Marrakesh Attractions Guide

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Updated at 22:01 GMT

Morocco and Marrakesh enjoys a well-deserved reputation as one of Africa's finest holiday destinations. The region enjoys dry, hot weather almost year-round, which gives it some of the best conditions to explore and relax. In addition to the wonderful weather, the region has a rich history that dates back centuries set against spectacular scenery. With this wealth of natural and man-made attractions, there are countless ways to spend your days in Marrakesh.

City attractions

Marrakesh's notable attractions and many historical buildings contribute to the city's reputation as a top holiday hotspot. One of these important features, built in the 12th century, is the Koutoubia Mosque  - a feature of the Marrakesh skyline, dominated by its imposing 70 metre (230 feet) minaret. Standing in central Marrakesh, this tower is one of the key architectural features of the city. But, because it is an active mosque, non-Muslims are not allowed inside the historic structure. Regardless, the exterior is exquisite and a fantastic sight to behold.

The Bab Agnaou (Gate of the Gnaoua) is one of 19 gates that once protected the city starting in the 12th century. As one of the oldest fixtures in the city, this gate is formidable and decorated with inscriptions from the Quran. This gate is one of the best preserved of the 19 in the city as well as one of the most remarkable.

Once a royal palace, the Museum of Marrakech now contains many exhibits of traditional pieces of art, plus by itself is a stunning building and an archetypal grand home. With an inner courtyard in the traditional Moroccan style, the building itself is an attraction. Each exhibit is captioned in Arabic and French, so you may want to bring a pocket dictionary or spring for the audio companion for these exhibits.

Another beautiful example of Moroccan architecture, the El Badi Palace is a must-see for culture buffs. Commissioned in 1578, this palace has over 300 rooms with courtyards, pools and gold decorations. In addition, there is an underground series of tunnels that served as a jail. Unfortunately, like many buildings throughout history, the palace was raided for stone and other valuables in the 17th century for use in other opulent buildings. However, portions have been refurbished to mimic their original splendour.

One absolute must-see in Marrakesh is the Djemma el Fna, one of the oldest markets in the city. While the spelling of the English translation varies, this market takes its name from a mosque that once stood on the area. During the day, the square is filled with food vendors, local performers and peddlers of handmade goods. The market has been named one of the "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by the UNESCO organisation.

But an important safety measure to note, the market was bombed in April 2011. Also, it is also advised to keep your bags and belongings close to your body to protect against pickpockets.

A similar location in Marrakesh, if you are feeling up to the heat and intense energy, is the Medina. This area marks the entrance to the large market in Marrakesh. This gated portion of the city is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site and that distinction is well deserved. Plan on bringing cash with you to the Medina as the popular marketplace is inside. Also, be prepared to haggle with local vendors as it is expected and part of the fun of shopping here. Don't feel uneasy about negotiating for a price, haggling is all part of the fun - and expected!

If you would like to stay inside rather than being outside during the heat, you can make a stop into the Maison Tiskiwin. This museum is dedicated to the history of Marrakesh and Morocco, including artefacts from its nomadic history. It is often listed on popular to-do lists when visiting the city. It is a rather small museum but it has countless wonders to see and will only take a few hours of your time. Many of the exhibits are labelled in English, French and often Arabic. 

Another option to beat the heat and unwind is spending an afternoon at the Heritage Spa. This exquisite spa is staffed with trained professionals and has a wide range of relaxation and beauty treatments. The majority of their products are all natural and plant-based so they are gentle on all skin types. They are up-to-date in their electronic reservation schedule.

Considered some of the best shopping in the city, the 33 Rue Majorelle has a tremendous range of goods. With Western mentality, this store carries fashion and household items crafted by over 50 Moroccan designers and artisans. The shop may not carry items that are in everyone's price range but they are fantastic for window-shopping and spending moments inside in the air conditioning. If one-of-a-kind souvenirs are what you have in mind, you don't need to look any further than this shop.

If you are traveling with children, big or small, a stop to the Oasiria Water Park is a crowd-pleaser. This water park has extensive pools and water rides for children of all ages to enjoy. After spending time in the busy city streets of Marrakesh, a trip to this water park will be a welcomed reprieve from the heat and noise of the city. Unlike many water parks in Europe, this one has affordable prices for extras like lounge chairs, food and refreshments.

Another great place to escape the hectic pace of the city is the Agdal Garden in the south of the city. The gardens were carefully planned over 900 years ago. They have been added to over the centuries to include reservoirs and buildings. Now deemed an UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Agdal Garden is available for public viewing on Fridays and Sundays as long as the Moroccan royal family is not in residence in the nearby Dar el-Beida. If the Dar el-Beida is occupied, the Garden is reserved for royal use only.

For a visit to something of cultural significance to both Morocco and Muslim culture, the madrasa is a historic school building that is just as grand as many of the former palaces and universities that are seen across Europe. The Ali Ben Youssef Medersa is an elaborate and stunning example of a madrasa. You will need to pay an admittance fee to entre but it is nominal. Similar to the Bahia Palace, it is a splendid spot to unwind and take in architecture off of the city streets.

If you would prefer something more hands on during your trip to Marrakesh there are cooking workshops at La Maison Arabe available. These classes give travellers the opportunity to learn how to cook traditional Moroccan food from some of the best instructors in the country. Each class lasts for half of a day and offered in French and English. Each student will enjoy a class and the fruits of labour with a meal at the end. These classes have been recognised by numerous publications like the New York Times Sunday Travel section and Saveur among others.

Tourists on tour

Another way to explore the Moroccan countryside is to hire a driver or camel ride through the 4X4 Camel company. This popular attraction company offers a variety of tours to experience Morocco and will customize them to your interests. Common attractions to see on one of their tours are the Atlas Mountains, farmers markets, camel rides, a female-operated argan oil cooperative and dining with a local family.

If you would rather be busy and active while on holiday, there are numerous adventure excursions designed with your lifestyle in mind. The Rough Tours Company offers many of those excursions. Staffed with experienced and certified guides, Rough Tours takes travellers on true adventures and helps expand their horizons while on holiday. If you visit their website, you can choose from a number of different trips from Marrakesh that vary in length, from two days up to eight days. Some trips include excursions to natural wonders as well as heritage sites to learn about local culture.

Similarly for the active traveller, the Toubkal Treks Day Tours offers a wide range of excursions. Visit their website to get a better sense of what type of trip would be a best fit for yours' and your party's activity levels. They offer trips into the Atlas Mountains, Portuguese fortresses and natural wonders like lush valleys and waterfalls, little known wonders for many tourists. Each trip includes transportation, a professional guide and lunch in the listed price.

If you would like to soar above the skyline and busy streets of Marrakesh, you can book a trip with Marrakesh by Air. This company offers tours of Marrakesh and the surrounding countryside in a hot air balloon. There are no physical or age restrictions so this is a great option if you're traveling with someone with special considerations. Each trip lasts around five hours of floating through the air in the morning followed by breakfast and transportation back to your hotel. 

Another excellent tour company is the Moroccodunes Day Tours. This adventure company offers a range of tours for active travellers including 4 x 4 drives across the Sahara, driving in the beautiful Atlas Mountains, swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and visiting the numerous villages that dot the countryside. However, ask your tour guide if there are any concerns with heat.

Unique and adventurous, the Moha Camino Berber Travel Company offers day excursions that aren't quite the usual. Although they were started by Spanish expatriates, they have grown to cater to tourists from numerous countries and have tour guides that are fluent in English. Moha offers a comfortable experience from beginning to end starting with a car that picks you up at your hotel and brings you to your destination. Their tours include trips into the desert, Atlas Mountains or throughout Marrakesh and smaller villages.

Outside of Marrakesh

There are many sites to see outside of the city if you want to escape the busy city. One famous attraction outside of Marrakesh in the High Atlas Mountains is the Tizi n'Test mountain road. Built from 1926 to 1932, this spectacular road required blasting out sides of the mountains, creating a path that had once been considered impassable. This 2092 metre long road is incredibly challenging for even experienced drivers but offers spectacular views of the surrounding areas. Be warned though, drive safely and use your seat belt as this road's reputation has definitely been earned.

A must for golf aficionados, the Assoufid Golf Club is one of the finest in the area. The course management team is attends to each individual's needs or questions. In many cases, the golf director meets guests and welcomes them to the course. Golfing in Morocco is guaranteed to be a wonderful experience considering the spectacular views that almost every course gives guests. From this course, you'll see sweeping views of the Atlas Mountains and local villages.

One extremely popular and highly recommended attraction just outside of Marrakesh is Ait Benhaddou, an ancient fortified city. This ksar, or Arabic word for castle, is a wonder for anyone who is interested in history or architecture. This series of buildings offers visitors a glimpse into centuries old way of life and also wonderful views of the surrounding foothills and mountains. This attraction has been deemed an UNESCO World Heritage site you won't want to miss it!

The picturesque town of Ouirgane is well worth staying overnight in as it has some excellent small hotels if you want to stay outside of the city of Marrakesh. This village is around a 90 minute drive from the city near the Atlas Mountains. Its location near the mountains gives it easy access to tremendous views, paths to explore and wildlife. But because it is in the mountains, the altitude is considerably higher than Marrakesh. If you are looking to explore and hike, you should bring water and plan to take it easy as the heat combined with the altitude can sneak up on you.