The best things to do in Marrakech
If you’re wondering what to see in Marrakech, here are my suggestions to make the most of your visit to Marrakech.
I flew to Morocco from London – a short cheap flight – but almost immediately it felt like I had arrived in a whole new world.
It was my first trip to North Africa since I started writing this blog and I had been looking forward to seeing this part of the world for a long time.
Marrakech was overwhelming at first. Within minutes I was lost in Marrakech’s medina and the sounds and smells enveloped me.
After I finally found my accommodation, I tried to make up for my lack of planning and put together a list of what I wanted to see in the city while I was here.
The list seemed overwhelming at first – there are so many things to do in Marrakech. But, as I began to explore and got to understand the city better, I got a much better sense of what to see in Marrakech to make the most of a visit.
In some ways, Marrakech can feel like a Moroccan city that has been created for the social media age.
It has stunning riads in the medina for accommodation, perfect for photos in the courtyard pool surrounded by tiles.
It has trendy cafes with the glasses of mint tea placed on the tray just right; modern museums and galleries; colourful alleys in the souks; and a brilliantly chaotic central square with constant activity.
But it’s also important to remember when you’re visiting Marrakech that it’s a city with centuries of heritage.
Founded in the 11th century, Marrakech was one of Morocco’s four imperial cities and you’ll find the legacy of this in the opulent palaces and large madrasas in the old part of town, known as the Marrakech Medina.
What is the Marrakech Medina?
The Marrakech Medina is the historic part of the city, which was founded around the year 1070. The medina was protected by thick stone walls around the boundary and you can still see some of them today.
The word ‘medina’ just means ‘city’ in modern Arabic, but it’s usually used to refer to old parts of cities in North Africa. The Medina of Marrakech was made a World Heritage Site in 1985.
How big is the Marrakech Medina?
The official size of the Marrakech Medina is 700 hectares, or 7 square kilometres.
To give you some perspective, that makes it about double the size of New York’s Central Park, or five times the size of London’s Hyde Park.
Is it safe in the Marrakech Medina?
The Marrakech Medina is generally safe because it’s a busy area with lots of tourists. But there is still a genuine risk of pickpocketing or other minor crime.
It’s a good idea not to walk alone down empty streets, especially at night. If you’re worried about your safety, stay in the busier and well-lit areas.
Is there accommodation in the Marrakech Medina?
Oh yes, indeed! There is lots of accommodation in the Medina of Marrakech and a lot of it is fantastic. This is where you’ll find beautiful riads that give you the stunning Moroccan experience you imagine.
I’ve got more details about Marrakech accommodation at the end of this story.
Most of the important historic sites are in the medina and this is probably where you’ll find yourself spending most of your time. But there are some other Marrakech attractions outside the old walls that are worth the visit.
I will give you all the details below of what to see in Marrakech. But keep in mind that part of the magic of the city is just wandering around and experiencing all the smells and sounds. Just sitting for a tea or coffee will be a rewarding activity.
You may also find that taking a tour – especially early in your stay – will be a good way to get a sense of the city and find out more about some of the Marrakech must do’s!
I would recommend this reasonably-priced private tour, which the guide will customise based on your interests. Or there are some other good ones here to choose from:
But you are definitely going to be doing some exploring on your own, so here is a map of all the things to do in Marrakech that I’m about to recommend.
Let’s begin – here is my list of what to see in Marrakech.
Things to do in Marrakech Medina
I’m going to start with the heart of Marrakech – the medina. This crazy warren of streets and alleys will seem so chaotic at first… and will still seem that way when you leave.
But behind many of the doors are incredible little parcels of heritage and artistic beauty. Don’t be afraid to explore.
El Bahia Palace
El Bahia is a beautiful palace built in the late 19th century. The top artists of the city were employed to decorate it and they spent more than ten years putting together the stunning mosaics and gardens that you can see today.
You aren’t able to walk through the whole of El Bahia Palace because much of it is still being used but it takes at least half an hour to wander through the public route.
Make sure you take the time to look at it from every angle – in some of the rooms, it’s the ceilings which are the most magnificent.
El Bahia Palace is open from 08:00 – 17:00 on Friday, and from 09:00 – 16:30 every other day of the week.
The entrance fee to El Bahia Palace is 10dh (US$1).
Dar El Bacha
Another palace worth visiting, although smaller, is Dar El Bacha. It was built in 1910 for the ‘pacha’ of Marrakech, a man named Thami El Glaoui.
The architecture and design is really intricate and one of the main reasons you may want to go in is to see the tilework, plasterwork, and wooden door frames.
The building and courtyard is now used for the Museum of Confluences, which has some exhibits showing historical and artistic collections.
Dar El Bacha is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 – 18:00. It is closed on Monday.
The entrance fee for Dar El Bacha is 60dh (US$6).
El Badi Palace
The nearby El Badi Palace has definitely seen better days. It was built in the 16th century and must have once been a grand and opulent palace with an enormous courtyard and pool in the centre of it.
These days it’s in ruins and it’s just storks who live there, making their nests on the roofs of the buildings around the edges. It doesn’t take too long to see everything here because… well… because there’s not a whole lot to see.
But it is still worth the visit just to appreciate the scale and imagine what it must have once been like.
El Badi Palace is open every day from 09:00 – 17:00.
The entrance fee to El Badi Palace is 70dh (US$7).
Ben Youssef Madrassa
The mosaic artwork in the main courtyard of Ben Youssef Madrassa is some of the best looking you will find in Marrakech. The Islamic college was built in the 16th century and was one of the largest in northern Africa, housing up to 900 students.
Ben Youssef Madrassa was still in use until 1960 and is now open to the public as a historical site.
On the lower level are the more impressive ceremonial areas while the second floor gives you a glimpse into the studious life of the young people who have lived here over the centuries.
Ben Youssef Madrassa is open every day from 09:00 – 18:00.
The entrance fee for Ben Youssef Madrassa is 10dh (US$1).
Maison de la Photographie
The Maison del la Photographie in Marrakech, also known as the House of Photography, is a real gem in the city.
Set in a historic building, it has temporary exhibitions of photos that change regularly. They show the heritage of the country through different eyes, normally with a bit of retrospection. A photo could be from a famous artist or an anonymous traveller.
The Maison del la Photographie is open every day from 09:30 – 19:00.
The entrance fee for the Maison del la Photographie is 50dh (US$5).
Dar Si Said
Another historic building in the Marrakech Medina that may be of interest is Dar Si Said. It’s the oldest museum in the city and has collections of things like antiques, weapons, and musical instruments.
Like some of the other sights in the city, it’s probably the building that is of more interest – with another beautiful courtyard and tiled walls.
Dar Si Said is open every day from 09:00 – 12:00 and 15:00 – 18:00.
The entrance fee for Dar Si Said is 70dh (US$7).
The Saadian tombs are more than 400 years old but weren’t discovered until 1917. They hold the graves of about 60 of the Saadi dynasty that ruled Morocco from 1554 to 1659.
There is nothing overly grand about these tombs but each has been intricately decorated with beautiful and traditional styles of the era.
Although the space holding them all is quite small, you can take your time to appreciate each of the tombs.
The Saadian Tombs are open every day from 09:00 – 12:00 and 14:30 – 18:00.
The entrance fee to the Saadian Tombs is 70dh (US$7).
The souks of Marrakech (or markets) are a highlight of the city and they are hard to miss.
There are plenty of souvenirs to pick up here – some for a bargain and some with questionable quality. But it’s also fascinating to walk through and see the hustle and bustle of the city’s traditional trade.
Many parts of the Marrakech souks are dedicated to particular industries. Make sure you find the clothes-dying section for some stunning colourful photos.
To get the most out of the markets, I would recommend this tour of the Marrakech souks. It’s a great way to get some inside knowledge if you’re hoping to do some shopping!
The square of Djemaa El-Fna
This is the centre of Marrakech’s old town and is often referred to just as “the big square”. It is very large and convenient to use for your own orientation if you get lost.
During the day, Djemaa El-Fna Square is full of buskers – although not everything is pleasant. The caged monkeys and snake charmers are best avoided. It still has a festival-like buzz in parts, though.
At night it comes alive even more with scores of food stalls and even more street entertainment.
It’s a fun place and you should spend at least part of one evening there. Be careful if you choose to eat, though. The pop-up restaurants will try to overcharge you if you don’t ask for prices upfront and act confidently.
Just near Djemaa El-Fna Square is another of the main sights of Marrakech – Koutoubia Mosque. It was built in around 1158 and is famous for the tall minaret.
The minaret is 77 metres high, much higher than any other building around the medina. It inspired other architecture in the region and is a symbol of the city.
It is still a place of worship so entry is only for Muslims. But you get good views of the outside and the gardens around the mosque are quite nice.
I have to confess I am conflicted about recommending a visit to the tanneries but I’ve included it in this list nonetheless.
Right on the far edge of the medina are these pits where animal hides are turned into leather. The whole area smells pretty awful and the locals working here have tough unenviable jobs.
It should seem like an interesting part of the city to have a quick peek at but I feel the large number of tourists who go there actually treat a legitimate industry like a sideshow.
You are also certain to be harassed by people offering you ‘tours’ and when you decline they’ll become quite aggressive.
If you do visit, try to have a thick skin (no pun intended) to deal with the smell, the emotions, and the harassment.
Things to do outside Marrakech Medina
As you can see, many of the top things to do in Marrakech are within the medina. But not too far beyond the walls are these Marrakech attractions that are worth a visit as well.
Yves Saint Laurent Museum
Opened in 2017, the Yves Saint Laurent Museum is dedicated to the famous fashion designed who spent much of his time here. A lot of his work was influenced by the colours and shapes of Morocco.
There’s a large exhibition hall with displays of the work of Yves Saint Laurent. There are also smaller rooms that house temporary exhibitions about a variety of topics.
It’s all very stylish and very cool. If you are interested in art, fashion, or architecture, you will love the museum.
The Yves Saint Laurent Museum is open from Thursday to Tuesday from 10:00 – 18:00. It is closed on Wednesday.
During the month of Ramadan, the museum closes an hour earlier at 17:00.
The entrance fee for the Yves Saint Laurent Museum is 100dh (US$10).
Right next to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum is another stylish sight that is very popular with the Instagram and selfie crowd.
Jardin Majorelle is a landscape garden that was created by Jacques Majorelle over about forty decades from 1923. Yves Saint Laurent and his business partner Pierre Bergé bought it in the 1980s and restored it.
The gardens, with the ponds, the cacti, palm trees and water features are stunning. But it’s the contrast with the cobalt blue of the buildings that creates the most striking effect.
Within the garden you can also visit the Berber Museum in the villa.
Jardin Majorelle is open from October to April from 08:00 – 17:30 and from May to September from 08:00 – 18:00.
During Ramadan, it is open from 09:00 – 16:30.
The entrance fee for Jardin Majorelle is 70dh (US$7) and entrance to the Berber Museum is 30dh (US$3).
Further out from the medina, near Marrakech Airport, are the Menara Gardens. They were built in the 12th century and the landscaping is not particularly elaborate.
But the pavilion here has special heritage value and the large lake is very peaceful. It may not be worth a special visit if you are short of time but entrance is free and it’s a nice place to have a break.
Marrakech can seem overwhelming at first – particularly in the medina. Of course, there’s something hypnotic about this onslaught of senses and it’s one of the reasons it is such a magical city.
But you will need some Marrakech local knowledge to truly get a handle on the city and start to see it as more than just a jumble of beautiful tiles, endless alleyways, market stalls, and heritage sites.
It would certainly be worthwhile to do a tour when you arrive, to get to know Marrakech and get some tips on what to do and where to eat for the rest of your stay. I would recommend this private tour of Marrakech that is quite affordable.
One of the most captivating parts of Marrakech are the markets, known as souks, and you will definitely benefit from having a guide here – especially if you’re thinking of buying something.
For some more general guided tours of Marrakech to really explore the city with a local, here are a few more great options:
A lot of people also use Marrakech as a base to do day trips in the surrounding area, to see the Atlas Mountains, the desert, or some of the coastal cities and towns.
I’ve also got a few options here for good day trips from Marrakech:
- Ouzoud Waterfalls Full-Day Trip with Boat Ride
- Atlas Mountains and Agafay Desert Jeep Safari
- Ourika Valley Day Trip
- Day Trip to Essaouira
As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Marrakech and the surrounding region!
Marrakech travel tips
Finally, I want to leave you with some travel tips for Marrakech. Of course, the things that apply to all of Morocco (and many other countries) are just as relevant here:
Don’t drink the tap water, dress respectfully, ask before you take photos of people, learn a few words of the local language.
But let’s have a look at a few specific Marrakech travel tips.
You will get lost. This is the first and most important thing to realise. The medina is a maze and you will quickly lose your sense of direction. I wrote about it in a blog post here.
To make matters worse, GPS tends not to work so well inside the medina so you can’t even rely on that all the time. So allow yourself plenty of time to get places and don’t get frustrated when you realise you’re not where you thought you were.
Watch out for people offering to help. With so many tourists getting lost, some locals see an opportunity to get a bit of cash by leading you to where you’re going. Occasionally this is actually quite useful and worth a few dollars, but it normally doesn’t go smoothly.
The two problems is that you’ll find people are often leading you even when you didn’t agree and then they’ll demand money at the end – or you’ll find that no matter how much you pay someone, it’s never enough.
People can get quite aggressive (I’ve never worked out whether it’s genuine or just a show) and it can be very intimidating. You’re best of showing no interest in the first place and ignoring them completely.
Be prepared to be hassled. Unfortunately it is not just people offering to lead you somewhere who will hassle you.
There will also be people who tell you a street is closed, and then direct you to their shop. There will be vendors who will be very insistent about you coming into their shop. And there are a bunch of other scams to watch out for.
I have written a story about some suggestions for avoiding the touts in Morocco and that may help you.
Bargain when shopping. There will be times when you do want to buy something and often you will need to haggle. This doesn’t apply to places like convenience stores and restaurants with menus, but you shouldn’t always assume that just because a price is written down that you should pay that amount.
Some people will tell you to pay 30 – 50 per cent of the initial price. But that guidance is tricky because vendors will start with different prices depending on how gullible they think you are.
I would suggest shopping around a bit to get a sense of the average starting price, then bargain as hard as possible. As long as you are happy with the price you end up paying, that’s all that really matters. Don’t dwell on how much more of a discount you ‘might’ have got.
Make sure you have dirham. Speaking of buying things, make sure you have plenty of the local currency – called dirham – with you. Some tourist places will accept USD, GBP or EUR but you shouldn’t rely on that and only spend foreign currency if you’re a bit stuck (you won’t get a great exchange rate.
There aren’t a lot of ATMs in the Marrakech medina and it can be annoying to go on an outing just to get cash. So I would suggest always having at least a day’s worth of cash with you and top it up when you start to get low, before you run out.
There is some alcohol in Marrakech. As a Muslim country, alcohol is not common in Morocco and you will never find it being served at local cafes or restaurants.
However, because Marrakech is such a tourist city, the locals have come to accept that it’s not really sensible to have no alcohol available at all. You will be able to find it at tourist restaurants and larger hotels. But, we warned, it’s quite expensive!
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN MARRAKECH
The most authentic style of accommodation is a riad in the medina – but they come in all shapes and sizes!
For a cool and safe hostel in a riad, have a look at Rodamón Marrakech.
A nice riad that is affordable and welcoming is Riad Dar Nadwa.
For a stunning boutique option, I think 72 Riad Living is one of the best in the city.
And Riad L’Hôtel Marrakech is an absolutely stunning hotel, if you feel like splurging!