After returning from Morocco I made a list on things to do in Marrakech. Trying to charm snakes is not what you should do but there are lace-like palaces, noisy souks, peaceful parks and pink mosques that you might want to visit.
Morocco is developing its tourism. Visitor numbers are increasing and new flight connections established, like the new Norwegian Airlines flight from Helsinki I was using.
So why not try Morocco if you haven’t been there before? It’s about the same distance from Europe as the Canary Islands. But this a Berber and Arab country and a part of the Sahara and Africa.
Things to do in Marrakech: watch snake charming
Marrakech is the city that gave its name to Morocco, a pink city in the middle of the desert. Marrakech looks best in evening light that gives the pink many shades but there’s nothing wrong with mornings, afternoons or nights either. So let’s see more…
Things to Do in Marrakech: The Map
Marrakech is located in the middle of Morocco, in the desert between the Atlas mountains and the Atlantic coast. You can see the location if you zoom out the map.
It’s a fairly big city with a population of just over a million. The best time to travel are the winter months when the day temperature is mainly between 20-25 centigrade (about 28 in early November when I visited). Summers get too hot, it can get up to +45.
If you didn’t zoom out the map you can see where the main sights are. I also made a driving route between the sights so you know the distances.
But here we are landing in Marrakech and you can see the Medina, the walled old part of the city:
Flight crew, take your seats, landing in five minutes
Marrakech Menara Airport
Marrakech Menara Airport, Morocco
And so we landed in the desert country. A golden desert with palms, that’s what Morocco is like and so is the airport.
As I travel a certain amount each year I don’t normally pay any attention to airport buildings, the only thing that matters is the exit. I just want to leave behind the airport and get to what I came for!
But the Marrakech Menara airport made me stop. I just had to look at it, and look at it again. What a masterpiece of architecture!
This brand-new airport building was opened in 2016 to meet the needs of Morocco’s growing tourism. Ten million tourists travel to Morocco each year of which 5 million visit Marrakech, Morocco’s number one destination.
And 5 million Moroccans live abroad so there are needs for traveling both ways.
Here you can see the airport name in three languages.
Due to historical reasons French is widely spoken in Morocco, a lot more than English. Then there is Arabic (the upper text), the official language of the country. And some years ago one of the Berber languages was given the status of Morocco’s second official language (the middle text is in the Berber language).
Morocco’s population is 60 per cent Berber, then Arabs, black Africans and others.
Are these window washers Arabs or Berbers? Doesn’t matter, they are Moroccans. And they have a lot to do.
The airport building has a huge amount of window glass and everything crystal-clear, unlike my airplane window that you will see at the end of the post. But that’s the departure, and at this point we are entering the country.
Marrakech Menara airport reflections
An airport of the Aladdin and his magical lamp fairytale
Having the last glance at the arrivals hall and then – out to the city!
The airport is just 6 km from the city and on the way there are the Menara Gardens, so why not stop there for a walk after the long flight.
This garden is not from 2016 like the airport, no, it’s from the 12th century. There is a huge artificial lake in the middle that gets its water from the Atlas mountains through an underground watering system. The water makes the garden a man-made oasis in the desert.
The artificial lake of Menara Gardens
The gardens were built by a sultan who used the green-roofed pavilion for his romantic meetings. But he’s not here anymore, instead there are souvenir stalls and these bright-colored paintings:
But no souvenirs, camel rides or roasted nuts for me, even if this sign probably tries to get me buy them. It’s a beautiful sign with probably valuable information that I don’t get. But I get the olive trees and there are thousands of them.
The irrigation system makes it possible to grow olive trees around the pool, in an area of 90 ha. It’s a walled 90 ha and a popular public park for the locals. And Moroccan olives are so good, I have tasted.
Menara Gardens olive trees, Marrakech
Local women sitting in the Menara Gardens
But are there many more things to do in Marrakech than looking at the airport and an olive park? Yes, there definitely are. As Morocco is a Muslim country I want to see a pink mosque.
Koutobia Mosque, Marrakech
The Koutobia Mosque means a booksellers mosque.
It’s the biggest mosque in the city and very much worth to see, even when you as a non-Muslim are not allowed in. But you can look at it from the outside and walk around it and wonder where the booksellers are. There’s just one stall selling drinks and souvenirs but no book stalls at all.
By the time they had built the holy building there where 100 booksellers around it. – When did they build the mosque? The sultan started in 1147 and his grandson completed. So it really took some years. Now there’s a park instead of bookstores, the Koutobia Gardens with fountains with orange trees.
But these are not just any orange trees, they make sour bitter oranges of which they make the Chanel 5 perfumes. Maybe the sign below tells you it but I heard it from my guide.
It was a hot November day but yet below 30 degrees centigrade so no sun hats were needed and also the seller had disappeared. But he will definitely get his caps sold during the summer months.
For us Europeans the winter months are the ideal time to visit Morocco, the sun makes us so happy and it’s not too hot for us.
Palm trees in the Koutobia Gardens
Local women looking for their cell phones on a mosque visit
The minaret of Koutobia Mosque
The minaret is 70 m high and the highest building in the city. It’s pink like everything else in Marrakech.
Five times a day prayer calls are heard from the top which makes Muslims bend on their knees and pray.
The times are connected to sunrise, sunset and other times of the day so they vary from day to day and like elsewhere probably in Morocco too you can check out the times in your daily newspaper or download an app for that purpose.
Koutobia souvenir stall from behind. Clever!
These women are entering the mosque. But as we were not allowed in we didn’t follow them.
Instead we entered a palace.
The Palais Bahia is new compared to any other palace in Marrakech, it was built in the 19th century by two viziers – one of which used it has his harem.
Bahia means beautiful and that’s what the palace is. They had Morocco’s best artisans working here for 14 years, tiling floors and making lace-like ornaments and other decoration. The Bahia Palace has 150 rooms and it’s a part of the Royal residence.
Tourists can only get to a part of the building but who would like to walk through 150 rooms?
You can see this kind of tilework on floors and walls that very much remind me of Sevilla and Granada in Spain.
And these carved surfaces look like the ones in Alhambra. Morocco has been influenced by the Spanish and vice versa.
This photo shows a corner of a courtyard that there are many of. The courtyards have a small garden and fountains in the middle and rooms on all sides, a building style very typical of Morocco and practical in a hot climate as well.
Some more decoration, carefully painted cedar wood ceilings that exist in many of the palace halls. Cedar wood grows in the Atlas mountains and the tiles come from Tetouan.
Interior decoration of the Palais Bahia, Marrakech
But let’s step from these Tetouan tiles to the world outside. The Bahia Palace is right in the middle of the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter.
Morocco has been on the trade routes so many nationalities have found the place.
There was a big Jewish community but most Jews moved to Israel.
Today the Mellah is the kind of noisy, busy, crowded area you can expect in Marrakech. Narrow streets, shops and bazaars – and traffic congestions. All kinds of vehicles and loads of transport. This is Morocco!
In Morocco people head home for lunch, they have a long lunch break in the afternoon and even schools make a pause.
The women stay at home and prepare the meals but today this is of course changing as more women work outside their homes. You can see both traditionally and European dressed women in Marrakech, but maybe traditional clothing is more common.
Here you can see pink Marrakech houses again. That comes from the building material, local bricks are made of mud and stone that give that color.
Old man crossing the street, the Mellah of Marrakech
Men in the shade and a Marrakech square
A Moroccan woman with her shopping bag
We will now make a side trip to the Majorelle Gardens at the north end of the city center and return to the old city afterwards.
The Majorelle Gardens were built in the 1920s by the French painter Jacques Majorelle who moved to Marrakech since he loved the intensive light.
He planted tropical palms, bamboo and flowers and established a watering system to keep his plants alive. And he made the walkways we can enjoy today.
Walking in the Majorelle Gardens, Marrakech
Names carved on bamboo trunk in different letters
Jacques Majorelle built a blue villa and made a cactus park and a couple of pools around it. But he died and Yves Saint Laurent that also loved Morocco bought the house and the park and restored them.
Yves Saint Laurent lived here with his partner Pierre Bergé who was an industrialist and helped Yves develop his fashion into a worldwide brand. So today we can enjoy both his brand and his house and garden down in Morocco.
The main pool, Majorelle Gardens
Yves Saint Laurent memorial, Majorelle Gardens
Yves dies earlier and Pierre Bergé in September 2017.
Yves Saint Laurent created Love cards that he sent out each year. These cards can be bought as posters that you can see many of in a garden building.
A Majorelle Garden gate
When it’s getting dark in the gardens it’s time to return to the souks where the busiest time of the day is about to start. We want to see that!
And yes, it’s busy! It’s so hard to keep together with my group and easy to get lost in the jungle of narrow alleys and tunnels, surrounded by people rushing in all directions.
We were touring Marrakech on a minibus tour but here we had to leave the bus. The only way to explore the souks is on foot (or by bike or pushing a overloaded handcart).
The souks are arranged in the way that shops selling the same kind of products are grouped together. So there is a carpet souk, a metalwork souk, a basket souk, a clothing souk and a leather workers souk.
What I liked most was all the beautiful Moroccan carpets but since I mainly travel without checked-in baggage I firmly closed my eyes and ears to all bargains.
But nothing can prevent me from looking around and taking photos to remember this afterwards.
Carpets line the walls and lie in huge stacks on the floor – and each carpet is different. There are city carpets and country carpets and all of them tell the story of the family that made it. Wish I could bring home a carpet!
Patchwork in a Moroccan carpet
Pile of yellow and ocher carpets
Shop full of products in the leather souk
Some more photos on what was being sold along the narrow twisting streets. Many of the products were carefully arranged and others chaotically hanged in the corridors to the amount that it was hard to pass through.
However the sellers were OK, they were not aggressive nor running after us. But of course when you want to buy something you need to haggle, discuss the price.
Early evening on Jemaa el-Fna
The Square of Jemaa el-Fna is the center of the souks, it’s where everything happens.
Jemaa el-Fna has street sellers all over. And there are fortune tellers, snake charmers, acrobats and other showmen, and pickpockets so keep with your group if you have one.
And be prepared to pay for any photos you take on the performers. So it’s wise to have dirhams in your pockets when you come to Jemaa el-Fna.
Jemaa el-Fna market stalls
Saleswoman at Jemaa el-Fna
Salesman at Jemaa el-Fna
Reading from playing-cards
Snake charmer performing his work
Food stalls selling tagine and couscous, all setting up at sunset
Jemaa el-Fna has been about the same for the last 1000 years, since the times when the caravans arrived from Sahara with their loads of slaves and spices. It’s a place for gathering and the place Marrakech is world-famous for.
All this has been recognized by the UNESCO that took Jemaa el-Fna on their World Heritage list. Jemaa el-Fna keeps the heritage of Morocco alive!
Sunset at Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech
So these were my top things to do in Marrakech, and I did all this in just one day!
But there’s much more to do. The next day you can return to the souks, find more palaces, parks and museums or just relax at your hotel pool. Hotels in Marrakech are sights in their own right. Or make a day trip out from Marrakech which I will tell about in a later blog post.
But for this time, good-bye Marrakech and good-bye Morocco!