The ultimate checklist for things to do in Marrakech, follow our insider tips for stunning mosques, fascinating crafts, museums & gardens
This large square at the entry to the Medina is the centre of Marrakesh life. There’s nowhere in Morocco like the Jemaa el Fnaa, no place that so effortlessly involves you and keeps you coming back for more. By day, most of the square is just a big open space, in which a handful of snake charmers bewitch their cobras with flutes, medicine men (especially in the northeast of the square) display cures and nostrums. It isn’t until late afternoon that the square really gets going. At dusk the square gradually fills until it becomes a whole carnival of storytellers, acrobats, musicians and entertainers. If being down among the thrum becomes too much, it's also easy to escape to one of the many surrounding rooftop cafes and restaurants where you can survey the crazy scene from above.
For many visitors, Marrakesh's labyrinth Medina (Old City) district is the town's star attraction. The narrow alleyways are a kaleidoscope of colors, scents and sounds, and bound to be the sightseeing highlight of your trip. As well as simply wandering (and getting lost) amid the bustling maze, there are myriad shopping opportunities where you can put your haggling hat on and barter to your heart's content. Shoppers shouldn't miss the Babouche (shoe) Souk, Chouari (carpenter's) Souk, El-Attarine (perfume and spice) Souk and the Cherratine (leather) Souk. Just west of the main souk area, at the end of Rue Bab Debbagh, you'll find Marrakesh'stanneries where animal skins are still dyed the old fashioned way.
The Koutoubia Mosque is Marrakesh's most famous landmark with its striking, 70m tall minaret visible for miles in every direction. It is famed especially for its magnificent minaret, the oldest of the three great Almohad minarets remaining in the world. The mosque was built in 1162 and is one of the great achievements of Almohad architecture. Non-Muslims are not allowed into the prayer hall.
MEDERSA BEN YOUSSEF
Built in 1565 by the Saadians, the Medersa (madrassa - Islamic school of learning) of Ben Youssef is the largest theological college in Morocco. The Ben Youssef Medersa attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque, is home to some of the most beautiful art and architecture in Marrakesh. The medersa centers around a large courtyard with a central pool for ablutions. The buildings are covered in an abundance of decoration: carved cedarwood, exquisite stuccowork, and colorful zellij tiles. Some elements of the medersa are remarkably similar to the Alhambra palace in Granada, indicating that Andalusian artists were likely brought from Spain for the project.
This inner-city garden is a bubble of serenity hidden right in the heart of Marrakesh. It's a local-favorite spot for getting out of the hustle to enjoy some peace and quiet. The large pool in the center of the garden has a fine pavilion, built on the water's edge in the late 19th century. For many local Marrakesh families the Manara Gardens are picnicking central and on the weekend it can be a great place to witness local family life.
This magnificent peacock of a palace was built in the 19th century as the residence of the Grand Vizier Bou Ahmed, who served Sultan Moulay al-Hassan I. The interior decoration is a dazzling display of zellige tiles, painted ceilings and ornate wrought-iron features showcasing the opulent lives of those high-up in the sultan's favour at that time. The palace is surrounded by sumptuous flower and tree-filled gardens.
The true attraction is the Dar M’Nebhi Palace in which the Marrakech Museum is housed. This absolutely fabulous building dates back to the 19th century and features artistically decorated windows and archways, pillars and more. The building is often referred to as the ‘jewel of Marrakech’ and when you tour it you will see that it certainly is an amazing structure. There are dozens of different rooms, archways, pillars and passages in this massive maze of art and artifacts. Perhaps one of the most frequently photographed parts of the palace is the massive covered courtyard where huge sheets of fabric provide much needed shade and give the area an ethereal feeling. In the center there is an absolutely massive lamp chandelier hanging from the ceiling and all around the courtyard are traditional wrought iron chairs where visitors can relax and take in the sight.
These lush tropical gardens, full of cacti, palms and ferns, are the work of painter Jacques Majorelle. Originally from the town of Nancy in France, Majorelle came to Marrakesh for health reasons and became well known for his paintings of local Moroccan life. His most famous work though was this garden and the vibrant blue (the colour now known as Majorelle blue) painter's studio he lived in on the grounds. After Majorelle's death in 1962, French fashion designer Yves St Laurent bought the property and upon his death in 2008, his ashes were scattered in the gardens. A small pavilion on site has a small but interesting collection of Islamic art.