Visiting Marrakech for the first time can be an intense experience. From its abundant yet mysterious scents to the buzzing little streets with peachy shades of soft terracotta architecture, Marrakech guarantees to stimulate all your senses. If you are bound to the ‘Red City’, this post will give you a first-timer’s bucket list of things to do in Marrakech.
View of Jamaa El Fna Square from Café de France
Things to do in Marrakech: a first-timer’s bucket list
Get lost in the souks
You may want to consider increasing your baggage allowance before you visit Marrakech, as you are bound to shop until you drop in the maze of market streets known as souks. Open seven days a week, and located in the Medina (the old fortified citadel), be prepared to bargain your way through the endless stalls. Vendors can be pushy and will speak to you in almost every language to secure a sale. If you are not interested, a polite ‘La shukran’ (No, thank you) should suffice to get them out of your hair.
Among the many items you can shop for in the souks are ceramics, carpets and rugs, brassware, leather, textiles, spices, babouches (sleepers), tea sets, homewares, argan oil, purses and handbags, cosmetics, baskets, wooden goods, jewellery, and sweets.
Getting lost is the best way to discover Marrakech
Stay in a riad
If you stay in a hotel when visiting Marrakech, you’d be missing out on one of the most wonderful parts of your trip. The term riad refers to guesthouses within a restored traditional mansion, built around an interior garden or courtyard. With the same comforts as a hotel, staying in a riad is an experience on its own. And it is the perfect refuge away from the chaos of the city.
A few tips to keep in mind before booking your riad. Morocco is an Islamic country and Muslims don’t consume alcohol. Unless your riad is licensed, you won’t be able to have a drink during your stay.
Some places may claim to have a pool, but pay close attention to the photos, as it can sometimes be so small that only one or two people could use it at a time.
A rooftop is a great ad-on and the perfect way to bring the day to a close. As per traditional Moroccan architecture, chances are your riad will have one, but you may want to check beforehand.
When doing my research, I came across some amazing accommodation options, but location-wise, not so great. I’d say anything over a mile from the city centre is a bit of a stretch.
I had a lovely stay at Riad Chergui. Upon arrival, I was greeted with mint tea and biscuits by Emmanuel, the owner. She provided valuable advice and the staff was friendly and helpful. The price at the time was 130 EUR per night.
Alternatively, I’d recommend Riad Palais Sebban. This was initially my preferred option as it came highly recommended by trusted friends, but it was fully booked at the time.
Interior courtyard at a traditional riad
Try the local food
Tagine (or tajine) is a North African dish named after the pot in which it is prepared. It consists of a slow-cooked flavourful stew, typically made with some form of meat, vegetables, fruits, exotic spices, and nuts.
The food quality is overall very good in restaurants. I don’t think I’ve had a single meal I didn’t enjoy. But my absolute favourites were:
Lamb tagine from Le Jardin Restaurant
Enjoy some mint tea from a rooftop café
Prepared with spearmint leaves and sugar, tea is poured into glasses from a height, to aerate the tea and improve its flavour. There is no better way to enjoy some tea than a rooftop café overlooking the beautiful Moroccan architecture.
If you time your visit just right, you may be able to hear the unique sound of the call to prayer echoing through the entangled streets. Muslims pray five times a day: at dawn, after midday, afternoon, after sunset, and night-time.
Moroccan tea traditionally poured from a height
Visit the ruins of El Badi Palace
Commissioned by Sultan al-Mansur after his accession in 1578, now it lies in ruins. The central water basin and sunken gardens give El Badi a rather monumental nature, making it a great location for photography.
Entrance fee: 70 DH (6,70 EUR) at the time of writing
Opening hours: daily from 9 am to 5 pm (double check before your visit)
Sunken gardens and staircase tilework at El Badi Palace
Admire the tilework at Bahia Palace
Originally commissioned by the grand vizier of Sultan Abd al-Rahman in 1859, it has been expanded numerous times over the years. For this reason, it lacks a clear layout. It consists of several inner courtyards surrounded by different rooms and chambers, of which only part is open to the public. But it is most famous for its beautiful tilework of intricate Islamic geometric patterns, as well as its ornamented vaulting in the shape of a honeycomb (muqarnas).
Entrance fee: 70 DH (6,70 EUR) at the time of writing
Opening hours: daily from 9 am to 4.45 pm (double check before your visit)
Intricate tilework and muqarnas at Bahia Palace
Explore the botanical and landscaped gardens at Jardin Majorelle
Built over 40 years, it was designed by the French Orientalist artist Jacques Majorelle, starting in 1923. Famed as one of the most Instagrammable locations in Marrakech, it is very popular among tourists. So expect people. Loads of them (yes, even if you visit early). With a combined ticket you can visit the Berber Museum and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, housed in the same complex.
Entrance fee: 120 DH (11,50 EUR) just to visit Jardin Majorelle or 220 DH (21 EUR) for a combined ticket at the time of writing
Opening hours: check here
Contrasting colours at Jardin Majorelle
If you have time to spare…
A day trip to the Atlas Mountains or a Sahara Desert tour are great alternatives. Although technically not things to do in Marrakech, both are well worth the trip. Always use a reputable tour operator to prevent scams. Alternatively, if you prefer to stay local, consider booking a visit to a hammam (traditionally a place of public bathing), for some steam, a strong body scrub, and a nice massage.