Nicknamed the Red City from the hues of the medina’s historic walls, Morrocco’s Marrakesh is a place of discovery.
Having wandered the maze-like streets of the medina’s souks, smelled a thousand and one herbs and spices from the street-side vendors and got up-close-and-personal (extremely close) to the resident camels, I’ve pulled together my complete guide to discovering the incredible Moroccan city of Marrakech. Read on for my highlights, top tips and things to avoid with a few fast facts and unusual sights along the way.
Whilst the city itself is deeply rooted in history, the airport of Marrakech brings it right up to the 21st century. With screens monitoring the efficiency of the airport’s emissions and eco-footprint and a snazzy covering on all of the outer walls, it looks like something out of a sci-fi- film. If you are travelling at night, the views are incredible as all of the sprawling mass of Marrakech sits twinkling below as you land.
Be sure to look up at the fantastic ceiling in the entrance/exit hall with its multi-coloured light show of rings suspended from the glass ceiling. It is one of the most beautiful airports I have seen just for that!
Wander the meandering streets of the Medina’s souks and discover spices in a hundred different colours, stalls overflowing with Moroccan tea and hand-made leather sandals hanging from shop-fronts. Turn the corner to find a sea of brightly-coloured rugs hanging from every wall as they all stop to visit the carpet-makers own miniature mosque. Head into the darker passageways for a collection of covered walkways twinkling with the lights of hundreds of ornate Moroccan lamps, crafted before your eyes by time-honed mast metal workers.
Whilst you are there…
Aim to stop by a traditional bakery for a glimpse of true Moroccan culture. Rather than bake their bread at home, a number of families here still take their baked goods to a local man for baking in his giant oven. Here you will find stacks of doughy products lined up before the furnace with generations staying loyal to a particular baker. Just be wary it can get quite hot in there!
If you wander the streets of Marrakech, you would be forgiven for thinking the buildings extremely plain, with few windows and the same red stone outside for them all. The reality however, is quite different.
The city is constructed with the idea that the only outwardly ornate thing should be a place of worship. The palace is a prime example of this with its plain outer walls. The shimmering minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque is one of the only buildings in the city to be as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. Step through the doorways of Marrakech’s buildings however, and you will find fascinating, brightly-coloured tiles on every surface, courtyards overflowing with plant life and light with, as a tradition, a fountain taking up the centre.
Built in a rectangle shape around a defining courtyard, these riads are a beauty to behold. If you strike lucky, a number of them are available to stay in within the old city for a truly Moroccan experience.
Fast Fact: You’ll find no skyscrapers in Marrakech as the law prohibits any building higher than the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque. As such it can be spotted from all over the city.
My Top Things to Experience in Marrakesh:
The Koutoubia Mosque
The largest mosque in Marrakech, the minaret of this building can be seen from everywhere in the city due to its blue-topped height.
Djemaa El Fna Square
A bustling square during the day, this is the focus of Marrakech’s activity with an abundance of stalls selling all sorts of wares. Watch as the square truly comes to life as the heat of the day dies down with a dramatic light show of lanterns and canopies with street performers aplenty bustling within the crowds.
The Berber Museum
Step through the door of what looks like a house within the city and you will find a Dutchman’s collection of Moroccan heritage, all housed within a charming courtyard building.
Wander the Medina’s Many Souks
From the twinkling lights of the lamp makers to the sweet-sellers, sandal-makers, carpet sellers and more, the kaleidoscope of life that lives within the maze of souks of Marrakech is a must-see. The inner sections are notoriously hard to find your way around so enlist the help of a guide for your first visit, you’ll discover more and learn some history of the city along the way!
Go For a Proper Moroccan Meal
Mouth-watering flavoured Tagines, endless cous cous and sharing platters aplenty, Moroccan meals are the perfect way to experience some culture in Marrakech.
Visit the Iconic Bahia Palace
Full of picturesque courtyards and beautifully-adorned archways, the rooms and wings of the Bahia Palace are distinct as they are eye-catching. Take a wander through the palace and learn all about the leader’s many wives and what used to go on within the palace walls.
Make Friends With a Camel.
Find the right place and you can climb aboard these desert dwellers for a bumpy ride reminiscent of the journeys traders would take to fill Marrakech’s souks with its famous spices and wares. Just be sure to check out the team you pick first to ensure a legitimate team with plenty of breaks for the camels.
Take Tea the Moroccan Way.
With a gilded spout and unmistakable minty taste, Moroccan tea is something you will be offered at every corner so it is only right you should sit down and experience Moroccan tea time.
Discover Something Not in the Guide Books.
Whether this is a local artisan’s market lying just off the beaten path or a dreamy rooftop terrace, chat to the locals and find somewhere uncrowded and breath-takingly authentic to write home about.
Things that are ACTUALLY worth taking home:
- A Moroccan lamp. There are beautifully made and you won’t find them anywhere else, just be wary of size if you have a tight baggage allowance!
- Moroccan tea. Or a Moroccan tea set. Something you will undoubtedly be offered during your time in Marrakech is a cup of Moroccan tea. What better way could there be to relive your adventure when you get home than watching the hot liquid pour from the extravagantly long spout of a Moroccan teapot?
- Some hand-made sandals or bags. Whilst the trinket shops around the main square might showcase some cheap run-of-the-mill footwear. Head further into the medina for some breath-taking hand-made goods from the craftsmen (and women) within.
What to Wear in the Red City
Whilst other parts of this Islamic nation are considerably more traditional, Marrakech takes a more laid-back approach to dress codes. That said, wandering around the city in a bikini, as it would be if you did it in a city centre in England will definitely get you one or two very odd looks as well as being extremely disrespectful to the local culture.
Whilst a number of the older gentlemen wore long loose tunic-like garments, the majority of younger males were in standard t-shirts and trousers or shorts. Wearing this is completely acceptable dress for both men and women and won’t draw too much attention in the main parts of the town.
Whilst there was no particular cat-calling or any inappropriate behaviour towards ‘western-dressed’ women whilst I was there, a lady was wearing a strappy vest top and shorts during one of my visits to the souks and did get one or two cheeky comments from young men about her tattoo (which fell very close to her bust line).
Watch out for…
- Monkey people – these guys did not look happy and seeing them dragged around with a chain around their neck is not a pleasant sight. Do not endorse these people with your money and be careful of straying too close or taking pictures as it common for the ‘salesmen’ to place a monkey (or snake) on you to get you to give them money, if you take a picture they will also ask for payment.
- Henna ladies – If you really would like a henna tattoo then go ahead but be wary of who you are buying from. One of our guides warned us against accepting any sort of substance on our skin in the main el Fna square as the vendors mix them with all sorts of extras that might not be very kind to your skin. These ladies can literally come out of nowhere and can be quite forceful and even catch hold of your hand to put the mixture on you without your consent therefore requiring your payment regardless. A very firm no and walking away is needed to dissuade.
Marrakesh was a beautiful, lively city packed with plenty of sights to see and places to visit. We loved taking a wander around with and without a guide and seeing the city come alive at night! Have you visited Marrakech before? What were some of your favourite parts? Check back soon for more travel updates!
4 thoughts on “Morocco’s Marrakesh – Discovering the Red City”
We so enjoyed our week in Marrakesh a few years ago. Great article on what to see and do. Did you go and see Jardin Majorelle-Yves Saint Laurent Mansion?
Great Images and Writing
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Thank you so much!
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Sounds an exciting place to visit with things to discover at every turn. The addition of things to be wary of is also gratefully received. This place is definitely on my list to visit.
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