I’d been dying to go to Marrakech for ages before I actually had the chance to go. I didn’t really know exactly what it was about Marrakech that made me want to go. I think it was just that I knew it would be hot and exotic, with some amazing scenery and delicious food, and that turned out to be exactly right.
I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to explore the city as fully as possible and, at the same time, have enough time to relax. After all, I was going for my summer holiday and I need annual dose of sunbathing. However, I still massively overestimated how much time I’d need. I booked a 9-day stay in Marrakech but I think half that would have done the trick. I should have spent the rest of my trip checking out some other places Morocco has to offer. The problem is, however great Marrakech is, it’s very touristy and, as such, very intense. I got hassled a lot and it was exhausting.
Still, there’s some great stuff to do, both in the city and on day trips to the surrounding areas. So if you do have a few days or so in Marrakech, here are my recommendations:
1. Djemaa el Fna Square
Djemaa el Fna Square is the main square in the middle of the old medina and is a necessity on any Marrakech bucket list. During the day, it is filled with carts selling orange juice, which provide perfect refreshment during breaks from all the shopping you’ll be doing in the neighbouring souk. Here you can get all the souvenirs you could possibly hope for, from patterned pots and tagine dishes to argan oil, carpet bags and actual carpets.
At night, the square comes alive as a food market opens up and entertainers flock in. After a tasty dinner, the hustle and bustle can become a little overwhelming – people will be trying to get money from you by whatever means necessary. To escape that, I took to a restaurant with a roof terrace, overlooking the square. From here I could enjoy a drink and an actual breeze, whilst watching the goings on from the calm above.
2. The Atlas Mountains
The Atlas Mountains provide Marrakech with a stunning backdrop and no visit to the city wis complete without taking a drive up into them to admire the scenery up close. Actually climbing them is one option but, if you are anything like me and have issues with exercise even when you are not in immense heat, you can get take a trip by car instead.
3. Ouzoud Falls
A couple of hours drive will take you from Marrakech to Ouzoud falls, the highest waterfall in North Africa, at over 100m. Not only is the waterfall very picturesque, and therefore a great photo opportunity, but you can actually go for a dip and may catch a glance of some of the monkeys that are dotted around nearby. This makes the relatively long, and likely very hot, drive worth it. I also got one of the best tagines I had during my trip at one of the restaurants nearby.
4. Ait Benhaddou & Ouarzazate
My trip to Ouarzazate meant I was stuck in the back of a car for a long and quite uncomfortable drive just to see sites where Gladiator had been filmed. But ultimately it was worth it.The fortress of Kasbah Taourirt in Ouarzazate and the UNESCO site of Ait Benhaddou on the edge of the Atlas Mountains are made up of old earthy buildings and the latter has been used in The Mummy and Game of Thrones. They are a must for any movie buffs.
5. Camel Rides
I can’t say that sitting on the back of a camel was the most comfortable experience, and I seem to recall one actually burping in my face at one point, but how often do you get the chance to trek through palm groves on the back of a ship of the desert?
6. Saadian Tombs
The Saadian Tombs are the resting place of around 60 members of the Saadian Dynasty, including sultan Ahmad al-Mansur and his family in the Hall of Twelve Columns. The tombs are located next to the Kasbah Mosque and date back to the sixteenth century. There are graves located both inside and out and all are covered in decorative tiles. The buildings themselves have intricate carvings. It is not a big site and can get quite busy but it has a peaceful atmosphere.
7. Koutoubia Mosque
It is pretty hard to miss the Koutoubia Mosque, which towers next to the bustling hub that is Jemaa El Fna square. It is the largest mosque in Marrakech, with its tower standing at 77 metres high. The mosque dates back to the 12th century and, although non-Muslims are not permitted to enter, it is still worth a visit even if you cannot go inside, as it is impressive enough from the outside.
8. Palais de la Bahia
The Palais de la Bahia, or the Bahia Palace and gardens, can be found inside Marrakech’s medina. The palace was built in the 19th century by advisors to the sultan. Although many of the furnishings have been taken away, there are still rooms upon rooms of elaborate architecture and patterned ceramic tiles to explore.
9. Eat tagine and drink mint tea
You cannot go to a place and experience the culture without sampling the local food and drink. In Morocco, that means tagine. Tagine can come in many forms but, in Morocco, I found that tagine meant meat and vegetables cooked in a conical pot. My favourite one came with lamb, potatoes and onions. I could have happily lived off that thing. I also became pretty addicted to the mint tea, which was good for re-hydrating. Be prepared to put in a lot of sugar though.