This Marrakesh travel guide is covering everything you need to know about the red city.
Located at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, Marrakesh, also known as “The Red City” is the most touristic place in Morocco, and one of the most recommended destinations in the world.
Known for its palaces, gardens, mosques, and souks, as well as several places, that are inscribed on the World Heritage List. Marrakesh should be on the top of your bucket list.
Marrakesh was founded in 1070 by the leader of the Almoravid dynasty Yusuf Ibn Tashfin who made the red city the capital of his empire.
Marrakesh now lost its administrative weight but became the main tourist attraction of the country.
In this post, I’m trying to give you all the information you need to know before you travel to Marrakesh, must-see places, what to do, what to wear and how much this trip might cost you.
Hopefully, after reading this post you’ll have all the questions you have about Marrakesh answered.
Is Marrakesh safe?
Marrakesh is the most visited city in Morocco, according to “The Regional Tourism Center” more than 2 million people have visited the red city in 2018. If Marrakech is not safe it wouldn’t be able to receive that huge number of people. So that’s a direct “yes” answer to the question “Is Marrakech safe?”
But as in many places in the world, you will need to be careful and stay away from the non-touristy places, and avoid walking alone in empty streets during the nighttime.
How many days do you need in Marrakesh?
You will need at least a week to see all the interesting places and enjoy every aspect of this beautiful city. There are plenty of monuments, mosques, squares, gardens that deserve to spend at least two hours in each. You could see almost everything in Marrakesh in 3 days but your schedule would be packed. If you spent your time in Marrakesh rushing from a place to another, you will miss a lot of what this magical city has to offer.
What is the best area to stay in Marrakech?
I would prefer either the Old medina or Gueliz.
The old medina so as to stay near most of the interesting monuments, and also to get an inside look at the busy lifestyle of the locals inside the narrow alleys of the medina. Moreover, you would most likely stay in a riad since there are hundreds of them in the old medina. Where you would enjoy special treatment and more personalized service.
Gueliz is the modern part of Marrakesh, this area might be your best option if you want to stay in a European influenced place in Marrakesh. Gueliz has nice hotels, long lines of modern cafes, malls, and many big brands stores.
What to visit in Marrakesh?
Jamaa El Fnaa
Jamaa El Fna is the main square and the most famous place in Marrakesh. It is located a few meters near the Koutoubia mosque.
This one of a kind square is surrounded by restaurants, stands, and public buildings provides everyday commercial activities and various forms of entertainment. It is a meeting point for both the local population and tourists from all over the world.
The history behind Jamaa El Fnaa
Jamaa El Fnaa square was inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. There are several assumptions about the real meaning of the name of the square. “Jamaa el Fnaa” means in Arabic “assembly of the dead”, and according to the locals, the name refers to public executions that were carried out in the middle ages in this square.
When to visit the square
I recommend visiting Jamaa El Fna square in the morning as well as when the sun sets, it seems that it is two different places.
During the daytime, the square is almost empty and calm. It is not as vibrant as it is in the evening but it still interesting to see.
When the sky gets dark, the square reinvents itself and becomes flooded with activity and charm. Food stalls fill the space with smoke, lights and a multitude of smells.
Whenever you visit this place you will be overwhelmed by sensations, colors, and smells.
How to survive Jama EL Fna
Your first contact with the space will be overwhelming, but you should arm yourself with patience! Because every five minutes you will have someone offering you something to buy, or calling you to enter their shop.
During day time the square is calm and the hassle is not as intense as it is in the evening. But if you are not careful you might end up with curling drawings on your hands, especially if you’re a woman as it is hard to resist the henna tattoo artists in Jamaa El Fnaa square, once you shake their hands you are their next client.
There are storytellers that always manage to gather people around them and keep them entertained. Fruit juice stalls that call everybody passing by to buy a cup of their juice and take a picture. Acrobats that show their spiderman skills in front of cafes and restaurants, hoping to eventually get some dirhams. You will also find snake charmers, tattoo henna artists, dentists, musicians, water sellers, etc…
If you want to approach the snake charmers or the storytellers or any kind of these shows, make sure you don’t pull out your camera from your bag in front of their eyes. If they paid attention to that you will be part of their show and they will force you to pay for the photos you took.
What to do in Jama EL Fna square
In the square you will find an infinite number of activities, thousands of people come together in this public space, to fill it with color, culture, and business.
Take a walk
The first recommended thing to do in Marrakech is to go for a walk and wander around the square of Jamaa El Fnaa and let the culture introduce itself to you,
Drink orange juice
There are a hundred juice stalls in the square. The guys in the stalls play loud music, sing and try different ways to attract and entertain the tourists. All of these stalls compete to sell one same thing, a 4dh cup of fresh OJ.
Tanjia is one of the famous meals in Morocco. It is usually served for special guests and on important occasions, and the people of Marrakesh are the best at making it. When the sun sets the square becomes full of food stalls that fill the place with ambiance and smoke. Make sure you head to one of them and try this typical Moroccan meal.
See the square from above
You should not miss the opportunity to enjoy the view from above and take some photos, go to one of the cafes that overlook the entire square and enjoy the moment.
Watch snake charmers
In fact, snake charmers in the square of Jamaa El Fnaa are not as you might think, Snake charming is the practice of ‘hypnotizing’ the snakes, luring them up into an erect pose, to the sound of music. But in Marrakech, they do it the Moroccan way. They get the Cobras to stand in an erect pose but you will hear no sound of music.
Jamaa El Fnaa is the beating heart of Marrakech, being in there is an experience not to be missed. Once you are there embrace the chaotic excitement and enjoy the thrill.
The construction of the Koutoubia mosque started in the era of the Almoravids dynasty in 1120, but it wasn’t finished until the era of the caliph Almohad Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur in 1162. Since then the Koutoubia mosque became one of the most characteristic buildings of Islamic architecture.
The Koutoubia name was derived from the fact that the mosque was located in the souk of booksellers. The word “Koutoubia” means “booksellers” in Arabic.
The Koutoubia mosque is where the old Medina and the new city meet. The tower of the mosque is the twin of the Giralda “the bell tower of the Seville Cathedral” in Seville, Spain. It is said that they were both designed by the same architect.
The Koutoubia minaret is very beautiful and It is one of the highest buildings in Marrakech and serves as a reference for the entire city. The call to prayer is very impressive but you can only hear it if you are near.
The Koutoubia mosque is surrounded by beautiful gardens where you can relax and escape the hassle of Jamaa el Fna square. There you will find beautiful water fountains and orange trees, which make the area looks like a small oasis of tranquility, in the middle of the busy city of Marrakech.
There are quite a few people who sell stuff around this area, you can have some good bargains there compared to the Souks in the old Medina.
In front of the Koutoubia mosque, there is a large square and all the streets of the city end there.
Unfortunately, non-muslims can’t enter the mosque for religious reasons. But the view from outside is spectacular.
In the evening local families like to visit the Koutoubia mosque area to spend some time with their children and watch the sunset.
The view of Moroccan women and men wearing traditional outfits and relaxing in the gardens, and their children playing in the big square is very typical and astonishing
For photography lovers, the mosque and its surroundings are very photogenic, this place is a great opportunity to take some good shots.
El Badi Palace
This palace was built in the late sixteenth century by the SultanAhmad al–Mansur of the Saadi dynasty after defeating the Portuguese army in the Battle of the Three Kings.
In its best times, the Palace stood out for its beauty and magnificence. The palace had more than three hundred rooms that were finely decorated with gold, turquoise and with the most luxurious materials of the time. For all this, the Palace began to be known as El Badi, “the incomparable”.
In the late seventeenth century, Sultan Moulay Ismail of the “Alaouite dynasty” came to power. In an attempt to end the existence of everything related to the previous dynasty, he stripped the place of all its riches and left it in ruins. And that’s when the decline of this beautiful palace began.
What you are able to see today are walls full of stork nests and the ruins of what was once a luxurious palace. In the interior, you will find a small museum in which some remains of the palace are well kept, and the minbar of the Mosque of Koutoubia is exhibited, and also a cedar pulpit decorated in gold and silver that dates back to the 12th century.
How to get to El Badi Palace
The way to El Badi Palace is easy and clear since it is located near the famous Jamaa el Fna square and next to the Saadian Tombs and other tourist places. So you have no excuse not to go through the ruins of what was once a majestic place full of power and wealth.
Opening hours & price
Opening hours: 9 AM–5 PM
Although El Badi Palace is in ruins, it is an interesting place to visit. You will have the chance to know some history about Marrakech and contemplate the magnitude that this place once had. All this with a price more than affordable: 7 Euros.
Medersa Ben Youssef
Medersa Ben Youssef is without a doubt one of the best places to see in Marrakech. This Muslim school was home for students seeking higher education and knowledge in various sciences, including theology. It was built in the 14th century and had about 130 rooms to accommodate up 900 students.
The building has a prayer room and a spectacular patio with an incredible iron lamp. Its arches and walls are beautified with Islamic calligraphy and decorated with zellige, cedar, and marble panels all made by hand. It is a typical Moroccan place really worth visiting.
How to get to Medersa Ben Youssef
The Medrasa is a little bit tricky to find as it is deep inside the alleys of the old medina, but it is worth the visit. You might prefer to visit it during the early hours in the morning since it gets very crowded with visitors during the afternoon.
Opening hours & price
Opening hours: every day from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Closed for renovation works until 2020
Price: 6 euros
Jardin Majorelle is the most beautiful garden in the city and one of the most visited places in Marrakech. This little paradise was designed by the French artist Jacques Majorelle and it took him forty years to build.
The garden has species from all over the world, from cactus, bamboo and aquatic plants to coconut and banana trees. Fountains, lakes, and buildings of blue color make the place spectacular and photogenic. It a perfect place to relax and disconnect from the stress and hassle of Marrakech.
How to get to Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle is about a half hour walk from the center of Marrakesh or 5 min by taxi. And only 5 min walking from Marrakesh interbus station.
Opening hours & price
Opening hours: every day from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Price: 7 euros
El Bahia Palace
This is my favorite palace in Morocco, whenever I visit Marrakesh I always make sure to visit this piece of art. This palace was built in the nineteenth century to be the most spectacular palace of its time.
This beautiful palace was built and owned by slave-turned-vizier Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed who named it after his wife “El Bahia” which means the brilliant in Arabic. Allow yourself to get lost in this vast, gorgeously decorated palace, and contemplate the beauty of its arches and ceilings.
I highly recommend visiting this place and as early in the morning as possible. To enjoy it peacefully and with fewer crowds. Make sure you go around all the halls and gardens, you should not miss a thing of this magical palace.
For photography lovers, I can say that every corner of El Bahia Palace is picturesque, especially the open courtyard with the fountains. You will have many opportunities to take wonderful photos in this architectural masterpiece.
How to get to El Bahia Palace
You will have to go deep inside the alleys of the old medina to get to El Bahia Palace. It is super safe to get there and it’s not very far from the center of Marrakech. It takes a walk of 15 min from Jamaa El Fna square to get there.
Opening hours & price
El Bahia Palace is open to receive visitors every day from 9 am until 5 pm, with a price of 7 euros.
This beautiful mosque was built in the 12th century and it is the most important mosque in the red city after the Koutoubia. It stands in a nice open square surrounded by interesting Moroccan houses and features a noteworthy minaret with typical Islamic decorations.
It is not allowed for non-muslims to get inside, but it is pleasant and relaxing to sit outside and enjoy the atmosphere.
The Kasbah Mosque is situated in a really lovely area worth exploring. it is only 5 min far from El Koutoubia mosque. It would be well worth some time to sit in a cafe near the mosque and enjoy the atmosphere of the daily life of the locals.
The Saadian Tombs
This place is also one of the major attractions for tourists in Marrakech. The Saadian Tombs date back to the time of the Saadian Dynasty. Sultan Ahmed el Mansour built these memorials to honor the lives of the former rulers of his dynasty, and also to be a place of rest for when his own death happened.
These tombs were abandoned for centuries until they were renovated and beautified at the beginning of the 20th century.
The Saadian Tombs are located in the Kasbah area just next to the Kasbah mosque.
Opening hours & price
Every day From 9 am to 5 pm
Price: 7 Euros
This place is vibrant and full of life, noise, and people. Princes avenue might be your favorite place to have a meal in Marrakesh. There is plenty of restaurants lined along both sides of the avenue, they offer all kinds of food. The best dishes of the world’s best cuisines meet there.
This place never sleeps, shops and restaurants there stay 24/7. You can get some good bargains in the shops in this avenue, but you should be aware of some vendors that will try to sell you fake watches and broken phones.
This place is full of activity, it is well worth a visit.
You might want to visit this place to escape the hassle of the old medina. This area has French-style streets with a wide range of famous brand shops such as Zara, H&M and Luis Vitton. If you tried enough Moroccan food and wanted to get back to your food bad habits, You’ll also there find some well-known food chains like KFC, Pizzahut, and McDonald’s. There is nothing typical to see about Marrakesh in Gueliz area, it is rather the modern part of the red city.
The Old Medina
Visiting this place is a must, Marrakesh Medina is one of the best Medinas in Morocco. Allow yourself to go through history in the narrow double arm’s length alleys. The medina is very vibrant, full of colors, smells, and vendors.
If you are a souvenir hunter, every corner of the medina is inviting. Trinkets, rugs, wherever you lay your eyes you’ll see masterpieces.
The medina is safe but the alleys make it look like a labyrinth, you will get lost there easily if you’re not careful. It’s better to stay with the crowds, and don’t try to go inside the empty alleys to avoid any sort of problem.
You might come across some people that will ask you to follow them to show you a riad or take you to a shop. Be aware of these guys, they might be just false guides that will overcharge you for their services.
Marrakesh travel costs
Food: The prices of the meals are affordable in Marrakesh, whether you want to eat in a fancy restaurant or a traditional one. You can have a nice meal with drinks for one person in the best areas in the city with a price of 100dh/200dh. An average meal with drinks in a normal restaurant will cost you around 40dh/60dh. If you want to try a Tagine or any other typical Moroccan dish in the food stalls in Jamaa El Fna, expect to pay 50dh/70dh. Fast food restaurants are everywhere in the city and they serve different types of meals at cheap prices “20dh/40dh”. A cup of coffee in a decent cafe will cost you 10dh/20dh. Beer is around 25dh/50dh it depends on the place.
Accommodation: Accommodation in Marrakesh is cheap, there is plenty of choices, hotels, riads and also hostels are everywhere in the city. You can get a bed in a mixed bed dorm room in a nicely located hostel with 6 to 10 Euros. A single bed in the city center is 10 to 100 Euros. You might want to try staying in a riad, which will be a great experience. A night in a nice riad in Marrakech costs around 50/80 Euros.
If you can afford the luxury, Marrakesh has some world-class hotels, such as; La Mamounia, Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons Resort. The standards are very high in these places. A single bed can cost up to 500 euros for one night. These hotels are usually frequented by celebrities and rich families that can afford their luxurious services.
What to in Marrakesh
I’ve seen many articles on the internet that tell people to dress conservatively. Otherwise, they might have some sort of trouble in Morocco.
As a Moroccan, I can say: Yes Morocco is a conservative country but in Marrakesh people do not really care what tourists wear. It gets really hot in Marrakesh during summer, so it’s really acceptable to see women in very short pants or half-naked t-shirts.
Morocco is a Muslim country but people here wear whatever they want. there’s no strict dress code like in the middle east or in Pakistan. It’s up to the person to cover up or show their body.
It might be necessary to dress conservatively during the holy month of Ramadan. During this period of the year, people tend to be more religious and conservative. So wearing clothes that expose some parts of your body might be considered indecent and offensive to the culture.
Learn more about Ramadan in Morocco here: What Is Like To Visit Morocco During Ramadan