A guide to things to do in Marrakech
Marrakech holidays hold adventure, beauty and history in their cards. You can wander around the market places of the old city where vendors entice you with their authentic products or step into a traditional hammam for a bit pampering. Djemaa el-Fna square is where storytellers and cabaret acts gather for nightly shows attracting tourists and locals alike. End the journey by immersing yourself in the tranquillity of Jardin Majorelle botanical gardens, providing a break from all the excitement.
Haggle in the souks of the Medina
At the heart of Marrakech is the old walled city, the Medina, which dates back to the Berber Empire. This area is a maze of interesting riads or roads, home to the bustling souks of Marrakech. Vendors sell everything from carpets and textiles to spices, leather goods, kaftans, raffia bags and baskets. Meander past the shops dotted along the alleyways and take in the smells and aromas while testing your bargaining prowess.
Popular sections include Rue Dar el-Bacha, which is teaming with character and chic shops selling antiques, Berber jewellery and oriental rugs. The city’s largest traditional hammam Turkish bath is also situated on this road, as are old-style inns with courtyards, and popular restaurants.
If you’re after something contemporary head to Souk Cherifia mall. It’s where young designers showcase their brands, some ingeniously mixing old traditions with new designs such as modern Morrocan ceramics and ethnic jewellery. It’s worth noting that they don’t tend to haggle here.
Watch the street entertainers in Jamaa el-Fna
Many of the roads that tangle around the Medina eventually lead to the must-see main square, Jamaa el-Fna. During the day you’ll be spellbound by the snake charmers and acrobat artists, while keen water and orange juice sellers smash brass cups together trying to attract customers.
As night sets in, smoky barbecued kebabs fill the night air and the street performers get going. Large crowds descend to watch Chleuh belly dancing, Berber jam sessions, carnival shows and even magicians. You can also enjoy the Halqa street theatre performing in the centre of the square – an ancient tradition that dates back some 1000 years.
Given the convergence of such diverse acts and art-forms, this square has been given the UNESCO label ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.
Visit the gardens of Jardin Majorelle
Owned by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Berge, is the blue Art Deco villa and gardens of Jardin Majorelle, boasting flora from around the world. Through their passion they’ve cultivated this stunning garden, with cacti, bamboo, and other exotic plants and trees, trickling streams and a water lily pool. Walk along the pathways past gorgeous plants amid the sounds of the warblers, blackbirds, robins and house sparrows.
The villa, dominated by its striking cobalt blue exterior, is now home to the Berber Museum and houses objects that depict the lives of various indigenous tribes, from the Rif Mountains to the Sahara desert. Artefacts include jewellery, leather goods, weapons, basketwork and gorgeous textiles.
Explore the Islamic learning centre, Ben Youssef Medersa
This Islamic school attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque is home to some of the most beautiful art and architecture in Marrakesh. It’s a remarkable structure that was originally built in the 14th century. However this building, which used to be North Africa’s largest Islamic centre, was nearly entirely rebuilt by Andalusian artists under the Saadian rulers in the 16th century.
It’s distinctive because of its architecture, which incorporates a central arcaded courtyard overlooked by student dorms that once housed up to 900 students. Intricately carved wooden doorways, gorgeous stuccowork, cream-coloured Italian carrara marble floors and colourful mosaic tiles on the walls aid in the stunning overall appearance of the buildings, so if you’re planning holidays in Marrakech you’ll want to plan a visit here.