Strolling through the bustling vibrant streets, visiting the tranquil mountains, eating like kings – there are so many things to do in Marrakech that I cannot wait to share with you!
My trip recently to Marrakech was my first time visiting the continent of Africa, which I was super excited about. I loved the desert in Dubai and was excited to go experience a desert city on a totally new continent. And I have to say I was not disappointed.
Marrakech is a fascinating blend of cultures which can be found only a 3 hour flight from London. With a 1 hour time difference. Literally the perfect long weekend destination for adventurers who want to experience something completely different.
Here are the things I got up to that I believe are completely unmissable should you head over to Marrakech yourself!
Stay in a Riad
You may have read this before but hear me out. I cannot think of a more genuine place to stay in Morocco than in a Riad. A Riad being traditional Moroccan house build around a central courtyard on multiple levels. Many also have pools in those courtyards. They are all incredibly beautiful from what I saw when searching for somewhere to stay. They feel much more personal and intimate than big hotels.
The people who worked there couldn’t do enough for us. Even when we left for a day trip at 7am and breakfast didn’t start until 8.30am our host still made us coffee, brought us freshly squeezed orange and some slices of delicious cake. This was even though we only had about 3 minutes to enjoy it before our collection (the cake was incredible).
They also have the advantage of mostly being in and around the medina. This is the Arabic word for ‘town’ or ‘city’. The medina in Marrakech is the walled area in the centre of the city where the oldest buildings are located. From the old palaces, the central mosque, the main square and the labyrinth known as the souks.
Many of the hotels are located much further out where there was more space to build and develop, such as in the international district, which has more bars that serve alcohol. (Morocco is an Islamic nation so alcohol is not served everywhere, especially in the traditional medina). It also offers modern chain stores, Malls, fast food restaurants and so forth.
In my personal opinion, riads have much more character, and there is much more to do and see in the medina so I wouldn’t want to be outside of that. Staying in one is one of the best things you can do in Marrakech for an authentic trip.
Riads have such charm to them, with all their different levels, serene courtyards and traditional decor. Ours, Riad Ouimaima, was absolutely perfect. They had a variety of rooms to choose from, including one with two levels! Ours had a big walk in shower, two sinks, table, chairs, small sofa bench and a double bed to boast. It was a lovely place to stay, though I will say it was very echoey.
On the two days we were actually there for breakfast, we were brought breads, pancakes, cheese, butter and jams, along with coffee and fresh orange which was all really tasty. One day this was served on the roof terrace, where we befriended a tiny cat, and the other in the courtyard on the ground floor.
It was sadly too cold for the pool really, as the courtyard was shaded and not too hot. Plus we weren’t really there long enough to have any time to spend just relaxing and enjoying the riad itself. A shame, but that is the nature of the weekend break.
I will say that a lot of riads are tucked down tiny side streets. As cars aren’t allowed in the main medina since the streets are far too narrow, you have to walk unless you stay on the edge. Definitely download something like maps.me where you can use them offline unless you fancy shelling out for the 4G! Also be warned, the locals can spot a tourist with a case/hold all a mile off. They will happily take you to your riad, but they will expect some money, which is tricky when you have just arrived and have no change!
I would definitely recommend staying in one if you visit Marrakech. There are loads to pick from and I can only speak for the one I stayed in. But I really enjoyed my experience and would recommend that riad to anyone looking for decent value in a good location wanting a real Moroccan feeling place to stay.
Visit the souks
The first morning of our trip was dedicated to a good wander in the souks, with no real direction or plan in mind. I knew I wanted some kind of souvenir, how could I resist when there was that much stuff available! So this was the perfect opportunity to walk around, get a feel for the area and get some good photos to share with you.
We went around 11am, so not super early, but it was fairly quiet in the side streets of the souk. This meant we were able to get plenty of photos without being in peoples way or having millions of other people in them, which suits us just fine. Having been back through later times in the day it always seemed much more crowded. So if you want it to feel less overwhelming or you want those perfect insta shots with no one else I would definitely say the earlier you go the better.
I have read in a few blog posts about the Marrakech souks that shopkeepers will ask you for money or to buy something if you take photos. Personally I have to say we did not experience this at all. I don’t know if it is because we were just wandering around taking a few pictures here and there. It was hardly a full instagram photo shoot! I wasn’t asked for any money or told off at all on our wanderings. Perhaps we were just lucky.
A few places had signs saying ‘no photo’ which we respected. A lot of these were either art shops, which is fair enough, or stores that had several near identical copies just around a corner. I think so long as you respect the people who have asked for no photos it isn’t much of an issue.
We walked around until we popped out at a small square which Craig recognised from his previous trip to Marrakech a few years ago. We decided to stop here and grab a mint tea in the hustle and bustle to enjoy the atmosphere.
The tea was unbelievably cheap – 10 dirham each for a pot which we each got 2 cups from – less than £1. It came in these tiny tea glasses which are traditional in Morocco which I found really rather charming. I particularly liked the patterned ones we had been given for our welcome tea in our riad. I found suddenly my mind was set on my choice of souvenir for the trip – I needed these tea glasses.
On our walk back I spotted some that claimed to be a euro for a set of 6… obviously this was much too good to be true and that was for the plain clear glass set. Not exactly what I had in mind. The negotiating begun and I bagged myself some beautiful glasses. I cannot wait to test them out in Summer when it feels right to be drinking mint tea in my garden! They always start out with a very high price. You want to get them down to half or two thirds really if you can’t for the final price so you don’t end up getting ripped off. I resisted the urge to get a matching silver teapot, I am sure we will be back in Morocco one day…
The Main Square in Marrakech
We soon went back to our wanderings to try and make it into the main square. The square was complete and utter chaos, but as it turns out, nothing compared to what it was like in the night!
There are hundreds of stalls selling anything from fruit smoothies to henna tattoos to basic products, with everyone calling out perched on small plastic stools hoping to grab prospective buyer’s attention.
An aside on Animal Welfare
One thing I will mention is that it is a bit shocking in terms of animal welfare. Particularly around the edges of the stalls in the square you get a lot of ‘snake charmer’ playing music in the face of completely stationary cobras and heaped up pythons. They will try and put on you for money for pictures if you look too closely. I felt very sorry for those poor snakes, but possibly even worse were the monkeys.
Plenty of people had monkeys on chain leashes, which again they want tourists to pose with for photos. It was heart-breaking watching one monkey being physically dragged along the floor by someone, whilst pulling against its chain. It wasn’t an easy sight to see and it won’t be something I forget in a hurry. I can only hope that animal rights and awareness of animal welfare reaches places like this soon to stop the suffering of these animals for people’s entertainment. I have to say I only saw a couple of people engaged with them. So hopefully if they lose custom they will have to find another way to make money besides exploiting animals.
The square at night
On a happier note, when it is dark those stalls are all replaced by a gigantic maze of food stalls, serving all sorts from goats head meet to small sweet pastries. The smells are incredible and the atmosphere is great. There are street performers with instruments dancing to small crowds, street vendors trying to entice you to their food stalls, lights everywhere. It is a cool place to be! Craig tried some calamari at one of the stalls that only had locals at it. I just went for a mint tea, but it was all very cheap and tasty.
I would also suggest visiting one of the cafes around the square with a roof terrace, of which there are many, to get a different perspective over the square. Particularly at night, it was really awesome to take everything in and soak up the atmosphere with a tea. Felt much less chaotic than being in the square itself, and was great for people watching!
Definitely try and go both during the day and at night so you can truly experience the contrast of this central area in marrakech.
Eat Moroccan Food
Anyone who knows me will know that I have historically been a very picky eater, particularly when abroad after a food poisoning incident in Thailand (or Indonesia, never been sure). I often choose not to eat meat, as I am still pretty picky with meat back here in the UK. Although safe to say I have come a long way since my vegetarian days – yes I am going the opposite way to many people! A story for another day perhaps. On this trip, I had both chicken and meatballs and I am pretty proud of that and the reason? It was SO GOOD.
The first night we arrived pretty late and by the time we were looking for food, most places around our riad were closed or closing. A local saw us wandering and made us follow him. At that point we just wanted some food so went with it.
Sadly I do not know the name of the place he took us. It was a bit out the way and I didn’t see a sign on the way in, but it was a bizarre place. Set in a courtyard, the dinner menu was a pricey set menu, which we pushed back on as we weren’t that hungry. We were preparing to leave and continue our search, but the waitress gave us the lunch menu and said we could order from that.
I played it safe with some vegetable couscous, Craig got some grilled chicken skewers. I tried those and was sold on Moroccan chicken for sure! It was the most expensive place we ate, but we really didn’t seem to have many options. Also it felt very Moroccan and have live music played and a belly dancer. Quite random, but it is those bizarre travel experiences that you remember years later so there you go.
The next day we had lunch in a small square called Place des Ferblantiers near the El Badii Palace which we visited that I will come back to later. The restaurants in this square seemed pretty cheap. 50 dirham for a tagine, or a wrap or a pizza if thats what you wanted – they had a variety. Craig got a kofta tagine which was tasty and I went for the chicken shawarma, which was incredible. The portions were the perfect size for lunch too. The place called Place des Saveurs.
Alcohol in Marrakech
Following this we could see across the square a place named Kosybar. We had both read about it during our research, probably known for being one of the places in the medina that serves alcohol. The food is supposed to be nice here too, but we only ever came for drinks. That first day we headed to the top level roof terrace (there are 2). We ordered a bottle of cold rose to enjoy as we looked over the square and the palace and enjoyed the shade. It has great decor, good staff and a nice chilled out vibe that kept us going back when we fancied a beverage. It also had decent wifi so a good time to catch up on messages and post those insta shots too!
We actually ended up going back to these places another day for dinner. Our day trip ended quite late and we went and got a mint tea in the square in a roof cafe. We had planned to go to one of the other restaurants in the square but they were all closed when we got there. We checked out one just behind this square but the food was nearly twice the price, so we went back to what we knew. I was keen to have my own kofta tagine and Craig fancied a mixed grill, so that was fine by us.
After eating again at Place de Saveurs we headed back to Kosybar and enjoyed a bottle of red. We got chatting to some British guys on a family holiday who were on the table next to us after their parents left which was cool. Kosybar has patio heaters too which I was very grateful for having been so cold the previous evening.
The first night we headed out to the international district to a roof top bar, the highest in Marrakech, on top of the Aqua restaurant in a hotel called La Renaissance. Craig had been here before on his last trip and enjoyed it so we headed back to enjoy the views and watch the sun set which was lovely with the Atlas mountains in the background, which we would be visiting the next day.
On the way back to the medina we stopped at Carrefour in the Mall to try and get some beers to drink on our riad roof. Sadly the alcohol section of the shop had already shut when we were there around 8-9pm, so definitely go in the day if you plan on getting some!
We found a roof terraced cafe to eat dinner in and just had some simple dishes before heading down into the square to enjoy the atmosphere there. I wish we had actually just gone and eaten there straight away, but the long walk after several beers meant we were keen for a proper sit down in a restaurant.
On our final day we had lunch to look forward to and went to a Moroccan/Lebanese restaurant called Naranj which is a short walk off the main square. Craig had heard good things and we were keen to have a bit of a feast so we went to check it out.
They lead us up loads of stairs to the terrace, which was still populated even though it was 3pm. Apparently you have to book for dinner as it is very popular, which I can believe. We had hummus with meat chunks, falafel balls, flatbreads, a hummus and falafel wrap, salads and some fried cheese. It was all incredible. They have mezze plates and a variety of dishes and I am very glad we followed this recommendation. It’s really nice little place with great food. And a great selection of fresh juices which was just perfect after all of our walking in the 29 degree sun.
Experience history and architecture
After the sensory overload of the souks we decided to indulge Craig’s love of history and go visit one of the old palaces. We found the El Badii palace and thought we would pay the 70 dirham to go have a look around.
The walls were vast and the whole thing was pretty impressive. Loads of beautiful green tiling contrasting with the red sandy stone walls which was very picturesque. It’s very instagram friendly in places and there were some girls with their tripod, but generally speaking it was extremely quiet and we were free to wander around at our own pace.
Unfortunately for us most of the signs were only written in french and Arabic, although some of them were in English too seemingly at random. This was a cool spot to visit and spend some time. I especially enjoyed the group of storks who had set up their nests on the walls of the palace. They look pretty magnificent when they soar around and land on their precarious nest piles.
Another great site to go look at is the mosque. You can’t go inside as a tourist, but the outside is very impressive. We made it there in time for the afternoon call to prayer, which was very soothing to hear and really made us appreciate the culture. It is such an epic sound to hear echoing across the city from all the towers, so it was nice to hear it so close by. It was also much nicer when it wasn’t waking us up at 6am – that takes some getting used to!
Le Jardin Marjorelle
One must visit thing to do in Marrakech is Le Jardin Majorelle. These are the gardens of Yves Saint Laurent, who lived in the grounds in the oasis Gardens in a beautiful colourful villa. The whole place is completely awash with colour and is very lush. There are ponds, citrus plants, cacti as far as the eye can see. They are truly stunning, and definitely an instagrammers paradise!
There is also a Berber museum on the site about the berber civilisation who still live to this day in parts of the desert. Plus just up the road there is the Yves Saint Laurent museum. I will be doing a separate post on visiting here with all my tips for visiting so that is all I shall say for now! You can click here to read that post.
So there you have my first Marrakech post, there will be a few to follow on:
- Le Jardin Majorelle and YSL
- Day trip to the Atlas Mountains and Ait Ben Haddou
- El Badii Palais
- Top Instagram spots in Marrakech
Which I will link when I get around to doing them, may have some time to fill thanks to Covid19…