As soon as you step into the medina of Marrakech (the old walled town), you’re at once overwhelmed and mesmerized by the movement of people and donkey-drawn carts, the sounds of shopowners shuffling shoppers in and snake charmers performing, the scent of tajine slow roasting on the fire and mint tea steeping on the tables, and the intense heat of Morocco compounded by the density of bodies. The medina is hectic! A word to the wise, don’t arrive at night, it’s only more overwhelming. But it doesn’t take long for the rich culture, traditions, and design of Marrakech to win you over, and by the end of your trip you’ll leave with a deeper understanding of the nuanced medley of life that plays out in Marrakech (and probably a rug too). As is the case in places that are so uniquely different from home, with an irresistible flair for style and culture rooted in so many historic influences, Marrakech is best experienced in the everyday moments. There are certainly historic and significant sights to visit, but to understand and truly experience Marrakech, you must simply give in to the intoxicating blend of sensory overload that the city offers. Get lost, embrace odd twists in your journey, and allow the city to have its effect on you. Here are some of the things you must absolutely do to make the most of your visit, here’s your Marrakech Bucket List!
Marrakech Bucket List
Try the mint tea
This won’t be hard to do. You’ll be greeted with the traditional Moroccan mint tea nearly everywhere you go, and it usually comes with a heavy hand of sugar. By the end of your first day you’ll be an aficionado, able to discern whether the tea was steeped long enough and whether adequate care was taken in its preparation. It’s delicious when done right!
Check out the Koutoubia Mosque
Arguably the most important monument in Marrakech, the Koutoubia Mosque is the largest in the city and is responsible for sending out the call to prayer to all Muslims in the city five times daily. The mosque and minaret are closed to non-muslims (very common around here) but the gardens are open and quite lovely.
Watch the performers in Jemaa el Fna
At night the orange juice stands and bustle of daywork in the main square, Jemma el Fna, transitions to a multifaceted performance. Snake charmers, acrobats, Moroccan bands, and more will put on their show to the crowds of passers-by that gather. Enjoy as many as you can, but bring a few coins to drop in the hats of each performer.
Visit Jardin Marjorelle
This botanical garden set to intoxicatingly bright colored walls and planters, was the creative masterpiece of French painted Jacques Marjorelle and is now maintained by Yves Saint Laurent. It’s a beautiful retreat away from the bustling medina, and I could spend all day wandering amid the palm trees, cacti, and brilliant blue walls. The gardens also house the Berber Museum, which offers a lovely history of the indigenous people in Morocco.
Eat some tajine and couscous
Two foods you cannot leave Morocco without trying are tajine and couscous! Tajine is a slow-cooked meat or vegetable meal served in a conical clay dish. I love especially the beef prune tajine, trust me the sweet of the prune just goes perfectly with the savory meat. And couscous is that light fluffy grain topped with usually meat or vegetables. Somehow the Moroccans know just how to prepare it so it’s effortlessly light, it’s delicious!
Get lost in the alleys
No map will help you here, the winding back streets of the medina are totally illogical. Wander the streets to get a feel for everyday lift here in Marrakech. You’ll know you’ve hit the outer edge of the medina when you cross through a giant archway called a Bab. When you get lost, just ask to be directed back to the Jemaa el Fna, the main square is the center of all the action and from here you’ll surely be able to find your way back!
Visit the Bahia Palace
This massive palace is the perfect example of everything I love about Moroccan architecture and design. Come visit just to walk around and admire the design. You can only see a fraction of the full palace but at 10 dirhams (~$1), it’s well worth the price of admission.
Go shopping in the souks
The souks are where Moroccan craftsmanship is at its finest (and so too their bargaining skills!). There’s a different souk for everything…for rugs and spices and lamps and olives and more! Take time to wander around each one, I dare you not to buy a suitcase full of gifts to bring home. They’ll try to rip you off for sure, so you have to negotiate on price, and if they won’t come down enough just move on because there’s probably another vendor who will.
Befriend the stray cats
The stray cats around Morocco are so cute and sweet! But there really is a ton of them and it’s a problem. I found it comforting to share a few morsels of my meal with them when I could get away with it, so at least they would have something to eat. Be careful though that they don’t all come swarm your table after!
Visit the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa
This old Koranic school is a relic of the more deeply religious times in Morocco, and it remains an architectural highlight of the city. For 20 dirhams, you can explore the courtyard and see what the students’ rooms looked like at Ali Ben Youssef Medersa.
Go out to the Sahara Desert
One of the best experiences I’ve had in Morocco is my camel ride through the Sahara Desert! I definitely recommend taking an excursion out of the city to Merzouga, where you can see some of the largest accessible sand dunes in Northern Africa, ride a camel to a camp in the desert, and sleep under the stars in a desert camp. It’s worth the long drive, without a doubt!
Beat the heat in Essaouira
Another great trip out of Marrakech is to Essaouira on the coast. This fishing town is a cool respite from the stifling heat of Marrakech, and the pace of life is slower here. This is a popular place for Moroccans to take their annual holiday, so you’re in good company. While you’re here, explore the port, try kite-surfing, and eat some of that fresh fish!
There you have your Marrakech Bucket List. If you do all of these things on your visit to Marrakech, I’m sure you’ll walk away loving it as much as I do.