COOL THINGS TO DO IN MARRAKESH

MARRAKESH | MOROCCO

[MARRAKESH] — The first time I came to Morocco a few years ago, I was cranky. And a little scared.

My TAP flight from Lisbon had a painful five hour chair-less layover in Casablanca and it was close to midnight by the time I pulled up to the hotel. It was hot. I was sweaty and sticky. The traffic was insane, snarled with scooters and lorries and donkey carts as the driver pulled over, fumes spewing when I opened the car door. I got out, bleary eyed, we were next to a busy gas station, cars lined up, honking out into the street. All the shops were boarded up and men were screaming at a completely jammed bus terminal across the street. A garish fluorescent light cast a green pallor over the whole chaotic scene. I was pissed.

 

It was midnight. I was tired and cranky. We arrived outside “my cool hotel” on a super busy street. The shops were boarded up. The lighting garish. Cars were honking. Men were shouting at the crowded bus station across the street.

This is it?? The hotel I was told was so cool?  WTF?

But then a huge man in a brown tunic stooped to wave me through a small wooden archway, I hadn’t even noticed it (pictured above). I ducked, but still hit my head. I did not say fuck.

And then everything transformed, like a genie had waved a sparkly wand over the whole scene… with sound effects✨.

Inside it was dark and quiet, like sliding into a hidden cave. Big brass lanterns with flickering candles, dozens, illuminated the way. A brighter light at the end of the tunnel beckoned the way. Passing thru another stooped doorway, warm light opened the room like a fire, with dark scarlet red red fabric seemingly everywhere. Thick wool rugs. Big fluffy red pillows and heavy wood chairs. It was totally quiet, but for a faint, kind “Bon soir, Monsieur Dan.”

Villa des Orangers candle lit hallway

Villa des Orangers

And that’s when I first realized the magic of Morocco. It may be chaotic and dirty and crowded and noisy on the outside, but Inside, everything is different. And everything looks better at night.

Once you pass thru the high walls, you enter a whole ‘nother world. Of quiet. Of candles and light. Of shadows and arches. Of scents and smells. Of falling water. And surprises.

Courtyard at Villa des Orangers

Courtyard inside Villa des Orangers

You never know what’s on the other side, but you always want to go in to see. Shops. Hotels. Restaurants. Always a surprise on The Inside.  Nobody knows how to light at night than in Morocco — probably influenced by the French.

After spending two weeks traveling all over the country, my first out-of-my-comfort-zone trip in a Muslim country, I realized there was nothing to fear at all. Only things to love and remember. One of the coolest countries on Earth.

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On my second visit over Christmas this year, the feeling was completely opposite. It felt like coming home to a familiar and trusting place. This time I was ecstatic to be back, wanting to explore what I’d been too scared on my first few nights in Marrakesh. And instead of traveling solo like I usually do, I had a travel buddy/love interest to dive into this crazy place with fresh eyes — also so much easier to explore with someone else along for encouragement and spontaneous bravery.

People ask me all the time, “But is Morocco safe?”  Yes. And YES. And fun.

People ask me all the time, “But is Morocco safe?”  Yes. And YES. And fun. Do you have to be wary of hucksters and pickpockets? Probably good to just be aware, but also I’ve experienced nothing but the most sincere friendliness, from people in all walks of life. I’ve felt more unsafe and taken for a ruse in Rome and Paris — where on this last trip, I was hoodwinked by a confident scammer exactly two minutes after arriving at Gare du Nord.

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Here are some of my favorite things to do in Marrakesh… a big, loud, belching, beautiful chaotic place.

So many heart-stopping moments. Smells and scents. Colors and textures. Blaring sounds and intense quiet. Light and dark. Morocco is a challenge of the senses.

Busy souk shoppers

Morocco is all oranges and pinks and reds and browns. And every shade in between.

 

Turn up your sound and listen to this short video of all the sounds of Marrakesh:

 

Get Lost in the Souks of the Medina

Souk shopping Marrakesh

On my first trip to Marrakesh, I didn’t really want to go walk and shop the souks. Perhaps because I was scared. I heard about how crowded and dirty and all the haggling. Well, it is that, but also not. On this trip I was all up for it. And I just walked and walked and walked. Was there some barkers and hagglers?  Yes, but in a fun way, not the in-your-face I was expecting. It was more for fun. These guys are just trying to make a living.

Just go get lost in the souks. It’s a blast.

You don’t have to buy anything. You will get lost. But you’ll soon find your way to weave through.

 

 

Spice piles in Marrakesh souk

 

lamp shopping in the souks Marrakesh

The array of shops is mind-boggling. The streets narrow in, spread out. The displays are as pretty as the city.

 

Definitely Go To Jemaa el-Fnaa at Dusk

This is my nomination for the craziest place on earth. Snake charmers, monkey tamers, Berber drummers, games of chance. All happening all at once. The cacaphony is so crazy it just makes you smile.

Go before sunset and roost at one of the cafes overlooking the Jemaa el-Fnaa square. The vendors are switch over from selling things to new vendors selling food, grilled on the spot. So cool to watch under the peach colored sky. And everywhere you zoom into is a crazy site for the eyes.

terrace overlooking Jemaa el-Fnaa

You can roost on one of the many terraces overlooking the square, they don’t serve alcohol, but buy a soft drink (mandatory, but not unreasonable ) and watch the action below.

 

Visit the Majorelle Gardens

Majorelle Gardens pool

 

A must stop for everyone is the Majorelle Garden — Jardin Majorelle. It’s beautiful, but very crowded, so go early or late in the day. It’s a crazy riot of plants and colors, it even has its own color of blue.  You can hoof it here from the Medina, or take a cab. Spend about an hour inside. Or less. Then go have a long fun lunch at Cafe de la Poste (detailed below).

 

Buy Nice Things at Mustapha Blaoui

Walking back to my hotel each time, I noticed a nice sign and logo and big burnished wooden door in the midst of the dirty crowded streets of the souk.  Wow, wonder what that place is?  So I wrote down the name and googled it. When I read fantastic reviews — “Where you go to outfit your whole new house in Marrakesh” — I knew I had to go there.

The souk is great for buying cheap things, but if you want to by some nice stuff, find Mustapha Blaoui on your GPS and go there. The big wooden door looks like it is closed, but go through the little door and traipse inside. It multiple floors of the coolest things you’d want for your house.

 

Mustapha Blaoui lamps

Just looking at the displays is worth the trip alone. I wanted to buy everything. They don’t haggle like the souk, but that’s the point. Everything is of good quality and reasonably priced.

 

Mustapha Blaoui lamps on display

There are three floors spread out over multiple buildings.

 

Mustapha Blaoui mint tea

They even have a lady that does nothing but make fresh mint tea to great all the guests.

 

Cool Off in Le Jardin Secret

Le Garden Secret green plantings

Layers and layers of green textures.

I’d never heard of this place before until somebody suggested it when I was posting on Instagram. Le Jardin Secret. When you hit the wall of walking around the chaos of the souks, hidden behind the walls in the middle of the Medina is this incredible, cool, calm oasis. It used to be here long ago, but fell into disrepair, but was restored years ago to its former glory. Duck in, it only takes twenty minutes or so, longer if you want to hang out.

It costs a few bucks, but worth it to come inside and look at the incredible plantings and want to nap by the trickles of its fountains. Some really interesting Roman-style aqueduct engineering here as it is fed from water from the Atlas Mountains an hour away.

Le Garden Secret fountain and pool

See what I mean by a secret behind every wall?

 

Tour the Ben Youssef Madrasa

The famous four hundred year old Ben Youseff Madrasa  is really cool to see, but was under renovation when we were there. If it’s open when you go, definitely put it on your list. It’s beautiful.

Ben Youssef Madrasa window

Ben Youssef Madrasa courtyard

Ben Youssef Madrasa tourist selfie

You Should Eat Here in Marrakech

Stop for Drinks at El Fenn…Even Better, Stay There

 

El Fenn waiter carrying drinks

Even if you’re not staying here, you can have drinks on the perfect rooftop terrace, the classiest in Marrakesh, IMO.

El Fenn is most famous because it is run by Richard Branson’s sister, but I think that doesn’t compare at all to how well done this hotel is. We tried to stay here but it was booked solid over the busy Christmas holiday. Lots of fashion people and reporters stay here and you can see why. It’s much bigger than I thought, but the details in every corner are as perfect as you’d want.

This is perfect example of how I think Morocco has the best hotel design in the world, creating worlds behind the walls.

Go before sunset or dusk and sit up on the roof and have a cocktail on the many lounge areas. I thought it was going to be chaotic and hard to get in because it is so famous, but it was a breeze. The staff was very nice.

Even better, stay here if you can…

El Fenn lobby chairs

Have a Long Lunch at Cafe de la Poste

Cafe de la Poste interior

Walk back to the Medina from Jardin Majorelle and stop into Cafe de la Poste in Gueliz. Just a stunning old classic cafe, but awesome people watching as Marrakesh’s Best stop into eat and be seen. They’ll seat you outside where the people watching is, but make sure you come in and see how cool the interior design is.

 

Book a Big Meal at Villa des Orangers

Villa des Orangers Pool

I stayed at Villa des Orangers last time I was in Marrakesh and it is incredible. We went to eat this time — a guide once told me it’s the best restaurant in the city. Was hoping we’d get a table by the pool, but in winter it’s too cold. But inside is incredible, too.

 

 

Have a Tagine at Café Des Épices

Cafe des Epices tagine

Definitely stop for a tagine at Cafe des Epices overlooking the souk. Some places look a little sketch, but there is one restaurant group that has several well reviewed restaurants geared towards tourists, but not in a cheesy way.

 

Order a Mint Tea Wherever You Are

More Info On What to Do In Marrakesh

Here are other posts I’ve made on Marrakesh. Where to stay, what to do.

Great article on the souks in Travel & Leisure. And here in Insight Guides. And an overview on Culture Trip.

A great review of the top things to do on CNN. And Time Out’s Guide to Marrakesh. And a good guide from The Telegraph. And a perfect guide from the amazing photographer duo from The Planet D. And the always dependable NY Times 36 Hours Guide on Marrakesh.

And another great guide from the NY Times on where to eat in Marrakesh ( I wish I read this before my last trip!). And a 48 hours Guide from The Independent.

 

— Last Visited December 2018 — 

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2 Discussions on
“COOL THINGS TO DO IN MARRAKESH”
  • I wish I had read your post before I went to Morocco. I loved all the places I went, but now I just have to go back and check out all of your fabulous suggestions.
    Keep up the good work.

    • Oh thank you so much, Cathy! I was winging it this time, but still stumbled upon some cool things. Can’t wait to go back.

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