Perched beneath the scenic Atlas Mountains and wrapped in exotic influences from West African nomads and Europeans, Marrakech (a.k.a. Marrakesh) has always been the cultural hub of Morocco. It was once a place of sultans and princesses, slave-traders, colonialists, and merchants busily trading goods, after crossing the Sahara Desert in caravans. Called “The Red City”, Marrakech is often described as the “soul” or “beating heart” of Morocco.
Inhabited by Berber farmers since Neolithic times, the city of Marrakesh was officially founded in 1062 by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, chieftain and cousin of Almoravid King Yusuf ibn Tashfin. Built by Ali ibn Yusuf in 1122–1123, the red walls of the city and various other buildings are constructed with red sandstone that gives the city its nickname. Marrakech is divided into Medina (old town) and Guéliz (new town). The easiest way to get around both places is by Taxi, walking, or using a personal driver.
I started discovering Marrakech, Morocco, points of interest in the old city. The Medina is a walled medieval city dating to the Berber Empire, with labyrinthine alleys where busy markets (a.k.a. souks) sell traditional textiles, pottery, and jewelry. The main square, Jemaa el Fna, is the busiest in all of Africa.
I drove into the Medina ― referred to as the old town ― blindly following Google Maps. However, many of the streets are too narrow for cars. Luckily, a group of teenagers directed me to my house (a.k.a. riad) for a small price. This was my first bit of haggling. Occasionally, the kids lead you astray to get more tips, so it’s best to know the general direction you’re going.
Jemaa el Fna is the main square, where you can watch a snake charmer bewitch cobras with flute in the morning, and decorate yourself with henna. At night, the area becomes a great place to eat, with plenty of food stalls to choose from that serve snails, fish, and, of course, mint tea.
The souk is north of the Jemaa, where Marrakech’s vibrant markets are concentrated. Busy and crowded, Souk Smarine ― the souks’ main area ― is covered by an iron trellis with slats. You can haggle over price of everything for sale.
The impressive medieval Koranic school in Morocco ― with zellij tilework, intricate stucco and finely carved cedarwood ― is one of the main Marrakech, Morocco, points of interest for architectural buffs. For all the architecture addicts this is the most Notable in the prayer hall, as in the courtyard’s cedar carving, is a predominance of pinecone and palm motifs, especially around the horseshoe-arched mihrab.
There’s also a scenic, palm-lined square in the Mellah, where artisans sell handcrafted tin lamps and housewares. The Moorish minaret of 12th Century Koutoubia Mosque is an iconic feature in the Medina and a good landmark to remember. Head east to the smelly tanneries, checking them out at ground level, and then from a roof terrace. If you want to take a closer look at the tanning process, go in the mornings.
Les Bains de L’alhambra is a traditional hammam with a luxury feel. The tradition hammam involves sitting in a hot room until you are scrubbed down, showered off, and you receive a massage. For spa lovers, this unique cultural experience is one of the prized Marrakech, Morocco, points of interest.
Outside the Medina is the modern and more relaxed city of Guéliz, the new city. This is the area for delicious restaurants with varied cuisine. Its leafy side streets are dotted with charming shops where everything has a price tag and there is no need to haggle. There are modern art galleries showcasing Moroccan artist and outdoor cafés for people watching.
An excellent destination for lovers of flowers and exotic fauna, the Majorelle Garden was created in the 1920s by French painter Jacques Majorelle. It’s a twelve-acre ornamental garden with cacti and lily ponds that looks as if it were created with the eye and hand of a fine artist.
Houses and Bed and Breakfasts are called Riads. They are all over the old and new cities. My favorite riad is RIAD Inseparables. The French expat owner, Julian, is also a dietitian, who takes pride in preparing artful, healthy dishes. His attention to detail with the design of the Riad will leave you speechless, as every nail, plant, and carpet are carefully placed. The rooftop alone will keep you coming back to this riad.
It’s never a bad time to visit Marrakech. July is the hottest month, with an average temperature of 29°C (84°F) and the coldest is January at 13°C (55°F). Whenever you choose to visit, you find great food at the Medina Saveur’s, the Nomad, and Le Foundouk. Le Palace is a also a great place for dinner that serves fine cocktails, too.
If dancing is among your Marrakech, Morocco, points of interest, Theatro, Buddha bar, and Nikki Beach are great dance spots. For an after hours cocktail, don’t forget to visit Café Arabe.
Anyone who wants to see the best of Morocco shouldn’t miss this traditional festival, with its Berber music, folk dancers, and street performers from all around Morocco. Held in the beautiful ruins of the Badi Palace, it’s a crash course in tribal culture. In a word: awesome.
This is one of the most important film festivals in Africa, with a jury comprised of international actors and personalities, including the likes of Martin Scorsese and Susan Sarandon. The city’s central square, the Jemaa el Fnaa, is transformed into an open-air cinema. Foreign visitors can enter the festival for free by registering online.
Taking place every two years and spearheaded by Vanessa Branson, this event brings artists from all over the world to share their work. Numerous conferences, interactive events, and exhibitions (visual art, literature, and performance art) are held around the city.