After returning from Morocco I put together a list on the top things to do in Marrakech.
Trying to charm snakes is not what you should do at first hand, but there are better things like fairy-tale palaces, busy souks, green oasis like parks and pink mosques.
I’m sure you will like the Moroccan wonders I will soon show you.
In cooperation with: Moroccan National Tourist Office
Things to do in Marrakech: watch snake charming
The country of 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 on my trip to Morocco.
So why not try Morocco if you haven’t been there before? It’s the same distance from Europe as the Canary Islands, yet very different. Morocco is a part of Sahara and North Africa and a Berber and Arab country.
The Pink City of Marrakech
Marrakech, the pink desert city
Marrakech is the city that gave its name to Morocco. A pink, distant desert city that looks best in evening light.
Evening sun gives the pink colors of Marrakech a magic shade. But, to be honest, there’s nothing wrong with Marrakech mornings, afternoons or nights either.
Now let’s go and see what you can do in Marrakech, Morocco.
The Top Sights of Marrakech on the Map
I put Marrakech sights on the map, and also marked a driving itinerary between them. From the map you can tell the distances.
A Marrakech sightseeing itinerary on the map
Marrakech is located in the very heart of Morocco, in the vast desert between the Atlas mountains and the Atlantic coast. To see the location of Marrakech on the map, zoom out a little bit.
The city is big enough with a population of just over a million. The best time to travel are the winter months. Winter day temperatures are between 20-25 centigrade (28 in early November when I was visiting). Summers are too hot to visit. It can get up to +45.
Flight crew, take your seats, landing in five minutes
Above we will be soon landing in Marrakech, and we can already clearly see the densely built Medina, the walled old part of the city.
Marrakech Menara Airport
Things to do in Marrakech: first have a look at Marrakech Menara Airport
And so we landed in the desert country. A golden desert with palms, that’s what Morocco is like and so is the Marrakech Menara airport.
As I travel a certain amount a year I don’t normally pay any attention to airports, the only thing that interests me is to find the exit. I just want to leave behind the airport and get to the city.
Yet this airport made me stop. I just had to look at it, and look again. The marrakech Menara airport is a real masterpiece of architecture!
Marrakech Menara Airport
The 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.
Moreover, as 5 million Moroccans live abroad there is a travel need both ways.
A Country with Three Languages
Marrakech Menara Airport written in three languages
The sign outside shows the airport name in three languages.
Due to Morocco’s French history, the French language is widely spoken in Morocco, a lot more than English. Then there is Arabic (the upper text), the official language of the country. And then there is the Berber language that only a few years ago was named Morocco’s second official language. The middle text is in the Berber language.
Morocco’s population is 60 per cent Berber and the rest are Arabs, black Africans and other folk groups.
Marrakech Menara Airport window washers
Are these window washers Arabs or Berbers? Doesn’t matter, they are Moroccans. And they certainly have a lot to do today.
The airport building has a huge amount of window glass and it all is crystal-clear. Unlike my airplane window that you will see at the end of this post. But that’s the departure, and at this point we are entering the country.
Marrakech Menara airport reflections
An airport like from the Aladdin and his magical lamp fairytale
Having the last glance at the arrivals hall and now on – to the city!
Things to Do in Marrakech: See the Menara Gardens
Things to do in Marrakech: walk in the Menara Gardens
The airport is only 6 km away from Marrakech. On the way to the city you will pass an oasis, the Menara Gardens. So why not stop right here and have a little walk after the long flight?
The Menara Garden is not from 2016 like the airport, no, it’s hundreds of years older, from the 12th century. There is a huge artificial lake that gets its water from the Atlas Mountains through an underground tunnel. The water makes the garden look like an oasis in the desert.
Built by the Sultan
The artificial lake of Menara Gardens
Menara Gardens on the way from Marrakech Menara airport to the city
The Menara Gardens were built by a sultan. It’s said he used the green-roofed pavilion for his romantic meetings. But the sultan is not there anymore, instead there are souvenir stalls and bright-colored paintings:
Menara Gardens , Marrakech
But no souvenirs, camel rides or roasted nuts for me today, even when the sign probably tries to get me buy. A beautiful sign that contains some information I don’t get. But I get the olive trees, the thousands of them.
A Moroccan sign, Menara Gardens
The watering system enables olive trees grow around the basin, in a total area of 90 ha. The 90 ha is all walled and a popular park for the locals.
Moroccan olives are so good, I have tried them many times.
Menara Gardens olive trees, Marrakech
Local women sitting in the Menara Gardens of Marrakech
But are there more things to do in Marrakech than staring at an airport and an olive tree park? Yes, there definitely is. As Morocco is a Muslim country there are mosques. Go and see this pink one:
Things to do in Marrakech: see the Koutobia Mosque
Koutobia stands for booksellers.
This the biggest mosque in Marrakech and very much worth visiting, even when you as a non-Muslim won’t be permitted in. Still you can look at the mosque from the outside and walk all the way around it. And you can wonder where the booksellers are. As there’s only one stall selling drinks, nuts and souvenirs in front and some more on the sides. No book stalls anywhere.
At the time they built the holy building there where 100 booksellers around. – So when did they build it? The ruling sultan started in 1147 and his grandson completed. So it took some years.
Now there is a park instead of bookstores, the Koutobia Gardens, with fountains and orange trees:
Koutobia Gardens, Marrakech
These are not just any orange trees. These trees make sour bitter oranges of which the Chanel 5 perfumes are produced. Maybe the sign below tells you about that.
Koutobia Gardens sign in Arabic
Marrakech souvenirs: sun caps
Even when it was a pretty hot November day but it was still below 30. For that reason there was no need for sun hats and the seller had gone away. The seller has to wait for the summer, when he will definitely get his caps sold.
High palm trees in Koutobia Gardens
Women looking for their cell phones
The minaret of Koutobia Mosque
Photos of Koutobia mosque, Marrakech
The Koutobia minaret is 70 m high and the highest building in the city. Pink like everything else is in Marrakech.
Five times a day they will send prayer calls from the top of the mosque to tell Muslims it’s time to pray.
The times are connected to sunrise, sunset and other important times of the day. That means it’s different hours every day. Like in other Muslim countries, also people in Morocco more and more check out the proper times in the daily paper or download an app for that.
Koutobia souvenir stall from behind. Clever!
Women are entering Koutobia mosque
These women are entering the mosque. But as we were not allowed in we could not follow them.
Instead we entered another building, the fairy-tale palace of Bahia:
Things to do in Marrakech: visit the Bahia Palace
The Bahia Palace is a new one compared to any other Marrakech palace. Two viziers built it in the 19th century and one them then used it has his harem.
Bahia means beautiful and that’s what the palace is. To build the palace they employed Morocco’s best artisans for 14 years.
The artisans tiled floors and created lace-like ornaments in the 150 rooms of the Bahia Palace.
Palais Bahia tiles
Today the palace is used by Moroccan Royas and tourists only have access to certain parts of it. Never mind, who would like to walk through all 150 rooms?
Like the Moorish Palaces in Spain
Look at the floor and wall tile work. This makes me think about Sevilla and Granada.
Palais Bahia tiles
The carvings very much look like the ones in Alhambra. Morocco has been influenced by the Spanish and the other way round.
The photo below shows a corner of a riad, a courtyard that there are many of. They all contain a small garden, fountains in the middle and rooms on the sides. This building style is both typical of Morocco and very practical in the hot climate.
Riad of the Bahia Palace
Some more decoration: painted cedar wood ceilings exist in many halls. The cedar wood comes from the Atlas Mountains and the tiles again come from Tetouan.
Interior decoration of the Bahia Palace, Marrakech
The Bahia Palace is right in the center of the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter.
Things to do in Marrakech: looking at local life in the Mellah
As Morocco used was located right on the important trade routes, many nationalities found their way to Marrakech.
There has also been a large Jewish community but most Jews later moved to Israel.
Today the Mellah is exactly the kind of noisy, busy, crowded area you can expect to meet in Marrakech. Narrow streets, shops, bazaars – and traffic jams. All kinds of vehicles carrying all kinds of loads. As we are in Morocco.
Things to do in Marrakech: looking at local life in the Mellah
In Morocco people normally go home for lunch, and they have long lunch breaks in the afternoon. Even school children return home.
Women mainly stay at home and prepare the meals for the family. Today this is of course changing as here, too, more women work. You will see both traditionally and internationally dressed women in Marrakech side by side, but it looks like traditional clothing is more common.
The Medina of Marrakech
Here are some pink Marrakech buildings again. The pink house color comes from the building material. They make the bricks fro the houses from local mud and stone and that gives the color.
Old man crossing the street, the Mellah of Marrakech
Men looking for shade on a Marrakech square
A Moroccan woman with her shopping bag
We will now take a short side trip to the famous Majorelle Gardens at the north end of the city, and afterwards return to the center.
Things to do in Marrakech: stroll in the shady Majorelle Gardens
It was the French painter Jacques Majorelle who built these gardens in the 1920s, at the time he moved down to Marrakech. His reason for moving here was the intensive African light.
Majorelle planted tropical palms, bamboo and flowers. He built a watering system to keep his plants alive. And he built walkways around the garden.
Walking in the Majorelle Gardens, Marrakech
Names carved on bamboo trunk in different alphabets
Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech
A blue villa, Majorelle Gardens
Jacques Majorelle built a blue villa and a cactus park and pools around it. After he died Yves Saint Laurent came and bought the house and the park and carefully restored them. Like Majorelle, Yves Saint Laurent had also fallen in love with Morocco.
Views of the blue and yellow Majorelle Gardens
Yves Saint Laurent lived here with his partner Pierre Bergé, an industrialist. He greatly helped Yves and his fashion became a worldwide brand. Today we can enjoy his brand and his house down in Morocco.
The main pool of the Majorelle Gardens
Yves Saint Laurent memorial in the Majorelle Gardens
Majorelle Gardens and Yves Saint Laurent
Yves then died and Pierre Bergé after him, in September 2017.
Did you know that Yves Saint Laurent created Love cards and sent them out each year? These cards still exist as posters that you can see in the garden building.
A Majorelle Garden gate
Then it’s gradually getting dark in the gardens. That means it’s time to go and see the souks. They will be waking up by this time. I want to see the souks!
Things to do in Marrakech: spend an early evening in the souks
And yes, the souks are waking up! Hard to keep together with my group and easy to get lost in the alleys and tunnels, among people that are rushing into all directions.
As the distances in Marrakech are so long we were mainly touring the city on a minibus. Here, however, we had to leave the bus. As the only way to explore Marrakech souks is on foot (or by bike or donkey, or pushing a overloaded handcart).
Different Souks for Different Products
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 were Moroccan carpets. But as I only travel with cabin baggage I have to close my eyes not to buy any of them.
Carpet shop in the souks of Marrakech
Yet nothing can prevent me from looking around and saving the things I like in photos. I just have to save the views I saw in the souks in my camera.
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 weaved it. Wish I could bring home a Moroccan carpet or two!
Patchwork in a Moroccan carpet
Carpet made in Morocco
Shop full of leather items, the leather souk
Some more photos of what was being sold along the narrow alleys. While most items were well arranged in neat piles, others were chaotically hanged and filled the narrow corridors so it was hard to pass through.
Woollen hats for sale in the souks of Marrakech
Moroccan herbs for sale
Alley in the souks of Marrakech
Gate to the souks of Marrakech
What made me super happy was that all sellers were so nice, they were not aggressive as I had thought nor running after me with their products. But of course when you buy something you need to haggle and discuss the price and buying takes a lot more time than at home. Since there are no fixed prices in the souks and haggling is the only way to agree on what an item should cost.
Marrakech souks are a very interesting place that tells so much about the country and its habits. For that reason I wrote a separate post on the souks of Marrakech.
To dive deeper into the life in the souks, check out the post Getting Lost in the Souks of Marrakech
Things to do in Marrakech: visit the UNESCO listed Jemaa el-Fna
The Square of Jemaa el-Fna is the center of the souks and where it all happens.
Jemaa el-Fna has street sellers, a lot of them. And there are more kind of people like fortune tellers, snake charmers, acrobats and other showmen. Moreover, there are pickpockets, so stay close to your group if you have one.
Be prepared to pay for any photos you take of the performers. For that reason you will need to have dirhams in small coins in your pockets on the famous Jemaa el-Fna.
Jemaa el-Fna market stalls
Saleswoman at Jemaa el-Fna market square
Salesman at Jemaa el-Fna
Jemaa el-Fna fortune teller
Snake charmer performing his work
Food stalls selling tagine and couscous, setting up at sunset
The Moroccan square of Jemaa el-Fna has been the same for the last 1000 years, since the times when caravans arrived from Sahara with their loads of slaves and spices. This is the place where they all gathered and the place that made Marrakech world-famous.
All this has been recognized by UNESCO that took Jemaa el-Fna on their World Heritage list. Jemaa el-Fna keeps the old Moroccan heritage alive.
Want to learn more about this precious UNESCO listed square? See my Jemaa el-Fna photo gallery: Marrakech: Jemaa El-Fna Photo Tour.
Sunset at Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech
The Top Things to Do in Marrakech
So this was my listing of the top things to do in Marrakech, now you know what the main sights of Marrakech are. Planning your itinerary in advance it’s possible to see all the sights in one day, for example as a day trip from Agadir or another Moroccan tourist destination.
Yet as Marrakech offers even more to see, I recommend you spend a longer time than one single day in the city.
On a longer trip, the next day you will probably want to return to the souks or maybe you will want to see more palaces, parks and museums – or just to relax by your hotel pool. Marrakech has many amazing hotels that are sights in their own right. Riads in the center or luxury hotels in the new town, just choose what you want. and all rates are a lot lower than in Europe.
And one day, try and visit Morocco’s Atlantic Coast. For example, Essaouira is a perfect day trip destination from Marrakech.
But for this time, good-bye Marrakech and good-bye Morocco!
On the flight from Morocco to Europe
My trip to Morocco was made possible by Moroccan National Tourist Office, in whose press trip I participated. All opinions expressed in this blog post, however, are my own.
More on Morocco Travel
Day trips from Marrakech:
- Make a bus trip to the blue and white coastal town of Essaouira: Places to Visit in Essaouira, Morocco
- On the way to Essaouira you will see goats climb trees and argan oil produced: Morocco: Did I See Goats in Trees?
More about Marrakech:
- Getting Lost in the Souks of Marrakech
- Marrakech: Jemaa El-Fna Photo Tour
- Visit Marrakech, the official Marrakech Tourism website
More about Morocco: