5 Things To See In The Marrakesh Medina

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

Are you looking for things to do in Marrakesh? You've come to the right place!

In between getting lost in the maze of narrow streets bordered by red walls draped in vibrant, hand-dyed carpets, there are some incredible places to see and experience in Marrakesh! Here are five of my favourite spots. 

1. Djemma el-Fna

I had heard that Djemaa el-Fna, the gigantic main square in Marrakesh, was an open-air theatre full of action, entertainment and general hoopla, but words can not describe what was waiting for me when I wandered there one night as the sun was setting.

The chaos that greets you has been non-stop since the square was the site of public executions in AD 1050 (the name means "assembly of the dead"). It is such an incredible collision of Moroccan culture that UNESCO declared it a "Masterpiece of World Heritage" in 2001. 

A view of a portion of Djemaa el-Fna from a rooftop restaurant patio

Camera at the ready and all senses on alert, I walked past snake charmers right out of an Indiana Jones flick blasting oboes to calm hissing cobras, fully veiled female henna tattoo artists would suddenly appear beside pulling me towards their stools, and monkeys on leashes that sat obediently next to the feet of their owners.

Stalls piled high with figs and oranges were lit by hanging lights and seemingly out of nowhere, benches, tables, and cook-tops appeared where chefs were prepping fragrant traditional meals that would break the Ramadan fast for the day. (Apparently what I saw was tame compared to what occurs outside of the month of Ramadan.)

Surrounding restaurants open their rooftops to tourists — the perfect spot to enjoy the show! 

One of the many elaborate doorways at the Bahia Palace

2. Bahia Palace

This gorgeous, historic palace has floor-to-ceiling decoration that was begun in the 1860s by Vizier Si Moussa and then was completed between 1894 and 1900 by Vizier Abu 'Bou' Ahmed. It has been home to rulers, warlords and French colonizers, but now lies empty — other than the tourists that filter through daily, of course. 

The incredible pointed, gilded, and inlaid ceilings will have you looking up in the Grand and Petit Courts, but don't forget to look down at the incredible mosaic floors, and stunning doorways. There are multiple courtyards and rooms to stroll though, but no furniture remains. 

Though you can't visit the entire 8 hectares and 150 rooms, the opulent harem rooms are open to the public.. This is where Vizier Abu 'Bou' Ahmed kept his four wives and 24 concubines. 

The spectacular second floor rooms at Dar Si Said

3. Dar Si Said

Only a short walk away from the Bahia Palace (there are signs to help you navigate), this incredible structure showcases the city's riad architecture and is the home to a spectacular painted wedding-chamber dome.

It houses the Museum of Moroccan Arts, and has an incredible collection of historic artifacts from all over the country. 

Because it is located off the beaten path, it doesn't get the same amount of traffic that a lot of other sites get, but it is well worth a visit. Make sure not to miss the beautiful central garden! 

4. The Souq

I rarely get lost when I am in a different city. As long as I have a map with me, I can usually find my way out of a wrong turn pretty easily. In the souq (market) in Marrakesh however, I didn't stand a chance. I attempted to navigate the winding, twisting alleyways multiple times and each time ended up completely lost surrounded by carpets, cushions, lanterns, spices, and shoes. 

The colours, smells, and shiny objects overflowing from the stalls around me were only slightly more distracting than the shop owners calling out to get my attention in any way possible. 

It was a completely disorienting, adrenaline-pumping, five-sense engaging experience that I have never had in a market anywhere else in the world! 

5. Hammam

I encourage all visitors to Morocco to skip a tourist spa and experience a public hammam (public bathhouse). Entry fees are cheap — $3.00-5.00 — and all you need to bring is a towel! Soap is available to purchase if you want (I highly recommend it as it makes your skin really soft), but you are welcome to bring your own.

A typical entryway into a public hammam

Most locals strip down entirely, but you can leave your underwear on if that makes you more comfortable. You will then be taken to a big tile room with the other hammam-ers (don't worry, the sexes are separated), be given a pail to fill up with water, and you can then sit or stand and scrub yourself clean, rinsing as needed. 

Why not just have a shower at home, you ask? For the experience of course! Morocco is essentially a desert, and so public hammams are a way for locals to save water and money. AND, for just a few extra dollars you can pay to have a gommage (scrub) where one of the attendants will scrub you from head to toe — an AMAZING experience!! 

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