10 Not to Miss Experiences in Marrakech
Marrakech is many things to many people. A city of contrasts. Old and new. A smorgasbord for the senses. There is something to suit every budget – a version of Marrakech for the budget traveller, and a high-end luxury version for the wealthy traveller, with everything in between. All versions are equally real and valid. Whichever ride you happen to be on, the shared backdrop and sound track are the common denominator – the stunning blue sky, snow capped High Atlas mountains looming in the distance, the racing motorbikes, radiant colours of every hue, the call of the muezzin, the mystical, magical labyrinth of the medina, the gorgeous fabrics and materials and the incredible flavours of Morocco.
Our suggestion is to start your visit to Marrakech with a guided tour of the medina. Then for the remainder of your stay in Marrakech, in your own time, you’ll be free to seek out the hidden away sites and experiences we’ve listed below, and also to enjoy lazy lunches at wonderful places like Dar Cherifa, Nomad, Les Terrasses des Epices and La Famille.
Here are 10 not to miss experiences in Marrakech.
Take a full day guided medina tour
Touring the medina with a knowledgable official guide is an invaluable way to discover the history and culture of Morocco. On a full day medina tour you’ll have time to visit several of the “must see” key sites of interest, amongst them the Medersa Ben Youssef, the Place Djemaa el Fna, the Saadian Tombs, the Dar Si Said Museum, the Souks and the Bahia Palace.
Visit a carpet weaver
Morocco is famous for its rugs and carpets and when you witness first hand the work involved in creating one, you’ll gain appreciation for the craft and skill involved. Behind the scenes in Marrakech there are numerous women weaving carpets on traditional looms, and one such place that is easily accessible to all is the carpet souk at the Ensemble Artisanal. The women here can be found weaving rugs every day of the week.
Take a cooking class in Marrakech
A great way to get to know a culture is through its cuisine, and learning how to prepare a few signature dishes will not only give you a deeper understanding of Moroccan culture, but you’ll be able to share this with friends and family later on. In Moroccan homes, almost all meals are eaten from one shared plate – there’s something quite special to gathering together and connecting over good food. Take a cooking class that incorporates a visit to the local neighbourhood oven and the local market – it’s quite an eye opener!
Visit the Mellah Market (Marché du Mellah)
In the Mellah neighbourhood is a Marrakech institution – the Mellah Market, entirely covered and the largest in Marrakech – where you can purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and game (kept live in cages until the moment of purchase), fish, fresh cut flowers, olives and spices. It’s worth spending some time wandering around to see what’s on offer. One fascinating item for sale is sheets of filo pastry, made fresh to order. The skill of the young men who make it makes fascinating entertainment.
Visit the Dyers Souk
At the entrance to the souks close to the Mouassine fountain is the Dyers Souk, where wool is taken in bulk to be dyed just about every hue in the rainbow. The guys who work there will encourage you to come in for a closer look. Don’t be shy. Have a few small notes handy to leave as a tip, or buy one of the scarves you’ll undoubtedly be offered, but either way, don’t miss this educational and fascinating experience.
Visit the Leather Tanneries
If you’re ever lost in the medina and accept the help of a local, you’ll discover that all roads lead to the tanneries! What’s on offer when you get there is a fascinating tour of the tanner pits where sheep and goat skins are treated during the leather making process. You’ll be offered a bunch of fresh mint to hold under your nose while you walk around – you’ll be glad of it! At the end of the tannery tour, the self appointed guide will be keen to take you to a shop where you can view the finished product. You may be tempted to purchase a bag or pouf, the quality of the leather and finish is excellent, and you will certainly be encouraged to part with your money. But don’t feel intimidated, it’s quite alright to leave without purchasing. If you do decide to purchase, remember to bargain hard and keep in mind the maximum price you wish to pay. You’ll need to reward your guide with some paper money for his time.
Visit a local hammam
There are many high-end spas in the Marrakech medina competing for the opportunity to pamper you and these most certainly offer well-being experiences, but we urge you to visit a local Moroccan hammam for an authentic, eye and mind opening experience! The large local hammams have separate entrances and bathing areas for men and women, while smaller hammams operate with different opening hours for men and women. There is an etiquette to follow, but don’t worry, you’ll find the hammam attendants will be welcoming and keen to share the ritual with you. You’ll be washed, soaped, bathed and scrubbed like never before! Be mindful that full nudity is considered offensive so keep a towel wrapped around you while changing.
Go on a food tasting tour
Morocco is famous for its delicious cuisine, but aside from the regular tagines and couscous, you’ll encounter many unfamiliar food items as you wander the souks and markets. A great way to savour all of these is on a food tasting tour. A Moroccan/American couple, Youssef and Amanda, offer such tours and all the information can be found at their website Marrakech Food Tours.
Take a day trip to the Atlas Mountains or Essaouira
Marrakech is full on and can be quite intense for the unaccustomed, so one or two day trips out of the city provide great respite and also an insight and deeper appreciation of Morocco.
Atlas Mountains Day Trip
The High Atlas mountains are approximately 70km from Marrakech which takes around 1 1/2 hours by car. In the Berber village of Imlil, official mountain guides are available to take you on a hike of the local area and show you the options for lunch – often in their own home! Such a trip can normally be arranged by your hotel, or for the independent traveller, Imlil is accessible by grand taxi.
Essaouria Day Trip
Essaouira is another great escape from Marrakech. Located 180km from Marrakech, the journey takes 2 1/2 hours, by car or Supratours tourist coach. Essaouira is a medieval fishing port town, with a lovely quaint, easily navigable medina, and it’s also motorbike free! There’s a huge sandy beach where you can walk, go horse riding or ride a camel. Known as the “windy city”, Essaouira also offers great kite surfing.