Top Five Experiences Not To Be Missed In Marrakech
Updated: Mar 9, 2022
Our Pick of top five experiences not to be missed while in Marrakech
1. Dine at the Night Market in Jemaa El-Fna
This is one of the most unique dining experiences you can have – under the sky with thousands of other people – one phenomenal open air restaurant with all the works thrown in! As the calls for prayers fill the air, and the sun goes down, the atmosphere behind the Koutobia mosque comes alive.
Fresh and delicious street food in Jemaa El-Fna
The spicy and smoky aroma from over 100 barbeques fill up the air of the busy Jemaa El Fna. Within moments tables and chairs and numbered stalls almost pop out from the open grounds! The prices are cheap, the food is fresh and the service is fast. This is one of the best places to experiment with food you haven’t tried – like bowls of snails. The squids, spicy sausages and kebabs are a must have. The stallholders love to call out to the tourists and there is no harm in indulging in some light hearted banter! The food, the setting, the people all make it a unique experience – something you never get in a closed or formal dining set up. You sit next to locals or tourists and if you are like us, you will get your inspiration for the next order from the plates going to someone else!
2. Explore Marrakech Souks and shopping
A souk is an organized market in an Arab/Muslim country. It is sometimes used synonymously with the word bazaar of Persian origin, also meaning marketplace. Though bazaar is a much more globally used term now, the term souk is prevalent mostly in North Africa and the Middle East. The Marrakech souk can easily be considered as one of the top 5 souks of the world – with the likes of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey.
Moroccan rugs are one of the main product travellers tend to buy in Marrakesh
Like the other historical marketplaces, little has changed here – the narrow alleyways lined with shops that display an explosion of colours and art. The shopkeepers are dressed in their djellaba (traditional robes) selling beautiful rugs, lanterns, shoes, leather bags, spices etc. The souks stretch from the north of Jemaa El-Fna all the way to the Ben Youssef madrasa.
Taking pictures without getting hassled is not easy. If you are spotted taking pictures, they immediately start to sell you things. So it is a bit tricky to enjoy the place without taking pictures or buying. If you don’t want to buy anything it is better not to ask for prices of items. Or if you can manage to have a light hearted banter with the shopkeepers and move on, then you have the right spirit for this place! If you do want buy something, consider what you are willing to pay and offer slightly lesser than that so you can negotiate up. That is a good rule of thumb for any place where haggling is a cultural thing! If you like to support local economy and have love for local craftsmanship, pay what you think is reasonable. The souks are open Saturday to Thursday 9am to 8pm and on Friday 12am to 8pm with the stalls close to Jemaa El-Fna open until midnight.
3. Day trip to Berber Village and Atlas Mountain
The indigenous people of Morocco are called Berbers (or Imazighen) and are the descendants of the pre-Arab inhabitants of North Africa. The largest populations live in Morocco and Algeria and speak various Amazigh languages belonging to the Afro-Asiatic family related to ancient Egyptian.
View of Atlas Mountain on the way to Imlil valley
There are many local tour operators that offer a trip to explore the Atlas Mountains and Valleys with a guide. You get to discover the traditional Berber villages, see Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa, and visit the waterfalls of Imlil. You can visit the inside of a Berber home also choose to have lunch there as well. Camel rides and walking can also be done as part of the trip. We hadn’t pre-booked. We just approached a provider in front of the hotel, paid and left for the trip. The car wasn’t fun though, after we left we realized that one of the windows didn’t work properly and we had to come up with the some old fashioned ideas to block the rain water from dripping in. But the views were extraordinary, the snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the horizon and the open landscape were really breath-taking. You can see why the Berbers call them idraren draren meaning the Mountain of the Mountains!
Inside of a Berber home in Imlil valley
After almost an hour and a half’s drive we reached at the Moulay Brahim Gorges, with streams and paths branching out in all directions. We continued to the Imlil valley stopping at one of the Berber villages. We were welcomed inside and were shown their way of life which hasn’t changed over hundreds of years. The view of terraced fields of barley, corn, vegetables still irrigated in ancient ways is beautiful and serene.
It was raining on and off and was quite cold so we chose to eat at a traditional restaurant instead, with a wood fireplace radiating that much needed warmth. Before long, mouth-watering tagines were served- the food just melted in our mouths. As we huddled close to the fire, enjoying the divine food and looking at the cat curled up near our feet and the rain outside, we realized why we travel – it is this feeling, the details of the experience that live on….
4. Visit to Bahia Palace
Bahia Palace is located along Rue Riad Zitoun El Jedid, southeast of the Medina and close to the Mellah. The Palace was built in the 19th-century by Si Musa, grand vizier (head of government) of Alaouite Sultan and a black slave that rose through the ranks to become vizier. It took over ten years to complete and was enlarged by his son Abu Ahmed apparently to house his 4 wives and 24 mistresses! He commissioned renowned architects and craftsmen to create the visual splendour that it is today. After his death however, the palace was stripped off by his wives and mistresses and eventually fell in the hands of the warlord, Thami El Glaoui, an ally of the French protectorate in Morocco. The French as you can imagine were floored with the beauty of the place and kicked out El Glaoui and installed the protectorate’s resident-general and some of his officers at this palace.
Beautiful and intricate work of Bahia Palace
It is spread over 20 acres with gardens, courtyards and around 150 rooms only some of which are accessible to the public today. The rooms for the ladies have carved-cedar ceilings; the stained-glass windows create spectacular displays of light, the dazzling zellige tile mosaics in geometric patterns literally make your jaw drop! The massive Grand Courtyard with its marble-tiled surface hugged by carved wooden galleries is a sight to be seen.
Inside Bahia Palace
The rooms for wives and concubines have carved-cedar ceilings; salons are lined by stained-glass windows; reception halls dazzle with their zellige tile mosaics in geometric patterns and delicate stucco works. The palace harem is decorated with woven-silk panels and more stained-glass windows, while the huge Grand Courtyard is a sight to see with its marble-tiled surface stretching out between the carved wooden galleries. In 2001 rap singer P. Diddy threw his million dollar birthday party (literally) here with super models and celebrities flown in on chartered jets from New York and Paris!
Though empty now, this is still the most astounding and remarkable piece of architecture. In a way it lets the stunning tile work be the hero- the lack of furniture also means you can stand and appreciate the size of the rooms and the effect of the work on the ceilings and walls. Bahia means beautiful and there is no doubt that it stands up to its name. This is to our minds, the most stunning example of Moorish architecture in Morocco!
The palace is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (may be subject to changes or closures during royal visits and other events). The entrance fee is 10 Moroccan Dirhams, or about $1 US.
5. Visit Jardin Majorelle
In the days when internet wasn’t so freely available, ending up in a place like Jardin Majorelle would have been such a delight- who would have envisioned a very bright and strong statement garden in the middle of a North African city! It is a welcome respite from the sun but goes up a notch with its bright blue walls, turquoise and bold yellow planters and other colours so lively that it cheers you up and calms you down! Magic!
Entrance to Jardin Majorelle
This masterpiece was created by French architect, painter and passionate botanist Jacques Majorelle who had come to Morocco on invitation of his father’s friend but fell in love with the colours, and vibrant life of the city which he illustrated in many of his paintings. He went on to buy land and gradually over the years built a garden, his villa and a studio. He used primary colours to paint the structures and the pots and created a dazzling piece of art and nature. He travelled around to five continents for almost 40 years, and collected a wide range of plants to add to his garden. To keep up with the financial costs of upkeep he had to eventually open it to the public. Four years after his death, the garden was visited by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. They fell in love with it and were frequent visitors to this dreamy destination. But over the years, the garden fell into disrepair and a plans were drawn to create a hotel at the site. Hearing this Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé pulled all the strings to stop this from happening and ended up buying and subsequently restoring the place in line with Majorelle’s vision. They also boosted his collection of plants.
Vivid and colourful Jardin Majorelle
The love that Yves Saint Laurent had for this garden is visible from the fact that his ashes were spread here after he passed away. A memorial stands in the garden today, a good reminder of artists breathing life to another artist’s work.