Whether you plan to visit Marrakech for a week or more, or if you are staying for just a couple of days, here are some tips to get you on your way. Upon your arrival, you will constantly have offers from taxi drivers and young boys wanting to be your guides. These folks can be helpful but if you are more interested in making your own way (and saving a bit of money otherwise used to tip these guys) I would highly suggest getting a map (about 10MAD or 1USD) and a sim card for your phone, (Maroc Telecom gives a sim and 1 gig data for 3USD, also cheap and easy to top up). It is also suggested that if you do want a guide, go through official services rather than accepting offers on the street. I would also recommend wandering and seeing what you find rather than rushing to each tourist destination as you will get a better feeling and energy of this amazing city. That being said, here are a few of the places that may be worth checking out during a visit to Marrakech! **
This is an amazing place that you can meander around and is also quite inexpensive. The inner courtyard is large and has two long rectangular pools, and long rectangular sunken gardens filled with citrus trees and date palms. The palace is partially in ruin, though they are currently working on restorations, and tere is enough of the architecture left to see what this place must have looked at its prime. If you are lucky to go there when there are hardly any people you will get the feeling you are wandering in your own private (huge) courtyard. In addition to the rooms of the palace, there are also the bunker-like rooms and corridors that were originally made so servants could move from place to place and not be seen. If you visit in the winter, you will see storks nesting on top of the walls. Definitely, a place to check out!
A smaller, friendlier version of Jemaa El Fna (minus snakes and musicians). Here you will find plenty of small artisan stores that sell everything from teapots to fabrics, spices, and jewelry; similar to what you would find in many souks and the atmosphere is much less overwhelming. Surrounding the square you will find some nice cafes where you can sit, have a cup of tea, and watch the world go by. Watch out for the Berber lady who tries to sell you cheap bangles! This is a great place to relax after a visit to El Badi Palace.
3. Jemaa El Fna
In the daytime, you can visit the square’s many stalls selling freshly squeezed fruit juices for around $0.80 and view the snake charmers and their flutes. In the evening you will see many pop-up stalls with people selling all sorts of knick-knacks as well as many food tents; everyone will try to sell you something to eat. You may also see several monkeys on leashes. Most interesting is the huddles of musicians and performers dotted around the square. Here is another place that if you go to listen to a musician and take photos you are expected to tip. It is nice just to wander about the square at any time of day, though potentially overwhelming with the number of people.
If you are in Jamaa el Fna or in the souk nearby you may find people encouraging you to visit the tanneries. Most often they will bring you to the tanneries and hand you off to someone who works there. They may bring you to a shop that overlooks the tanneries (rather smelly and not so interesting unless you are really want to see how it is done). The shopkeeper will then show you many products made here, even if you don’t plan to buy. Unless you have a fascination in leather work or plan to buy something I would suggest against this visit because both the guide who brings you to the shop and the shop owners expect a tip for showing you their wares. I would suggest researching this outing before you go.
A nice, if small, landscaped piece of land situated next to a beautiful mosque. Great place to people watch and listen to the adhan (call to prayer) which happens five times every day. If you are in the old city this is an easy place to find if you are in need of a little greenery and quiet. Unfortunately, if you are not Muslim, you are not allowed to enter.
Amazing photos from the late 1800s to early 1900s. Located in a somewhat hard to find riad, it is very close to the Marrakech Museum.* The layout of the photographs brings you in and out of rooms in this intimate riad, giving the impression that the space is much larger. Though not a big museum it holds a collection of beautiful photos of Morocco from many different photographers. Most museums/locations we visited had only French and Arabic plaques however in this museum there were printed pages in English about the artists and the photos. At the end of the journey, there is a film showing an expedition of European travelers in the early 1900’s and their journey through Morocco. After immersing yourself in all of these fascinating photos go to the roof to get a nice cup of tea and see some great views of the city. You can also purchase food here, but you can get a similar fare for much cheaper in other nearby places.
*If you are at the Marrakech Museum I would suggest using a phone map to find the photo museum since it is so close. Locals will often offer you directions and take you a more convoluted way and then ask for payment after. It is then hard to find your way out again as well if you do not know how you got there in the first place.
Beautiful riad-style palace with elaborate tile work and a private hammam. Though it is a nice place to view and relax, it is the most expensive of the museums we visited and had the least to see. That being said, if you have the time, it is a lovely visit and is very near to the Musée de Photographie, visiting both make a good day trip.
8. Cyber Park
A beautiful place to relax away from the high energy of the old city. There are also many plaques of photos and stories about environmental awareness from school children around Morocco depicting negative and positive events and images. You will also find a small (one-room) free museum on the history of phones. Though all the explanations are in French and Arabic, the displays of phones through the ages and photos are interesting to peruse for a few minutes at least. This garden also offers free wifi if you are willing to spend the time to sign in.
A large riad with many shops selling artwork, spices, clothing and more. It has similar artifacts as you would find in a souk, with less need to barter and fewer people pressuring you to buy things. Whether or not you wish to buy something, there is some beautiful artwork and tiling here and it is worth a walk through at least.
If wandering outside the Old City…
10. Menara Garden
A real social spot with great people watching. If you walk down the wide boulevard of the main path, it will eventually lead to the square water reservoir. Rows of agricultural olive trees meander to each side. Music of drums and voices echo out of their green depths as people relax and play music. You will also see candy sellers and snack stands with punching balloons attached and small children running and playing games. There are a lot of people who sit and relax here.
11. Menara Mall
If you are looking for sim cards, European style supermarkets/products this is a good place to go. There is also quite a nice food court on the roof with great views of the city (and free wifi).
**My goals while traveling are to keep to a low-budget and low-stress schedule and my suggestions will often reflect this. Though I do not care for young children or young adults offering to guide me through the city, they can be helpful if you need help finding some place and are expecting to pay a bit of money to get there. I personally like to find my own way to places, and try not to spend extraneous money if I do not need the help. I personally find the excessive and unwanted offers of help rather stressful.
thanks to Werner Hoffmann for additional photos