Updated March 2023
The dream of Arabian nights come to live in this city of maze-like souks of Marrakech, 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!
Discover why the Moroccan city is one of my favourite places, what to see and eat, and what a child thinks of Marrakech. At the end, you’ll also discover if a camel burger is my new favourite meal.
When I first write this article, Marrakech was the big buzz. By now almost everyone and their mother has been here.
But why was 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. Marrakech 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…
Better take good care of them…
The city is famous for it’s old town and ancient palaces. But you can also find a newer vibe on the streets and in the new part of town.
We saw a lot of street art done by young artists all over Marrakech! This just added to the vibrancy of the city and the feeling of this place being very much alive and not just a tourist attraction.
The main thing to do in Marrakech 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 World Heritage 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 of 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’s a beautiful example of Moroccan architecture and culture.
The palace 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 in February, there was an art festival with modern art in the old palace setting. In June/July, there’s also a popular arts festival in the city.
THE MUSEUM OF PHOTOGRAPHY
You’ll find some very interesting pictures of the city before the tourists came in swarms – 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 if you are not staying here.
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.
If you want to explore more of the modern city of Marrakech, there’s a few things to find here, although too many sights. 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.
But let’s back to the old town – I’m a cultural traveller, you know…
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 exquisite tombs 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 all that technology ruins the experience…
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.
WHAT TO BUY IN MARRAKECH
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’s still my favourite bag. As of today February 2023, I still use it for travel with only time in for repairing.
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 mixes indigenous Berber traditions with Arab, Jewish, Andalusian and other European influences.
The objects combine 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, I recommend the aforementioned modern brand Lalla. It is the best and I still use my make-up bag from here!
WHERE AND WHAT TO EAT
Eating out in Marrakesh is a huge part of the attraction.
Go to El-Fnaa and have skewers and sausages as I told you above. Or frog legs, which you shouldn’t frown upon until you’ve tried it. 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. The burger is so good, we dined there twice. And had the burger both times.!
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 Marrakech – a traditional Moroccan house.
Many of the old houses with a 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. My husband whom has visited Marrakech since also recommends Riad of the storks.
For more inspiration on travels to Northern Africa, check out The best Egyptian temples & tombs in ancient Thebes & Luxor!
Have you been to Marrakech?
Thank you this guide comes at a perfect time for me. I’m looking forward to my forthcoming trip even more now.