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Le Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech
Photograph: Balate Dorin / Shutterstock.com

The 17 best things to do in Marrakech

Your ultimate guide to Marrakech, including the best museums, hammams, palaces and souks in Africa's Capital of Culture

Paula Hardy
Written by
Charlie Allenby
&
Paula Hardy
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Undoubtedly one of the planet’s most iconic and enticing destinations, Marrakech hits every single ambitious note expected of it. Africa’s first Capital of Culture is a whirlwind of excitement and energy, serving up a veritable conveyer belt of rooftop restaurants, courtyard mansions (riads, to be exact) and innovative museums, all enhanced by the famous flavours and colours of the city’s souks.

Marrakech is a Moroccan city that aims for every one of the senses and doesn’t hold back, an ‘exhausted in the best way’ sort of place that enchants from sunrise to long after sunset. This isn’t a city for dawdling, to say the least. Home to some of the finest museums on the continent and markets that make relocating a tantalising prospect, Marrakech needs to be seen to be believed. Well, seen, heard, smelt, tasted and touched, that is; the best things to do in Marrakech require all of the senses. 

 

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Best things to do in Marrakech

What is it? This 150-room palace was home to slave-turned-vizier Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed, who spared no expense in its gorgeous decoration. The painted, gilded ceilings, polychrome zellige tiling and carved stucco still have the intended effect – which is just ‘wow’.

Why go? Bahia is roughly translated as ‘beautiful’ and that’s definitely not an overstatement. Escape from the heat of the midday sun to the palace’s shaded spaces and get lost in all the intricate detailing.

What is it? Marrakech is famous for its souks (markets) and Souk Semmarine is the biggest of them all. Rugs, leather goods, silverware and crockery of all shapes and sizes are on offer in this labyrinth – just try not to get lost.

Why go? If you’re looking for a true Marrakchi experience, get stuck in and do some haggling with one of the local traders. Knock them down from their opening price and come away with a one-of-a-kind memento.

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What is it? Created by the French painter Jacques Majorelle, this botanical garden is home to more types of cacti than you can shake a terrarium at, and has a stunning indigo blue art deco house as its centrepiece.

Why go? Phone cameras at the ready – Jardin Majorelle is pure Instagram gold. Though you’ll see some cringe photoshoots going on, it’s impossible to take a bad picture here. Arrive early to avoid unwanted photo-bombers.

What is it? The French designer loved spending time in Marrakech so much he actually bought Jardin Majorelle in 1980. Opened next door to the gardens in 2017, the Musée Yves Saint Laurent is dedicated to Yves’s couture legacy and has a permanent display of hundreds of garments spanning his 40-year career.

Why go? The YSL collection is an amazing body of work that even non-fashionistas can appreciate. It’s housed in one of the city’s most striking buildings, alongside a beautiful garden café, bookshop, temporary exhibition hall and auditorium.

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What is it? The former governor’s palace and home to the notorious Thami El Glaoui, Lord of the Atlas. Now the Musée des Confluences, it houses the archaeological collection of American Patty Birch and puts on shows exploring the intersection of eastern and western cultures.

Why go? This is probably the most beautiful construction in the medina, vast in ambition and covered in intricate detail: coffered cedar ceilings, geometric tiling, stucco worked into elaborate floral motifs. Don’t miss Marrakech’s best coffee shop, Bacha Coffee House, which serves more than 40 brews in the same building.

What is it? The epic ruins of Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour’s once-magnificent palace, set within sunken gardens and surrounded by epic ramparts whose decrepit towers boast panoramic views over the medina.

Why go? El Badi may be a ruin, but it offers fascinating insight into the power and wealth of past Moroccan dynasties. Within the ruins, you’ll also find the jewel that is the Koutoubia’s minbar (prayer pulpit), crafted by 12th-century Cordoban artisans. 

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What is it? A three-storey riad-turned-gallery housing the vintage Moroccan photography collection of Patrick Menac’h and Marrakshi Hamid Mergani. The images document the lifestyle and landscapes of Morocco between 1870 and 1950 – more than a century a later, many things remain exactly the same.

Why go? To immerse yourself in a visual history of Morocco. The rooftop café is also one of the highest in the medina and is a great spot for a drink.

What is it? The home and personal gallery of Hassan Hajjaj, the so-called ‘Andy Warhol of Marrakech’. The whole place is filled with his upcycled pop art, from furniture and art objects to his sought-after photographs. It’s also a tearoom, so make yourself at home.

Why go? This bright, eccentric building is where the kitsch of the medina meets modern Morocco. Go for a classic cup of mint tea.

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What is it? The hammam – public bath house – is a Moroccan institution and you’ll find one in every neighbourhood in Marrakech. It’s where Moroccans go for their weekly, relaxing gommage (scrub), but also to reconnect with themselves and with friends and family.

Why go? Because it’s a restorative experience and this hammam offers traditional treatments – scrubs, masques and massages – in luxurious surroundings.

Souk Place des Épices
Michel Teuler

10. Souk Place des Épices

What is it? Moroccan cuisine is famous for its rich, aromatic flavours. Place des Épices is the traditional spice souk where you’ll find merchants selling everything from allspice to ras al hanout (a mix of more than a dozen spices).

Why go? This open-air souk is truly atmospheric. As well as bags of spices, you can pick up colourful basketry or simply watch the show from one of the cafés that ring the square.

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What is it? The vast open square at the heart of the medina is one of Marrakech’s biggest attractions and is a Unesco world heritage site. Expect snake charmers, street entertainers and over-enthusiastic henna artists at every turn.

Why go? Locals and tourists descend on the Jemaa every night, drawn by the ceaseless hoopla and halqa (street theatre). Grab some food from one of the barbecue stalls, listen to some music, then head up to a rooftop bar and marvel at the sunset.

What is it? Souk Cuisine puts on cookery classes with a twist. Starting with a tour of the souks, you shop for ingredients before heading to a riad where you’re taught how to cook by a group of local women.

Why go? Food is a huge part of Moroccan culture, and the course is a fab way to learn more about the country and its traditions. You’ll also make some of the tastiest tagines in town.

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What is it? Hands-on workshops with Marrakchi maalems (master craftsmen) in their studios. Learn how to make your own pair of babouche slippers or follow a course in tadelakt (plaster), basketry, pottery or cooking.

Why go? It’s an opportunity to meet serious artisans on their own terms and hear how they became masters of their craft. It also gives you a new appreciation of the work that goes into the goods you’re haggling over in the souk.

Gueliz
Photograph: Shutterstock

14. Gueliz

What is it? A short journey to the west of the medina, you’ll find the neighbourhood of Gueliz, the so-called 1930s ‘New Town’. There are European-style shopping malls and small homeware boutiques aplenty, plus an excellent array of bars and restaurants for a post-retail therapy pit stop.

Why go? Gueliz is the modern face of Marrakech and it’s here you’ll find the city’s best restaurants. Its laid-back vibe makes for a refreshing change from the intensity of the medina.

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The Mellah
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / Yastay

15. The Mellah

What is it? The Jewish quarter of Marrakech, which has undergone an extensive renovation programme. Make sure to visit the Al Azama synagogue and the extraordinary Miara cemetery.

Why go? Tours give an insight into a fascinating part of Marrakech’s (and Morocco’s) history. This area of the city is rarely explored by tourists other than Jewish heritage groups – get down before everyone else cottons on.

What is it? A jewel of 16th-century Saadian architecture, this douiria (guest apartment) was built by a chorfa (noble) family and retains all its exquisite original decoration which acts as a backdrop to thoughtful exhibitions and musical events.

Why go? Every Monday and Friday from October to May the museum hosts concerts of classical Moroccan music. Set in such beautiful surroundings, the events are super-atmospheric and accompanied by tea and pastries.

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What is it? A hybrid restaurant-café-cultural centre where you can consider the merits of date milkshakes and camel burgers and sign up for storytelling workshops, calligraphy classes, oud lessons and Gnaoua jam sessions.

Why go? To dive deep into Moroccan culture and give some things a go yourself. Also, 10 dirhams from every camel burger goes to charity.

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