Marrakech is a city like no other: hot, colourful, noisy, dusty, busy, confusing… and wonderful. Some find it overwhelming but I think the “Red City” is definitely worth a visit.
Here’s how to get the most out of Marrakech.
1. Skip the hotel and stay in a Riad instead:
Riads are small traditional Moroccan houses that typically have an open courtyard in the middle. Many have been converted into beautiful guesthouses and provide a much more authentic atmosphere than staying in a hotel. I recommend Riad L’Orangeraie, a lovely riad inside the media walls with a delicious menu that changes daily with fresh market options, a small but refreshing pool and personalized service.
2. Catch a rooftop view of the medina:
In case it hasn’t registered that you’re not in Kansas anymore, catching a wide sweeping view of the Medina rooftops should do the trick; you’ll quickly see why it’s known as the “Red City”. Many riads offer rooftop access, which can be a great place to catch some sun or enjoy an evening drink. If not, there are plenty of rooftop bars around Djemaa el-Fna.
3. Plan to get lost in the souks:
It’s a fact. No matter how strong your sense of direction, no matter how much you plan your route in advance, you will get lost. So allow some extra time for backtracking and walking in circles. But don’t worry, it’s often only on the second or third pass that you’ll notice small alleyways, tiny shops and other hidden treasures. And if you really want to get lost? Ask for directions! It sounds counterintuitive but locals are much more likely to lead you to their cousin’s/brother’s/neighbour’s shop rather than your desired destination (and will probably even demand payment for “helping” you).
4. Head to a Hammam:
After dodging a few donkeys and wandering the dusty alleyways, you’ll be ready for a deep clean. A Hammam may provide a more intense spa experience than what you’re used to but is definitely worth checking out. Leave your modesty at the door and prepare to be scrubbed within an inch of your life. You’ll leave with glowing skin and will swear you’ve never felt so clean.
5. Go back in time: To escape the late afternoon heat inside the souks seek refuge in the Maison de la Photographie. This small museum houses some stunning historic photography of Morocco. It’s also a great find for unique postcards and photography souvenirs; I purchased a gorgeous black and white print of the souk in the 1930s that is currently sitting on my mantle.
6. Take a tea break: Fresh Moroccan Mint tea is refreshing at any time of day but the real treat is watching your server pour it from a foot above your cup without spilling a delicious drop. The tea sets themselves are also quite striking, usually featuring some brightly coloured tea glasses and an ornate silver teapot and tray. In fact, they make a great souvenir to take home, which gives you a chance to…
7. Practice your negotiation skills: Initially intimidating, bartering for your goods can actually be quite fun once you get the hang of things and will help you find some great deals. Most vendors will start by quoting you an inflated price and expect you to bargain hard. Remain polite but indifferent, then counter at about a 1/3 of their offer. After a bit of back and forth you’ll probably settle somewhere in the middle. Need another reason to strike a bargain? Moroccan dirham is a closed currency, meaning you can’t exchange it once you leave the country. So you might as well spend it on a vibrant carpet or some leather goods before you go.
8. Find an oasis… in the middle of the city: Serene Jardine Majorelle is easy to reach in the heart of the city but the lush greenery, electric blue buildings and quiet atmosphere will make you feel like you’re miles outside of the city.
9. Tuck into a tasty tagine: the original slow-cooker, tagine dishes usually consist of incredibly tender meat and vegetables served with couscous. My personal favourite tagines were a Spicy lamb with sultanas and almonds and a Chicken with preserved lemon and green olives. Bonus: your food is usually served in the tagine, a beautiful piece of pottery.
10. Do dusk at Djemaa el-Fna: You’ll feel like you’ve walked onto the set of “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark”, complete with snake charmers, fire-eaters and amateur dentists. But the Old Town Main Square really comes to life when the sun goes down. The food stalls turn up the heat to fill the air with a delicious haze, musicians start playing and the noise level goes up a few decibels. It’s street theatre at its best.