Marrakech truly epitomizes the exotic. A place where the ancient city meets the modern world and where French and Arabic are spoken evenly. This fourth largest Moroccan city was founded in 1062 AD and still feels as if time has stood still. Visiting the city is like a dream. There are many remarkable things to do in Marrakech that will set your vacation apart from any other.
Marrakech is a city where you’ll be dodging snake charmers while gazing in awe at blacksmiths at work. You will be awed by acrobats at Jemaa El Fnaa and Berber dancers will entertain as you fantasize of ancient caravans travelling through to Timbuktu. We couldn’t wait to explore the old city and get lost in the back alleyways. If you want a vacation that will feel like an adventure, a visit to Marrakech is a must. And here are some of the top things to do in Marrakech that must not be missed!
1. Stay in a Riyad
We thought we’d start off with booking your trip to Marrakech. When planning your accommodation, book a stay in a traditional Riyad: A tall house with a courtyard in the centre of the building. All Riyads are not created equal so choose wisely. You can book through an apartment rental company and stay in your own private Riyad complete with kitchen, swimming pool, and rooftop deck or you can book a boutique stay where large palaces type riyads have been converted to luxury hotels. We experienced both kinds and love each one equally. If you have a few days, why not split it up and stay in both!
2. Get lost in the Medina
Chances are your Riyad will be located in the Medina and this is where you want to stay when visiting Marrakech. A modern city is a the same almost anywhere, but staying in the ancient walled city is where you will feel the energy and history resonate deep inside. Here you’ll discover a maze of alleyways and markets selling everything from carpets and lamps, to mint tea and fresh dates. Forget the modern world and lose yourself inside. Visiting a Riyad is the top and most exciting of things to do in Marrakech. Don’t fret about taking a wrong turn, each one will take you on a great adventure.
3. Jemaa El-Fnaa
If you ask a local what to see in Marrakech, chances are they will tell you to start off at the main square, Jemaa El Fnaa. It’s a giant square filled with thousands of stalls. Grab a spot on a rooftop patio to watch the sun go down. There is a minimum cover charge for rooftops around the square but it is minimal and worth it. For the cost of a beer, you can enjoy the view and watch the chaos from a quite spot above. Afterwards you must stroll through the stalls for dinner and tea. Mm, it’s delicious.
4. Shop in the Souks
The Souks are located directly off the main square of Jemaa El Fnaa and it is in here that you truly feel that you have stepped into traditional Morocco. This maze of narrow alleys and covered markets can be overwhelming. The labyrinth is filled with shops and stalls selling everything under the sun. You can watch artisans at work, dodge gypsies and even grab a quick bite on the run. You have to keep your wits about you though as vendors are aggressive and are hard pressed to take no for an answer.
5. Visit a Hammam
If you want to experience the true exotic, a visit to a Hammam is a must. Prepare to leave all inhibitions at the door because you are in for the most intimate, painful, awkward massage of your life. But when you sit back, relax and let it happen, it’s also one of the coolest and relaxing experiences you’ll ever have and you’ll want to keep coming back for more!
6. Saddian Tombs
The Saddian Tombs are one of the most visited sights in Marrakech and the lines ups are there to prove it. But Saadian tombs are worth visiting for their glorious splendour. Built by Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour ed-Dahbi, these tombs are grand containing a 12 pillar mausoleum. After the death of Al-Mansour, the follwing Sultan walled up the magnificent mausoleum in 1600s. It wasn’t discovered again until 1917.
It’s hard to miss the Koutoubia Mosque with its tall minaret standing tall over the Medina. What is even more magnificent is that it is the oldest of the three great Almohad minarets remaining in the world! We couldn’t enter the mosque, but you can walk around it and explore the walls.
8. Take a cooking class
Moroccan food is up there as our favourite cuisine on earth. It can be overwhelming when visiting a new city and culture to figure out the menu and food, so a cooking class is a great way to get an introduction. We took a class at Riyad El Cadi booked through Get your guide and it was so much fun. We had hands on training making Chicken Tagine and traditional Moroccan sauces. If you’ve ever wondered why Moroccan food is more expensive than other middle east and asian countries, it’s because it take so long to prepare. Everything is done by hand with fresh ingredients like plum tomatoes, olives, nuts and herbs and spices. Chef Hassan meticulously prepared 5 Moroccan Salads and two main hot dishes over the course of three hours. We then enjoyed a private candle lit dinner complete with wine and drinks by the fire.
9. See the Dunes
The Sahara Desert is just a short drive from the city centre and a visit to Marrakech would not be complete without exploring the dunes. We chose to see it by dune buggy and it was a blast. Bounce your way through palm groves and rock gardens and Berber villages and see a quiet way of living where people tend their sheep and farms. The landscape is beautiful and it’s a nice change of pace to leave the frenzy of the city for the day.
10. Meet the Locals
A visit to any city must include a visit with the locals. Moroccans are very hospitable people and you may find yourself invited in for tea on more than one occasion. When visiting a household be sure to bring a gift of figs, dates or pastries, remove your shoes, and when they bring around a basin filled with water, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands with soap. And then enjoy sweet delicious tea!