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Top Things To Do In Marrakech

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May 7th, 2014Travel, Africa, Culture, Food
By Nisha Dhanani


Top things to do in Marrakech

Image courtesy of Flickr, Adam Baker

Earlier this year, my mum and I decided to treat ourselves to a 5 day get-away in Marrakech, the ‘tourist capital’ of Morocco.

With very little knowledge of the country, few friends who had travelled there, the ability to speak only a few words of Arabic and little time to prepare, we had no plans and no expectations.

For those who are a little less spontaneous and prefer to have a rough idea of what they want to do, I have put together a short list of my top things to do in Marrakech.

1. Experience Djemaa el Fna

Djemaa el Fna is the focal point in Marrakech and located in the heart of the medina, opposite Koutoubia Mosque. The medina is the walled old town, a maze of narrow alleys flanked with markets, shops and restaurants.

Djemaa el Fna

Image courtesy of Nisha Dhanani

Djemaa el Fna is the famous city square and probably the first thing that springs to mind when anyone thinks of Morocco. Most tourists visiting Marrakech will end up there every day during their stay (whether they intend to or not) – I know we certainly did.

At night it is hectic, strange and fascinating with acrobats, snake charmers, monkeys, artists, groups of people singing, pop up-food stalls as well as henna tattoo artists and handicraft sellers. The square is like a magnet in the evenings and swarms of people gravitate towards it, whether it be for dinner, shopping or just some entertainment.

There are some bizarre things that you may come across such as fishing for a bottle of fizz (coke, sprite or fanta). The only way I can describe it is like fishing for ducks at a funfair in which you win a prize depending on the colour or number underneath the duck you catch. In this case it was much simpler, with bottles in a circle and customers standing on the outside trying to fish their desired bottle of fizz.

Djemaa el Fna at night

Image courtesy of Flickr, procsilas

Something I found even more perplexing was the practice of weighing passers-by for money. On more than one occasion I saw people handing money over to a man sat on the floor with scales before stepping aboard and weighing themselves. Like I said, it is a weird and fascinating place!

During the day the square is much quieter with less pop-up food stalls and less artists - although you might still find a few acrobats performing in front of restaurants. If you want to go shopping, then you’re best off going during the day to avoid the night time madness!

There are many restaurants with roof-top terraces overlooking the square, which make for a nice place to enjoy the sun and grab a bite to eat.

It’s also worth heading to a rooftop restaurant in the evening for dinner. Although finding a table with a view can be quite difficult, it’s definitely worth it.

2. Indulge in Moroccan cuisine

Western food is widely available in Morocco but you would really miss out if you opted for this over the traditional dishes. There are a variety of tagines to be found. A tagine is essentially a stew commonly consisting of meat and vegetables or fruit in a rich sauce, eaten with bread by hand. By far the best tagine I had was beef and prune; however the lamb tagines and chicken tagines served with sweet potatoes, apricots and almonds are also very popular.

Tasty Moroccan tagine

Image courtesy of Flickr, dv.hunter

What makes tagines so tasty, in addition to the tenderness of the meat, are the spices used in the sauce – everything from ginger and cumin to saffron and cinnamon.

Whilst tagines are delicious, they can also be quite filling. Couscous is considerably lighter and makes a good alternative. It is typically eaten on Fridays but is available in restaurants every day of the week. It comes served in a mountain shape with chicken (or another meat) buried in the middle and whole cooked vegetables neatly piled on the mountain slopes. This is a dish I ordered a fair few times during my stay - a nice substitute to the hearty tagines.

Whatever you do, make sure you try some of the street food at Djemaa el Fna. The pop-up markets that appear at night specialise in serving snails, fresh kebabs, vegetables and a variety of other side dishes. The food not only tastes good, it is also incredibly cheap and the atmosphere is fantastic.

Pop-up food stalls

Image courtesy of Nisha Dhanani

The pop up stalls all have their own seating area which tends to consist of just a few rows of benches. This inevitably leads to you ordering way more food than you actually need, after eyeing up the food of fellow diners and giving into temptation.

The stalls serving snails are also located in the square and are fairly small. They have 360 degree seating around the stall so it feels a little like sitting at the bar in a pub.

There are so many stalls to choose from, each buzzing with life and providing you with a great opportunity to meet fellow travellers.

One of the best things I ate during my time in Morocco was a camel burger. I tasted my first (and I hope it won’t be my last) in Café Clock, a modern and stylish restaurant which I’d definitely recommend to any traveller in Marrakech.

The restaurant itself is decked from top to bottom in fantastic art work. It also has a relaxing roof-top terrace comprising several levels and with a number of little nooks so you feel like you’ve got your own private area to enjoy. The camel burger is served with crispy fries and a salad - perfect for those having difficulty adjusting to the rich, traditional food.

Another place I would highly recommend visiting is the Café de la Poste, outside the medina on Marrakech’s equivalent of our Oxford Street. It has a very classy atmosphere and, although it’s pricey, the food is divine and the portions generous. The Crepe Suzette and Crème Brule were particular favourites of ours. We visited twice, at one point spending an evening on the top floor enjoying a few cocktails.

3. Shop until you drop in the souks

No matter how hard you try, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid the street sellers and souks (markets) in Marrakech.

Shopping in the souks

Image courtesy of Nisha Dhanani

A good place to start is Ensemble Artisanal, an outdoor shopping mall on Mohammed V Avenue. The prices here are fixed which allows for a more relaxed shopping experience as there is no need to haggle. At first I was very sceptical about even going as I thought the prices would be extortionate. However, most things are very reasonable and it actually gives you a good opportunity to find out what you should be paying for particular items.

The souks have plenty to tease the eye including beautiful lanterns, colourful pottery, jewellery, mirrors, carpets, bags, pashminas, furniture, clothes and handmade leather shoes. There are different sections for the various trades and when you delve deep into them you’ll find the areas in which the goods are actually made. Watching the weaving of carpets and scarves was particularly interesting!

Shopping in Marrakech

Image courtesy of Nisha Dhanani

It’s also quite useful to see how the goods are made as you can learn more about the materials and how to spot which items are good quality. One thing my Mum and I quickly learnt is to ask for any pashmina we spotted to be dunked in water to make sure the colours didn’t leak. We only knew to do this after a kind man showed us the different powders used in his shop and how, with certain powders and materials, the colours run as soon as they get wet.

Bartering requires a lot of patience but generally speaking you can get at least 50% to two-thirds off of the initial price quoted to you. The local traders are normally very friendly and keen to teach you about their culture as well as show you their individual ‘creations’ regardless of your intention to buy.

If you’re lucky enough you’ll get dressed in scarves, either wrapped around your head like a headscarf, or around your waist and legs to make an interesting pair of trousers. It’s all good fun if you don’t mind sparing an extra 10 minutes.

Dressing in traditional trousers

Image courtesy of Nisha Dhanani

Although things are fairly cheap it’s very easy to get carried away. We came back with 15 pairs of shoes and ended up buying two extra bags of luggage, so I’d definitely recommend packing light when travelling to Morocco!

4. Discover Marrakech’s artistic side

We only had limited time in Marrakech and therefore only made it to a handful of the main tourist attractions, the best of which were the Maison de la Photographie and Jardin Majorelle.

Maison de la Photographie is a small art gallery with a collection of vintage photographs of Marrakech. The photography museum is tucked away in the Medina and spread over three floors. Aside from the artwork, the museum also has a cosy roof-terrace with a stunning panoramic view, the main focus of which is the Atlas Mountains. It’s a great place to stop by for a coffee or some lunch and it’s surprisingly cheap too!

View of Atlas Mountains

Image courtesy of Nisha Dhanani

Jardin Majorelle is a lovely garden located outside of the medina. This small paradise was owned by painter Jacques Majorelle before being purchased by Yves Saint Laurent. After Laurent’s death his ashes were spread across the gardens and a memorial stone erected.

Jardin Majorelle

Image courtesy of Flickr, Wicker Paradise

The gardens are a great place to escape the medina madness for a while - very calming and relaxing. The Berber Museum is also located in the gardens and there is an expensive café where you can enjoy a mint tea.

5. Throw yourself into the history and culture

Other historic and cultural attractions include Ali Ben Youssef and Bahia Palace. You could also add taking another trip to Café Clock for a traditional Moroccan story-telling experience to that list!

Ben Ali Yusuf Madrasa, previously an Islamic college, is now open to the public. It is a place that tourists flock to in order to appreciate the stunning architecture. Unfortunately this was not a place we had the time to visit. This is one of our biggest regrets having since returned home, read several reviews and seen photos of the lovely tiled courtyards.

Ben Ali Yusuf Madrasa

Image courtesy of Flickr, procsilas

The Bahia Palace is located in the medina, a short walk from the Djemma el Fna. Although there is no furniture, the intricate mosaic work in the courtyard and buildings is beautiful and definitely worth a visit - especially for just 10 Dirhams (less than £1)!

If you’d like to get out of the city then head to Essaouria, a small coastal town around 2 hours away. It’s a relaxing getaway with lovely views over the fishing port and medina. It’s easy to get to as well, with a reliable bus service that runs from Marrakech train station.

Essaouria

Image courtesy of Flickr, FrenchSelfCatering.com

I hope you found this blog useful. I’d love to hear your feedback. Have you been to Marrakech? What was the highlight of your trip? Have you got some good tips for readers regarding things to do in Marrakech? Please leave your comments below.

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