I have a love-hate relationship with Marrakesh, Morocco. Honestly, it’s a fascinating city, an eclectic mix of old and new, of exciting and of sensory overload, and of fascination and disgust. Despite the mix of emotions, it’s easy for me to pick out the best things to do in Marrakesh.
As one of Africa’s busiest cities, Marrakesh attracts over 8 million tourists annually.
We visited twice. My memory tells me that Marrakesh is exciting, vibrant, colourful, and active. A fabulous place to spend a few days.
Yet, my journal tells a different story. Apparently, my reaction at the time was less positive. Everywhere was overcrowded. We were hassled, pinched, and given too much-unwanted attention. And there is an element of animal cruelty that I just couldn’t shake.
That, however, didn’t stop us from finding the best things to do in Marrakesh, both in and out of the old medina.
Best things to do in Marrakesh
In the medina
- Shop in the souks
- Spend time in Jemaa el Fna
- Explore Bahia Palace
- Walk through Dar Si Said museum
- Visit Ben Youssef Madrassa
- Observe a tannery
- Pamper yourself at a hammam
Out of the medina
- Visit the Saadian Tombs
- Stroll through Jardin Majorelle
- Discover the Mellah (Jewish Quarter)
And regardless of where you are, study the intricacy of the architecture and mosaic work.
Marrakesh or Marrakech (French spelling)? Like Fes, the city name is written in Arabic characters. They don’t translate directly to English. Both spellings are used and considered correct.
Best things to do in Marrakesh in the medina
The medina is the old section of a North African town. In this case, a fortified walled city that was once all of Marrakesh. Today it’s the bustling, crowded maze of narrow streets and a huge central square. It’s a mix of locals and tourists, and where we spent the majority of our time.
Be on your guard here, as visitors are often aggressively pursued for their tourist dollars. It’s a friendly but assertive cultural interaction.
We were told that pickpockets are out in force, but we had no problems. At first, we found it all fun, but after a few days, we were tired of it.
Shop in the souks
Souks are open-air street markets, a collection of small stall-like shops. They line much of the medina and finding a moment that isn’t super crowded to snap my photo was rare.
Here we found just about anything we could want, from clothing and food to spices and nick-nacks. While much of it seems random, there were areas dedicated to a certain product, like the spice markets.
Spend time in Jemaa el Fna
Jemaa el Fna is the heartbeat of the medina, the huge central square that serves as a gathering place for locals and a key tourist destination for visitors.
By day, it is filled with handcraft vendors, horse-drawn carriages, snake charmers, and monkeys with their human handlers (see below for my thoughts on this). There’s also the water carrier, who offers (for a fee) cups of water to anyone.
At night the food stalls are put up, aromas of BBQ waft through the air, and large groups of locals gather around storytellers.
Explore El Bahia Palace
A late-19th-century masterpiece built to be the “greatest palace of its time“, incorporating both Moroccan and Islamic styles. It was built by and became the home of the grand vizir to the sultan and was later a royal residence of King Hassan II.
Some of the key features of this massive complex include the 2-acre garden opening onto courtyards, plus bedrooms for his wives and his concubines. It’s a stunning palace and well worth a visit.
It’s located at the southern end of the medina, just inside the wall backing on the Mellah.
Dar Si Said Museum
I know it’s often said that Bahia Palace is the most beautiful, but personally, it was Dar Si Said Museum that won my heart. This late 19th-century former palace is officially named the Museum of Moroccan Arts and is the oldest museum in the city.
Here we explored intricately tiled rooms, antiques, weapons, and some of the oldest objects in Marrakesh.
Visit Ben Youssef Madrassa
A madrassa is an Islamic school, also called a Koranic School. Historically they were boarding schools for children from elementary school age upwards.
Ben Youssef madrassa was founded in the 14th century, and it has over 130 rooms. At its peak, it housed over 900 students and was considered Morocco’s largest and most important madrassa. It closed in 1960 and is now considered a historic site.
Observe a tannery
A tannery is where animal skins are tanned and made into leather. In Morocco, it is still done the traditional way, by hand.
We opted not to stop here, as we had visited Morocco’s largest tannery in Fes. Be warned, if you do go, they don’t smell nice.
Pamper yourself at a hammam
Hammam, simply translated, is a communal bathhouse, often referred to as a Turkish bath.
However, it is more than that. It’s a bit of a family gathering place, although men and women are never allowed in at the same time. For many locals, this is their only indoor bathing option.
Today, in Morocco, many commercial spas offering massage and other relaxation opportunities call themselves “hammam.” This experience is quite different from the traditional hammam we had in Fes.
If you are seeking a relaxing experience, reserve your hammam in Marrakesh here.
As would be expected, photos are not allowed inside the hammam.
Best things to do in Marrakesh outside the medina
There is a modern side to Marrakesh outside of the medina. However, we spent the vast majority of our time in the old portion of the town, the fortified medina filled with the activity that makes the city so popular among tourists.
We did venture out to visit the Saadian Tombs, Majorelle Gardens, the Mellah, and enjoyed a two-week road trip out to the coast and then inland to the Sahara.
Visit the Saadian Tombs
The Saadian tombs date to the 16th century, although weren’t discovered until 1917. The building itself contains three rooms, including the one photographed, the room with the 12 columns, which is the most famous. In total, about 60 members of the Saadi Dynasty are entombed within the mausoleum, most encased in Italian Carrara marble.
Stroll through Majorelle Garden (Jardin Majorelle)
Sometimes referred to as the Yves Saint Laurent gardens, as it surrounds his former home, this 1-hectare botanical garden is a peaceful escape from the constant hustle of Marrakesh. Artistic in design and layout, it’s a lovely place to spend a few hours.
Created initially in 1923 by French Orientalist artist Jacques Majorelle, it was purchased in 2010 by the Foundation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, a French not-for-profit organisation, but it is managed in Marrakesh by the Foundation Jardin Majorelle.
Mellah (Jewish Quarter)
Today, there is a small Jewish community still living in the Mellah, the Jewish quarter located just outside the medina, behind the Bahia Palace. Finding the synagogue wasn’t easy. In fact, we ended up paying a guide to bring us there.
We were able to locate the caretaker and were allowed to enter the synagogue. We also explored one of the two Jewish cemeteries (the easy-to-spot one at the end of the street). In October, when we visited, we also got to see a Sukkah. Read about our experience in the Mellah here.
Study the intricacy of the architecture and mosaic work
Taking a closer look at some of the intricate carvings and elaborate mosaic patterns is among the best things to do in Marrakesh. The craftsmanship that went into the construction and decor is impressive.
Moorish architecture dominated most of the sites we visited.
The two photos above are from the Bahia Palace and Dar Si Said Museum. (The second is available on Amazon).
We get it, there are cultural differences that result in what’s okay and what’s not. Generally, we try to be open-minded when we travel and embrace these differences. And in most cases, we are successful.
However, there were a few things we encountered in Marrakesh that caught us off guard and made us feel a bit sad. First, some men’s over-attention (including a pinch to the bottom) towards our then 12 and 14 year old girls. Note that our girls were respectfully dressed, always covering both knees and shoulders.
Secondly, cars and motorbikes drive seemingly recklessly through the medina, squeezing through crowds where they barely fit, despite large signs forbidding it.
Finally, for us, animal cruelty crosses a line that we can’t get our heads around. It saddened us to see monkeys dragged along on chains by their handlers and similar to the cobra snakes.
Worse than that, Marrakesh is one of North Africa’s largest centres of wildlife trade, despite much of it being illegal.
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What do you think are the best things to do in Marrakesh?
All photos on this page are either shot by our team and watermarked as such or stock images from Depositphotos.
A friend of mine recently visited Marrakesh and was mesmerized by it. She recommends it – and seeing your photos and story it’s no surprise!
Bilyana | OwlOverTheWorld
I haven’t been, but it’s on my bucket list. Nice pictures btw 🙂
Sara Chapman in Seattle USA
I enjoyed these photos very much. Beautifully seen and composed, their foreign-ness makes them quite exciting. On the spice photo, I wonder what those tall cones are?
I love the architecture in Morocco. I am not sure why spices are displayed like this, but the spice cones seem to be everywhere they sell the spices.
Would love to visit…..every time I see a photo of Morocco I just get super excited. It’s a shame about the animal welfare issue though. Hadn’t really seen anything on this before so was interesting to note this. Great photos!
Great capture of the streets and interesting buildings and design. Morroco is definitely on my list. Your tips will come in handy for me. Thanks for sharing it.
Your photos are making me fall in love with Marrakesh. What kind of food do you suggest there? Are there any Michelin starred restaurants in Morroco?
From an artistic and architectural point of view, Morrocco is my favourite place I have visited to date. I have never eaten at a Michelin star restaurant. We generally eat more local. For lunch, we frequently picked up bread from a bakery and cheese. For dinners, we ate a lot of tagine and couscous.
The Marrakesh Patisserie
Thanks for sharing those beautiful photos. We were “The Marrakesh Patisserie”, inspired from the patterns to decorate our cookies plate.
Vicky and Buddy
I haven’t been to Morocco yet, but I would really love to go. Your photos are very inspiring! I love how intricate and detailed all of the architecture is. When I go, I will probably spend all of my time in the older section of the city as well.
Morocco is way up there on my bucket list. I just love the exoticness of the architecture and exploring the back lanes would be fascinating. A nice set of photos Rhonda. Well done.
I love the vibrant colors of Morocco and the architecture. Your photos are amazing.
Lisa @ LTTL
Beautiful!!! I would love to go to Morocco. Your pictures are definitely inspiring. Great start to my research.
Kavey at Kavey Eats
I’ve been to Marrakesh a couple of times, once as a teenager back in the 1980s and again with family about 8 or 9 years ago. It’s such a fascinating place to visit! For me, the market alleyways are the most interesting, I love seeing all the wares and interacting with the vendors about them. Some of my friends find the whole haggling thing a bit intimidating but I love it. I noticed that the pushy sales tactics were much less prevalent on my second visit than my first, which helped make it more enjoyable.
Morocco is a fascinating place. I would love to visit someday. Love the architecture, the mosaic and the carvings.
It’s so interesting what you say about your experiences there – and it has certainly put me off visiting. But your pictures are truly stunning and the colours and architecture have always drawn me in (and the food!). I’d love to experience it all, and it is great that you can look back on your pictures and see the beauty.
Lauren Craving Sunshine
I can almost smell those spices through the computer! I love visiting spice markets…so much colour & smells. I will definitely get to Morocco one day.
Such beautiful mosaics and bright colors–Morocco is a photographer’s dream, and you capture dit well, Rhonda.
Morocco has been on my radar for a long time, but I still didn’t make it there. I didn’t know its capital was changed so many times. I wonder why. Your beautiful pictures capture so well the atmosphere of the old part of Marrakesh.
These are awesome images! Lovely pictorial journey through Morocco
So colourful and so oriental. Another great and very interesting article in your blog
JM Illinois U.S.A.
What a wonderful place to see architecture with beautiful carvings and street scenes not seen
here in the U.S.A. You and your camera opens up the world to me. Thank you.
Rhonda, the colors are magnificent! The intricate carving in the window shudders and column are amazing, as well as the carefully laid tile pieces. Can you imagine how much this sort of craftsmanship takes? I bet the laborer wasn’t paid nearly enough, either.
We met and watched some craftspeople carving the intricate stones that make up the mosaics. It was so impressive. A skill that has been passed down and thankfully hasn’t been lost overtime.
Wow! Such great photos. I love all the details & colors!
Weren’t you worried at all during the time you were there? Just the thought scares me. You are a strong woman Rhonda even though the place is beautiful. Enjoy your day my friend. See ya.
I looked it up after reading your comment. Ranking all countries by the number of murders per million, the USA is ranked number 43 with 42 murders per million people, Morocco is ranked number 66 with only 14 murders per million people, suggesting that we are 3 times as likely to get murdered in the USA than in Morocco. So, no we were not afraid. Sadly, one of the few places my girls feel afraid to visit is the USA, as we see mass shootings and gun violence on our news coming out of the states all the time. (The source on the page was the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2010 statistics).
Great pics! That one of a column outside Bahia Palace took my breath away. I rarely see that kind of workmanship in Egypt.
I think they have the best patterns I’ve seen in a long time. What a beautiful place.
Never been there but hope to one day. My family’s ancestry goes back to the moors so here’s hoping I get to visit at some point.
Oh those mosaics – the details in the beautiful window – and the stairs with all shades of blue!
It must have been an unforgettable experience to visit Marrakech – Wonderful photos to remember the city!
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Everything is so ornate! Shame about the monkeys and other wild animals.
Wow, what wonderful photos of a wonderful place. You go to the best places and take the great photos. Thanks for sharing.
What fun colors in lots of different places! Love the tiles!
Yes I’ve been and absolutely loved it!!! I didn’t find the hassle that bad to be honest. I speak French, maybe that helps? Loved the history, architecture and the intrinsic details of its palaces these pics bring it all back!
I would imagine speaking French is a huge help. Also, I had cute, well proportioned teenage girls with me, who had never been pinched by strangers before (or since).
Wow wow wow – love all the colours and patterns!
Hi Rhonda – ‘oh yes clever truck-man’ … sounds like our sat-nav drivers who apparently can’t see they’re in completely the wrong part of the country – tiny lanes, tiny villages … mega trucks … and thick drivers – who drive down railway lines?!
Beautiful photos … I’d love to visit one day … I particularly like the stairs – cheers Hilary
Oh no, railway lines would not be a good place to be driving.
I have been in Marrakesh and I found it fascinating! I have been in Morocco twice too and I wouldn’t mind to come back again, it is a place where I enjoy my hobby photography as it is colourful, vibrant, chaotic… and lots of the rest of senses that you cant appreciate in photos like noisy, smelly….lol
Fabulous photography Rhonda!
Have a great week 🙂
Great photos! We visited Marrakesh for a day as part of a cruise. We went to the medina and a museum, which I think was a different one – very peaceful.
Morocco is definitely at the top of my list of places to visit! I love the steps with the tiles… so pretty!