Colourful, chaotic and charming, Marrakesh is a tangle of Berber, Arabic and French traditions, overlaid on a maze-like medina and set to a soundtrack of commerce, hypnotic street music and the haunting call to prayer. This isn’t just a city to explore – it’s an experience to embrace. One that’s going to leave you exhausted and amazed in equal measure. But what Marrakesh taketh away it replenishes with a smile. Stick around for at least 24 hours and you’ll come away recharged with a full stomach, a full memory card, and friends to last a lifetime.
Suitably satiated and caffeinated and ready to face the day, direct your inner compass for Jemaa el Fna – Marrakesh’s main square – and position yourself at one of the many square-side cafes for more coffee (or mint tea) and 30 minutes of people watching. Sit back as the city slowly awakens from its slumber and enjoy the parade of street performers, merchants and the odd horse and cart swelling the square as the clinking of cups and morning chatter are eventually drowned out by flailing snake charmer flutes.
Eventually, the madness of the square will compel you to seek out quieter quarters, and you’ll find no better respite than at Bahia Palace (Dh10). Built in the late 19th century, the palace took 14 years to complete and is considered one of the finest examples of Islamic and Moroccan design. You could literally spend hours here studying the palace’s intricate marquetry and detailed ceilings, or just appreciating the calmness and serenity in the palace’s grand central courtyard for a well-earned breather.
Another welcomed refuge from the crowds is the Ali ben Youssef Medersa (Dh20), a former Islamic school dating back to the 14th century. It was once the largest Koranic school in North Africa: back in the day, over 900 students studied here. Like the Bahia Palace, you could lose yourself for hours admiring the intricate latticework and imagining what it would’ve been like to study and live here over 700 years ago.
Back at Jamaa el Fna, grab yourself a chicken or kefta (meatball) sandwich (Dh10) and take a short break before resuming your day. You’ll find these sandwich shops scattered throughout the serpentine medina – just look for the sizzling hot plate and salivating patrons queuing impatiently. While at the square, imbibe a glass of some of the freshest, sweetest, most delicious orange juice you’ve ever had in your life at any of the juice stands.
Spend the rest of the afternoon getting lost in the UNESCO-listed medina’s alleyways and honing your bargaining skills in the lively souks. Alternatively, visit the El Badi Palace (built in 1593; Dh10) and its excellent museum and tranquil surrounds of orange trees, pools and glazed tiles. On a clear day, you’ll be able to spy the snow-covered Atlas Mountains on the horizon, so make sure you pack your camera and charge its batteries.
As the sun begins to set and the sky inevitably turns pink, head to Cafe Clock for a bite to eat (camel burger anyone?) and some evening entertainment. On Mondays and Thursdays this Marrakesh cross-cultural institution hosts traditional hikayat (storytelling) performances in English. There’s also live Gnaoua and Amazigh (Berber) music on Sundays, as well as language and cooking classes throughout the week.
Back at Jemaa el Fna, end the day by walking around the pop-up night market that comes to life each evening. If you can stomach more food, sit down for a meal at one of the 50 food stalls serving grilled meats and fish, fresh salads and tajines – it’s an assault on the senses, but a delicious one. Otherwise, just wander around the circus-like square and enjoy the madness before retiring back to your hotel for a well-earned rest having survived 24 hours in the untameable beast that is Marrakesh.
Want to make the most of Marrakesh? Check out our Morocco small group adventures.