably the most luxurious hotel in all of Marrakech. Even if you are not staying at the hotel, it’s worth a visit to wander around the lobby area or enjoy an overpriced coffee in the lush gardens out back.
9. Stroll Through the Marrakech Museum
The actual artwork in the Marrakech Museum is not nearly as impressive as the building that they are housed in. You’ll find intricate wooden latticework, gorgeous tiled fountains, and a massive metal piece hanging from the ceiling that will leave you in awe. The large, covered courtyard is one of the most picturesque places in the city!
10. Admire the House of Photography
The House of Photography in Marrakech is a museum of sorts that showcases beautiful photographs in and around Marrakech as well as many portraits of Moroccan people taken in the 1930s and 1940s. The artwork is contained in an old riad that is beautiful as well. Have a coffee on the roof and enjoy views of the city below!
11. Check out the Saadian Tombs
Getting the opportunity to see the intricate and exquisite details inside of the Saadian Tombs used to be well worth the 10 Dhs entrance fee. But unfortunately, the price has skyrocketed to 70 Dhs per person in the past year. If you’re on a budget you may want to skip this site.
The tombs were constructed in the late 16th century and discovered in 1917. They hold the remains of the Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur and his family. The area of the tombs is small and easy to tackle in around 30 minutes. Be prepared to wait in lines as the tomb viewing areas are only meant for a few people at a time.
12. Tour the Ben Youssef Medersa (Madrasa)
Sadly the Ben Youssef Medersa (Madrasa) is currently under construction and will not be finished until October of 2020. If your trip is planned for the end of 2020 or later, be sure to check out this spectacularly beautiful former Islamic college.
13. Wander Through the Souk Semmarine
The most popular of the souks in Marrakech, Souk Semmarine starts at the Jemaa el-Fnaa and runs north in the maze of alleyways crisscrossing throughout the medina. It is sheer madness but you’ll find a wide selection of rugs, blankets, leather goods, pottery, and lamps at reasonable prices (if you negotiate hard enough). But get ready to get hassled!
It’s impossible to avoid shopping in the Souk Semmarine during a trip to Marrakech. Be sure to bring an extra duffel bag for all of your new Moroccan treasures!
14. Shop at the Ensemble Artisanal
If being hassled and getting involved in aggressive price negotiations isn’t your cup tea, you’ll find the Ensemble Artisanal to be more relaxing (but with higher prices than the souk). The shop owners are far less aggressive and you won’t feel as pressured to buy something just because you’ve asked the price.
The building housing the shops is worth wandering through even if you don’t buy anything!
15. Watch Sunset in the Main Square
There are dozens of restaurants surrounding the Jemaa el-Fnaa offering terraces with stunning views of the crazy scene below. Grab a front table at least an hour before sunset to enjoy the views while sipping mint tea. You’ll be much happier watching the square from your peaceful spot up above.
We enjoyed the view and the lemon chicken tajine at the Hôtel Restaurant Café de France.
16. Bathe in a Hammam
In all honesty, I found my Marrakech hammam experience to be incredibly awkward. But it made for a great story, so in the end, it was worth getting naked with a few strangers. You’ll undress down to your underwear, then get dosed with water and scrubbed down. Then you’ll sit silently in a sauna for 15 minutes, and finally, get one last rinse.
Don’t expect a relaxing experience unless you opt for an expensive, touristy, and not-so-authentic hammam.
17. See the Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret
While non-Muslims are forbidden from entering the mosques in Marrakech, you can still enjoy views of the beautiful Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret from the outside. There are always people milling around outside, snapping selfies and enjoying the beautiful Moroccan sunshine.
18. Take a Day Trip to the Desert
You’ll find no shortage of tour agencies around town offering daily desert excursions and camel rides in the nearby Moroccan deserts. They’ll take you just a few hours outside of Marrakech so if you’re short on time it’s an easy way to fulfill your Moroccan Sahara dream. Or better yet, drive yourself!
We hope you enjoy your trip to the magical city of Marrakech!
Want more advice for your trip to Marrakech? Check out our favorite travel guides!