20 Best Things to Do in Marrakech

Things to do in Marrakech

Visitors might wonder what to do in Marrakech due simply to the abundance of options available. While the most popular attractions are the historic tombs, palaces, and gardens, the city is also home to various small museums that offer something for everyone thanks to the wide range of subject matter housed within each.

In the heart of Morocco, the Red City of Marrakech lures travelers from far-off locations to experience the exotic mystique of an ancient city steeped in history.

Attracting approximately two million visitors each year, Marrakech represents the Morocco of many visitors’ imaginations, with its vibrant colored tiles, red-walled medina, and endless souks filled with textiles and spices in every color of the rainbow.

Within the ancient medina, visitors will find cafes on every corner where locals meet to sip tea and visitors climb to the rooftop terraces for breathtaking views of the sprawling city and the distant Atlas Mountains.

Marrakech is home to countless museums and historic sites, ranging from the smallest riads boasting private collections of artifacts to sprawling palace complexes constructed hundreds of years earlier.

Intimate riads provide comfortable and hospitable accommodations, while luxury hotels have popped up along the outskirts, promising visitors over-the-top luxury just outside the city walls.

Traditional Moroccan and Berber fare is standard — and delicious — at the abundant restaurants dotting the city, while the nightlife options — although sparse — range from intimate rooftop lounges to extravagant nightclubs boasting over-the-top entertainment.

The outskirts of the city also offer contrasting but equally interesting day-trip destinations that travelers should plan to experience during their stay. When visiting Marrakech, it is important to leave free days open for simply taking in all that the city has to offer, whether it’s wandering the markets or visiting a traditional hammam.

These experiences are the heart and soul of Marrakech and its vibrant energy. Exploring every nook and cranny of the exotic city could take months, but choosing the highlights to see in Marrakech will ensure a well-rounded adventure that covers all the city has to offer.

20 Best Things to See and Do in Marrakech

1. Get Lost in the Endless Souks of Marrakech

Best Things to See and Do in Marrakech: Get Lost in the Endless Souks of Marrakech

The colorful and vibrant markets of Morocco are one of the main draws for hundreds of thousands of travelers who flock to the city each year. Narrow, winding streets are lined with tightly-packed market stalls where every inch of space is occupied by something shiny, colorful, and ornate.

The souks of Marrakech are the embodiment of traditional Moroccan markets that so many visitors envision when planning travel to the country, so visiting the intricate network of shops is one of the most popular things to do in Marrakech.

Simply strolling through the seemingly-endless alleys of shopkeepers will give visitors first-hand experience with the intoxicating atmosphere of Marrakech’s markets. Although not quite as confusing as the souks in Fes, it is still quite simple to get lost in the winding streets and spend an entire day (or more!) exploring.

Marrakech’s souks are grouped in a way that shops selling similar goods are near one another. From handcrafted shoes to jewelry to yarn — and much more in between — travelers can find almost anything in the various souks, so long as they know where to look.

Maps are available online for a rough guide of where each of the different souks is in relation to the Jemaa el-Fnaa. Visitors staying at one of the many riads and dars throughout the city can also ask their hosts for assistance if they are looking for a particular item.

To truly experience the markets of Marrakech, visitors should plan for a full day of exploring if they want to see the full range of goods available within the city. Many of the markets are surrounded by quaint cafes, some of which have rooftop seating, providing the perfect mid-day stop for relaxing and taking in the markets from a different perspective.

2. Get Pampered at a Traditional Hammam and Spa

Enjoying a day of indulgence is high on many travelers’ lists when considering what to do in Marrakech, and most individuals will come across the term “hammam” while searching for the best spa services in the city.

A Moroccan hammam is an over-the-top bathing treatment in which attendants use steam, black soap, and exfoliating gloves to scrub and polish the skin to a silky smooth texture. While the most traditional bathhouses are more like public steam rooms, there are many hammams throughout the city offering these unique steam baths paired with various other spa treatments.

Travelers staying at one of the many riads throughout Marrakech will find that both spa treatments and hammam baths are offered on-site. This option is typically one of the best values — moderately priced packages offer facials, massages, and nail treatments paired with a traditional hammam only steps away from the room.

Marrakech’s growing popularity as a travel destination has increased the demand for these services, and for a truly indulgent experience, a handful of high-end spas offering over-the-top treatments in Instagram-worthy settings have carved out a name for themselves within Marrakech.

From La Mamounia’s tranquil after-treatment pool to the intricate lace-like interiors at Royal Mansour, these over-the-top spa experiences are the most indulgent way to get pampered in Marrakech.

3. Sample the Street Food at Jemaa el-Fnaa

Pulsing with energy, the central public square of Marrakech — Jemaa El-Fnaa — is a lively hub of activity abuzz with visitors and locals both day and night. Visiting the square is one of the most popular things to do in Marrakech, which is why the area is typically packed with people.

Many travelers choose to stay directly in the main square in order to be close to the traditional souks and food stalls that populate the area. During the day, the square is filled with henna artists, snake charmers, and other street performers who entertain individuals passing through on their way to the markets or the mosque.

By dusk, the square transforms into a cluster of market stalls serving up popular Moroccan street food and fresh juice. One of the culinary highlights is babouche, a dish of boiled snails served in a flavorful spiced broth.

Lamb and sheep are also popular dishes found throughout the market, and although the meat can be served in a variety of ways, the most adventurous eaters will want to try the stewed sheep brains, a Marrakech specialty.

4. Stock Up on Spices at the Rahba Kedima Square

Stock Up on Spices at the Rahba Kedima Square to visit Marrakech

After an evening of indulging in the exotic spices flavoring the tasty culinary delights in the Jamaa el-Fnaa, travelers can visit Marrakech’s second square and see mounds of the colorful spices that season their food.

The famed spice markets are among the top things to see in Marrakech, and the Rahba Kedima Square offers a less hectic setting to see and sample the finest spices in Morocco.

Taking in the colorful sights and smelling the fragrant scents is enough for some visitors, but for others, the show (and sales pitch) from the charismatic sellers is worth sticking around for.

Many of the shopkeepers draw in visitors to offer samples of mint tea that can later be purchased along with a variety of traditional spices that they may offer up as samples for various ailments.

For those who intend on purchasing spices, the experience is a delightful inside look at the various spices and herbs used in Berber culture; however, individuals who are uncomfortable with high-pressure sales may find the pitch to be too stressful. For these individuals, a quick stroll through the square to see and smell the spices is just enough.

5. Explore the Picturesque Gardens of Yves Saint Laurent at Majorelle Garden

Just outside the city’s ancient medina, visitors can explore the former home and gardens of famed fashion designers Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé. The Cubist-style villa was designed by architect Paul Sinoir in the 1930s, while the two-and-a-half acre botanical garden surrounding the residence was created by Jacque Majorelle.

The Orientalist artist was inspired by the vibrant colors that filled the thriving city of Marrakech during his visits, and the shade Majorelle Blue, which can be seen throughout the site, was patented by the artist before his death.

Today, the gardens are managed by a not-for-profit organization who charges a small entrance fee to guests that helps maintain the grounds and collection of sculpture and cacti that fill the property. The villa has also been converted to the Berber Museum which houses some of Majorelle’s paintings.

6. Travel North to the Palmeraie Oasis

Located just beyond the northern edge of Marrakech, the Palmeraie is a sprawling oasis filled with hundreds of thousands of date palms. According to legend, the oasis formed from the cast-off date seeds of Arab warriors over one thousand years ago when Sultan Youssef Ben Tachefine searched for a place to grow the Almoravid Dynasty.

Today, the oasis serves as a high-end retreat with luxury resorts including the Palmeraie Palace where travelers come to enjoy a serene atmosphere just outside the city.

Day visitors can also explore the strangely beautiful oasis by camel; tour operators offer camel rides throughout the endless palm trees which are in stark contrast to the desert rides available to the south of the city.

7. Day Trip to the Dunes of the Agafay Desert

Day Trip to the Dunes of the Agafay Desert to do in Marrakech

One of the best things to do in Marrakech is to escape the medina and experience what lies just beyond the city. Marrakech’s frenetic energy is a stark contrast to the vast rocky desert that lies just thirty kilometers south of the Red City.

While it can take days of driving to reach the edge of the Sahara from Marrakech, the Agafay Desert is only a short drive away, making it an ideal day trip from Marrakech. From camel rides to off-roading adventures, there are numerous tours that allow travelers to easily access the desert with roundtrip transportation from their Marrakech riads.

It is important for visitors to remember that Agafay is a rocky desert that lacks the towering red sand dunes of Zagora or Merzouga, but it offers a unique experience nonetheless.

Travelers with an open night can also plan to stay at one of the tented camps in the desert and experience the vast starry sky visible only from wide open spaces such as these.

8. Experience the Legacy of Yves Saint Laurent

Visitors who make the trip to Majorelle Gardens can add on a visit to the neighboring Yves Saint Laurent Museum opened to the public in October 2017.

The building was designed by Studio KO, and the geometrical exterior is adorned with an intricate motif that pays tribute to both traditional Moroccan decorative motifs and the intricacy of lace used in haute couture fashion.

Curated by Pierre Bergé, the permanent collection is an over-the-top retrospective of the work of Yves Saint Laurent, with special focus on the most notable themes that accented his career as a designer.

Rotating temporary exhibits are also on display for the public with themes ranging from fashion to botany, and often highlighting some of the most recognizable names in the art world.

9. Explore the Historic Bahia Palace and Gardens

Constructed in the late 1800s, the Bahia Palace is one of the best-preserved historic sites to see in Marrakech. The name Bahia is Arabic for “brilliance,” and the sprawling palace certainly lives up to its title.

The palace was originally constructed as the personal home of Si Moussa, the Sultan’s Grand Vizier, but was primarily known as the residence of the Sultan’s son, Bou Ahmed, who exercised control over the entire state from 1894 until his death in 1900.

It was Bou Ahmed who worked to heighten the structure to its current beauty, including the intricate carved stucco and cedar that adorn many of the rooms.

Stained-glass windows and enormous fireplaces are also highlights throughout the self-guided tour, while the surrounding garden offers visitors a picturesque location to relax in the shade of the abundant orange trees.

10. Visit Marrakech’s Ancient Tanneries

Visit Marrakech’s Ancient Tanneries

Marrakech is renowned for its fine leather products, and there are several tanneries within the city that were first created at the same time as the founding of the city over one-thousand years ago. Families have worked at the same tanneries for generations, practicing the same craftsmanship as their ancestors.

Understanding the long history of the process makes witnessing it a remarkable experience for many visitors. The best time to visit the tanneries is early in the morning while the tradesmen are well into the production process.

Climbing to the top of one of the many shops in the area will guarantee an excellent view, but visitors should be prepared for the overwhelming smell that results from the production process.

As one of the most popular things to see in Marrakech, there are many full-day tours that include stops at the tanneries, and this is an excellent option for visitors who do not want to make the journey through the residential neighborhoods surrounding the Bab Debbagh neighborhood where the tanneries operate.

Those who choose to make the journey on their own should also be aware that locals will offer navigational assistance to lost travelers — and can be rather pushy about it — and will expect payment for their services.

11. Dine Like a Celebrity at La Maison Arabe

Tucked inside the luxury hotel of the same name, La Maison Arabe got its start just after World War II when two French women carved out a space for fine dining in Marrakech.

Dining at the restaurant has remained one of the best things to do in Marrakech, especially for diners hoping to enjoy a romantic evening. The atmosphere inside is warm and inviting, with low-lighting emanating from ornate lanterns draped from the ceiling.

Andalusian musicians entertain guests while outdoor dining offers an equally romantic experience thanks to the shimmering pool which serves as a centerpiece to the tables. The restaurant has hosted the likes of Jackie Kennedy and Ernest Hemingway, delighting patrons with traditional Moroccan cuisine and Berber tagine.

Modern twists on classic dishes have also become a staple of the establishment, offering guests a variety of options for an indulgent culinary experience in the heart of Marrakech.

12. Watch the Sunset with a Drink Atop a Riad Rooftop

Riads are one of the most popular types of accommodations throughout Morocco, and many of them offer an intimate setting with top-notch hospitality. Once personal residences, many of these accommodations feature rooftop terraces that have been converted to accommodate overnight guests who wish to have a drink or meal outdoors.

With only a handful of rooms, it’s rare for travelers to share the rooftop terrace with more than a few people, creating an ambient retreat for watching the sun as it sets over the Koutoubia Mosque and other structures throughout the Red City.

And while alcohol is prohibited in the Islamic religion, many riads are more than accommodating to visitors who wish to imbibe. When deciding where to stay in Marrakech, visitors should seek out cozy riads with rooftop terraces where they can enjoy a glass of wine and some local olives while watching the sunset over the city.

13. Admire the Ornamental Architecture of the Koutoubia Mosque

Visit and Admire the Ornamental Architecture of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech

Visible throughout much of the city, one of the most popular architectural highlights to see in Marrakech is the Koutoubia Mosque, a stunning structure erected in the 12th century. The minaret is adorned with ornamental motifs, and it is the largest mosque in the city.

The style of architecture became popularized throughout Rabat and as far north as Spain during the 12th-century, making it as architecturally significant as it is spiritually significant.

While it’s towering height is impressive up-close, the mosque’s beauty can also be appreciated from any of the surrounding rooftop cafes where visitors are sure to hear the call to prayer that emanates from the structure five times throughout the day.

14. Experience the Spirit of Morocco in Images

Marrakech has long been a destination that has drawn artistic individuals from around the world, so it should come as no surprise that the city is filled with art museums and galleries.

One of the most intriguing museums to see in Marrakech is the Maison de la Photographie, a private collection curated and hosted by Hamid Mergani and Patrick Manac’h.

Images abound throughout the museum, celebrating the diverse imagery representative of Morocco. Images in the collection celebrate Morocco and the many individuals, whether famous or not, who have captured the country’s spirit in images.

In addition to photographic imagery dating back to 1879, the museum also highlights other forms of imagery including postcards, newspapers, and maps. Rotating thematic exhibitions are also available for visitors to admire.

15. Celebrate a Night Out with Cocktails and Acrobatics at Theatro

As an Islamic-majority country, it can be a challenge to find fabulous nightlife in Morocco, but a standout spot for late-night drinking and entertainment in Marrakech is Theatro. Visitors wondering what to do in Marrakech on a night out will be spoilt for choice at this over-the-top nightclub that features dancers, acrobats, and a variety of musicians every weekend.

Internationally recognized DJs provide the beats while traditional Gnawa musicians join them on stage for a truly unforgettable experience. Theatro is a nightlife destination, perfect for visitors who want to dance the night away in an exotic location.

Entrance fees are steep compared to other nightlife establishments in the city, but none compare to the extravagant entertainment found at Theatro.

16. Wander the Ruins of the El Badi Palace

Wander the Ruins of the El Badi Palace in Marrakech

Shortly after Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur of the Saadian dynasty ascended to power, he commissioned the construction of the El Badi Palace. The Palace of Wonder, as it is known in Arabic, was constructed of the finest materials available, including onyx, gold, and marble, and it served as an opulent display of the wealth and power of the sultan.

After the dynasty fell, the palace was left to ruin, with the successor, Sultan Ismail Ibn Sharif stripping the structure of its most valuable materials for the construction of his own palace in Meknes.

Today, when the site is not hosting the Popular Arts Festival during the summer, it is a popular destination for visitors who can explore the ruins and visit the museum that includes an exhibit displaying a restored minbar that was once housed inside the Koutoubia Mosque.

17. Plan A Visit During the Marrakech Popular Arts Festival

Each summer, entertainers and artists from across Europe, Africa, and Asia descend on Marrakech for a celebration of arts and entertainment. Dancers, musicians, fire-swallowers, and even theatrical acting troupes perform and display their talents for visitors and locals who flock to see them.

Much of the festival takes place within the city’s central square, Jemaa el-Fnaa as well as the El Badi Palace. In the evening, visitors can experience Fantasia, a traditional show of horsemen dressed in traditional garbs as they perform just outside the city walls.

The festival typically takes place throughout the month of July, but visitors who wish to experience the festival should check specific dates before making travel plans.

18. Uncover the History of Marrakech at Musee Tiskiwin

Housed within the personal residence of ethnographer Bert Flint, the collection of Moroccan artifacts at this private museum will give visitors an up-close look at the everyday life of the nomadic Berber and North African people who have inhabited Morocco throughout the centuries.

From traditional garments to a fully decorated Berber tent, the intimate space displays fascinating items in stark contrast to more traditional museums. For history buffs, a visit to the Musee Tiskiwin is one of the top things to do in Marrakech, and the small size makes it easy to pair with neighboring attractions or a rooftop lunch overlooking the city’s central square.

19. Catch a Show at the Royal Theatre

Catch a Show at the Royal Theatre in Marrakech

Designed by the architect Charles Boccara, the Royal Theatre is an impressive cultural venue aimed at securing Marrakech’s place as an internationally-renowned cultural hub.

Boasting a 1200-seat open-air theater in addition to a smaller opera house, the Royal Theatre hosts various types of artistic performances ranging from ballet to opera, while the entrance hall is home to various exhibitions of visual arts.

Located in Marrakech’s modern Gueliz district, one of the most popular things to do in Marrakech is to spend the day shopping and dining in the European-inspired neighborhood before retreating to the opulent Royal Theatre for an evening of live entertainment.

20. Discover the Historic Saadian Tombs

Built during the reign of Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur of the Saadian dynasty, the Saadian Tombs are one of the most important historic sites to see in Marrakech. Approximately sixty members of the Saadi dynasty are buried within the mausoleum, including family members and those closest to the sultan.

The ornate structure features intricate wood carvings and fine Italian marble, creating a stunning photo opportunity for visitors.

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the site consists of the small mausoleum which houses the tombs of the family’s closest confidants and the large mausoleum, which consists of three rooms, including the breathtaking Room of the Twelve Pillars where the Sultan and his sons are buried.

No expense was spared in constructing this room, with soaring pillars of Italian marble accented by decorative stucco carvings in a Moorish-Andalusian style. 

Photos: Shutterstock

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