So you think you want to go to Marrakech… in August. It’ll be wonderful in Morocco! they said, there’s so many FLGs! (fine leather goods) they said.
Fine Leather Goods…and a classic ‘nomad’ hat!
I’m not stopping you. But, do not pass go before reading the following: If you’re here in the height of summer, when you book an Airbnb, hotel or a Riad, double check that the Riad has air conditioning in your rooms, too! Also, book something with access to a pool. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
Otherwise, enjoy this vibrant and bustling pink city filled with donkeys and oh so many visual delights.
Best time to see historic sights: 9am for crowds and the lessened heat
Best time to nap in your Riad: after lunch! Spend 2pm-6pm inside, or low-key if you can, during summer months.
First off: head to the Jemaa El Fna and the souks for all of your shopping, but be sure to do this either in the cool of the early morning, or later in the evenings.
The Jemaa El Fna is the large market square in the Marrakech medina. Bartering is expected here, so don’t ever take the first price offered. (If you don’t know much about bartering: Start with half of their asking price and meet in the middle!) If you’re looking for a whole lot of sensory overload: don’t worry, you’ve found it. There are snake charmers, fresh orange juice sellers, monkeys on leashes and women with henna designs galore.
Local shop owners will probably shout at you in a slew of different languages, as well as stereotype you into the closest actor, singer or public figure. From “Bob Marley!” to “Jackie Chan!” to “Fish & Chips!” and “Shakira!” you’ll hear pretty much in order to get you to turn your head.
When you’ve had enough of the hustle and bustle, now is the time to head back to your Riad for a dip in the pool, a nap in the AC, or just generally heading out to sightsee again.
The tombs are 10 Dirham, and absolutely lovely to wander through. Not a huge attraction, they are a good quick thing to see if you like flowers and intricate islamic art. Go in the morning hours before tour groups roll in. If you don’t have time, its okay to skip this and go straight to other options.
The Bahia Palace
A beautiful palace filled with ornate doorways (that we suspect must lead to Narnia) the palace also boasts beautiful gardens filled with fruit trees and an oasis of tiles! Perfect to wander around out of the hot sunshine.
Place des Ferblantiers
An understated yet cool attraction, this square (in between the El Badi Palace and the Bahia palace) is what translates to “the place of the lantern-makers”. You can see people hand-punching crafty geometric designs for those gorgeous moroccan lanterns that are hanging everywhere!
Bought by Yves Saint Laurent in the 1980s, the Majorelle Gardens are a must if you love plants or deep shades of blue. Pay 70 Dirham for the outside gardens, (30 for the museum) and wander through the maze of walkways underneath large palms and observe all the weird cacti.
Pro Tip: For Taxis and Marrakech Travel: Don’t ever get a taxi from a taxi stand. You can walk into the street, put out your hand and catch a cab from Jemma El Fna to the Majorelle Gardens for 20 Dirham. Walk directly to the right of you from the gardens to catch another cheap taxi out of there. If not, you’ll argue a driver down from 150 Dirham or more. If you’re at the train station, don’t let anyone stop you at the front door – go to the street and hail a taxi – much cheaper!
Located north-east of the Jemma El Fna, you can walk there in about 15 minutes, down meandering pathways filled with pastries, leather shops, and men driving donkeys and motorbikes. Once you reach the river, you’ll see (and probably start to smell) the tanneries. If you have little extra cash, you can hire a guide to take you through, explaining the difference between Berber and Arabic families who live and work there. (Berber families deal with larger leather goods, like cow and dromedary, Arabic families traditionally work on calf, goat and lamb, more intricate items).
Pro tip: Bring a scarf, or go early in the morning when the warmth of the day hasn’t started to hit the pigeon feces, used because of its amino acids to soften the leather in preparation for dye. The dyes come in many formats: henna for orange, mascara for black, saffron for yellow, poppy for red and indigo for blue are just a few of the ways the create magical coloring; and because the tanneries are all hand-tended in Marrakech, they don’t use chemicals to seal their leather, making it an organic process.
Marrakech is filled with delicious things to eat! From the large carts with pastries and kebabs in the evenings at Jemaa El Fna, to the Avocado Smoothies and fresh squeezed orange juices (seriously yummy), the street food is delicious and cheap. But if you’re looking for something more substantial, check out these restaurants and cafes, located all around the maze-like Medina:
Best places to eat: everywhere, but specifically below in our “restaurants” section.
Cafes + Restaurants:
Delicious food, trendy atmosphere, near lovely souks with tons of woven wares including bags and hats, rugs, leather goods and spices. A bit overpriced, but you get great ambiance!
Great coffee shop overlooking a smaller market square (Souk Laghzel). Good breakfast foods (I watched others eat it!) and a nice outdoor space right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle!
Awesome rooftop, though a bit of a haphazard walk north from the main square of Jemaa El Fna. If you’ve been traveling in Morocco for awhile and need a delicious cocktail or just some pesto gnocchi, this is the place for a slightly more international menu, though they still have Pastille and Tajine! Relax on their rooftop overlooking the city with a cocktail, or maybe just a mocktail. Definitely a place to go and relax! There’s an interior garden courtyard, a middle floor outfitted with a berber-style lounge, and a top floor with a view.
Probably my favorite “oh, lets just eat here!” cafe I found in Marrakech: Located on the fringes of Jemaa El Fna, its delicious and cheap moroccan food (tajine and and couscous) with good coffee and strong wifi. First floor has mist-machines to help customers beat the heat, the second floor has air conditioning and padded benches, and the top floor has an awesome view over parts of the Jemaa El Fna, and adorable bamboo seating.
If you want to eat some street food in Marrakech, at night, the stalls in the Jemaa open up, and the proprietors are constantly vying for your attention. For the most part they all have the same thing: kebab style meats, sautéed veggies, fish and soft drinks, all served with traditional round breads. On friday nights, locals gather around to play games like “put a round ring on a soda bottle with a fishing pole”, boxing matches break out, and traditional african dancing and singing happens in small circles all around the square.
Places to go from Marrakech:
- Camel Rides: If you have time, and you want to go into the Sahara on a camel, you can book tours that leave straight from Marrakech! Two nights away (at least!) in Merzouga seems to be the favorite of our group of travelers: long enough that you get away into the dunes, not so far that you’re lost looking at mirages forever.
A few other bloggers recommend visiting Hamams, and Rough Guides has a great day-by-day itinerary for a weekend in Marrakech.
We took it easy, and wandered around, enjoyed the sights and sounds (cacophony really), drank lots of fresh juice and poked around lots of shops. I’m the type that likes slower weekends away rather than non-stop-touring, but I feel like we got a great look into the hustle and bustle of Marrakech!
Have you been to Marrakech? What were your favorite places?