Things to Do in Marrakech
What You’ll Find in This Post:
A collection of things to see, do, and eat in Marrakech
At Bahia Palace
There are hundreds of things to do in Marrakech and here in this post I will list a few of them for you. These are the things I did or saw that I enjoyed and/or thought contributed to a generally fun experience in the city. I think I’ll start with a big one . . .
The main square of Jemaa el-Fna
Jemaa el-Fnaa is essentially a town square and marketplace in the medina, the older part of Marrakech. There are plenty of places to shop here, but even if that’s not your thing it’s still fun to walk around. Get some juice, watch a performance, look at all the herbs and meat and leather bags – it all contributes to a memorable vibe. Ah, but watch out for those carts with bars, as they will definitely hurt you if you don’t get out of the way fast enough. Also keep an eye out for all the motorbikes, which can be a real challenge considering how narrow some of the streets are. I remember a huge crowd of people – like a human traffic jam – when there was a motorbike accident in the market.
But y’know, the craziest experience I had here was walking into a souq near El Badi Palace, looking for a secret garden inside said souq, and later finding myself in the main square of Jemaa el-Fnaa. It was like I had walked through a portal! I didn’t realize how vast the market was until then and I still cannot figure out how I got from Point A to Point B without seeing any familiar sights or feeling it in my legs.
Outside Kutubiyya Mosque
This mosque has a lot of names, but they all essentially translate to “Mosque of the Booksellers” in English. Apparently, the nearby souq had – and to an extent continues to have – many, many book venders and that’s how the mosque got its name. It is right next door to Jemaa el-Fna and was built throughout the mid and late 12th century. It is a wonderful feat of architecture and design, and it’s the biggest mosque in the city, but it’s not open to non-Muslims because it is a functioning mosque (and not exclusively a tourist sight), but you can still visit its gardens!
Eat some food!
There are lots of places to eat in Marrakech and many are vegetarian-friendly, so here are just a few restaurants I wanted to list:
BazzArt – My friend group and I ate here a lot, maybe even three nights in a row. It was a chill place with a variety of items on the menu, shisha that was apparently really good, and sometimes a DJ. The staff was friendly, the food was good, the environment was casual, and even though our table lost at least a dozen shisha tabs, the waitress still put up with us, bless her heart. While here I also encountered a lively group of Black women that I am 80% sure were Deltas, though they disappeared before I could ask.
The Red House – This was the first restaurant we ate at in Marrakech, recommended to us by the hotel staff. It was good food, but not great, and had a bizarre two-hour gap between ordering food and receiving it. There was a limited staff, but there was also hardly anybody in the restaurant (an observation our cab driver told us about as soon as we told him that’s where we were headed). However, the interior of the restaurant itself was very pretty.
Lemon meringue slices
Cappuccino – First things first: The tiny name tags and wetnaps had “Cappuccino” written on them, leading me to believe that was the name of the restaurant. It may well be, but the internet also refers to it as “Adbe elmottalib” and “cappuccino Marrakech hivernage.” Whatever it’s called, know that the savory food is very good, there are plenty of dessert options, and everything was affordable.
Cuisine de Terroir – This was a random restaurant we found in the souq near El Badi Palace. It has plenty of vegetarian options, terrace seating, and even the meat dishes looked really good.
LE KILIM Restaurant Gueliz – This is a restaurant that I actually didn’t like, but I wanted to include it on the list because maybe they’ll having something you like. The issue I had with it is that there weren’t many vegetarian options and the dish I ultimately chose was an odd combination of flavors in my mouth. The tea was also some of the worst I have ever had in my life. However, other students ate just fine.
Starbucks – In a lot of ways, a Starbucks is a Starbucks no matter where you are in the world. However, there are often little things that differentiate them from one another: The layout, the types of chairs, the menu items, the souvenirs, etc. So, I often try to visit at least one Starbucks and/or one McDonald’s in every country I visit just to see what little differences I can spot.
And just a general thing for any of my Muslim readers: Nothing is guaranteed halal, some stuff is cooked with the same spoons (like when the chef adds ham to an omelette then proceeds to make another omelette without changing spoons). You also may have to explicitly say you are ordering a virgin drink. At BazzArt, for example, their alcohol mojito and virgin mojito were both called “mojito.” Not knowing this, the student ordered what she thought was the virgin mojito, only to receive an alcoholic one.
Go to a club
Sitting at the hotel before going out
Marrakech has plenty of clubs, especially near the hotels. I am not really one for clubs, but I decided to accompany my friends when they made plans to go to this place called Theatro. While still possessing the many club things I don’t much care for, it also had cool things like themed nights and pretty lights. However, upon arrival we were denied entry because two of the women in our group were hijabi. It’s common for predominantly Muslim countries to deny hijabi women – or Muslim people in general – into clubs or bars because of either religious views or the risk of bad publicity. In the case of Theatro, they didn’t want any videos of hijabi women in their club showing up on social media simply because it wouldn’t look good for their business. After all, the club sold alcohol, and even if none of the women drank, they would still be associated with that kind of environment. We were all still allowed to visit the casino, but some of the people in our group weren’t interested.
This left us with three options: Go back to the hotel, go find some other non-club activity to partake in, or find a club that would let us all in. It was decided that we would find another club, which was honestly kind of a bummer because, as I have expressed, I’m not a big fan of clubs and am definitely not one for club hopping. That said, I will summarize the rest of my club experience rather quickly: 1) A lot of clubs are smoky with shisha and cigarettes 2) VIP Club Marrakech is awful and I don’t want to elaborate. However, 2Ciels Boutique Hôtel has a nice restaurant and dance area on the ground floor; sometimes the music is dancey and sometimes the music is jazzy & chill.
Also, if you are really stumped about where to go, you can almost always ask hotel staff or outdoor security for suggestions. Just know that it helps a lot to have someone with you who speaks not only Arabic, but a northwestern Africa dialect of Arabic.
Stay in the hotel
Chilling in my hotel room
I know, it sounds boring and counterintuitive, but sometimes you may need the break that the hotel can provide. Get a massage, relax at the pool, watch tv, read in the lobby, explore the hotel, take a nap, enjoy the air conditioning or the heat, whatever you want. At first glance doing any of those things may inspire the thought, But I can do all those things at home! I didn’t come all the way here to sit in my hotel! My counter argument, though, is that staying at a 5-star hotel or authentic riad in Morocco is not the same as sitting in a U.S. Best Western. In this hotel you are going to watch different things on television, see different kinds of people coming and going, observe different styles of architecture, eat different food, see a different view from your patio, and so on.
Heck, and even if your hotel is Best Western-esque, it still provides you with a space to recharge if you need it in the midst of your epic adventure. For me this resting period was very, very important because long before I even got on the airplane, I knew I wasn’t in the ideal state of mind for travel. This is why I wasn’t surprised when I woke up one day and simply didn’t feel like exploring the city. So, I decided to stay in the hotel, give myself some time to realign myself before jumping head first into the rest of my Moroccan adventure. I wrote, I napped, I ate my leftovers, and I watched the German version of Four Weddings and Say Yes to the Dress on television (which was hilariously different than the U.S. version I was accustomed to). I also did some schoolwork because, no matter how vacation-y this trip sounds, the reality was that I had a final project due the week after I returned.
The plans for my final project in my travel sketchbook
I also felt comfortable doing this because I had already experience Marrakech before. No, I didn’t experience everything during my first trip, and I will always support visiting a place more than once, but that didn’t change the fact that I had seen some of the city before. I didn’t feel like I’d be missing out on much by taking a day off. This sort of mentality – this declaration that my mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing is more important than my FOMO – is something I have learned through the good and bad experiences of all my prior travels. And now I am at a place where I understand that taking one day to chill by myself in a cushy hotel room is a worthwhile tradeoff if it means I’m able to handle the entirety of the trip without completely shutting down.
Palais Jad Mahal
This place is a mix of a restaurant and a club. I loved it! Live music, belly dancers, gnawa performers with their cowrie hats and qraqeb – it was a fantastic atmosphere – and being able to take breaks from the performances to go sit at my table in the adjacent room was great. There wasn’t much room to dance, only because the place was so packed, but even just sitting and enjoying the music is fun in itself. They performed songs by Janelle Monet, James Brown, Joan Jett, Michael Jackson, and The White Stripes; it was like my MP3 player had come to life.
When it comes to the food itself, it was good, I guess. I don’t say that dismissively, it’s just that I ordered a vegetable tajine and, truth be told, when you’ve had one vegetable tajine in Morocco you’ve had them all. Don’t get me wrong, all of them are good – all of them are good – but still, I knew what to expect. I also ordered a rum drink called a coco loco. It is very rare that I drink alcohol, but I figured I would try something new while I was at such a fun place. The alcohol content was way too strong for me – it tasted like cough medicine – so I was essentially done after two sips. But hey, maybe it’d be perfect for someone else.
There were two things that happened, though, that I feel I should mention. The student who made the reservation didn’t get the table they promised her. Maybe they forgot, maybe it was a misstep, maybe someone more important than us took our table, but however it happened there was nothing we could do about it after arriving. The other thing is that there was only one guy in our group of ladies and this guy decided to order a big bottle of water. Well, the waiter brought the big bottle of water to the table then served all of us women first, leaving the man – the person who had ordered it in the first place – with only a quarter cup of water. The waiter told us it was because of the “ladies first” rule and I don’t know if that was a personal thing, a restaurant thing, or a general cultural thing. What I do know is that two of us poured some of our water into the guy’s cup to make up for it.
El Badi Palace
This is a 16th century palace whose name translates to something along the lines of “Palace of Wonder,” “Palace of Brilliance,” or "Incomparable Palace,” as “el-badi” is one of the 99 names for God in Islam. By the 17th century, though, the palace was left in ruin and had much of its luxurious building materials stripped to use in other buildings around the country. Something I thought was cool is that the minbar of Kutubiyya Mosque is kept here; a minbar is comparable to a raised pulpit. There were also a lot of birds and a few cats just chilling out around here.
Bahia Palace is beautiful to look at! Wood and plaster carvings, tilework, painted ceilings, colored glass, small gardens, a stunning courtyard – there is so much to see. It was originally built around 1860 by the sultan’s grand vizer, a man who was descended from a family of Black slaves. It was later expanded by another sultan between 1894 and 1900 and is now a very popular tourist attraction (so expect there to be randos in your photographs and long lines for the bathroom). I loved this palace not only because it was a wonderfully ornate space to be in, but also because I was able to compare it to my understanding of what “the world” looked like in 1860.
When I thought of 1860, I didn’t think of beautiful palaces, I thought of slavery, the Civil War, the industrial revolution, and men in top hats. But this palace reminded me that those stories are only a small fragment of what was going on in the world, a reminder that my Western education intentionally ignores anything that doesn’t have to do with, well, the West.
This is why I like travelling. No matter what, I will never be able to fully anticipate how my adventure will influence me – my thoughts, my upbringing, and my understanding of self.