I’m normally the person at airport arrivals looking enviously at the handheld signs hoping my name would be on one rather than haggling with the taxi man or trying to get the correct change for the local train or bus. This time, however, it was my turn to arrive in style. Our driver was there to greet us and we found some top things to do in Marrakech over the next 3 days before we headed to Essaouira.
Top things to do in Marrakech
The Riad we stayed in arranged for a transfer as we were arriving late. We picked up a local sim card on arrival (they just scan your passport for proof of ID). Also, in arrivals, there are plenty of ATM machines to stock up on Dirhams. A jolly guy nodded and brought us to his white sedan car. The balmy evening breeze greeting us as we left the airport building. Palm trees were the only sign we were in Africa, it felt more like southern Europe. We passed lots of motorways, modern buildings and gated communities. That is until we entered through the gates of the old wall to the Medina.
Entering the Medina
The car can only take you so far. Then you have to go on foot. There were groups of teenagers banging drums frantically and singing. A man tried to reverse his donkey and cart down a small alley, meat was grilling on open flames, a bicycle whizzed by. Had we just travelled back in time? The most modern thing I could see in any direction was our parked car. Through doorways ancient tools hung, donkeys replaced cars, cobbled streets replaced motorways. The smell of diesel and smokey bbq meat and donkey dung hit my nostrils.
We stayed in a suite at Riad Charlott. As it was very late when we arrived Khalid the manager arranged for a cold platter of various salads, hummus, bread and fresh fruits for a small fee. The manager also gave us a really helpful map to navigate the Medina and suggestions on what to visit. This was more helpful than I imagined as it is almost impossible not to get lost. Well for me anyway 😉
1. The Marrakech Museum (Old Dar Menebhi Palace)
This was the first place we visited. Only a short walk from the Riad. There is a huge striking central chandelier made from metal that is in the main atrium. The building is covered in ornate tiling and decorative architectural features. The building also contains a few small exhibitions of traditional and more modern Moroccan art, along with historic books, pottery and coins representing Moroccan Jewish, Arab and Berber cultures.
2. Ben Youssef Madrasa
1-minute walk from the Marrakesh Museum is the Ben Yousself Madrasa (if you don’t get lost). It is an old Islamic College that housed up to 900 students before closing in 1960.The building was refurbished and reopened to the public in 1982. The walls are lined with beautifully ornate geometric tilework and carved wooden doors
Entrance fee: 40MAD
Opening hours: 08:00- 17:00 Mon-Sun
3. Maison de la Photographie
Not only does this small photography gallery delight with glimpse of times gone by, the view from the café on the roof is mesmerising. I literally could have stayed there for hours. On arrival the staff offer a really warm welcome, are very friendly and helpful. The building showcases exhibitions of work dating from 1870 to 1960 depicting Morrocan daily life. The Maison de la Photographie is a foundation created by Hamid Mergani and Patrick Manac’h in 2009. Aside from the gallery the foundation also conducts social activities providing education for those living in the Moroccan High Atlas.
Opening hours: 9:30 – 19:00
Entrance fee adult: 40 MAD
4. Jemaa El Fna Marrakech
This is one of those spots I have had on my travel wish list for a while. I wanted to see all the hustle and bustle, the strange sights, sounds and smells. We were both a little tired from visiting all the museums and still a bit jet-lagged from the flight. So we spotted a café that looked like it might have a good view, climbed up a few stairs and happily sat overlooking the market square that has been in existence since the 11th century. You will get lost. Don’t panic. Try to pick a few landmarks e.g. the mosque, bring the number of your Riad just in case, take some photos of your route, follow the brown signs (see below) and bring a sense of humour. Little kids will try to rip you off by asking money for directions but for a few euro, it could be a good solution to getting back to your guesthouse.
Entrance fee: Free
Opening hours: 08:00-00:00