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Marrakech is an exotic and enchanting, inexpensive and welcoming city, teeming with both things to see and do. With its historic centre, which has remained unchanged for thousands of years, and the modern city with its luxurious apartment blocks and restaurants, the capital of Morocco is one of those places that a traveller must visit at least once in their lifetime, a city which, even over just a weekend, will manage to evoke all five senses. Those who live there, who know and love the city, will be able to best advise you, but if you would like to get an idea about the wonders that only this city has to offer, let us recommend the top 7 must-see places that you simply cannot afford to miss in Marrakech.
1. The Koutoubia Mosque
On arriving from the airport, it is the first thing that indicates your vicinity to Marrakech: tall, powerful and magical, it stands out on the horizon, impossible to miss and difficult to forget. The Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech is the largest in the entire city. Built in around 1150, it is situated at less than 200 metres from Djemaa el Fna square and represents an engineering and architectural masterpiece of its era. Its minaret, the oldest of the 3 great Almohad minarets left standing in the world, dominates the landscape in Marrakech with its 65 metres of exceptional beauty.
2. The Medina and its Souks
In order to truly discover the authentic traditions of Marrakech, it is necessary to get lost in the city's Medina and in its characteristic Souks: a labyrinth of narrow and winding streets in which the history and culture of the Moroccan people is written. The Souks, the districts into which the city centre is subdivided, are organised depending on the type of product that is produced and sold by the local people: a large market where fabrics, colourful and fragrant spices, terracotta tagines, handmade rugs and wrought iron lanterns can be purchased. The Souks of Marrakech's Medina are magical: a place where the colours and fragrances intertwine and create new possibilities.
3. Jamaa el Fna Square
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jamaa el Fna Square is the vital and symbolic centre of Marrakesh, an immense space that changes form throughout the day. During the day Jamaa el Fna Square hosts a colourful and lively open-air market, with stalls selling a vast array of merchandise and set up for traditional Moroccan activities: palm readers, herbalists and snake charmers share the space with those selling fabrics, ostrich eggs and orange juice. As the evening draws in, the stalls make way for tables and benches set for dinner with freshly prepared dishes.
4. The Bahia Palace
When in the heart of Marrakesh's Medina, the El Bahia Palace is well worth a visit, a beautiful example of Alawite architecture built between 1894 and 1900 for the concubines of Ahma Ibn Moussa. A harem with 160 ornately decorated rooms to host 4 wives and 24 concubines. The vast tiled courtyard and the exquisite monumental gardens extending for at least 8 hectares will take your breath away. The El Bahia Palace is still used today by the Moroccan royal family when visiting the city, but for the most part, it is open to tourists.
5. The Jardin Majorelle
The French painter Jacques Majorelle created his refuge in Marrakesh in 1924, purchasing a palm grove where he had an Art Déco villa and a botanical garden built. The Jardin Majorelle is inspired by an Islamic garden and is home to botanical species hailing from all five continents. The villa and the garden became renowned for the vivacious colours used by the painter in his decorations. The celebrated Majorelle blue immediately captivates the visitor; an intense, electric blue which has since become famous as the colour used for the packaging of Gauloises cigarettes. In 1980, Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergère bought the Jardin Majorelle as a gift to the city of Marrakesh. Today the villa is home to the Museum of Islamic Art and hosts Saint Laurent's decorative art collection.
6. The Ben Youssef Madrasa
The Ben Youssef Madrasa Islamic College is one of the most important sacred monuments in Marrakesh. Situated within the Medina, it owes its name to the Almoravid sultan Ali Ibn Youssef, who reigned in Morocco from 1106-1142. The extensive courtyard constitutes a wonderful example of Arab-Andalusian architecture with its generous pool made from Carrara marble and the two lateral galleries supported by cedar wood-finished columns.
7. The Sahara Desert tour
A tour of the Sahara Desert is one of the must-see activities to experience in Morocco, either travelling on the back of a camel or in a modern Jeep fitted with air-conditioning. The Sahara landscape is truly unique: immense stretches of sand, traditional Bedouin settlements and fertile, luxurious oases. The organised tours also provide the opportunity to stay in authentic Berber camps, enabling you to truly live the Moroccan experience; listen to the mysterious voices of the desert during the night and enjoy the tricks of the light played out at dawn across the ocean of sand, reflecting fiery and intense colours.