Despite not being the capital or even the largest city, Marrakech is definitely the most popular tourist destination in Morocco. The combination of medieval Islamic culture and French empire influences have made “The Red City” a must-visit destination for European holiday makers. Attracted by the balmy climate, even in winter, people flock to the traditional markets, gaze in awe at the towering city walls and visit ancient landmarks like the Saadian Tombs and Koutoubia Mosque. There’s lots to cram into a short break so here’s some of our must-see suggestions for a 2 day escape in Marrakech.
The beating heart of the city is definitely the Djemaa el-Fna. The main square of Marrakech is popular with locals and tourists alike and provides traditional entertainment such as snake charmers, storytellers and magicians as well as food stalls and traditional souqs. The vast square changes as the day progresses from the relative quiet of the morning as the square wakes up compared to the carnival atmosphere at night time when the square is at its most crowded. If it all gets too much, retire to a café rooftop and watch the madness from above!
Just off the Djemaa el-Fna is the souq, the largest traditional Berber market in the country. Here you can lose yourself (literally!) in the maze of streets and alleys selling a variety of craft goods from bejeweled sandals, slippers and leather goods, to spices, fruit, meats, carpets, metalwork and pottery. The best time to visit is early in the morning or later in the evening when the crowds have dispersed. If you’re looking to make some purchases, haggling is the done thing even though it’s quite alien to us Brits. Remember to be pleasant to the shopkeeper, only start haggling if you actually want to make a purchase, decide in advance what you’re happy to pay and just walk away if you can’t reach an agreement or start to feel pressured.
After the chaos of the Djemaa el-Fna and the souq, you may want to take time out to relax. The gardens surrounding the Koutoubia Mosque provide a welcome respite from the bustle of the city. Dotted with palms and fruit trees, this is a favourite with locals so follow their lead and take a relaxing stroll amid the greenery. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the mosque itself but you can get a feel for the place (and great views) with a walk around the complex taking in the towering minaret and the ruins of the original mosque. Stop for a break at Cafe Kif Kif which has rooftop seating, great vistas of the mosque and tagines to die for!
If you want to venture a bit further out of the city, the Palmeraie is a vast palm oasis containing hundreds of thousands of trees as well as fragrant orange, fig, pomegranate and olive trees. Situated about five miles outside Marrakech, the Palmeraie is dotted with luxury resorts where you can enjoy afternoon tea, a dip in the pool or even camel rides through the palm groves.
Resuming your city sightseeing, one of Marrakech’s top sights is the magnificent Saadian Tombs. Built by Sultan al-Mansour in the 15th century, these spectacular mausoleums are the final resting place of various Saadian princes and members of the royal entourage. Intricate tilework and marble pillars are complimented by gilded, decorative plasterwork to create a truly lavish site fit for a king. As one of Marrakech’s must-visits, the Saadian Tombs are often busy during the day. Try to get there just as they open or go later in the afternoon to explore the complex in peace. Once you’ve finished your visit, pop into the Kasbah Café opposite for a refreshing freshly-squeezed orange juice and typical Moroccan snacks.
The best way to relax and unwind after all that sightseeing is by visiting a traditional Hammam. First introduced to North Africa by the Romans, these steam baths and spas are ideal for sweating out the dirt of the day. There are several public Hammams, some dating back to the 14th century but you can also find private spas which are considerably more luxurious. There is complicated etiquette involved with going to a public Hamman though, ask for recommendations from locals and remember that sexes are segregated and there are separate bathing times for men and women.
Have you visited Marrkech recently? Was there anything we’ve missed? Send us your reccomendations in the comments section below…