the 12 must do's while in Marrakesh

Marrakesh has tons of amazing things to see and explore. This is what I think you cannot leave the city without doing. 

Explore the souk and prepare to get lost

If you have been to souks in other countries, Marrakech’s version is a different breed altogether and can be a little intimidating.  The traditional markets inside Marrakech’s Medina (old city) are a maze of cobblestone side streets, sparkling ceramics, more rugs than you can imagine, spices and tiny tucked-away restaurants. Prepare your bartering skills and don’t forget the cash. The stalls begin to close around 8pm and open around 10am.

Saadian Tombs

The Saadian Tombs have artfully decorated tombstones and rooms housing the remains of the former ruling family.  The best room is the “Chamber of the 12 Pillars” inside there is Italian Carrara marble, intricate platerwork, and pure gold.

Jardin Majorelle

A bit further away than the main attractions, this beautifully designed garden was started in the 1920’s and retains some of that classic style. This is the most expensive tourist attraction to enter ($7) and will always have the longest line, but it is definitely worth it. In the 80’s it was purchased by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Berge.

Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret

Sitting at 77 meters high, you can see it from near and far as it is the tallest building in the old city. Only muslims can enter, but admiring from the outside is encouraged for others and the gardens surrounding the mosque are beautiful and well-kept.

Ben Youssef Madrasa

Founded in the 14th century as a place dedicated to the teaching of Islamic scripture and law, the walls here are soaked in authentic history. The school closed in 1960, but has been refurbished and reopened to the public as historical site. You have to wander through the souk to find it, which can be difficult, but the inside courtyard is extremely beautiful (pictures don't fully do it justice) with some of the most incredibly intricate tile designs on the walls, columns, floors, and ceilings.

El Badi Palace

Built in the 16th century by Saadian King Ahmad al-Mansur, it was later looted by his successor and left as bare ruins. From the terrace you can get an up close look at the HUGE storks that make their homes on top of the walls and the Atlas Mountains just beyond the city. The people running the place also do a good job describing the how incredibly lavish and awe-inspiring the palace was in its prime. 

Jemaa el-Fnaa Square

One of the most well-known meeting points in Africa, this square houses a huge food court every night complete with live music and games. Make sure you have tons of coins to tip the locals that provide the entertainment. During the day you can find fresh orange juice and fruit stalls, snake charmers, monkeys and girls trying to draw henna on you. (Don’t do it – full list of scams here). 

Belly Dancing Dinner

These types of shows are a bit more expensive but the dinner and show that you receive make it well worth the money. Le Comptoir Darna and Jad Mahal are the best two in the city to attend. Make reservations ahead of time, going without one means a long wait and a bad seat.

Relax at a Hammam

Hammam (meaning bath house) is the same name for 2 very different experiences. There are high-end hammams and spas (I reccommend La Mamounia or Selman Hotels) or go for an authentic and thorough scrub down at Hammam Dar el-Bacha. A more in-depth look at the hammam experience can be seen here.

Shop at a Berber Pharmacy

I did both of the Berber pharmacy experiences, one in the souk with traditional dressed girls and one in a nice building with beautiful colorful jars and many pharmacists dressed in white medical robes. Both are the same speech and presentation, but be careful what you buy as some of it can be fake. Remember to haggle and you can bring back some amazing perfumes, skincare, argon oil, spices, soaps, and more

Ride a Camel

You can do this by either going out into the Sahara for a 2/3 day trip (more about my experience on the 3 day Sahara here). Or you can take a camel ride 30 minutes outside the city of Marrakesh. I did both and if you don’t have a long enough trip to include the Sahara I would still do the one in Marrakesh. Be aware that it is not your typical desert experience. More about it here.

Get a Henna Tattoo

Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – get your henna done in the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square. It is a rip off and really awful henna (read more about Marrakesh scams here). Instead enjoy lunch at henna café. A short walk from Jemaa el-Fnaa, it has fantastic food and friendly women who do henna at a fraction of the cost at the touristy square and 100 times the quality. All income from the henna done there is used to give free education and assistance to Moroccan people! The Henna Cafe Marrakech is also a registered cultural foundation in Morocco, so you know your money is actually going to something good. Plus they have the cutest turtles(!) in the café that are super friendly.  For a more in-depth look at the henna café click here.

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