Some travelers have only a few days for their holiday to Morocco, yet want to experience the rich history of an imperial city, a taste of luxurious modernity and the serenity of the Sahara and nearby mountains. For these travelers, Marrakesh brings good news … you can experience it all.
The highlight of Marrakesh is its main square, Place Djemaa el-Fna, which hosts clamoring crowds by day and a flurry of festivities by night. To survey the evening’s bustle before joining it, opt for a traditional tajine dinner at a terrace cafe. The elevated view will help you inventory the maze of chefs offering local fare, rows of booths selling freshly squeezed orange juice and the circles of storytellers, musicians, artists and more.
Wander north of the square to browse the markets of Marrakesh’s medina for household treasures like Berber cedar chests, embroidered leather poufs and colorful pottery. Dress yourself up with traditional jewelry or scarves made by local artisans. To sample the current trends set by local fashionistas, take a cab to Quartier Industrial Sidi Ghanem, a cluster of boutiques and designer factory outlets just outside of the city.
History aficionados and casual visitors alike flock to Koutoubia Mosque and its surrounding gardens, one of the city’s iconic historical sites, situated within view of the main square. Built during the 11th century, architects have referenced this mosque as a model in the construction of several mosques throughout the country and internationally. The Ben Youssef Madrasa, a 14th century Islamic school, exemplifies Islamic architecture and intricate tile work. The school closed in 1960 and is now open to visitors who can find it within the medina’s walls.
Days of sightseeing may motivate you to get off your feet and rejuvenate at one of the city’s many hammams. Akin to a spa experience, cleansing in a hammam offers visitors an opportunity to refresh and dabble in a long-standing tradition. Many upscale hotels offer stylish, full-service hammams in-house. If your accommodation does not have one, ask the staff to recommend one from the many available throughout Marrakesh’s neighborhoods.
Travelers who want to experience other aspects of Morocco without wandering too far from their home base can opt for day trips from Marrakesh or overnighters to nearby destinations. Several tour companies in the city offer camel-back journeys ranging from 30 minutes to several hours and can include overnight camping in the Sahara Desert with a guide. Adventurers can hike (or ski, in the winter) in the mountains just two hours outside of Marrakesh in the High Atlas. And those interested in ocean views can hop a bus for the three-hour trip to Essaouira to relax on the beach and enjoy the laid-back ambiance of the tranquil fishing town.
Written by Shelley A. Gable, instructional designer and freelance writer.
Photo by Michael Osmenda.