‘Marrakesh is one of the most beautiful and culturally rich cities I’ve had the pleasure to visit and there’s a mass of things to see and do…’
If you have a few days to spend in the old town (Medina), there are a few experiences not to be missed! I have included 7 sights overall, but this is because one of the main ones isn’t actually open to non-Muslims. However, it’s definitely still worth checking out the exterior.
Jemaa El-fna (day and night)
This, as they say, is where the magic happens. The city’s main square is constantly full of life and can be a very crowded and somewhat overwhelming experience at times.
The square is surrounded by hotels and restaurants, with another few dozen stores, souks, carts and mobile vans occupying space in the main body of the square. It’s an experience quite unlike any other in Marrakesh and is an assault on all your senses (in a good way!). Whilst you may not be entirely comfortable there for an extended period of time (Introvert alert…), it’s an unmissable sight.
Visiting the square by night and taking in the views from a rooftop terrace is also a great experience. Whether simply watching the traders do their thing below you, to observing men in prayer outside the mosque, there’s always something going on amongst the twinkling lights and candle flames.
Also; watching the snake charmers from a safe height is much more comfortable than standing next to them on the ground. Note: if you see signs for freshly squeezed orange juice for 4 MAD and think it’s a great deal; it is…kinda. If you’re happy standing at the stall and drinking it from a glass, then great. If you want to take it with you while you see the sights, a plastic cup will cost an additional (5 MAD). It’s hardly expensive, but another subtle way the traders have of increasing your spend.
Hidden in the depths of the Medina is the beautiful and relaxing space of the Secret Gardens. It’s not a particularly large area, but it is a complete contrast to the surrounding streets and alleyways.
The greenery, palm trees, pomegranate and orange groves, as well as the smell of fresh lavender make this a wonderfully serene and relaxing contrast to most other parts of the old town.
At 50 MAD for entry (without a tour guide and with no access to the tower), you can spend some time exploring the grounds, saying hi to the turtles basking in the sunlight, and relaxing with some tea on the rooftop terrace.
El Bahia Palace
This was by far my favourite spot in the city. It’s a maze of interconnected courtyards, gardens and rooms, with the most exquisite tiling and intricate plaster work. I took so many photos that I actually ran down my phone battery, but there was something new and gorgeous everywhere I stepped and it was impossible not to capture it.
At a tiny 10 MAD to enter, it’s incredible value for money and the marjorelle blue stained glass windows, tiles and painted wrought ironworks are worth the entry alone.
La Maison de Photographie
This riad turned museum is a little out of the way, but fairly easy to find with a Google map. It’s tucked away in the Medina and is an unassuming building filled with wonderful insights into Moroccan culture and people. Mostly in black and white, the exhibitions cover many photographers and show a range of historic and more modern snaps.
The Berber women shots are fascinating and the accompanying stories behind them give you a great sense of just how important women are in society. There’s also a short video on an upper floor and I was personally delighted to discover that many Scots were amongst the original photographer in the Tangier area of the country, with typical names, such as MacLeod, Wilson, Valentine and Scott.
On the roof of the road is a small open air cafe, with wonderful views our across the Medina and of the minarets of the local Medina mosques, as well as the Atlas mountain range.
The mausoleum consists of three main buildings and the overall attraction was only discovered in 1917. Consisting of around 60 tombs in the main buildings, with more than 100 more in the garden, these mausoleums and fancy-ass resting places are quite an incredible nod to wealth and the importance of still looking good when you’ve popped your clogs.
The Saadien Sultan, Ahmet Al Mansour, had marble imported from Italy for his tomb. As you do. The tiling in place around the tombs is nothing short of jaw-dropping. If that wasn’t enough, he made sure everyone knew just how wealthy and important he was by having pure gold lining his decorative plasterwork. Ladies and gentlemen…prepare to be dazzled.
Ben Yousef Madrasa
I include this as it’s such a culturally important sight in the Medina, but it’s closed for necessary restoration until 2020. You can get a great idea of what it’s going to look like when complete, and you can certainly look at the beautiful exterior, but it’s not really the same thing as being able to enter.
However, as one of the biggest attractions in the Medina, and the most important in the city, it’s still worth including. You can currently wander around the impressive exterior, but work is still ongoing inside. Booo! But also Yay! Because it will be open before you know it.
I’ve added this as an extra as, technically, you can’t actually visit. Non Muslims are not permitted in mosques in the Medina (and elsewhere) as they are places of workship and they don’t really need us hanging around, taking photos and disturbing their daily rituals.
The Koutoubia is no different. However, although not being able to look inside, there’s a fair bit to see around the exterior and the courtyard. The Koutoubia Tower is the highest in Marrakesh and is a really striking building (particularly when lit up at night). The surrounding courtyard is lined with palms and is a popular meeting place for locals.
What are your favourite sights in Marrakesh Medina?
Also; did you know that The Travel Bug has 3 Fascinating Facts about Marrakesh on his page??