10 Best Attractions in Marrakech Morocco That You MUST SEE
A former imperial city, with its rich cultural heritage intact, Marrakech is one of the most popular destinations in Morocco. Also known as the “Ochre City” or “Red City” owing to the presence of many red sandstone buildings, a reminder of its past, the root of the word “Marrakech” lies in Mur and Akush, which translates to “Land of God” in Berber.
Marrakech is divided into two parts, the Medina which is the old city and Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle, the new town which has a more European character. Both the areas will captivate your senses with the conglomeration of interesting attractions that they offer. While the Medina is the perfect place for experiencing what Morocco actually stands for, along with its riads, souks, rustic sights and historic sites, Ville Nouvelle will quench your thirst for everything modern and contemporary.
There are many reasons to visit Morocco, and a lot of those can be found in Marrakech itself. The city is a perfect juxtaposition of the past and the present, and with its distinct character it has a lot to offer to the enthusiastic and curious traveler.
Best Morocco Attractions
1. Koutoubia Mosque
One of the most prominent points of interest in Marrakech, the Koutoubia Mosque, also spelt as Kutubiyya, is the largest mosque in the city. The name itself means bookseller in Arabic, and was an ode to the booksellers who worked near the base of the mosque as well as in the nearby souk. Built in the 12th century, the mosque is also the inspiration behind two other world famous minarets, namely the Giralda of Seville and the Hassan Tower of Rabat.
The Koutoubia Mosque was constructed in the Almohad style of architecture and is one of its finest examples. Today, its minaret still remains an awe inspiring vision for those who not only visit Marrakech for the first time, but also those who see it every day. It should be noted that non-Muslim visitors are not allowed entry inside the mosque; however anyone and everyone can visit its gardens.
2. Majorelle Garden
One of the most interesting things to do while spending your holidays in Marrakech is visiting the, comparatively, modern day landmark, the Majorelle Garden. Designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle, an expat who spent a considerable amount of his life in Morocco, the magnificent garden was made during 1920-1930.
The first thing that will strike you on entering the garden grounds is the eye-catching shade of cobalt blue which is noticed on most of the buildings inside. Called Majorelle blue, this shade is named after the designing artist himself. A cacophony of chirping birds greet you as you make your way through the many winding paths, a testimony to the nearly fifteen species of native North African birds that make their home here.
The colourful flowers add a captivating touch to many of the cobalt backdrops, and the Majorelle Garden in its entirety will transport you to a world far away from the hustling bustling life of Marrakech.
The Majorelle Garden received a momentum in its popularity after world famous designer Yves Saint Laurent purchased it in the 1980s. In fact, many of his mementos, along with other interesting collections, are displayed in the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech present inside the complex.
3. Menara Gardens
A trip to Marrakech cannot be complete without a stopover at the beautiful Menara Gardens. With the Atlas Mountains providing the perfect backdrop, you will actually feel that you have been transported to paradise on visiting the garden’s beautiful grounds.
Built during the 12th century, during the reign of the Almohad dynasty, the Menara Gardens were meant to be a tranquil retreat made on the lines of an oasis, which would provide respite from the Moroccan heat.
The place comprises of many small gardens that surround a huge artificial lake, and one of the highlights inside the complex is a pavilion, known as Minzah, which overlooks a pool. This area is a picturesque spot that allows you to enjoy the beauty of the landscape in its totality.
4. Bahia Palace
Built to be one of the greatest palaces of its time, for the personal use of the sultan’s vizier Si Moussa, the 19th century Bahia Palace is a vision to behold, and captures the best of Islamic and Moroccan architecture. The palace itself is named after one of the vizier’s wives – Bahia, which means brilliance.
The palace features exquisite floor to ceiling decorations, inlaid woodwork ceilings and stucco work that will leave you awestruck. Today, the ornate grounds of the Bahia Palace, is a formal venue for the Moroccan government to host guests and foreign dignitaries.
5. Saadian Tombs
The Saadian Tombs in Marrakech, which date back to the 16th century, were discovered fairly recently in 1917 and since then they have intrigued and attracted many visitors. The site was a burial ground for the family members of the Saadian dynasty, including Sultan Ahmed al Mansour.
The place escaped from public memory when Moulay Ismail took on the reins of power in Morocco and wanted to create his own legacy. However, he couldn’t bring himself to actually destroy a place of burial, and instead got all the entrances to the tomb, except one, sealed.
It was only after a rediscovery by General Hubert Lyautey that a restoration work was undertaken, that highlighted the complex’s splendour, which was hitherto hidden and lost in the passage of time. Today, the Saadian Tombs are one of the top tourist attractions in Marrakech.
6. El Badi Palace
Though the 16th century El Badi Palace is in ruins now, one cannot help but feel a sense of the magnificence that this complex, whose name translates to “the incomparable”, once exuded. It was built by Sultan Ahmed al Mansour of the Saadian dynasty, with the money received through ransom payment by the Portuguese, following their defeat in the Battle of the Three Kings.
Today, the red pise walls of the El Badi Palace continue to charm spectators as it did when it was at the height of its architectural brilliance, and featured Sudanese gold, Italian marble and Indian woodwork for all to gasp at. The 12th century Koutubia minbar inside the palace grounds is one of the main attractions here.
Once a place that saw royal gatherings and lavish parties, clearly music and festivities have still not deserted the erstwhile palace as it now hosts the National Festival of Popular Arts and Marrakech Folklore Festival.
7. Marrakech Railway Station
Yes, a railway station features in the list of the 10 Best Tourist Attractions in Marrakech, but only because it is the stupendous Marrakech Railway Station. Built in 2008, the place should be a part of your itinerary even if you are not travelling anywhere by train.
Featuring a varied array of restaurants and shops, the Marrakech Railway Station is a hangout area in itself. The beauty of the station also lies in its stunning architecture, especially its remarkable entry gateway.
8. Ben Youssef Madrasa
A fine example of impressive Moorish architecture, the Ben Youssef Madrasa in Marrakech was once the largest centre for studying the Quran in North Africa. Founded and built in the 14th century, the complex will remind you of the Alcazar in Seville as well as the Alhambra in Granada.
The madrasa’s pieces de resistance are undoubtedly the courtyard and the prayer hall. The former features a jamboree of architectural delights and ornamentation, including five colour mosaic walls, and wooden lattice screens or mashrabiyyas (as they are more popularly known). The prayer hall is enriched with Quranic inscriptions and zellige tile work.
The Ben Youssef Madrasa is open to the public as a historical site, and attracts visitors from all over the world, who come to spend their holidays in Marrakech.
9. Maison de la Photographie
The Maison de la Photographie will take you on a graphic journey through Morocco’s past, with its rare and vintage collection of photographs, and is one of the best places to visit in Marrakech. The gallery is the brainchild of Patrick Menach and Hamid Mergani, avid collectors of vintage Moroccan photographs, who decided to share their treasure trove with the world. The gallery, which opened its doors in 2009, exhibits a myriad collection that dates from 1870 to 1950 and includes glass negatives and repatriated photos.
Maison de la Photographie also has a beautiful roof terrace, considered one of the best in Marrakech, which gives a 360 degrees view of the city. Since the Maison is located in the medina area, you can get a view of many of the historic attractions, while sipping on a cup of tea during a relaxed evening.
10. Jemaa El Fnaa
To experience Morocco in its entirety, you should straightaway head for the Jemaa El Fnaa, a square and a market place in the city’s historic district – the Medina. The hustling bustling cultural space, which caters to all the five senses, sees a plethora of multidimensional activities that include commerce.
The Jemaa El Fnaa, whose historic roots go back to the 11th century, is a cultural landmark of Morocco and gives one a feel of a typical marketplace of yore. Snake charmers make space for tooth pullers, fortune tellers and medicine men here, while senthir players, Gnaoua dancers and Berber musicians entertain passersby – keeping alive the traditional Moroccan culture.
You can stop over at one of the many restaurants and food stalls that line the square, while soaking in the enriching sights and sounds. From the quaint to the quirky, you can find it all here and there is no other place in Morocco like the Jemaa El Fnaa, capturing the essence of the country so well.