Marrakech: fairytale atmosphere in Morocco

The great city of Marrakech or Marrakech is located in western Morocco at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. Together with the cities of Fes, Meknes and Rabat, they form the royal cities of Morocco. In the city of Marrakech, travelers, including nomads and mountain dwellers, met and traded. This has not changed much since then. Because trading is what they do best in Marrakech. Especially around the important Jeema el Fna square this is still clearly visible. Most traders are located in the souks of the old Medina. Really everything can be found and sold there. But also on the Jeema el Fna vendors are hard at work. Here you will find stalls selling freshly squeezed orange juice, nuts, figs, incense and shoe polish.

Those who visit Marrakech will end up in a city where they are used to welcoming tourists in fairly large numbers. Many stores and restaurants are geared to tourism. This means on the one hand that for the average traveler it is all a bit more comfortable than when you visit another destination in Morocco. The downside is that it is all a bit less raw and authentic.

If you want to book a city trip to Marrakech nowadays it is recommended to book it early. This fascinating Moroccan city has become very popular in recent years, so the cheaper flight tickets are gone pretty quickly and there is also a good chance that your desired accommodation may no longer have room if you wait too long to book. And to start the best Morocco tours, we surely highlight Marrakech as the top city where to start, it is the capital city of tourism in Morocco.

Top 10 sights to visit :

The most interesting sights of Marrakech can be found in a handy overview of all Marrakech highlights:

Souks of the Medina :

Adjacent to Jemaa el Fna square are the souks of the old town. In a kind of labyrinth of narrow and sometimes covered alleys are hundreds of stalls with the most diverse products. You will find slippers, scarves, spices, pots, clothing, bags, silverware, rugs, lamps, jewelry and much more. Here and there you can find places where old crafts are performed. For example, someone is making wooden sieves for sifting flour. But you can also find a shoemaker, butcher and artists. Of course, the “sport” of bargaining is frequently practiced here. This is really a must, otherwise you pay too much. Again, always remain respectful.

Jamaa El Fna :

The largest square in Marrakech is also the most lively. Throughout the day, shifts can be witnessed in terms of filling. In the morning the stalls are prepared for the sale of fresh fruit juice. The oranges are neatly stacked and the stalls soon look ‘slick’. Other traders drive back and forth with products like fresh mint, dates, figs and nuts. The first males arrive with their monkeys, snakes and falcons. They often have a modest spot under an umbrella. After having eye contact they will immediately approach you and want you to pose with their animal. All this for a small fee. Taking pictures without a reason is, to say the least, not appreciated. Slowly the market comes to life. By noon it gets busier with mostly tourists. In the evening it is totally “the place to be” on this large famous square of the city. The animals have left and there is room for storytellers, actors, soothsayers and medicine men. The most central part of the square is transformed into one big food festival. Huge plumes of smoke and delicious smells point the way to stalls offering the tastiest dishes of Moroccan cuisine. Fresh lentil soup, meat skewers and snails are some of the menu items that are served. And the prices are the best part.¬†Many travel agencies here at this square offer different desert tours. For instance, they offer the 3 days desert tour from Marrakech to Fes in order to experience the camel ride and camping at Berber tents in Merzouga Sahara.

Koutoubia Mosque :

For Marrakech and its inhabitants, this is the most important mosque in the city. It can safely be called the symbol of the city of Marrakech. The typical soft red stone is found in many places. From almost every point in Marrakech, this 77 high tower can be seen. This is also often a good landmark for tourists. Next to the Koutoubia Mosque, parts of the pillars can be discovered on which the first mosque was located. However, it was discovered that this mosque was not located properly in relation to the holy city of Mecca. This is in fact a requirement for all mosques. This has now been rectified with the current mosque. Although several times a day a request sounds through the speakers asking people to come and pray, it is not accessible to non-Muslims.

Palaces :

Royal palaces are not to be missed in a destination that relates to the fairy tales of a thousand and one nights. Marrakech has a few of them. The most beautiful palace is Palais de la Bahia. With over 160 rooms, it is also among the largest in the city. The size and amount of rooms were to ensure that the harem wives of lord of the house could avoid each other as much as possible. The palace has the most ornate ceilings, beautiful courtyards and a very large garden. Another fine palace is the El Badi palace. Although this had a few hundred more rooms than the Bahia palace, today there is little more than a ruin of it. Some parts of this sixteenth century palace are still reasonably intact. A nice feature of this palace are the ubiquitous storks and their nests that are mostly on the walls of the El Badi Palace. The Ben Youssef Medrassa Koranic School is another gem of the city. The school found among the souks of the Medina is named after the Sultan Ali ibn Yusuf. Although it is still considered the largest Koranic school in Morocco, it has been out of operation since 1960. Today it is a museum of great impressions. The small classrooms, beautiful scenery, fine mosaics, impressive ceilings and stately interior gardens are well worth a visit.

Authentic cooking :

To get a good look at the Arabic cuisine, cooking workshops are available at several places in Marrakech. For example at L’atelier Faim d’Epices. We ourselves took a workshop with the Dutch Gemma van de Burgt and her Souk Cuisine. You are divided into a group, receive a shopping list and a pouch with money. Together you leave for the souks and search the vegetable market, spice stores and ‘supermarkets’ for products. Meanwhile, the traders try to lure you into their store to be able to sell you the best of the best. Then you arrive in a Riad where a cozy kitchen invites you to prepare all sorts of delicious food. Spicy Moroccan ladies show you the way and help with the preparation. All this is then deliciously consumed on the roof terrace with a glass of water or delicious white wine.

Food & drink :

Eating out is really quite affordable in Marrakech. Restaurants around the Place Jemaa el Fna charge on average between 100 and 150 dirhams for the main course. And that is really the highest end for the old town. What is very cheap is eating at a table at the night market in the middle of the square. Between the old and new city is a difference. Whereas in the old Medina it is often traditional dishes, in the ‘new city’ Gu√©liz you can find some more modern dishes and even a McDonalds. But also some traditional dishes can be found on the menu. Both the decoration of the restaurants and the prices in this part of town are of a higher level. The most common dishes are of course the steamed dishes from the tajines, couscous, and Pastilla. The latter is a kind of pasty with different contents. In the better restaurants and hotels, drinking alcohol is not a problem. On the terraces, they mainly drink tea, coffee, and soft drinks. But here too people move with the times and alcoholic refreshments at the larger catering establishments are often not a problem. In terms of non-alcoholic cocktails, Marrakech is very creative. Variations of pineapple, rose water and mint can be surprisingly delicious!

Places to stay in Marrakech :

As a hotel, you should preferably choose a traditionally furnished Riad. These are often former palaces and / or houses that have been transformed into fairytale hotels. Often these can be found in the old town, the Medina. On the outside, the splendor that is inside is often not visible. This is applicable to many places in Marrakech. For this reason alone Marrakech may call itself the city of hidden gems. We stayed in Riad el Fenn, which belongs to the best Riad in Marrakech. In terms of budget, there are many different accommodations to find. Really cheap deserves some detective work. Often they are located in bad parts of town. There are also a number of B & B’s to find for a very reasonable price. The most expensive hotel in Marrakech is the only five-star hotel in all of Morocco. This La Mamounia hotel is located near the Jardins de la Koutoubia on the Avenue Bab Jdid. A must is to go here for a bite to eat. Advance booking is recommended.

Transportation :

The way to travel to Marrakech is by plane. By road is also possible, but flying to Marrakech will get you there much faster than the time-consuming route via highway and ferry. After just over three and a half hours flying you arrive at Marrakech airport. Outside you will find a wide road with a large parking lot behind it. A number of cabs are parked along that road and they will drop you off in the city within twenty minutes. There are two types of cabs: the petit cab, which is often a small Peugeot that can carry no more than three people. And the regular cab is often a middle-class car that can simply carry four people. Both are beige in color and have a cab sign on the roof. Most are equipped with a meter, but some are not. In any case, it is wise to agree on a price in advance that is complete for the number of people. This often saves you a lot of hassle afterward. The better hotels often have their own staff to pick you up and take you back to the airport.

In Marrakech itself, transportation options are limited to the two previously mentioned cabs, the bus or renting a bicycle. Another special way to get around the city is by horse and carriage. The carriages are positioned opposite the Koutoubia mosque at the beginning of Place Jemaa el Fna. A one-hour ride will cost you about 100 to 150 dirhams. Of course, here too you haggle over the price. A slightly more luxurious and modern way to explore the city is by double-decker ‘hop on, hop off’ bus. This has a fixed route and you can buy it off for several days. If it is not too hot, everything can be done on foot.

Gueliz :

Marrakech is well split into the old district (Medina) and the new district (Guéliz and Hivernage) The new city is characterized mainly by wide streets, apartment buildings, modern stores like Zara and Mango and luxury restaurants and clubs. The authentic atmosphere here is hard to find. The traffic is very busy and crossing the street is done alertly, quickly and preferably near a crosswalk. The best shopping is at Place du 16 Novembre. There is a beautiful square with fountains surrounded by luxury stores, terraces and a spa. In warm weather, it is certainly wonderful to take a break from the air conditioning in these stores.