City Guide to Marrakech, Morocco: Part 2 | Must See Attractions
Marrakech, Morocco is a bright, beautiful, and colorful city that beckons to be discovered. We explored the Medina (Old Town), Morocco’s largest souks, palaces, the New Town, and much more! Read on to see our favorite must see Marrakech attractions.
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Marrakech, also known as the Red City for the red sandstone walls that encircle the Medina, is a developing country with a mix of African, European, and Middle Eastern influences. The blend of cultures, as well as the traditional slowly giving way to a peek of modern life, have made this traditional trading town a hub for tourism.
We didn’t exactly know what to expect when arriving in the city, although we knew it was once a French Colony and is known for its argan oil, babouches (Moroccan slippers), and souks.
We were thrilled to once again be in Northern Africa and to finally explore a part of Morocco. We quickly learned, that as long as our expectations were realistic we’d find ourselves happily swept up into the hectic and fascinating life within the Medina (the old city).
Sightseeing in Marrakech, for us was much different than most of the other cities we’d been to over the last 11 months, primarily because of the developing nature of the city. There’s a certain level of grit and chaos within the city, that while it lends to the uniquely fascinating experience, also takes patience and a different perspective to navigate.
With that said, our style of visiting a new city, which is to see as much of the city as we can, gaining a perspective on what life and culture are like beyond the curated tourist experience, didn’t change.
We’re ambitious and our itinerary included everything we could find to do that was personally appealing and interesting to us. So, to possibly make your research on sightseeing in Marrakech (and other destinations) easier, we’ve kept our maps with all of the information we gathered (accurate at the time of our sightseeing). Finding hours, prices, and general information can sometimes be challenging, so we’ve tried to include these details on our maps and provide appropriate links below. The map is inclusive of everything we found to do, however we’ve highlighted our favorite must see attractions, including the hidden and off the beaten path destinations.
Note: We used this sightseeing map for our personal sightseeing adventures, because of that, some notes may not make perfect sense, and some information could be outdated. Information on this map was valid at the time of creation. All prices are shown in US dollars but are actually Moroccan Dirham (local currency). That being said, feel free to save it to your Google account and use it as a starting point (or modify it accordingly) for planning out your personalized itinerary in Marrakech.
Must See Attractions in Marrakech
Jemaa el Fna Square
Jemma el Fna is the legendary public square in Marrakech that can seem as though it’s out of a movie. Everywhere you turn you’ll see something new and magical!
The sights and events build throughout the day, but the experience really takes off after sunset. This is when you’ll be pulled into the grips of what seems to be a medieval carnival, with storytellers, musicians, games, healers, exotic food and drink, and a variety of entertainment acts, including dancing and fire eating! You’ll even have a chance to hold a monkey or have a snake wrapped around your neck.
Jemaa el Fna at night isn’t for the faint of heart, the hectic pace and constant noise and smoke can be overwhelming for even the adventurous type. You may prefer to visit in the daylight hours when the square isn’t quite so full of performers and shops, and has only a few snake charmers, medicine men, and entertainers.
During the day Jemaa el Fna is a great place to shop for local treasures, a starting place to enter the souks, and can be a way for meek or cautious visitors to test the water of the historic square.
When visiting Jemaa el Fna square it’s easy to be swept up in the exotic Arabian festivities, but don’t forget these tips to make it a pleasurable and safe experience:
Tips for Visiting Jemaa el Fna in Marrakesh:
Watch your pockets and personal items, just like any crowded and tourist centric area, pick-pocketers are common.
Be aware of scams, they can of course happen anywhere, but you should be extra mindful in Jemaa el Fna Square. People are overwhelmingly good-natured, but you may find yourself being charged more than expected, offered fake guide services, or offered something for ‘free’ only to later have payment demanded. A swindler’s tactics vary widely, so the best advice is to always make sure you clarify the price and type of currency up front (Moroccan Dirham, Euro, or US Dollar), never accept anything that’s ‘free’, don’t take unsolicited advice or directions, and trust your instincts.
Care, treatment, and condition of the animals in the square can be shocking. If this upsets you, keep your distance.
You’ll be expected to pay/tip for any pictures you take of performers or animals. It can be a hefty fee, sometimes upwards of 200 Moroccan Dirhams. Also, don’t be surprised if what you agree to tip for a photo ahead of time is deemed insufficient afterwards.
Don’t forget to try the selection of fresh fruit juice, it’s inexpensive and delicious!
For additional information on the square, check their official website.
El Badi Palace (Palais Badi)
El Badi Palace’s condition is in stark contrast to Bahia Palace, as today it stands only as the ruins of a former opulent and grand bastion.
It was originally built in the 16th century and the story goes that in the celebrations of its opening, a court jester made a prophecy that the palace would make a magnificent ruin. Whether this was actually said or not is unknown, but it did become true after the palace was left in disrepair after the civil war and later pillaging by Moulay Ismail in the 17th century..
Today El Badi Palace isn’t the show of grandeur it was in its heyday, but the grounds are beautiful ruins that are quite interesting to explore. It’s thought to have housed over 350 rooms, both on ground and underground levels!
When visiting don’t miss the rooftop terrace which offers beautiful views of the city surrounding the palace, as well as views of the courtyard and central fountain and orchard.
Tip: When planning your visit, keep in mind that Badi Palace’s website lists its opening time as 8 am, however it was 9 am when we visited.
Koutoubia Mosque is one of the most recognizable elements of the Marrakech skyline, as its minaret stands 253 feet high, towering above everything else in the city. The architecture is quite different from the mosques we saw in Istanbul and Cairo, and while it’s closed to non-Muslims, the exterior is beautiful.
We visited at sunrise and walked through Lalla Hasna Park on the west side of the mosque. We were treated to a soft sky and a beautiful fountain as we approached Koutoubia Mosque. By late morning, the square in front of Koutoubia Mosque began to fill with vendors selling fresh fruit and produce, and the hectic life of the nearby Medina took over the calm of the early morning.
Tip: When you visit, be sure to walk along the north side of the mosque where you can see the ruins of the old mosque.
Museum of Photography - House of Photography in Marrakech
The Museum of Photography - House of Photography in Marrakech, is what you get when two collectors of Moroccan vintage photography meet. In 2009, they opened the gallery which explores Moroccan history through the exquisite images of over 4,500 photographs, 2,000 glass negatives, 80 documents, and one rare 1957 documentary that was filmed in Morocco.
The gallery is showcased in the perfect setting, a three story Riad that’s been beautifully restored. It seems as if you’re actually stepping into the scenes of daily life that’s depicted in the elegant photographs hung throughout the gallery. As we moved through the rooms, the classic and simple design helped dissolve everything but the art, leaving only the images in front of us. And while we walked through historical images of the last century we found ourselves drawn in and mesmerized by the depth of emotion captured in the subjects’ faces.
After watching the documentary on the third floor, there’s still one more treasure that awaits you. Be sure to climb the small spiral staircase to be treated to a rooftop terrace with wonderful views of the lively city below. In addition, there’s a small café under the cover of the terrace and vines where you can enjoy the serene calmness and escape from the hustle of the Medina for a while longer. We think it’s the perfect place for a traditional cup of Moroccan mint tea!
Check the official website for the most up to date visitor information, including details on the current exhibition.
Tip: You’ll need your map handy to be able to find the House of Photography in Marrakech since it’s hidden among the winding narrow streets of the Medina. But once you arrive, the escape into the images and faces of Marrakech history makes the journey worth it!
Bahia Palace (Palais de la Bahiaa)
If you’re looking for truly beautiful Moroccan architecture and design, Bahia Palace is a must see! Unlike Baroque style royal palaces in Vienna or Berlin that are ornately decorated from floor to ceiling in gold, crystal, and colorful frescoes, Bahia Palace is elegant in a completely different style.
The combination of Andalusian and Moorish architectural styles can be admired throughout the palace in the expansive decorated cedar wood ceilings, elaborately shaped entryways, and bright courtyards that seem modest until you look closely and see marvelous tile work. In addition, the arabesques throughout the palace are gorgeous and look like lace work from afar. While there’s little furnishing in the public space, the true beauty is in the fine details of the rooms and courtyards. Plus, among the fountains in the garden are orange, cypress, jasmine, and banana trees that bring a bit of nature into the large fortress.
A tour of the mid-19th century Bahia Palace is a small glimpse into the opulence and culture of the old Moroccan kingdom. Out of the 160 rooms of this massive palace (over 86,000 square feet!) only a small portion are open to visitors. If you’re wondering, the portions of the palace that you can’t see are used in present day by the Moroccan government for welcoming special guests and dignitaries.
We highly recommend visiting Bahia Palace first thing in the morning, as it’s one of the more popular places for tourists and tour groups to visit. We found that within an hour of it opening, each area of the palace had large groups of visitors in it. Moreover, the early morning sun makes for beautiful and striking lighting of the courtyards and stained glass.
Tip: We put ‘Bahia Palace’ into Google Maps and the walking directions took us on a route around the palace to a side entrance that’s closed to the public. Thankfully, a gentleman pointed us in the right direction and we eventually found the entrance on the corner of Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid and Rue Bahia Bab Mellah. To make it easier for you, we marked the entrance with a purple ‘information’ marker on our Google Map above.
Bab Agnaou (Agnaou Gate)
There are 19 gates into the Medina, but Bab Agnaou (Agnaou Gate) is unique in that it was originally used as a royal entrance. In present form, it’s worn and sadly deteriorated, but it doesn’t take much effort to see the exquisite detail and decoration that were once a part of this 12th century gate.
Originally, the gate was built with a blue-grey stone, but with the sands and wind of the dessert, it now nearly blends in with the red sandstone of the wall that it’s set into. You’ll find the gate near the Royal Palace, which can’t be visited by tourists and is difficult to identify if it wasn’t for the guards who stand watch and will quickly tell you not to take pictures.
Saadian Tombs (Tombeaux Saadiens)
If you’ve ever looked up images of Marrakech, Morocco, you’ve surely seen the Saadian Tombs among the collections. The tombs date back to the Saadian Dynasty Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur of the 16th century, and while Moulay Ismail looted and destroyed El Badi Palace, his superstition prevented the destruction of this burial ground. To the delight of visitors and historians alike, Moulay Ismail preserved the stunning Saadian Tombs by sealing them off, leaving them forgotten for hundreds of years.
The mausoleum, which holds 66 members of the Saadi Dynasty (plus, over 100 servants and guards), was discovered in 1917 in an aerial survey and was later restored to its original glory. Today it attracts visitors from around the world for its beautiful tile work, Italian Carrara marble, and honeycomb decorations.
Saadian Tombs can be divided into two sections, the burial halls and the gardens. The first and most famous hall, the Chamber of Twelve Columns, is on your left when entering the grounds. Here, you’ll see the more finely decorated chamber and in the first door you’ll see the tombs of the Saadian princes. As you move along to the second entrance of the hall, you’ll see the tomb of Sultan Ahman al-Mansour, with his sons entombed on either side. This is arguably the most beautiful view of the mausoleum, so there’s often a line to get a glimpse of the Sultan’s tomb.
Continue your tour of the mausoleum by proceeding down the pathway through the garden. On your left-hand side when following the pathway from the first chamber, you’ll find the second chamber. Here, while not as impressively decorated as the main space, it’s the older of the two halls and it houses the tombs of the sultan’s mother and the founder of the dynasty, Mohammed ech Sheikh.
As you continue to move through the complex, you’ll notice that gardens on either side contain the tombs of soldiers and servants, marked not by headstones, but by stone slabs decorated in tile.
Between the magnificently opulent chambers and the beautiful tombs in the garden, it became apparent to us that Sultan Ahmed el Mansour commissioned the mausoleum to honor the lives of those closest to him.
Tip: Like many other attractions in Marrakech, you’ll likely be offered a guided tour outside the entrance to the Saadian Tombs. The site is easily explored without a guide; however a guide is able to add color, provide history, and give context to the site. We recommend hiring an official guide for the best experience if you choose to hire one.
Souks of Marrakech
No city guide to Marrakech would be complete without mention of its souks. The city is famous for the maze of narrow alleyways that comprise dozens of markets that cater to tourists and locals alike.
Historically, because of its ideal location, Marrakech was a trading town and merchants came from all directions to sell their goods. As a souk is traditionally an Arabic outdoor market, it makes sense that the original souk was held in Jemaa el Fna Square. As the size of the market grew, specialized artisan souks spread beyond the square and into the streets. Over time, the souks grew so much that they merged into each other, so that today, the boundaries between different souks aren’t well defined.
While most would consider the souks of Marrakech to be a must see, it should be said that they’re not for the meek or mild.
The narrow streets are filled with store fronts that spill out onto the narrow streets and are crowded with people walking by and stopping to admire the treasures. The steady stream of bicycles and scooters edging to get through, men carrying large carts of wares, vendors pushing drays of food for sale, and merchants calling at you to purchase from their shop, all create the chaos and hustle the souks are known for.
The most amazing part of the souks is that they haven’t changed that much over the centuries. When you venture into the souks and go beyond the main area, you’ll find less tourists and more locals, so while you’ll likely get lost, remember it’s part of the experience!
If the thought of visiting the souks is a bit much, consider hiring a guide to take you through them, but make sure it’s an official guide or else you’ll end up earning the guide a commission when he takes you to his friends (possibly overpriced) shops! We also found it helpful to visit a couple of times, as each time we were more at ease with the surrounding commotion and found ourselves seeing and enjoying more.
Tips for Visiting the Souks of Marrakech
A great starting point to enter the souks is Jemaa el Fna Square. Let the wide-open square ease you into the narrow covered streets of the Souks of Marrakech.
If you’re not careful you’ll get lost! Use your GPS to guide you towards a general direction, since most of the alleyways and streets of the souks aren’t yet mapped on Google Maps.
Always bargain on price, it’s expected! Consider going to Artistic Ensemble Marrakech first, where items are a reasonable but slightly higher fixed price than what you can bargain down to in the souks. This will give you a good starting point for what price and quality to expect when you venture into the souks.
Take pictures discreetly and have coins on you in case you want to tip. Some shopkeepers may expect it and others might demand a tip for taking a picture of them or their shop.
Specialized Artisan Souks of Marrakech
There are a large variety of specialized souks that you can visit and see artisans at work. Consider the following:
Souk Semmarine – The main souk where you can find just about anything, from pottery and antiques to textiles, jewelry, and kaftans.
Souk Smata – The shoe souk and where you can find babouches (Moroccan slippers).
Souk el Kebir and Souk Cherratin – Both are leather worker souks.
Souk des Bijoutiers – The jewelry souk.
Souk Chouari – The carpenters’ souk.
Souk Haddadine – The blacksmiths’ souk.
Souk des Teinturiers – The dyers’ souk and a great place to get high quality textiles, including pashmina.
Souk Kimakhine – The musical instrument souk.
Spice Souk – It’s to the right of Souk Semmarine and known as Spice Square.
More Must See Attractions!
The sights don’t stop there. Our map is filled with more must see places and we of course encountered things along the way that we didn’t expect. Here’s even more of what we consider to be the best sights of Marrakech, Morocco.
Artistic Ensemble Marrakech (Ensemble Artisenal)
Dar Si Said Museum
Dead Tree Sculpture in New Town
The Son of Joseph School - Ben Youssef Madrasa
Explore New Town Marrakech
Explore the Medina (Old Town) in Marrakech
Don’t Miss the Artistic Details!
Marrakech, Morocco is a city of color and wonder that can be captured through the palaces, gardens, and courtyards.
Many people opt to take a guided experience through the old city, which is a fantastic way to adjust to the hectic pace and the maze of numerous narrow streets. However, we recommend that to fully experience Marrakech, you take the opportunity to explore the city on your own as well.
The experience of seeing a non-curated version of sights, sounds, and smells is completely different from that of a tour. You’ll probably get lost, you’ll most definitely be approached by locals selling goods, and you may even have to dodge a few scooters and donkey carts! However, isn’t that the beauty and adventure of it?!