Marrakech, or Marrakesh is a major city in Morocco and is arguably the most popular one among tourists. This was my first stop in North Africa and it immediately captured a special place in my heart. Here are some suggestions on things to do while in Marrakech-
1. BLEND IN at Jemaa-el-Fna
This world famous square and marketplace of Marrakech is a UNESCO World Heritage site with multiple things going on simultaneously. During the day, it is one of the main tourist attractions. Quench your thirst with a freshly squeezed pint of orange juice at one of the many fruit juice stands, browse through surrounding stalls and makeshift shops, watch snake charmers show off their skills and if you are lucky, witch doctors yanking molars out in the middle of the square. Be prepared to be approached by henna artists looking to ‘make their mark’ and youths shouldering a Barbary monkey asking if you would like a photo with it (not without a price, of course). At night, the square becomes even more lively when the locals coming out to eat, dance, play, hang out, and watch story tellers perform.
2. GET LOST in the souks
Marrakech is best known for it’s labyrinth of souks (or markets). There are simply so many that even a map does no help. My suggestion is to just wander around and allow yourself to truly get lost, and after a couple hundred turns you will find yourself back where you started. There are apparently different souks categorised to sell different items at each market such as shoes, spices, bags and carpets but to me it just seemed like one gigantic maze. Remember to haggle, it is normal to do so and vendors expect you to do so. If you find yourself lost and overwhelmed by the sheer size of it all, just ask one of the friendly locals to point the way back to the ‘big square’ (Jemaa el-Fna). This may also be a good meeting point if you happen to get separated from your travel companion(s) while wading through the crowds of shoppers and vendors.
3. OBSERVE from rooftop terraces
Almost every restaurant, cafe and hotel in the medina has a rooftop terrace where you can climb up 3 or 4 floors to have your meal or sip on a mint tea, and just observe the world go by below you. The best time to lay back is in the evening where you can watch the sun set over the red rooftops and listen to the call to prayer from surrounding mosques, and watch the locals head to their respective mosques. Aside from the cafes around the square, three of my favourite terraces are Terrasse Des Epices, Nomad and Maison de la Photographie.
4. EAT flavourful food
Sample local cuisines such as Tajine, Cous Cous, Kefta, and B’stilla. My personal favourite restaurants are Nomad (amazing atmosphere and food that I still have dreams of to this day), Le Jardin, Cafe des Epices.
5. DRINK Moroccan mint tea
The Moroccans call them Whisky Marocain. It may look and sound pretty ordinary – basically a concoction of green tea, spearmint leaves and sugar cubes in cute glasses, but there is just something addictive about this delicious drink that I can’t put my finger on. Have it with your breakfast, lunch, tea and/or dinner – I took every chance I got!
6. ESCAPE the hustle bustle at Jardin Majorelle
A twelve-acre botanical and artist landscape garden outside the medina that was designed by French expatriate artist Jacques Majorelle, and later owned by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge. YSL’s ashes were scattered in this very garden. More photos here.
7. IMMERSE in historical sights
In my opinion, the historical sites here are no where as grand as the mosques in the Middle East or the palaces of Europe. If I were to only have a day here, I would rather spend it at the souks, sipping on my aforementioned suspiciously-addictive mint tea. However, if time allows, the must see sites in Morocco’s most important former Imperial city are the Koutoubia Mosque, Bahia Palace, El-Badi Palace and the Saadian Tombs.
8. STAY in a Riad
Riads (coined from ‘ryad’ which means garden in Arabic) are essentially traditional, renovated Moroccan houses or palaces with an interior garden, pool or courtyard. I stayed in Riad Bab 54, a modern themed riad tucked away in a quiet area of the medina. It was summer when I visited Marrakech so it was really comforting to come home to the riad to take a break or dip in the pool while the sun was scorching hot outside.