The dream of Arabian nights come to live in this city of maze-like souks, the smell of spices everywhere and the sound of metal being hammered into a beautiful lamp. Grab a mint tea and get lost in a colourful chaos. I did. And I’m so going back!
Here’s why this is one of my favourite cities, what to see and eat and what a child thinks of Marrakesh.
THE BUZZ OF MARRAKESH
So… why is everyone talking about this North African city? The city has been buzzing for several hundred years from trade and is one of the former imperial cities. Marrakesh was founded a 1000 years ago on the edge of the Sahara desert and is also known as the Red City and the Ochre city. No wonder, when you look out across the roof tops.
What I really liked about this city was the manageable size, the strong colours and smells, the good food, the incredible history and nice people all in one.
No wonder the storks migrate here. They are everywhere. They winter here coming down from my own country. Just like me…
An old Berber legend says the storks were respected as humans and were cared for in hospices especially established for them. They were men who, with the aim of travelling and discovering the world, were transformed into birds, flying to Europe and establishing themselves temporarily in its lands before returning to their native country and recovering their original form. Better take good care of them…
We saw a lot of street art done by young artists all over Marrakesh! This just added to the vibrancy of the city and the feeling of this place being very much alive and not juts a tourist attraction.
The main thing to do in Marrakesh is just to soak up the atmosphere, strolling the city, buying a coll leather bag in the souk and finish with tea while people watching. But there in fact a surprising number of cultural sights as well. So you need at least 3 days. And I need a revisit!
The large square Jemaa el-Fna – a UNESCO site with all of Morocco in one place – kind of. In the background is Koutoubia mosque, and it’s the largest in Morocco.
I loved the vibrant and concentrated energy o this place. I can just sit here the whole night. But my son thought the square was too overwhelming and didn’t like it. But I’m sure other children without autism or less sensible will find the always exciting place an endless source of wonder.
One translation of the name is “Assembly of the dead”. A bomb went off here in 2011, but the name is older. It comes from the fact that a 1000 years ago, this is where executions took place. The large square beyond the mazes of the souk is the most important place in Marrakesh. It is known for its food stalls, snake charmers and con artists. We got cheated off a few bucks from a lady telling our fortune. But notice that some of the snake charmers do not take good care of the snakes…
Great for skewed meat, super olives and bread with chili. Remember the chilli!
EL BADI PALACE
The El Badi Palace palace took 25 years to build and is inspired by Alhambra in Granada, Spain.
It is the work of the Saadian king Ahmed El Mansour Ed Dahbi (1578-1603)as a commemoration of his victory over the Portuguese army in the Battle of the Three Kings in 1578. When we visited there was an art festival with modern art in the old palace setting.
THE MUSEUM OF PHOTOGRAPHY
The Maison de la Photographie is hidden in a narrow alley, but is a small secret gem.
You find some very interesting pictures of the city before the tourists, which was not long ago. The museum has a collection of over 10.000 prints and temporary exhibitions are also common. And you can buy excellent photographs in the museum as well. Upstairs on the roof is a small cafe with great food.
A must see is the Majorelle garden bought by Yves Saint Laurent in 1980, but named after the artist Majorelle. The ashes of Saint Laurent is in the garden. It is located in the new part of the city, but well worth the trip.
The garden is like a botanical garden. There are also a small blue villa, but it wasn’t that interesting. Unfortunately it was pouring down, when we were there. But still a green pearl in the dusty city.
The garden took 40 years to create, and he was inspired by the Atlas Mountains for the blue colour.
Close by and opposite the garden are some good souvenirs shops with the modern take on the famous crafts. I found some neat things in 33 Rue Majorelle and Lalla.
Bahia Palace is also a beautiful palace with exquisite mosaics. It’s a Moroccan architectural masterpiece and an important cultural heritage site. So of course, I’m there. I admit, we spend most of the time sitting in the small garden though…
Here lies the Saadian sultan Al Mansour alongside favourite sons, wives, chancellors and a few Jewish advisors. The tombs from 1603 are made by Italian marble and gold in the Chamber of 12 pillars. But mother is always best, so of course she has the finest one. Make sure to point that out to any children….
These are a bit hidden – actually so much, that they were forgotten for a while, since a later sultan walled up the tombs. Kind of like removing your boyfriend’s pictures of his ex… But it worked. Not until 1907 were they discovered by an aerial photograph. And who says drones are bad…
Also check out the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa. It’s a functioning Islamic learning centre that was once the biggest in North Africa. It is beautifully decorated – even the toilets. Remember to cover your hair.
Speaking of Moroccan crafts! You will fill your small carry-on with all kinds of leather bags, lamps and lanterns, slippers and maybe a fez.
We bought two bags in a place in the souk and it is my favourite bag. Of course you should bargain. And of course you still pay overprice, but you can probably afford it better than the seller. We couldn’t get change, so the guy followed my husband to a ATM. Instead my son and I took care of the shop… We didn’t sell anything.
Moroccan crafts are a fundamental part of Moroccan life. Cooperatives have been working wood, metal, copper, wool, linen, stone, and clay into distinctly Moroccan products for centuries. Morocco’s craft culture fuses indigenous Berber traditions with Arab, Jewish, Andalusian, and other European influences (particularly France), and marries local resources – stone, wood, metal, mineral and clay deposits, and supplies of leather and wool – with imports such as marble and silk.
We also bought a lamp, a carpet and of course spices like safran. For a modern leather bag go to the really great modern brand Lalla. It is the best!
WHERE TO EAT
Eating out in Marrakesh is a huge part of the attraction. Go to El-Fna and have skewers and sausages as I told you above. There are also some nice places in the smaller Place Ferblantiers near our riad. Of course you have to try the typical cous cous.
Café des Epices in the small square of the same name is also a popular spot overlooking the nice square and the red roofs.
You can also grab a camel burger at Cafe Clock. They have live music and story telling in the evenings, artists and the burger is good we went twice.
For drinks, no alcohol. You can of course get it, but when in a Muslim country I always drink what the locals drink. So plenty of mint tea and the best orange juice. Save the alcohol for another trip.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at two different riads in Marrakesh – a traditional Moroccan house. Many of the old houses with the courtyard in the middle has been transformed into luxury hotels with rooftop terraces and small pools. It is like heaven behind the thick walls away from the noisy and dusty city. Don’t choose a big luxury hotel outside the city center or in the new town. The smaller and more relaxed riads are way better. But don’t go for the cheapest ones…
The first one was definitely the best one: Riad Dar Alfarah. We had the family room or suite at the top and I was really glad, we paid extra for it. Not to expensive, and really worth it. We paid extra for a place with small pool, so our son also had something to look forward to, since he doesn’t like to travel. Maybe husband also recommends Riad of the storks.
For more inspiration on Northern Africa check out The best Egyptian temples & tombs in ancient Thebes & Luxor! or on cultural trips, see my Top 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Europe!
Have you been to Marrakesh?
This post was first published in , but has been completely rewritten and been updated with more pictures.