Marrakech can catch visitors off guard at first but you’ll never forget a trip to the pink city.
Achingly beautiful Islamic art sits side by side with bare plaster walls, giving the destination a totally unique feel to anywhere else on the planet. You’ll be assaulted with noise, scents and sights one moment, only to turn a corner and feel completely tranquil. It’s a place where you can swing between love and hate over and over again but in the end, Marrakech captured my heart and I’m confident it’ll win yours over too.
For first time visitors, or for those looking for some new inspiration, check out some of the best things to do in Marrakech below.
Not sure how much things cost? Here’s how much to budget for a city break to Marrakech.
16 of the best things to do in Marrakech
1. Get a henna tattoo
Perfect tiling and intricate design are such a big part of Marrakech and getting a henna design means you can carry part of this around with you, albeit temporarily.
There are plenty of street artists in Jemaa el Fna square but to be safe, it’s best to swerve them. I’d highly recommend checking out Henna Art Cafe who work closely with Morroco based not-for-profit organisations to employ national artists. Their henna is certified natural and we absolutely loved our designs. The price varies depending on what you’d like – mine shown above cost 100 Dirhams.
2. Indulge in a food tour
From rich tagines to gently fragrant cous cous, indulging in the local cuisine is an essential part of any visit to Marrakech. It’s even famous for the fresh orange juice made from locally picked, explosively juicy fruits. With both high end restaurants and street food stalls plentiful, you could eat your way around Marrakech in a myriad of ways but if you aren’t sure where to start, a food tour is a great way to sample of the must-try dishes during your trip.
For the true eating enthusiast, why not take a flavour of your travels home with you? A cooking class is a great way to immerse yourself in a new destination and if you’re lucky, you’ll learn more about Morocco from your teacher too.
3. Visit the Saadian Tombs
Accessible via a discreete entrance in the high walls that surround them, the Saadian Tombs are a beautiful memorial to the five Saadian rulers and their family members. Lavish mausoleums are adorned with real gold and imported marble, set in tranquil gardens where cats prowl through the grass at will. The tombs were forgotten for centuries until aerial photographs uncovered their existence and now it’s one of the most visited attractions in Marrakech.
Entrance is a mere 10 Dirhams and usual visiting hours are 9am – 12pm and 3pm – 6pm. However during Ramadan they can be more restrictive so check carefully to avoid disappointment.
Visiting Marrakech during Ramadan? Check out my blog post full of advice about what to expect when visiting Marrakech during Ramadan.
4. Dive into the souks
If you didn’t get lost in the souks, did you even go to Marrakech?
This winding maze of stalls can be a little daunting at first, crammed together in an extensive tangle of streets. Persuasive salespeople are experts in competing for your attention, with a cacophany of sound from their voices and bikes zipping through the crowds adding to the chaos. Piles of ceramics, lanterns and textiles extending as high as the roof are both dazzling and overwhelming at times so be prepared for a wonderous or slightly fraught experience, depending on the time of day.
While at first the souks appear jumbled and chaotic, there are actually distinct sections for things like art, rugs and food. Step inside but don’t stay intent on finding your way around – simply let the lanes carry you along to the occasional outdoor recess where you can take a breather before diving back in.
5. Eat dinner in a Hitchcock set
Tourist entertainment is often something to be avoided at all costs; cheesy, forced and totally inauthentic. However, the magnificent setting of Dar Essalam means that one such activity makes the cut onto this list.
Frequented by Churchill and used for the filming of Hitchcock’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’, Dar Essalam is a demonstration of rich Islamic art with some rooms dating back as far as the 17th century.
You can peek your head into the sprawling underground chambers by day but we chose to visit at night to dine in this splendour. For 200 Dirhams, take a seat in the lavish dining room and enjoy a three course meal with traditional music, dancing and entertainment. It’s a spectacle that you definitely won’t forget but if you fear audience participation, don’t sit near the floor!
6. Take a city tour
If you’re pushed for time, why not take a city tour to avoid the risk of getting lost in those endless pink walls?
These tours can be as structured or organised as you like. There are so many fascinating things to learn about Marrakech so history and culture buffs should choose a guide with an abundance of local knowledge to share. However, if you prefer going off on your own to uncover some hidden gems, booking a half or full day driver can increase your productivity without having to sacrifice your independence. I’ve put together some recommendations for you here:
7. Explore Jardin Majorelle
As another of Marrakech’s most famous attractions, it took French painter Jacques Majorelle 40 years to create this vivid blue masterpiece in the heart of the city. If you can excuse the heavy footfall that this popular garden brings, you can imagine the tranquility and inspiration it brought to previous owner, Yves St Laurent.
Entrance costs 70 Dirhams. Jardin Majorelle is situated in the new town which brings me nicely onto my next recommendation.
8. Discover new Marrakech
While the medina is home to all the sights, sounds and smells that you associate with Marrakech as a tourist, there’s another side to the city too. Guéliz, the new town, is a modern city that retains the vibrancy of Marrakech with a more European feel.
Find leafy streets and parks lined with plentiful cafes, international dining and cocktail bars – the latter virtually impossible to find within the medina. For those who don’t like to haggle, it’s also a great shopping destination filled with fixed price boutiques.
9. Chase waterfalls
You may think of Marrakech as a great city break destination but what if I told you that you could also see the highest natural waterfalls in north Africa? A mere two and a half hour journey from the city centre later, you’ll be watching powerful water cascade over cliffs.
Depending on which part of the falls you visit (most tours should take you to them all but read the description carefully before you book), you can either take a boat ride across or go for a dip! I don’t know about you but the idea of swimming in fresh, natural pools in the height of summer is total heaven. If you’re tempted to book, let me throw a couple of ideas out there for you…
10. Get traditional with a hammam
With origins in the Roman times, hammams became prevelant in Morocco in the 12th century. Ever since, the traditional bath houses filled with steam and fragrance have been a place for locals to gather, bathe and socialise.
As a tourist, you’re permitted to enter many of the traditional single sex hammams across the medina or you can book in for a more spa-like hammam at a hotel or riad. We chose the latter and unwittingly, it’s become a story that we laugh about now because we really didn’t know what to expect.
Want to know more? Read about what you can expect from a Moroccan hammam here.
11. Stay overnight in the Sahara desert
If you’ve got more than a few days in Marrakech, spending the night (or longer) in the desert is an experience that sounds totally unforgettable. For me, imagining the unbelievably stargazing at night is the biggest pull but for others, it’s the visions of rolling golden dunes that seem to go on forever.
Most tours include transfers to and from Marrakech, accommodation, a camel ride, dinner and breakfast. Take a look at this three day desert adventure and a cheaper two day desert trip for those on a budget.
12. Ride a camel in the desert
Considered one of the must-do activities in Marrakech, riding a camel through the desert conjures up visions of vast sand dunes with the midday heat on your back. However, if you don’t have much time to get out of the city on an overnight stay, the palm groves just outside the city are technically a desert too!
We chose a sunset tour that stopped in a traditional Berber house for mint tea and biscuits and the women here were truly lovely. As for the actual camel ride, it’s not the most comfortable experience – mine went rogue and kept tripping over which had me clinging on for dear life.
As with all animal tourism you’re considering, do your utmost to ensure that the camels are treated well by the company you choose and if you have any concerns about their welfare, express them or stop the activity.
13. Menara Gardens
It’s not a park as you’d know it in the UK but the Menara Gardens are a great place to take some time out for a chilled walk in a peaceful setting. Located just outside the city, there’s a long central boulevard lined with olive trees that leads up to a pavillion and lake filled with carp.
You might not get the splendour and wow factor that some of Marrakech’s other attractions bring at the Menara Gardens, but this is the place to go if you want a slice of tranquility. It’s also a popular location for Moroccan families to visit at the weekends so by adding this into your itinerary, you’ll be living like a local that little bit more.
14. Stay in a riad
They’re all over Instagram but these traditional houses were originally built with a focus on privacy for wealthy Moroccans. The design all focuses inward, often around a stunning central courtyard or pool and it’s this symmetry that makes them so beautifully photogenic too. Choosing to stay in a riad rather than a hotel is a great way to get a feel for Marrakech at all times.
We stayed in Ryad Amiran in the northern medina, a part of the city that feels refreshingly untouched with a local feel. The streets around this riad are quiet and tranquil but it’s a short walk until you’re back in the heart of the action, accompanied by the braying of donkeys and bustling crowds once more.
15. Marvel at the mountains
If you’re desperate to escape the hustle and bustle from the city, you’ll be back in your happy place after a day trip to the Atlas mountains. You can choose to stay overnight but to simply catch a glimpse of the countryside’s beauty, there are plenty of day trips to choose from.
Many tours will include lunch at a Berber house where you can catch a glimpse into their traditional lifestyles or a visit to one of the local villages – a fascinating way to gain a new insight into Morocco. You can also find combined tours where you visit the Ouzoud waterfalls mentioned above as well as the mountains, making for a packed but fun-filled day out.
16. Venture inside Bahia Palace
This 19th century palace is a complete masterpiece. Built across eight hectares of land, the palace features lush gardens, detailed decoration and tranquil courtyards. Bahia Palace is another popular attraction but while it’s often filled with people, the way the space is broken up means it easily retains a peaceful feel.
Entrance is just 10 Dirhams so don’t miss it during your city break to Marrakech.
Have you added any new things to do in Marrakech to your must-see list from this post? Let me know what you’re planning to get up to in the comments below!