3 Nights in Magical Marrakesh, Morocco
Marrakesh offers a veritable feast for the senses. In my opinion, there’s nothing quite like it. It’s reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie set crossed between the famous planet of Tatooine (Star Wars reference for those non-nerds among us) - however, it’s for real, and it's magical.
You can happily get lost for hours among the winding narrow streets of the souqs and be thoroughly entertained by the scenes of abundant life at every turn. Colour, life, and exoticism reign here.
The city at ground level is somewhat chaotic and dusty, with a side of adventure. However, step into the inner sanctum of a riad, or visit one of the many roof decks that look to the stars, and discover the tranquil, elegant side of Marrakesh.
There really are two sides to this city and visiting some of the sites, while stopping for mint tea (served from high altitude teapots), wandering the colourful maze of souqs, and winding up at an ultra cool restaurant under the evening pink sky makes for a perfect few days - and quite the adventure… and I didn’t even get to the cobras yet!
The Medina of Marrakesh
The Medina is the old Islamic 11th century capital, an area enclosed by 16km of pink clay ramparts and gates. Basically all of the old town is located inside the Medina - you’ll find the winding maze of markets, the huge Jamaa el Fna Square and traditional accommodation ‘riads’ here.
Also bear in mind that there is an entirely new section of Marrakesh, located just outside the Medina walls. Guéliz has modern hotels, shops and belly dancer dinners. As one of our local taxi drivers said, ‘if you want McDonalds and Zara - head that way.’
Accommodation - The Riad
We opted to stay at a traditional riad as we wanted to be in the heart of the action. Finding the riad, or anything for that matter, is always a challenge in the Medina. You are led down frankly dodgy looking alleyways to a random door in the wall.
However, once you step though the door into the inner peaceful courtyard, the dusty exterior melts aways and you are greeted with a wholly delightful experience. Riads usually consist of an inner courtyard and rooms on a couple of levels surrounding it.
Most of them have gorgeous roof decks with small pools, loungers and views of pink roofs as far as you can see, all backdropped by the Atlas Mountains.
Dar Kandi (pictured) was our riad of choice and was impeccable. It served as a lovely haven from the madness and the breakfast was fit for a King.
Ben Youssef Madrasa
The Ben Youssef Madrasa (or school) used to be the largest Islamic college in Morocco at its height. It is now a historical site that showcases some of the most intricate, detailed and iconic Arabic architecture in Northern Africa.
Not to be confused with the adjacent mosque with the same name, it proved fairly hard to find with a nondescript simple wooden door leading into the breathtaking interior.
This 14th century piece of art should definitely be at the top of the list of places to visit in the Medina - and just enjoy the journey finding it!
The ruins of Badi Palace are vast judging from the enormous courtyard at its center. While there isn’t a great deal to see, it’s a nice place to wander around and imagine the bygone opulence. It is also home to a great many nesting storks all along the high walls.
Make sure to climb the walls to have some great views of Marrakesh as well.
The beautiful Bahia Palace is nearby as well.
Le Jardin Secret
While you do have to pay a fee to enter this hidden oasis, Le Jardin Secret serves as a nice little time-out from the surrounding maze of Medina markets. The lush greenery of the garden and bright emerald tile are definitely worth the wander.
There are also two cafes, a boutique and a bookshop within the walls. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy another mint tea in one of the oldest palaces in the Medina.
Kasbah of Marrakesh
The Kasbah (meaning fortress) is a large walled district in the south of the Medina. It is worth strolling the streets and experiencing the life and sounds of the neighbourhood - fruit and fish stalls, butchers, spices and much more… all the while humming ‘Rock the Kasbah’!
The famous Saadien's Tombs are also located in this area.
The Souqs of Marrakesh
Probably the most memorable experience of visiting Marrakesh comes from simply roaming and getting lost in the labyrinth-like streets that make up most of the city. There isn’t enough room for cars to pass through the narrow alleyways, instead you’ll see donkeys and carts making their deliveries.
You’ll find (and smell) a huge assortment of spices everywhere. There’s a myriad of hand woven carpets, pillows, decadent lighting fixtures, pottery and glassware, leather sandals and shoes, fossils, clothing - the overwhelming list goes on!
Head to the tanneries to witness the production process of the leather that is found in market goods. Please note - make sure to smell any leather product that you might want to purchase.
Some have very strong smells that, trust me, never go away. We bought a beautiful leather satchel years back that never lost its camel pee smell… you’ve been warned.
Haggling for a price is expected, and while it can be a bit frustrating, it’s all part of the process. Keep it light and friendly and know that it’s always ok to walk away.
Jemaa el-Fnaa Square
The city’s largest square, Jemaa el-Fnaa is a veritable feast for the senses. During the day you’ll find snake charmers with dancing cobras and sleepy vipers. There are monkey trainers as well as dentists showing off their latest pile of extracted teeth!
It really is quite the scene. We even saw a hedgehog and someone posing with a peacock on their shoulder. Do be careful of taking close-up photos of certain sights - some vendors will definitely want a tip for the photograph. For example, we paid the equivalent of about €2-3 to take photos of the cobras.
Make sure you see the square from above. Pick any of the surrounding restaurants or cafes and head for the highest deck. We had a break and enjoyed the craziness from a distance at the famous Café de France. While it’s pretty basic, the mint tea is cheap, and the view is magic.
By night, the square transforms into a bustling expanse of dining stalls which offer local fare and delicious smells. Musicians and storytellers entertain and add to the purely unique atmosphere.
The most famous landmark in Marrakesh, the 250ft minaret of Koutoubia has been towering over the city since the 12th century. Interestingly it served as the prototype for the Giralda of Seville, Spain. While non-muslims are not allowed inside the mosque, you are free to wander its lovely gardens and enjoy the view.
Jardin Majorelle - Yves Saint-Laurent
French landscape painter Jaques Marjorelle was the original owner of this tranquil garden located about a 15 minute walk from the medina.
After saving the garden and villa from demolition, Yves Saint-Laurent bought them in 1980 with his partner Pierre Berge. Restoring the garden, with the Marjorelle vision, he added immensely to the number of plants, mostly cacti, to transform it to its current glory.
Saint-Laurent was inspired and it’s easy to see why. Jardin Majorelle is famed for its electric cobalt blue colour. The vibrant juxtaposition of both orange and yellow, along with the green of the nature, all succeed in creating a uniquely beautiful oasis.
With almost a hectare of 300 plant species and the Moorish Art Deco buildings, joyful hues, and inspiration to one of the most famous designers of our time, Jardin Majorelle is a very popular destination.
Be aware that you can only buy tickets online. With timed entry, it doesn’t get too crowded. Just make sure to plan ahead.
The grounds also contain a small museum dedicated to Berber traditions, the YSL Love Gallery, and a wonderful courtyard cafe - another perfect spot for a tranquil mint tea.
One of the highlights of our trip was the incredible restaurant settings and open air, rooftop atmosphere. There are just so many hidden gems inside the pink walls of the medina to fit every budget.
Bear in mind that alcohol is not served in every establishment. Many times, alcohol will not be printed on the menu itself either.
These are just a few that we had the good fortune to find…
The roof deck looks over a spice market and subtle lantern lighting at dusk offers a magical view over the pink city.
This ultra-chic restaurant is part of a luxury hotel with a huge roof deck complete with uber cool bar and swimming pool. Owned by Vanessa Branson (daughter of Richard Branson), it’s probably one of the most uniquely cool restaurant settings we’ve ever encountered. (Sadly, staying there was out of budget - it ain't cheap!).
Just off the Jemaa er-Fnaa square, this lovely rooftop seats you under a canopy of greenery and offers delicious food.
You’d never know it exists from street level - but climb the staircases and enjoy another great roof deck setting and a super cool cocktail bar.
Located in the hubbub of the souqs, this little gem is a stylish place to grab a bite above the bartering.
Other spots - for next time!
Money and Taxis
You will definitely need some local cash in Marrakesh. Credit cards / Apple Pay is accepted at many restaurants and shops, but for everything else, cash is necessary.
We exchanged a sum of money at the airport on arrival which saw us through the three days. I’m told you can always exchange it back upon departure at the airport - though exchange fees will be a factor.
Most riads offer a paid airport shuttle service to and from their accommodation. We opted to book airport taxis via booking.com that proved to be less expensive at
about €12 each way.
Marrakesh, Morocco is most definitely an experience. If you enjoy adventure, don’t mind a bit of hustle and bustle, and crave something entirely different, this is THE place.
We loved it, felt safe, and definitely want to go back to find more of those incredible roof decks on which to sip mint tea and talk about snake charmers…