Okay, there are just so many great things to see on your visit to Marrakech, that I couldn’t fit it into one post. So, if you’re planning to take a trip to Marrakech, be sure to read Part 1 of this post as well.
And, plan more time than we had, because Marrakech is located at the edge of the Atlas mountains and Marrakech can serve as a great base to explore that area and the Sahara just beyond. That’s what we’ll be doing next time.
But for now, on with Marrakech tips:
Wander the narrow streets of the medina – This is definitely the best of Marrakech, within the city walls lies the twisting maze that is the medina. Have fun getting lost – and you are certain to get lost many times during your stay! Maps are rather pointless here – in these labarynthine streets. If the streets are wider than a metre, you’ll probably find yourself battling against the endless flow of pedestrian traffic, scooters spewing smoke into the air, and donkey carts, all of them aggressively jostling for space between the wares of makeshift souks set up on these tiny streets. Luckily, cars are virtually non-existent in the medina.
Stay in a riad – Marrakech offers plenty of modern hotels outside of the city walls, but my choice is to stay in the bustling labyrinth of the medina, where even returning home at night becomes an adventure. My kids loved to try their hand finding our way home: down this winding street, crouch through this tiny door, take that little alleyway, ahha! here we reached our riad.
Once inside, the luxurious courtyards, colorful tiles, and views over the medina from the terrace roof are wonderfully relaxing. We loved our stay at the Riad d’orientale, where we relaxed after are strenuous days of exploring every centimeter of the city, and woke up each morning to delicious Moroccan breakfasts. A tranquil oasis in the busy city, this riad is just a short walk away from the bustling Jemaa El Fna.
Couscous and tajine – When in Morocco, do as the Moroccans do… and that includes eating the wonderful Moroccan foods. Traditional couscous are common throughout the Maghreb region. It’s a dish of steamed semolina with a meat or vegetable stew served over it. Tajine is another typical dish, named for the earthenware pot with a conical cover in which it is cooked. Tajines are commonly lamb, chicken or vegetarian (the latter in the Berber tradition). They combine a wonderful mixture of spices, including cumin, saffron and cinnamon.
Maison d’arabe – We loved having lunch in this peaceful oasis. The food was excellent, the courtyard garden and pool surprisingly peaceful, and they had an extensive Moroccan wine list. I admit it, I knew nothing about Moroccan wines before my visit here. The Maison d’arabe, opened in 1946 as the first restaurant in the medina, is also a hotel and hammam (one of my regrets during this stay in Marrakech is that I had no time to try out any of the wonderful hammams scattered around the city…. another excellent reason to return!) Enjoy traditional Moroccan specialties in the lovely courtyard and do your best to save room for dessert.
Majorelle Garden – You must weave through the horrendous traffic of the new town to reach the Majorelle Gardens, but these beautiful gardens are a tranquil corner of this hectic city. In 1924, the French artist, Jacques Majorelle, acquired this land and laid out a botanical garden to surround his studio. Majorelle opened the garden to the public in 1947, and it remained a popular tourist site until his death in 1962. The gardens remained abandoned until 1980, when the French designer Yves Saint-Laurent purchased it and returned the garden to its former splendor.
Medersa Ben Youssef – Built in 1565 under the Saadian sultanate Moulay Abdella and reconstructed later in the 16th century, this is one of the jewels of the Golden Age of Moroccan achitecture. This medersa played a role in the film A Train for Marrakech. A medersa serves as a place of religious instruction, and this medersa has 130 simple rooms for students, that used to host 900 students, until the 1960s, when the medersa stopped its role as a religious school.
Bahia Palace – Built in 1890, the Bahia Palace is an architectural gem. The palace once housed a visir and his wives in a series of opulent courtyards and private apartments. While you’re visiting the Bahia Palace, visit the nearby Mellah quarter, the ancient Jewish ghetto of Marrakech. Almost the entire Jewish population of Marrakech left for Israel after World War II.
Visit the souks – Walking through Marrakech’s medina, you can’t help but find your way to the winding streets of the souks. You’ll find everything here from lanterns, to babouches (typical Moroccan slippers), to tea sets, carpets, and spices.
I have to admit it, I’m a terrible souk shopper. I love how picturesque and exotic the souks are and I love the colors, the chaos, and winding through the confusion of the alleys. But they never fail to wear me out, and I find that the effect of seeing shop upon shop filled with similar wares tends to cure me of any desire to want to shop. Aside from a few spices, I managed to go home pretty light-handed from all my wandering in the souks.
Mint tea – Become Moroccan and take a break during your day – or two, or three, or four – to sit and have a pot of sweet, fragrant mint tea. I became terribly addicted during my stay, and it’s a great way to rest your legs and watch the world pass by on the streets of Marrakech.
Enjoy your stay in Marrakech!