What to see, where to eat and what to do in Marrakech
I don’t know about you but Marrakech and Morocco, in general, has been all over my Instagram feed for the past few months. It’s becoming very popular, and that will certainly continue. I love colours and bohemian details and it’s actually been on the top of my list for a few years now, and I finally made it! Coincidentally, we landed the same day the people for the Dior Cruise 2020 show were arriving, talk about good timing!
Even though I’ve seen many people go, I’ve already been asked about recommendations from a few people that are visiting soon, and I absolutely loved it so wanted to put this travel diary post together as soon as possible, to help and inspire.
We were there for 4 full days, flying out the 5th day, with one day-trip to Atlas Mountains and Agafay Desert, which despite its name isn’t exactly a desert but more on that later. This was plenty of time, although I do tend to get a bit of FOMO and want to see everything in a city, which wasn’t possible. If you are thinking of going just for 3 days and want to explore, be prepared to be on your feet all day, I promise though it’s worth it!
I want to mention some general tips at first, that are a bit ‘boring’ in comparison to the recommendations and images I have, but I think they are essential nonetheless as I didn’t know these things before going.
At the airport after landing (before security) you have to fill out a form with your details and the place that you’re staying (address) passport number etc. Have a pen with you! They don’t have any.
You have to do the same when leaving – when dropping off your bags take the Embarkation form. There is a huge queue after security so leave plenty of time. Two hours before your flight should be fine.
Upon arrival, I recommend getting a SIM card. It’s 10 euros for 10GB of data and 10 minutes of calls with Orange. There is a kiosk after security after you arrive. The other company isn’t meant to be that good. It has a better signal throughout the city.
Exchange cash at the airport although there are a few ATMs (El Fnaa square and near Place des Epices), as its a closed currency, you won’t be able to exchange money at your own country. If you have a Revolut card, you can exchange money on your account finding the best exchange rate, and then take them out at the ATM at the airport.
Knees and shoulders covered when out – get a cardigan or scarf (I had lightweight sarong tied around my bag if I felt like I needed to cover up), ideally closed shoes because of the dirt in the souks, but elsewhere sandals are fine.
Cover your head with a headscarf for added modest, though that wasn’t necessary for me as we didn’t visit any mosques. Cover your shoulders with the scarf throughout the mosque, and blanket your head with it if prompted in certain areas.
If you travel as a couple, people assume you are married and it’s probably better that way. No public displays of affection.
I know many people that unfortunately got food poisoning, I was a bit paranoid with it, but I wanted to be safe! So I avoided water that wasn’t bottled, ice cubes and fresh vegetables. I also didn’t eat from food stands. Of course, you do you, just a word of warning!
Taxis: you agree on a price before you enter. They always give you a much higher price at first. Just to give you an idea of some taxi fees we paid, Medina to the airport was 150 MAD, from the north of the Medina to Jardin Majorelle it was 40 MAD, from Saadian tombs to Old Medina (north) it was 40 or 50 MAD. They usually give you a higher price if you are going to an expensive place (eg. La Mamounia etc). You pay cash! Hotels and restaurants take card though.
People are friendly but they will talk to you, follow you around, try to give you directions (sometimes wrong ones) to lead you one way or even if they lead you the right way it will be to give you money. If you don’t engage in a conversation they aren’t going to follow you. Don’t feel that you are rude if you don’t reply to them, it’s the only way to do it! Also, there is no “Festival of Colour that ends today”. It’s supposedly near the Photographie museum, but they probably want to lead you to their friend’s shops.
It helps if you speak French and even if you don’t greet them with “salaam alaikum” (pronounced salam alekum) they like it. Especially in the souks. Haggling to get a good deal is exhausting but also quite fun. It’s a game and both sides know it. They usually start with a crazy high price, if you then give them a crazy low one, after going back and forth a few times you usually agree. Mostly on 50% down from the original price they gave you.
The price goes down if you buy more than one items and gives you more power. Don’t look too interested especially if you discuss with your friends (particularly if your own language isn’t English or French). You must be prepared to leave if you don’t get the price you want and the shop owner might shout after you to discuss more. You give them your “best price” and ask them about their best price too. If you leave and they don’t chase you that’s fine, you will definitely find the item elsewhere. If you’ve already bought something use it as a bargain eg. “I bought the same shoes for 150 dirhams” give them a lower price than what you actually paid. Honestly, the souks are such an amazing experience, it’s one of a kind and I personally haven’t seen anything like it.
Be prepared to get lost, there isn’t much signal in the souks so finding your way on Google Maps is pretty hard, and even with a paper map, it’s guaranteed you will get lost. The souks have ‘street names’ of sorts, so you can understand what most shops of each souk will be about; for example, Souk de Babouches (babouche is the leather pointy shoe), Souk de Tapis (rugs), Souk Cherratine (leather), see more here.
I found some amazing things and got everything I could in raffia; shoes, baskets, hats, a traditional rug, wedding blanket, and a bean bag. I have actually published an InstagramTV video with all my buys, see it here. To give you a general idea, the raffia shoes were about 200 MAD, the baskets around 120-200 MAD depending on size, the rug and bean bag were from the same shop so I got a better deal of 400 MAD.
People will try to lead you to “the square” (El-Fnaa) because they automatically assume that as a tourist that’s where you want to go. Just ignore them. Also if you are Greek be prepared for practically everyone to speak to you in Spanish. After we exchanged a few words (I was speaking French to them so it was very confusing), I kept telling them I don’t understand what they are saying. Which usually led to ‘ah where are you from?’ and the reply is ‘Greece’ or ‘Yunan’ as not everyone knew the name Greece, and they are suddenly very excited. Yunan; is the name the Persians gave to the first Greeks and also the name of Greece in Turkish.
What to see
After checking in, in our Riad (found it through Booking.com, and there are many options), we started by visiting the Bahia Palace. It’s open 9:00-17:00 daily, entrance is 70 MAD, but sadly the big room was closed when we visited. Make your way around and explore the colours. We then went to Saadien Tombs (9:00-17:00, 70 MAD), where we had to wait for about 20 minutes in the scorching heat to see inside the tombs, it was nice seeing the details but if you don’t have time I’d give this a miss.
Sadly El Badi Palace was closed for the whole week (probably because of the Dior show!), which is well recommended. It’s a 16th-century building, created on the Granada Alhambra ruins. They are all near each other so can be combined. We didn’t manage to go to Dar Si Said, located in a 19th-century palace, that showcases the Berber culture, it looks beautiful so maybe check it out.
A short walk away is the Koutoubia Mosque, which is obviously closed for non-Muslims but it’s a beautiful building that you can observe from afar. Around 20:00 just before the sun set we visited Jemna el-Fnaa the big main square in town. This was the best time to see it as the sky was bright orange. Expect many people, and even more food trucks when every food imaginable. There, every person will try and convince you to eat at their truck, don’t feel guilty that’s their job! They play music, they do tricks, it’s a like a huge open-air circus. When we saw the square the next day, during the daytime, it wasn’t as spectacular, so definitely visit at sunset.
Of course, Jardin Majorelle and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum are a must see. I recommend going as soon as the garden opens at 8:00 (9:00 for the month of Ramadan), to avoid the crowds. We didn’t manage and had to queue for 30 mins. Jardin Majorelle was created in 1931 by French painter Jacques Majorelle and later bought by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in the 80s. They planted exotic plants from across the world to the beautiful gardens.
After you see (and photograph!) everything, have a look inside the Berber Museum, check out the memorial for Yves Saint Laurent and head up the road to the museum (opens at 10:30). The highlight of the museum for me was definitely the iconic Piet Mondrian dress. Get the combined ticket (180 MAD, about £15) that gives you access to both, as well as the Berber Museum located within the gardens.
Two museums that we visited in the Medina, were the Maison de la Photographie (50 MAD), it was very interesting to see really old pictures from all over Morocco, that was recommended to me by Paul Windle who said it was worth it, and he was right! We also went to Marrakech Museum, which was within a beautiful palace Dar Menebi of the 19th-century, it was great seeing the architecture, we weren’t too interested in the displays to be completely honest! Another garden, this time in the Medina that’s worth visiting is Le Jardin Secret; walk up to the terrace and check out the views and the greenery. Apparently, if you stand on the middle of the terrace looking out to the far left, the black building that you can see is the riad the Bulgari family owns.
Some other things that have been recommended to me are here below:
Ben Youssef: the Islamic College, which we passed by but it wasn’t clear you could actually visit. On the website, it says this is closed until 2020 actually!
David Bloch Gallery: European minimalism
Comptoir de Mines: Contemporary Art Center in an art deco building
Le 18: The most special museum in the Medina
Dar Bellarj gallery
MACAAL/Musée d’Art Contemporain Africain Al Maaden: African artists, also outdoor sculptures
Musee de la Palmaraie: a small but interesting modern selection of art, in a nice garden
Beldi Country Club: Food apparently isn’t that great, but it’s worth going for the garden and interiors. It’s about 15 minutes from town so we didn’t make it, but worth checking out. It’s also a hotel.
Where to eat
As you might know, the typical Moroccan food is the tagine (or tajine). Tagine is both the name of the ceramic pot the food is cooked in as well as the meal. You can get a chicken tagine, a beef, lamb and also vegetarian, cooked with vegetables and served with couscous. There are variations of that meal, and although we had some good ones and some okay ones, I did miss the variety, as all the meals cooked in the ceramic pots kind of tasted the same. So it’s a good meal, quite healthy, but I did want something else after a few days of having it!
The highlight of our trip in terms of food was Dar Yacout, housed within a very traditional building, with live music, a set menu and unlimited wine, oh and excellent service. It’s quite difficult to find alcohol in most places, but actually, the restaurants we went to for dinner all served drinks. It was about £60 per person, and I highly recommend, you also get quite a lot of food. Book online as there aren’t that many tables! I also recommend La Sultana, located within a beautiful hotel, a short walk from Saadiens Tombs.
Though similar to Dar Yacout it was more modern with two menus (most places did two menus), a Moroccan and a European-inspired but with a Moroccan twist. The rooftop bar was equally nice for drinks before dinner. Dinner was about £40 per person for 2 mains, 2 starters, dessert and a drink each. We had dinner at La Terrasse des Epices, located in the Souks, it was a nice lively atmosphere on a rooftop, they also have a bar, and it was a good place for first night’s dinner. The dish we really liked there was the Chicken Trid (or Rfissa), whereby the chicken is cooked with lentils and a thin pastry.
We also went to Nomad (an Instagram famous place) for lunch, the food was okay, the view over the Places des Epices (Square of the Spices) was very nice though. If you want to check it out, you should book a table as it’s always busy. Nomad, Café des Epices, Le Jardin are all under the same group, so expect similar vibes. Le Jardin was actually one I wanted to try, as it’s in a 16th-century building with a beautiful garden. Notice a theme? So many places are located within amazing old buildings!
We also went to I Limoni for dinner, an Italian-Moroccan restaurant with really good reviews, however, the food was very disappointing! The environment, was beautiful, as the courtyard, it’s located in is full of lemon trees. If you go don’t pick the non-alcoholic beer, which is the only ‘drink’ they have, and it’s not good.
Other restaurants on my list (that we didn’t eat at):
Grand Café de la Poste: for lunch, located at Gueliz (in the area where Mamounia and the other resorts are), in a 1925 building, 3 stories, retro style.
Amal Women’s Training Centre: only open for lunch. Set up by a non-profit group to help women in need. The menu changes daily.
Al Fassia: run completely by women. Good for tagines.
Café Arabe: terrace and nice interiors
Le Tobsil: for dinner
Plus61: a modern style new restaurant, best for more creative food. Eat the seabream with brussel sprouts and potatoes.
Dar Cherifa: for dinner
Coffee places (didn’t visit any of them)
Pâtisserie Al Jawda: the oldest in town
Café des Epices: next Place des Epices, good for a quick stop to hide away from the sun and relax your feet
Chichaoua: opened in February 2019, next to the above, tea place Moroccan style speakeasy
La Famille: chic boho atmosphere, the terrace is a bit like a Greek island beach bar. We didn’t find a table, so book if you want to go. Could be good for lunch too, and it’s near Bahia Palace.
Cafe Carrion Gueliz: maybe the best coffee in town
Bars (didn’t visit any of them, long days!)
Le Comptoir Darna
La Salama: drinks, very nice
El Fenn: drinks, rooftop bar, amazing interiors, and a boutique in it. An Instagram hotspot and a hotel, unfortunately, I didn’t make it but there’s always next time!
Churchill: the bar within La Mamounia Hotel that Winston Churchill visited, hence the name. We passed through it went walking within La Mamounia, it was really nice but quite dark so better at nighttime or if it’s colder.
Zizzi: open space bar
Le Barometre: the first bar in town that’s serious about cocktails, speakeasy
Le 68 Bar à Vin: new, wine bar
Jazz Bar: Within Arab Hotel
Where to spa
Marrakech is a place where hammam is a normal weekly occurrence. Apparently, people go get a hammam once a week. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, imagine someone scrubbing your body and hair to the point you feel re-born. You lie down in the hot tiles (so hot, it was amazing), and have the therapist wash you and scrub you, and clean you. As a ritual it’s an ancient Arabian body treatment, that is particularly popular in Turkey and also Morocco.
The products used are traditional products infused with the best ingredients from the region; rhassoul with rose or argan is applied with a kessa glove. Expect many litres of water come at you. After the washing, you emerge yourself in a freezing mini pool, I felt like my blood went cold! I also fell asleep a few times in between the treatment, as my therapist left for 5-10 in between scrubbing. After the cold pool, she applied a rose-scented body cream. The brand they were using was MarocMaroc, some products are linked below for you!
A quick mention, you are expected to be naked but are allowed underwear that you will usually be provided. We went to the Royal Mansour, and I highly recommend it. Though expensive as a treatment (about £130), the facilities and expertise were 100% worth it. It’s also worth noting that men are treated by men and women by women, in separate hammam areas.
The building is beautiful too, and after your relaxing treatment (the hammam is 75 minutes), you can enjoy a drink or meal in the gardens, followed by live music. Another place that has been recommended is Dar El-Bacha that’s located just off the Medina.
I personally found the best things in the shops in the souks that didn’t have a name or sign or anything else. There are a few concept stores around the Medina, and though they are nice to see they are so expensive compared to what you can find in the souks! However, Max & Jan was a very nice boutique, and also has a terrace.
If you have an extra day…
I definitely recommend taking a trip away from the hustle and bustle of the city and seeing the beauty of the Atlas Mountains, the Berber villages, walk around the waterfalls, see how women make argan oil – a massive product for the locals. We saw the nature, we rode some camels (however not in the desert but it was still an awesome experience), we saw the fake desert and had lunch in a local Berber house.
This was the trip we booked, and our guide Nassim is actually from one of the villages we passed by. The lunch was prepared by his cousin’s wife, and his 2 nephews and little niece kept us company. It was 5 of us in total, we were picked up very close to our accommodation just before 9:00, and brought back around 18:30. The desert may not have been proper, as there is no sand or dunes like you would find in the Sahara, but honestly the serenity and the sound of silence was still magical, away from the madness of Marrakech. The guy at the camp gave us tea and star anise biscuits prepared from his mum. There’s always the next time for sand dunes! The people we met in the villages were very friendly, and it was an amazing experience altogether.
I absolutely loved it all, and can’t wait to go back to Marrakech and explore more of Morocco, particularly the blue town – Chefchaouen.
Have you been? If you have any questions please drop me a message or email, I’d love to help!