Opulent palaces, old-world souks, meandering alleyways and more… Marrakesh has a magical way of transporting its visitors into another era. Established in the 11th century AD, the 4th largest city of Morocco is steeped in history. Marrakesh is also called the ‘Red City’ for its umpteen red sandstone buildings that dot the Old Town. One needs at least a couple of days to soak in the diverse vibes of this erstwhile imperial capital which is heavily influenced by Islamic, French and Spanish cultures among others. Follow this 48-hour curated itinerary to discover Marrakesh on foot all by yourself!
Allow yourself the morning to check into your hotel and recharge. After a lazy breakfast, begin your day with a visit to Koutoubia Mosque inside the walled medina of Marrakesh. Admire the timelessness of this red stone Almohad-style complex and the towering minaret from the 12th century, then stroll through the gardens in the plaza. (Entry inside the mosque is for Muslims only.)
Before the sun begins to scorch you, step into Cafe Kif-Kif, a short walk from Koutoubia. Lunch on some chicken tajine (a slow-cooked Mahghrebi stew) with the complimentary khobz (Moroccan bread) topped with sesame. Vegans can try their vegetarian couscous instead. Expect to pay 50-60 dirhams for two. (1 Moroccan Dirham is roughly equal to 7 Indian Rupees)
Walk along the fortified wall of the old town till you reach Bab Agnaou – the official gate to enter Marrakesh. Stop for a photo-op at the entrance which happens to be one of 19 gates into the medina.
Head to El Badi Palace to witness the ruins of a 16th-century architectural wonder commissioned by the Saadian dynasty. The sprawling premise also houses several pavilions, dungeons, stables, a courtyard and a pool.
Built in the 19th century, Bahia Palace is one of the more modern attractions of Marrakesh. “Bahia” means brilliance, and that is evident in the distinctive Islamic and Moroccan architecture of the palace.
By now, you have been walking for hours and you deserve to relax! Enter into Hammam Rosa Bonheur (book your slot by calling them in advance) and spend the next hour being treated to a traditional hammam scrub and bath. The basic 40-minute hammams cost 275 Dh and the rates go up to 1000+ Dh for 150-minute premium treatments that include massages and meals.
Rejuvenated by the Moorish hammam experience, brace yourself for the electrifying atmosphere at Jemaa el-Fna, the main square and largest marketplace of Marrakesh. Spend the rest of your evening being entertained by Berber dancers and enraptured by magicians while you nibble on local snacks (try aubergine fritters) from the food stalls. Most items will cost you between 5 and 15 dirhams, so eat all you can before you call it a day! 😉
Start your second day with Ben Youssef Madrasa which used to be an Islamic college but is now a photographer’s paradise. The doorways are intricately embellished with arabesque artform and Islamic geometrical patterns and calligraphy. Even the tiles used on the walls and pillars have flower motifs painted on them.
Only two minutes from the madrasa is the classical Moorish-styled Dar Menebhi Palace which is now the Marrakech Museum. Even if you are not a fan of art or museums, the palace is beautiful to behold.
Make a quick stop at the Almoravid Koubba, a dome-shaped cedar wood building built in the 12th century and rediscovered in the 20th century. The Koubba was restored after its excavation.
Wander by the spice markets of Souk Semmarine and buy your stash of cooking essentials to take back home. You can also shop for carpets, souvenirs, trinkets and furniture at the shops.
Treat yourself to a different cuisine for lunch as you reach Roti D’Or which serves French and Mexican along with burgers, shwarmas and falafel. You can have a decent meal for under 35 Dh.
Spend your afternoon in the Majorelle Garden and villa which was built by a French artist over 40 years. The place is not just a botanical wonderland but also home to 3 museums – Berber Museum, Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech and Yves Saint Laurent Museum.
Not far from Jardine Majorelle lies Dar Si Said, a museum of Moroccan artefacts and artillery. From bags and jewellery to carpets and paintings, the museum houses things that date back to the 11th century!
Hop into Blackchich Cafe nearby for some rare Senegalese and Berber dishes. They also serve Moroccan desserts with mint tea – the country’s most popular beverage.
Spend your spare time to pack in some last minute shopping or to plan your onward journey from Marrakech. The city isn’t far from the Atlas Mountains. If you have an extra day with you, rent a car to explore Berber villages in the valleys and de-stress by the lakes.
Do you think you can now explore Marrakesh on your own?
Write your answers as comments below! 🙂
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Note: This article was written on special request for Ithaka.
Credit for the header image: Marrakesh by Tak (CC)