Our top things to do in Marrakech include staying in old hotels, taking a horse & carriage, learning to haggle and drinking enough mint tea to pass out. Shall we get started?
You’re hot and dusty from your journey here, your shirt is already sticking to your back – but you couldn’t be more excited. A short drive away is Marrakech, one of the most exciting (and popular) cities in the world…and you can’t wait to get exploring.
First, you need to get there. So read this post, and learn the Moroccan Taxi Driver’s Code off by heart. Seriously. It’s important.
Done that? Okay – time to explore!
Here are 7 things we suggest you do for a truly great trip round Marrakech.
1. Wander Freely – But Prepare In Advance
Right now, Marrakech is remarkably welcoming for tourists. In terms of personal safety, it’s widely regarded as safer than most European cities.
The main reasons are twofold. The first is the warm, friendly people – and the second is the Tourist Brigade Police Force, which sends its officers out in plain clothes to look for tourist-related crime. If you’re ever in doubt, you can visit the Tourist Police headquarters on Rue Sidi Mimoun, or ring +212 693-276207 – but you’re unlikely to have a reason to do so.
Nevertheless, you should remain as vigilant against theft as in any major city. The real challenge for visitors – which is less a security issue and more of an annoyance – is the presence of scam artists and touts that are very slow to take No for an answer. However, if you learn the rules of the Great Game – (which applies in most cases that something’s being sold to tourists), and you keep a healthy scepticism towards unsolicited acts of generosity from shopkeepers, you’ll feel entirely at ease
2. Find A Riad
First order of business: where to stay?
Since Marrakech opened its doors wide to international visitors, the hotel industry has boomed and you’ll find plenty of swanky modern new buildings offering a room for the night. However, if you’re after something a bit special, we suggest you skip them and aim for a riad instead.
A riad is a traditional Moroccan townhouse, build around a courtyard. Most rooms in a riad face inwards, so when you open up first thing in the morning, you’re met with morning sunshine streaming down the middle of the building, setting the courtyard aglow. Since this courtyard is usually covered in greenery (“riad” means “garden”), it’s a sight that will lift your spirits, no matter how bad your let-lag is…
According to Trip Advisor, Marrakech’s top hotel (beating more than 500 others) is a riad – the Riad Dar Oulhoum.
3. Explore The Souks
Exploring the miles and miles of chaotic, colourful souks, or open-air marketplaces, are the most famous things to do in Marrakech – and for good reason.
We could give you a detailed guide to the best spots – but it might be be obsolete by the time we publish it. The stalls and shops shift like the dunes of the Sahara, and your best bet is to go exploring and find out what’s there that particular day. Throw yourself into the scrum, let the crowd take you, and then find out where you are at the end of it.
(That said, we recommend being wary of hustlers – and grabbing a good paper map, so you can ask for directions and have someone point out where you are.)
4. Learn How The Public Transport Works
The most attractive way to get ferried around is in a Caleche, a traditional horse-drawn carriage. You’ll find a lot of them at the Jemaa el-Fna. Expect to pay between Dh100 and Dh200 for an hour’s journey for one carriage (not per person) – and, as always, agree on the price with the driver before you set off.
And then of course there are the taxis – and you know how they work, right?
5. Eat And Drink Like It’s Going Out Of Fashion
There are two ways to eat in Morocco: cautious and all-out.
If you decide to be cautious, stick to reputable-looking restaurants. This is wise if you have a medical condition – and, you know, it’s a bit boring.
The other option is to try anything that looks edible. And in Marrakech that means going to the Jemaa el-Fna when it’s at its busiest, and checking out the amazing street food options. Eating out in Morocco is generally very affordable (£15 should comfortably cover breakfast, lunch and dinner).
Our food tip: tagines are a safe bet – they’re so hot during cooking that anything nasty is burned out of them.
Lastly – you’re in Morocco, home of Moroccan mint tea. It’s not like mint tea you’ll drink anywhere else – and it costs next to nothing. Put the time aside to drink gallons of it.
6. Shop (And Haggle) Until You Drop
If you wander the souks for long enough, you’ll buy something. Something will catch your eye, or you’ll be artfully persuaded into taking something home…basically, however it happens, it’s going to happen.
For this reason, you need to know how to haggle. There are haggle-free shops in Marrakech, but they’re the vast minority. Having a rudimentary knowledge of the unspoken rules of haggling will save you a good chunk of money (and avoid that disheartening, shameful feeling when you realise you’ve allowed yourself to be massively overcharged).
Here’s a really great introduction to haggling and bargaining in Marrakech’s souks, courtesy of Wander Wisdom. (And remember – anything you buy, you have to carry it back home. Sorry, oversized tagine pots.)
7. Bad Smells & Clean Skin
One of the most famous sights of Marrakech is the tannery area, consisting of hundreds of open concrete vats where animal hides are processed into leather. This industry is as old as the city (a little under a thousand years) – and, quite frankly, smells like it.
It’s a spectacular sight, with each vat using different-coloured dyes – but with some of the substances used for tanning being blood, lime and pigeon-poop, an atmosphere of a very different kind is the result. Fascinating, but amazingly smelly. If you’re there with a guide, you may be given a sprig of mint to hold under your nose. If not, bring your own.
If you’re feeling a little soiled after taking in the tannery, take a bath. No, the other kind – the public steam room called a hammam, similar to a Turkish bath. Moroccans typically go once a week.
Here’s travel writer Flora Baker’s experience of using a women-only Moroccan hammam – complete with challenged English sensibilities and feelings about privacy.
Want to explore this amazing city for yourself? Our handful of Trans-Saharan Caravan Adventures, running through 2018, have limited numbers of places available.
Click here to grab your spot now.