Marrakesh is a melting pot of bustling souks, exotic Riads, and architectural wonders. It’s a city with history and culture, and one of the most favored destinations for travelers in North Africa.
The city has a long history of beauty and art, and the souks continue to showcase this tradition. It’s also home to many surprising snake charmers.
1. Djemaa el Fna
Djemaa el Fna is a giant, bustling square where every nook and cranny seems to be filled with performers. It’s one of the main attractions for tourists in Marrakesh.
Fortune tellers, henna tattoo artists, fire eaters, snake charmers, monkey handlers and water sellers all call this square home. It’s also a place for traditional medicine men and cross dressers.
2. Koutoubia Mosque
The Koutoubia Mosque is a must-see when visiting Marrakesh. It’s famous for its 77-metre-tall minaret tower, which is a major landmark in the city and acts as a model for many other mosques across Morocco.
The building is a fine example of Moorish architecture and features keystone arches and decorative stonework. It also has a wooden stick in front of its spire that points to Mecca, and is used to bear flags on religious holidays.
3. Bahia Palace
If you’re looking for a grand riad that’s full of Moroccan flair, then the Bahia Palace is the place to go. Built in the 19th century, this impressive complex features lavish marble-tiled courtyards and harem rooms bedecked with crimson and mustard-striped ceilings.
Originally commissioned by Si Moussa, the palace was embellished by his son, Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed. The vizier spent six years beautifying the original palace, adding a second layer of grandeur that was later copied by the French.
4. Majorelle Gardens
One of the best places to escape the chaos of Marrakesh is Majorelle Gardens, a serene oasis designed by famed French painter Jacques Majorelle. Today, it is a renowned tourist attraction.
Majorelle’s influence can be seen in the bright colors and exotic shapes of this garden. It also pays tribute to Yves Saint Laurent, who was a huge inspiration for the designer.
5. Hassan II Mosque
The Hassan II Mosque is one of Morocco’s most impressive buildings. It’s a blend of Islamic architecture and Moroccan elements, which reflects both its history and culture.
Built on an outcrop jutting over the Atlantic Ocean, this opulent mosque was designed by Michel Pinseau and is one of Morocco’s most iconic landmarks. It’s a showcase of the best Moroccan artisanship: hand-carved stone and wood, intricate marble flooring and inlay, gilded cedar ceilings and exquisite zellige (geometric mosaic tilework) abound.
6. Saadian Tombs
One of Marrakesh’s most beautiful and historic royal necropolises, the Saadian Tombs were established in the late sixteenth century. The dynasty’s rulers made the site their own by lavishly decorating and embellishing its tombs.
The most prominent mausoleum is the Chamber of the Twelve Columns, decorated in gilded tilework (zellij) and carved plaster. Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour himself is buried there along with his family.
7. Koutoubia Mosque
Located within walking distance of the bustling Jemaa El Fna, Koutoubia Mosque is a must-see for anyone visiting Marrakech. Even though the interior of the mosque is closed to non-Muslims, its architecture is still a stunning sight to see.
The name of the mosque comes from the Arabic word koutoubiyyin, which means “bookseller’s mosque”. Back in the day, up to 100 booksellers would sell at the entrance to the mosque and in its surrounding gardens.
8. Jamaa el Fna
One of the oldest squares in the city, Jamaaa el Fna is a veritable outdoor theater that’s been entertaining the people of Marrakesh for centuries. The square changes from day to night, and everything that happens here is unique – a rolling story of chaos that would make for an excellent time-lapse.
It’s also home to a daily market where spice and dry fruit vendors, confectionery stalls, and souvenir stalls sell their wares. But the real spectacle is the square at night when street performers, acrobats, and henna artists take over.
9. Bab el Mansour
Bab Mansour has seduced many visitors over the years but none have been able to illustrate its allure quite as eloquently as French novelist Pierre Loti (1850-1923) who once described it as a “glimmering, glinting, […] priceless tapestry placed over these ancient stones to relieve the monotony of these towering walls.”
The gate is intensely decorated with green and white zeillij tiles and engraved Koranic panels. Some of the marble columns at the sides were retrieved from the Roman ruins of Volubilis.
If you’re looking for a memorable way to get out of the city centre, take in a camel ride through Marrakech’s palm grove. This is a great way to see a different side of the city, and is one of the best ways to appreciate this oasis of calm.
There are several companies that offer this sort of service, so do your research before hand.