Marrakesh in Morocco was somewhere I had always dreamed of visiting. Something about Marrakesh when you see it on the TV or in magazines just seems so appealing, with its bustling markets for miles selling trinkets and handcrafted goods, the smells and spices and all the bright colours just look so beautiful.
I turned 30 recently and my husband wanted to take me away somewhere to celebrate on a city break, when he asked me where I would like to go to I knew straight away I wanted to go to Marrakesh. So we booked some cheap flights through Ryanair from London Stansted Airport which were about £100 return.
My husband asked me to find somewhere that I really wanted to stay, I was desperate to stay in a traditional Moroccan Riad, after much searching and trawling through the many booking sites online I finally found one that looked amazing and had reviews to match.
Once the flights and accommodation were booked, we started looking through our guide book and started planning all the sights that we wanted to visit, and of course the markets for all the shopping I wanted to do.
Marrakesh is an amazing city with lots going on, from gigantic markets that feel like mazes, mosques and beautiful gardens and buildings there is so much to see. I would really recommend getting out of the hustle and bustle of the city for at least a day. I had always wanted to explore the Atlas Mountains so we booked a tour on my 30th Birthday to take us there, it was the highlight of our trip.
Even though I loved Marrakesh and glad I visited I’m not sure I would go back as I kind of feel like I saw all the sights that I wanted to see and ticked everything off my itinerary, and after a while the constant hassle and busyness from the markets can be quite overwhelming. Saying this I would recommend Marrakesh to everyone as it’s a great affordable exotic getaway.
Sights & Activities
Ali Ben Youssef Medersa
Ali Ben Youssef Medersa was founded in the 14th century and was North Africa’s largest Islamic learning centre. Today it is one of Morocco’s greatest interpretations of Islamic art and craftsmanship.
When we visited it seemed to be closed due to some kind of event we couldn’t work out what it was unfortunately so we never got to enter, which we were really disappointed about, as I have heard about how beautiful it is inside and wanted to see the intricate ceramic tiling and opulent courtyards. We did decide to walk around the outside of it and take in the architecture from the outside.
I would recommend when visiting Marrakesh to visit Ali Ben Youssef Medersa as it’s one of Marrakesh’s top attractions and is open daily, I think we were just unlucky on the day we decided to visit.
The Atlas Mountains has been on my bucket list for a while, so we decided to book a tour on the day of my actual birthday to visit them. We booked a full day tour with Morocco Attractive Tours via Viator although you can also book direct through their website too.
The tour was amazing it was one of my favourite parts of our whole trip while in Marrakesh, we did so much in one day. The Atlas Mountains are breathtaking and the locals that live in and around the mountains are so welcoming and friendly.
This tour included so much and stoped in so many places such as Ourika Valley and it’s waterfalls, which a local mountain guide escorted us up to the waterfalls, which took about an hour and a half to walk to the falls and back. We also got to stop off at an argan oil workshop and watch local Berber women extracting and creating argan oil which was really interesting and with no pressure to purchase any of the products.
We also drove through Oukaimeden Valley on a quiet mountain road which stands 1800 meters above sea level to reach the third valley of our tour which was Sidi Fares Valley, and passed through many traditional Berber villages and got to see lots of local life.
We stopped for lunch in a small village in the mountains and had lunch cooked for us by some local Berber ladies which was all cooked and presented beautifully, and with a gorgeous view of the valley and mountains. We were served a Moroccan salad, Berber tagine, moroccan couscous, dessert and finished off with some traditional tea.
We really enjoyed lunch and they even surprised me with a birthday cake, as our guide secretly called ahead when he found out it was my birthday, and the ladies prepared me a huge yummy cake which was a lovely surprise.
After lunch we headed to the fourth valley of Asni which is famous for its fruit trees, and also home to the highest peak in North Africa – Toubkal Mount.
We opted for the extended tour and spent an extra hour exploring the Kik Plateau which is a level limestone outcropping that offers wonderful views of the valleys below. We finally finished our tour off at Takerkoust Lake which is a serene artificial lake which attracts many locals and has pool clubs and bars over looking the lake. After Takerkoust Lake we headed back to Marrakesh.
The day out to the Atlas Mountains was my favourite day while in Marrakesh, I loved seeing all the natural beauty the mountains had to offer and loved meeting all of the friendly locals. I really can’t recommend this tour enough, our guide was also brilliant and really knowledgeable.
Bahia Palace is a stunning palace and it’s name translates to the ‘The Beautiful’. The palace is pretty magnificent and has such fine attention to detail everywhere you look.
The build of the Bahia Palace began in the 1860s but was finished off with all the fine intricate detailing and artisan embellishments from 1894 – 1900. There are many aspects to Bahia Palace from pretty courtyards, to riad rooms and the Grand Courtyard all decorated with colourful tiles, marble and painted woodwork.
Bahia Palace can be quite busy with crowds, try and aim to visit in the afternoon to beat the tour groups, although we found it still to be quite busy but kept going through peaks and troughs. Like most places in Marrakesh entering all the major tourist attractions won’t break the bank as entrance into Bahia was about Dh10 per person which works out at roughly £1 or less.
This large royal park is set out across 8 hectares of parkland and dates back to the 18th century. Cyber Park was given its name since it started offering free WiFi from the outdoor kiosks scattered around. There is also an internet cafe located in the park. This is a pretty park with lots of shady areas and is great to wander through mid afternoon to escape the heat.
Dar Si Said
Dar Si Said is a 19th century medina mansion, it has some similarities to Bahia Palace but on a much smaller scale. The interiors are stunning and intricate. We really enjoyed visiting Dar Si Said it was really peaceful and quiet when we visited, and was a much needed break from the busy streets. We pretty much had the place to ourselves which was absolute bliss. This beautiful little medina is a must do on any Marrakesh itinerary.
Djemaa El-Fna is the main square in central Marrakesh and also serves as a stage for the many street performers ranging from musicians, dancers, magicians and snake charmers and much more. Please be aware that there are also men with monkeys that try and get you to have your picture taken with them for a fee, please try and avoid this at all costs as I got the impression the monkeys were not very well cared for!
While visiting the hustle and bustle of this crazy square also have your wits about you as there any many con artists and pick pockets around this area and it is known as a bit of a tourist trap.
Seeing the famous square was pretty amazing it can be quite overwhelming and an overload for all your senses, but it is something worth seeing in Marrakesh and one of the main attractions. It is also the main gateway for the many mazes of markets .
Try and see the square at different times in the day, including in the morning when it’s at it quietest and grab a fresh orange juice from one of the many vendors set up there. In the afternoon is when it is a lot busier and some of the street performances start, and in the evening is when it is at its most busiest and frantic with everything going on.
El Badi Palace
El Badi Palace is a 16th century palace which was ruled by Ahmed Al Mansour, 75 years after it was adorned with gold, crystals and semi precious stones the palace was looted.
Today only remnants and rubble are left of this once glorious palace. However even though most the palace is derelict there is still a huge courtyard to see with sunken gardens and pools, the view from the palace is incredible with sights above the winding higgledy piggledy streets and ramshackled buildings of Marrakesh. While admiring the city views you can also see huge storks nesting on the high walls.
El Badi Palace may not have all of its original charm like many of Marrakesh’s other palaces and grand houses, but it is quirky and different and a must see and at just DH10 entrance it’s well worth spending a morning or afternoon meandering through the ruins of this once majestic palace.
Jardin Harti is a tranquil park, with lots of flower beds and palm tree lined paths with plenty of benches and seating areas. There are also two large dinosaur statues which attracts many local families. We came here after walking through Cyber Park as they are both within short walking distance of each other, and whilst in the Ville Nouvelle area of Marrakesh visiting some of its many public gardens is a must.
Jardin Majorelle is one of Marrakesh’s most iconic attractions. Yves Saint Laurent and his partner bought the gardens back in 1980, after falling in love with the city back in the 60s. The house and gardens was originally owned by painter and landscaper Jacques Majorelle.
Yves Saint Laurent gifted the gardens to Marrakesh to preserve its psychedelic mirage. The gardens are full of many plant species from all over the world and from most of the world’s continents. The Musee Berbere is housed in the cobalt blue art deco house which features many artefacts from Morocco’s indigenous people, including wood and metal work and traditional costumes and much more, to enter the museum it is only an extra DH30 per person.
Strolling around the beautiful gardens is essential when in Marrakesh, the contrast between the electric blue studio house against the greenery from the palm trees, bamboos and cactuses is absolutely beautiful.
Try to get here early if possible as it does draw many crowds, we came in the afternoon and although it wasn’t heaving i imagine first thing in the morning it would be a lot quieter.
Koutoubia Mosque is one of Marrakesh’s main landmarks and stands tall overlooking Djeema El-Fna. Non Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque, however you can get stunning views from all angles by having a walk around the mosque.
You can’t miss the 70 meter tower you can see it from all over the square. It was originally built back in the 12th century by the Almohads and was covered in pink plaster like many other mosques and buildings around Marrakesh, since then the building has been restored and taken back to its original stonework to make it stand out against the rest of Marrakesh’s pastel pink toned buildings.
Le Jardin Secret
Le Jardin Secret is an oasis of beautiful gardens situated in the hustle and bustle of the souqs. This riad was once owned by a powerful local chief and has lots of artefacts and exhibits on the history of the grounds and the restoration project. There is also a tower and cafe overlooking the city. The gardens are so peaceful to walk around so take a break from the busy markets and step into this little paradise.
The many Souks are one of the main draw for any visitor travelling to Marrakesh. The central souks are pretty crazy with narrow alleyways and have so much going on and there is so much to see and explore, every turn you will see something different.
My best bit of advice is to spend a few hours getting lost in the souks and try and experience them both in the day and at night. During the morning the markets tend to be much quieter.
In the souks they sell everything from spices, clothes, homewares and trinkets and crafts. While in Marrakesh we visited the souks most days or wandered through them as every time we went we saw something new.
When wandering through the central souks also head towards Moussaine and Bab Doukkala area, these were some of my favourite areas in Marrakesh as you tend to see more locals going about their day to day lives, and there is also lots of quirky and funky boutiques and cafes. These areas are also great for any keen photographers as there are so many gorgeous spots to take the perfect photograph with lots of blush coloured crumbling walls and traditional Moroccan architecture.
When wandering the markets be sure that your not paying too much for items and always have a limit in your head and make sure you barter. The Moroccans are hard hagglers so join in and try and get the best price possible as they will always start way too high, and it’s all part of the fun.
Theatre Royal is located in Ville Nouvelle and was started back in the 1970s and still today hasn’t been fully completed. This opera house looks stunning from the outside, we came and had a look at the outside after we had lunch at Amal’s which isn’t too far away.
Food & Beverage
The Amal centre is a small traditional restaurant that teaches disadvantaged Moroccan women restaurant skills and helps to provide support to them. The restaurant does amazing work to help these lovely ladies. We visited here for lunch and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming and was great value for money.
We sat outside in a lovely shaded spot, and ordered a tagine and had delicious warm beads which were all prepared by these local women.
Earth Cafe is a fab little find right in the heart of the central souks. It cooks up a great selection of vegetarian and vegan food. This brightly coloured ramshackled restaurant is laid out over several floors, and is hidden away in the central souk down a small alleyway. If you are vegetarian or vegan and fancy a change from vegetarian tagine while in Marrakesh, then definitely pay this restaurant a visit.
La Casa Berbere
La Casa Berbere is in a really lovely location overlooking a small square and opposite Snack Al Kzadria, we stopped in La Casa Berbere for a spot of lunch and had a delicious wrap and some fries which were so filling but also just what we needed after a busy morning exploring the city.
La Famille is situated down a small lane and is a hidden gem, it doesn’t look much from the outside but once your through the small pathway it’s a little hipster oasis. It has the most gorgeous decor and furnishings all set out in a courtyard garden.
We only came in here for a quick drink to quench our thirst, but they serve a selection of food and snacks, there is even a small shop area where you can buy artsy gifts. This place is really cute and quirky and really popular with French tourists. It had a kind of French chateau feel to it with Moroccan and Scandinavian style influences.
Niama is just off of the main square of Djemaa El-Fna, it’s a bit of a fast food type place but seemed popular with locals, we went in there to escape the madness of the square and got a quiet table up the stairs, they have a large menu with lots of choice of both Moroccan cuisine and western dishes such as pizza, burgers etc.
Niama is nothing fancy but if you want an escape from the hustle and bustle of the square and some cheap comfort eats this place is great, we got some dishes to share such as a sweet corn soup, olives, meze and falafel.
Cafe Snack Rahba Kedima
Cafe Snack Rahba Kedima is situated in a great spot on Kedima Square and has several floors, we went and sat on the top floor as it had some great views over the square where you could people watch and see all the stalls selling their wares. We went here for a light lunch and the food was really well prepared and fresh.
Snack Al Kzadria
Snack Al Kzadria has a really nice location set on a square which doesn’t seem to have a name, and is opposite La Casa Berbere. This area had some great cafes, restaurants and small shops and stalls and all the locals there were really friendly.
Being Vegetarian isn’t always easy in Marrakesh, although there is plenty of vegetarian tagines available, but after 4 days of mostly eating tagines we fancied something different, so we ordered a few pastries with various vegetarian fillings and some vegetables all were delicious, and of course I had to have one of my favourite soft drinks – lime and mint juice, which is so refreshing on a hot day.
After ages of looking through tons and tons of different Riads on various booking sites and review sites, we finally decided on Riad Viva. The Riad was central and had a good location, all the photos online looked amazing. Riad Viva also had lots of great reviews and offered a lot in-house.
Riad Viva was great value for money we paid £200 for 4 nights bed and breakfast and opted for a superior room. The room was stunning with lots of traditional Moroccan decor and details. It had a large cushioned seating area, bed and a beautiful bathroom.
The location of the Riad was perfect as it was only a 10 minute walk to the Djemaa El-Fna Square and lots of other major attractions in the city centre. The Riad was down a small road and where lots of locals lived.
The breakfast every day was great to and served up on the roof terrace and a selection of pastries, fruits, breads and eggs were on offer.
The hotel also had a roof top pool and small spa where you could book treatments. On our last night we decided to treat ourselves to a traditional Hamam and Massage, its slightly more expensive in the riads and hotels than other places in Marrakesh, but it’s nice that after your relaxed you can just wander back to your room rather than having to battle through the crazy streets and crowds of Marrakesh.
The Riad also offers set lunch and dinner menus which you can book, we decided to book a meal for the evening on my birthday.
We had an amazing stay at Riad Viva we can’t fault it, the staff were really friendly and helpful and couldn’t do enough for us, their English was also great. The Riad and it’s central court yard was absolutely stunning and the whole place was immaculately clean. If you are considering a trip to Marrakesh give Riad Viva a try, you won’t be disappointed!
Marrakesh is an amazing city but also one that you should take a bit of extra caution in, the city centre is safe however I would recommend to women to ensure your covered as you don’t want to receive any unwanted attention, for example wear baggy loose trousers or long skirt and cover your shoulders. Not only does it prevent any unwanted attention but also Morocco is a Muslim country so it’s in keeping with cultural traditions and expectations from the locals.
While exploring the city be aware of potentials cons and have your wits about you, we had quite a few people approach us offering ‘free tours’ which of course are not free as they will expect a tip at the end. Just be weary of anyone trying to offer you something for free, as it’s very rare that anything in the world is actually free, and will most likely always come with a price. In the markets also be careful of pick pockets.
If you can I would always suggest staying in a traditional Moroccan Riad when visiting Marrakesh it was a great experience and you get a really personal experience from the staff as there are normally a max of maybe 10 rooms in most Riads, so their service is much more personal and friendly compared to that of large chain hotels.
Important Information & Links
• Currency: Moroccan Dirham
• Language: Arabic