Visiting the Sights and Souks of Marrakech

 

Marrakech is a city from another time and visiting its walled medina is an incredible experience of twisting lanes lined with spice markets, souks and vendors, with a few palaces and mosques interspersed among the maze.

From the moment one arrives at the airport and vigorously negotiates a taxi fare into the city, it’s clear that Marrakech holidays aren’t a typical travel experience. Travelers staying in the medina will be further challenged once their taxi drops them off at the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square and it’s left up to them to find their way to their accommodation on the pedestrian-only lanes of the city.

Small lanes like this are the only streets in the walled medina of Marrakech.

Small lanes like this are the only streets in the walled medina of Marrakech.

The ideal lodging choice in the city is at one of its many riads, which is basically a sort of guest house that’s centered around a central courtyard. Though not every riad is luxurious, an unassuming door on a hectic street can lead to a tranquil and wonderful accommodation experience.

Moroccan mint tea is the order of the day, as travelers sit on the cushions around the courtyard or take in the views from the roof. Some of the high-end riads even have plunge pools in the courtyard! The rooms can be fantastic as well, as most are individually decorated and have a unique style.

The courtyard of a luxurious riad in Marrakech.

The courtyard of a luxurious riad in Marrakech.

Out on the streets and away from the serenity of the riad, one doesn’t have to look far for the sights, as they are scattered throughout the entire walled city.

The gigantic Jemaa el-Fnaa Square is at the center of the medina. In the day the square is active with storytellers, street performers and fruit vendors, but at night the square transforms into a huge cooked-food market, as hundreds of vendors set up tables and tents.

Well, there's definitely no shortage of places to eat at Jemaa el-Fnaa after dark!

Well, there’s definitely no shortage of places to eat at Jemaa el-Fnaa after dark!

Near the square, the Koutoubia Mosque is Marrakech’s largest and though tourists aren’t allowed inside, it’s beautifully lit at night and is impressive to behold.

The Koutoubia Mosque was built in the 12th century and towers above the city at 253 ft.

The Koutoubia Mosque was built in the 12th century and towers above the city at 253 ft.

Also within walking distance from Jemaa el-Fnaa are the famed souks of Marrakech. Basically one big covered street market; the streets of the souks intersect with one another and form a lively and incredible place to shop. Each stall has its own special offering of spices, sweets, carpets and everything else and the experience in the souks is intense to say the least. Don’t forget to haggle before purchasing anything, though, as the prices certainly have wiggle room.

A food stall in one of Marrakech's exotic souks.

A food stall in one of Marrakech’s exotic souks.

Elsewhere in the medina, the El Badi Palace is an impressive collection of ruins dating back to the 16th century. Wandering around its passageways and inside its giant inner courtyard, it’s easy to appreciate the grandeur of the sultans that once lived here.

The 16th century ruins of the El Badi Palace in the medina of Marrakech.

The 16th century ruins of the El Badi Palace in the medina of Marrakech.

The El Bahia Palace is another attraction in the medina and it is better preserved than El Badi, as it was built in the 19th century and has been immaculately preserved. The palace and its tiled courtyard, once home to the sultan’s harem, is now the exclusive domain of tourists.

In the end Marrakech presents a special blend of charm, history and beauty that is sure to inspire even the most well-traveled of visitors.

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