Planning a Trip to Marrakesh? Find out what to see and what to do!
Welcome to the Marrakesh Top 5. Here I share my experiences of the must-see attractions, some paid and some free. Whilst I love using my Digital SLR, I did not want to carry it around the busy streets of Marrakesh. Therefore all photographs have been taken on my ageing iPhone 5 with some surprising results.
Marrakesh Top 5: Interesting Facts about Marrakech
- 4th largest city in Morocco.
- Known as the Red City after the old city walls.
- You WILL get lost – embrace it!
- Mint Tea is the drink of choice.
- Has the largest Souk in Morocco.
Marrakesh Top 5: Free activities when visiting Marrakech
- Getting Lost in the Medina – There is always something interesting to find.
- Exploring the network of Souks.
- Enjoying the view over Jemaa el-Fnaa – The Square.
- Thinking up creative responses to “Its Closed”.
- Visit the Cyber Park to enjoy the sun (also free wi-fi should you need it).
Marrakesh Top 5: Paid activities when visiting Marrakech:
- Bahia Palace.
- El Badi Palace.
- Le Jardin Secret.
- Jardin Majorelle.
- Saadian Tombs.
Getting to Marrakesh:
Marrakesh (Marrakech) is an exciting, vibrant City in the North African Country of Morocco. The countries fourth largest city has much to offer foreign visitors. Regular flights from many European airports ensure Marrakesh is an easy destination for many. Indeed my flight from London Gatwick only took 3.5hrs.
Before setting off, make sure to download offline maps to your phone. Google maps is great for this. Furthermore, I would also recommend saving the location of your accommodation on your phone map app. Last, be aware of roaming charges -my mobile provider charges £5 per Mb whilst abroad!
Upon arrival to Marrakesh, you are greeted by a modern, clean and well organised airport. Morocco has a closed currency meaning that you will only be able to purchase it once you arrive. Thankfully, there are a number of bureau de change in the airport. As a rough guide, £100 per person (excluding accommodation) should suffice for a long weekend. Allow more if you intend to venture into and buy gifts in the Souks.
I would suggest pre-booking a taxi from the airport to your accommodation before traveling. There is a large taxi rank outside the airport – However, agree the price before you get into a vehicle. As a guide, it should cost no more than 100dh for a taxi to the Medina.
As with any popular tourist destination, accommodation varies according to individual needs. Consequently, prices vary widely too. Indeed, there are a number of 5* hotels and a quick Google search shows one hotel at £735 per night! A number of Gloss Black Mercedes Sprinter minibuses gleam in the sunlight awaiting their next transfer!
I feel that the best type of accommodation is in one of the many Riads offering rooms. Furthermore, a Riad will offer a more authentic experience with a local family with many including a central courtyard garden and pool. I stayed at Riad Al Mansoura, a small Riad 5 minutes walk from Bahia Palace. Another benefit of this type of accommodation is the price, expect to pay £30-70 per night.
Onto the Marrakesh Top 5 – Free activities:
No1. Getting lost in the Medina
There is much to see in Marrakesh, however no Marrakesh Top 5 should be without a walk around the Medina. Furthermore, I feel that it should be the start of any visit! In fact actually getting to the Medina itself is an experience! The roads around the Medina are busy with pavements ending abruptly forcing pedestrians into the road. Likewise, once inside the Medina, the pavements disappear altogether. Expect to be sharing the narrow streets with many pedestrians, donkey carts and an extraordinary number of mopeds – many of which are ridden at considerable speed. So long as you are concentrating 100% of the time, this is an exciting experience.
No2. Exploring the Souks
The Souks are filled with spices, brightly coloured fabrics, shoes, bags and beautiful lamps. If something takes your eye, think of how much you are willing to pay for the item before discussing with the vendor. Consequently, you are much more likely to reach a deal that both parties are happy with. I found the vendors first price tended to be ridiculous, however within a few minutes of negotiation I was able to reach a good compromise.
No.3 Take a few minutes to enjoy the view over the Jemaa el-Fnaa.
After several hours wondering, a strong coffee or a pot of mint tea was needed. Luckily, I found there to be many rooftop cafes and restaurants in courtyards offering stunning views and a chance to sit and catch my breath. One of my favourite spots was when I headed to the Jemaa el-Fnaa. Again I sat in a rooftop cafe watching the sunset over the craziness below. I found a mint tea to be around 10dh and a coffee to be around 20dh in the square.
No.4 Responding to ‘Its Closed’
As you make your way through the labyrinth of local roads you will find people constantly telling you ‘its closed’ or ‘its closed that way‘. Walk with confidence and take no notice of these people . Actually, if I were to write a Marrakesh Top 5 list of phrases you will hear, then ‘its closed’ would be number 1. I found the best way was to simply smile politely and walk on. If you get lost, try to find a fellow tourist and ask them for directions, even better use offline maps on your phone!
No.5 Visit the Cyber Park
Marrakesh has a great climate to explore with only 240mm of rain expected throughout the year. I visited in January and found the temperature of high teens perfect for wondering around. Clearly, during the summer months, temperatures rise to the high 30’s. Consequently, the need arises to escape the busy Medina. Luckily, I found there to be many welcoming parks around the city. My favorite was the ‘Cyber Park’.
I can trace the origins of the park back to the 18th Century, however the current incarnation of the Cyber Park is more recent. Completely refurbished around 13 years ago, the Cyber Park offers a tranquil 8 hectare plot in which to reflect and unwind. As the name suggests, there is free wifi throughout the park and multiple interactive kiosks to explore.
Marrakesh Top 5 – Paid Activities:
No.1 – Bahia Palace
In first place in the Marrakesh Top 5 is Bahia Palace. I have placed it at the top of the list as I feel there is much to see and the Palace has been beautifully conserved.
This beautifully preserved Palace has a lot to offer, whether it be the gardens or the beautiful rooms. Furthermore, ensure to look up and admire the beautiful carved ceilings as well as the tiled floors. Many aspects of the structure are wooden and their survival is in part due to the dry sunny weather that Marrakesh basks in.
In addition, people posing in doorways for their Instagram profile appears to be a pastime here too! P.S. Follow me on Instagram…
No.2 – El Badi Palace
At number two in the Marrakesh Top 5 is El Badi Palace. Historically the largest Palace in Morocco.
Behind its high walls lays a large, peaceful square. The symmetrical square is home to beautiful orange trees in large plantations. Each plantation is some 10′ below ground level and as a result, views extend right across the vast space which includes a number of pools.
Ensure that you visit the various underground exhibitions as well as the ruins at the far side of the Palace. Here you will be able to walk upon beautiful mozaic tiles and get a feel as to what it would have been like back in the 16th Century!
Finally, climb the steps into the tower near to the entrance for a far reaching view across El Badi Palace and the wider Marrakesh. In addition, the sorry state of the unrestored gardens is also visible from here.
No.3 – Le Jardin Secret
In at number 3 is The Secret Garden, or Le Jardin Secret. Right in the heart of the city.
Marrakesh has a number of beautiful gardens. I must say that Le Jardin Secret was an unexpected find right in the heart of the Medina. Consequently I have placed it right in the middle of the Marrakesh Top 5!
With origins dating back to the 16th century, Le Jardin Secret offers a well needed respite from the world outside its walls. Completely restored around 2013, Le Jardin Secret features a number of water features set amongst paths and foliage. I recommend watching the video showing how the water features are fed from an underground aquifer.
After a satisfying wonder around the gardens, climb the stairs of the tower. You will be rewarded with stunning views accross the Medina!
No.4 – Jardin Majorelle
In at number 4 of my Marrakesh Top 5 is Jardin Majorelle. The home of bold colours.
Those that know me will tell you that I am no fashion icon. However, even I know of Yves Saint-Laurent. I mention this because Jardin Majorelle was most recently owned by the iconic fashion designer along with Pierre Bergé from the 1980s until their deaths. Consequently, much work was put into restoring the buildings and gardens created in the 1930s by Jacques Majorelle.
A trip to Jardin Majorelle will reward you with beautifully coloured buildings. These are popular with people trying to get their perfect ‘Instagram shot’. In addition, those that enjoy sitting watching the world go by will find a number of strategically placed benches. Perfect spot for some people watching! The gardens offer a mix of colourful planters, water features and of course many exciting plants, shrubs and trees.
No.5 – Saadian Tombs
Sitting at number 5 in my Marrakesh Top 5 is the Saadian Tombs. Why? Because they are amazing!
After paying a small entrance fee of 70dh and walking along an unassuming narrow path, you enter the Saadian Tombs. It was clear to me that a lot of money had been spent restoring this historic site. Also, I was impressed by polite staff who were eager to talk about the history. Whilst walking through the site you will be guided towards a number of large rooms with crisp, bright LED floodlights. As a result, I found it easy to appreciate the quality Stucco ceilings, wood carvings and beautiful mozaic floors. Finally there is a video presented in English, French and Spanish and well worth watching.
I found the Lonely Planet guide invaluable whilst wondering around. Sadly my copy was published in 2006 and as a result, the prices were a little out of date. The most recent release is available here.
Marrakesh: Be Aware!
- Pushy sales tactics – It is difficult to just browse without being pounced upon by the vendor. Only show an interest if you are generally interest in purchasing.
- Prices – Vendors expect you to bargain. Decide what your maximum price is before entering negotiations. And…stick to it firmly. This is also true of taxi journeys. Agree a price before the journey begins.
- Scams – you will constantly be told ‘its closed’ when walking down a street. Politely decline any offers to show you the way. You will most likely be guided to a relatives shop instead. Alternatively your ‘guide’ will expect to be paid for showing you the way.
- Traffic – The very narrow streets of the Medina are shared with pedestrians, donkeys, horses and many high speed mopeds!
Remember to check out my other top destinations here!
Thinking of building a camper to explore the world? See how I built mine here!
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