COOL THINGS TO DO IN MARRAKESH

[MARRAKESH, MOROCCO] — It is the drums that get you first. A full-frontal, heart-fibrillating pounding of Berber rhythms. So intense and staccato-firing that Buddy Rich would have a hard time keeping up. And the flutes. The ear-piercing, high pitched whine of the flutes, constant, taunting cobras to dance on the hot stones. And the people. The rush of endless people. Of every shape, size, color, religion, sunburn, clothing, shape, shoe-type/non-shoe-wearing. And the breeze. A steady wave of warm air that makes the palms, the long robes, the billowing smoke from the merguez grilling in the food stalls all harmonized and flowing like caught in the same current of a river.

“Heeeeyyyyyy” he says in an eerily friendly Americanized accent, scaring me from behind. I jumped. And so did the monkey. Instantly onto my shoulder. He had a turban. And a smile. “Want to take a picture with the monkey?”

“Ahhh no thanks.” “You sure? He’s a nice monkey. Your friends will laugh.” The monkey was digging for something in my scalp, which I appreciated.

That is what my first three minutes were like in the Jemaa el-Fnaa square. The beating heart of Marrakesh. Alive in the day with street vendors, then just before sunset they all disappear and the square completely changes character.

Marrakesh Hassan Food Stall No32

Thousands of people, actually not that many tourists, fill the square with life. Teaming life. Tuk-tuk drivers. Mothers dragging their kids. Old men gossiping over cigarettes. Several groups of snake-handlers, with their flutes taunting cobras. Acrobatic troops, ringed with people cheering them on. Twenty smiling young Moroccans with fishing poles in a circle, trying to ring a bottle. Dozens of food stalls vendors, throwing their sales pitch to locals and foreigners alike; from fresh-squeezed orange juice (delish!) to merguez sausages, to great Brontosaurus-sized ribs of lamb on a spit that Fred Flintstone would love.  All of them twirling in their own rhythm and sound, busy with motion within their own five square feet, yet somehow synchronized to the breeze. And there was my monkey.

Jemaa el-Fnaa snake charmers

Watch this. Click on HD and blow up large. A few seconds of freeze frame on the square. Look closely, there is a story in every corner of every frame.

I really didn’t want to go there, actually. People said “Not sure you’re going to like it. Very crowded. Lots of crazy stuff going on. People pulling you into to their stalls.”  I don’t like people, actually. Or crowds. But I decided to go anyway. As you should. Good god, I’m glad I did. The Humanity present and coexisting, all at once. Every single night. All there. Makes you feel good.

The vendors, not aggressive, just friendly. They just want to surprise you with their hospitality. And crack you up with their Henny Youngman-esque standup routines. Not the pawing, baying street urchins you see in other countries. “I’m just looking around right now.” “I know, lots to see. Just remember Stall #38, you come back. You’ll like.”

__________________________________

Marrakech at sunset

On my second visit over Christmas of 2018, 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.

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.

__________________________________

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.

Marrakesh fishing poles
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. I believe it has just reopened, definitely put it on your list. It’s beautiful.

Ben Youssef Madrasa window
Ben Youssef Madrasa courtyard

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 fireplace

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.
Villa des Orangers pool with moon
An incredible night with a full moon.

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

TIPS:

  • Everything is different at night. The sun goes down. The candles and lanterns come out. Thousands of them. Man, do these people know how to light things. I don’t know if was the French that taught them, or they taught the French. If you like it during the day, you’ll love it better at night.
  • You’re going to get lost on your way back to your hotel. Don’t sweat it; even a blind squirrel finds a nut, eventually. Just remember landmarks behind you so you can backtrack.

  • It might be hot and dusty, or might not be. I’d go in April. May was getting really hot. Not after that. Fall would be beautiful

  • When you go to the square, shoot for 4-5pm. Find a cafe with a rooftop terrace, very easy to do; I suggest Glacier Cafe where I took these, you buy a soft drink self-serve, then go out on the terrace and wiggle your way to the edge. I could (and did) stay there for hours. The drums will reward you for staying. You want to be there as dusk comes, the square gets dark and the stall lights come to life. It is magical. Eat a merguez at the Hassan stand in the corner of my picture.

  • Everyone is super nice. Super proud. You’ll hear the word “Berber” a lot. Read up a little about it, don’t dismiss it. When you leave, you’ll understand it more. And love them. I wish there were more Berbers in this world.

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.

— First Visited April 2015, Last Visited December 2018 — 

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.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow Us on Instagram @youshouldgohere