Marrakech is no Casablanca, at least not as far as appreciation in movies goes. True, there’s no Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart giving each other longing looks while fleeing the Nazis, but Marrakech has a lot more to offer the typical tourist than Casablanca these days, with endless sights, sounds and smells to explore, as well as a well-preserved Medina. One of the great things about Marrakech is how accessible it is. EasyJet flies from London, Paris, Berlin, and Milan among other destinations, making the trip both easy and cheap for people based in Europe looking for a quick break.
Immediately upon arriving, drop your things at your riyad, a very Moroccan style of accommodation, with an inner courtyard. Riyads range from very fancy, with prices to match, to significant less fancy but bursting with character. I paid only $8 a night for my stay at a riyad in the Medina, which was certainly more authentic than most hostels I’ve stayed at before or since.
Once you’ve dropped off your things, get ready to explore some of the major sights in the Medina, the bustling ancient heart of the city. Step through the winding streets and past eager vendors towards Jeema el Fna, the main square. You’ll be spending more time here tonight, but near the square is the Koutoubia Mosque, with a giant, intricate minaret. Tourists can’t go in, but it’s well worth taking a few pictures of the minaret.
After the Koutubia Mosque, head back into the Medina towards the El Bahia palace. The palace is a nicely reconstructed relic of the 19th century. Filled with excellent examples of Moroccan art and architecture as well as quiet courtyards, which are a nice escape from the hustle of the medina.
Spend the last few hours of daylight exploring the souks in the Medina, haggling for good deals on pottery, scarves or spices.
Make sure you visit Jemaa el Fna, the main square of the Medina. You can get excellent and authentic tajine and couscous from the food stalls there for a low price. Although the food is great, nothing can beat the atmosphere. Eat outside at a table, watching the musicians and snake charmers that set up shop in the square. Its chaos is not to be missed.
In the morning, take a trip to the Saadian tombs. These tombs date back to the Saadian dynasty of sultans that ruled Morocco in the 16th century. They were subsequently forgotten until 1917, when they were rediscovered and preservation work began. The buildings are stunning and the tile work is especially intricate.
After the Saadian tombs, visit the El Badi palace, also dating back to the Saadian dynasty. The palace itself consists of ruins, but the views are stunning and there are a number of ancient nooks, crannies and passageways worth exploring.
Visit one of the slightly more upscale restaurants around the medina for a fantastic dish of tajine or couscous as well as perhaps a belly dance show. I recommend Le Marrakchi at 52 rue de Banques. Just be aware: even though this is a French-speaking country, tipping is required.
On the morning of your final day, take a trip outside of the Medina to the Jardin Majorelle, a park in the new city. Designed by Jaques Marjorelle in the 1920s, it is a stunning combination of Moroccan and Art Nouveau architecture, as well as the home to countless species of cacti and water lilies.
After spending your morning in the Jardin Majorelle, enjoy your last afternoon in Marrakech by visiting a hamam and experiencing a traditional Moroccan bath. There are plenty in the medina, and you can find the best deal by asking around, including at your Riyad. You’ll get a scrubbing, massage, and rinses in multiple temperatures of water. After a few days in the heat and dust of Marrakech, it can’t be overstated how great this feels.
Sit on the roof of your riyad, listen to the call to prayer and enjoy the sunset over some tea or a shisha pipe of flavored tobacco. Just don’t call it a hookah, like we did. Our riyad managers wrote down a phone number, before realizing what we were actually asking for. Whose phone number this was has been the source of endless speculation over the past few years.
If you have more time or are coming from farther afield than Europe, you should definitely make time for Fez on your itinerary. Fez is another well-preserved city with an atmospheric Medina, ancient city walls, and spectacular views of the nearby Middle Atlas Mountains. Also worth a visit from Marrakech is the beach town of Essaouria, about three hours away by train, with a well-preserved port. Marrakech is also a great place to begin explorations of the nearby High Atlas Mountains as well as the Sahara Desert. Though the High Atlas can be seen on day trips, the Sahara often requires booking a longer tour.