If your time in Marrakesh is limited and you want to do as much as possible in one day in Morocco’s enchanting former imperial city, don’t despair. Many major attractions can be found within the walls of the medina, the old walled part that is also the city’s cultural heart.
After a filling breakfast at your riad or hotel, or grabbing a quick bite to go at one of the city’s many tempting bakeries, start your day at Dar Si Said Museum. Arriving at the opening time lets you enjoy the displays and exhibits before the crowds arrive. The elegant museum building was a former palace and you can marvel at the exquisite exterior designs before going inside. The interiors are just as impressive, showcasing the excellent work by Moroccan artisans. Items on display include leatherware, rugs, jewellery, weapons, and embroidered items. Do note that the museum is closed on Tuesdays. Admission costs 10 Moroccan dirhams (US$ 1).
Bahia Palace is another striking example of fine Moroccan architecture and designs. Dating back to the 19th century, the stunning palace and ornamental gardens were constructed over a period of 14 years. It was intended to be the finest palace in existence. Combining traditional Moroccan and Islamic elements, almost every surface, from the floor to the ceiling, is ornately embellished. The harem, with its stained-glass windows and delicate silk panels, is a highlight. The admission fee is 10 Moroccan dirhams (US$ 1).
The soaring minaret of the grand Koutoubia Mosque is one of the most recognisable symbols of Marrakesh. Although non-Muslim visitors are not allowed inside the mosque, it’s a great place to admire from the outside and take plenty of beautiful pictures. Head round to the side and you can go down into the old wash room, and there are lush gardens to also admire.
Take a leisurely five-minute stroll to Cyber Parc Arsat Moulay Abdeslam and relax in the shade of the trees, watch the fountains, walk alongside sections of the old medina walls, and see Bab Nkob, one of the large gateways into the medina.
Walk straight along Rue Jbel Lakhdar, continuing straight ahead as the road name changes, until you reach your next destination – Musee de Mouassine. A narrow walkway leads to a small door that belies the architectural and artistic gems that lie beyond. Explore the small restored home from the Saadian era, complete with painted wood, detailed friezes, and a display of traditional Berber items. Admission to the museum is 30 Moroccan dirhams (US$ 3).
Marrakesh has many excellent restaurants and cafes to refuel and restore energy levels on an intense day of sightseeing. For a traditional and relaxing experience, however, Le Jardin is highly recommended.
Le Jardin is a hidden oasis of lush greenery, offering a tranquil respite from the medina’s hustle and bustle. Enter through a 16th-century building to find a beautiful outdoor-dining area surrounded by foliage. Serving authentic Moroccan fare and European favourites, why not try a local couscous dish or tagine?
After lunch, take in the many images within the Maison de la Photographie. Despite the extensive collections, with approximately 10,000 prints, many postcards, and old negatives, most visitors only need around half an hour to enjoy the museum. The interesting images show life in Morocco through the ages. Admission is 40 Moroccan dirhams (US$ 4).
Merdersa Ben Youssef is an old religious school that dates back to the 14th century. An important Islamic college up until the 1960s, it is now open to the public to enjoy. Peer into the small rooms where students would sit for hours on end studying the Holy Quran and admire the ornamental tiles, woodwork, and marble in the photogenic courtyard. As well as being an important part of Marrakesh’s history, Merdersa Ben Youssef is the largest building of its kind in the whole of Morocco. Admission costs 10 Moroccan dirhams (US$ 1).
Stroll back towards Le Jardin to the El Baroudiyine area and see the funduqs from yesteryear that line the streets. Medieval accommodations for travelling merchants and their animals, these properties were used by traders journeying to Marrakesh’s souks and the main square. Animals, such as donkeys and camels, slept on the ground floor. The funduqs had fountains for watering the animals, and there were also secure storage areas for goods. People slept on the upper levels. The funduqs typically featured ornate designs and décor. Although many have been repurposed today, it’s still interesting to see these buildings that would have so many interesting tales to tell if their walls could speak.
See the diverse assortment of wares for sale in the souk along Rue Mouassine, perhaps stopping to haggle if anything catches your eye. From traditional clothing and shoes to brightly-coloured lamps, spices, and trinkets, there’s certainly plenty to see. Make a quick photo stop at the Mouassine Fountain, a decorative public fountain that once served as a place for locals to get drinking water and water to wash with.
Head to Marrakesh’s main square, Djemaa el-Fna, where snake charmers and monkeys perform for the crowds, and where ladies offer intricate henna designs. You could also arrange a price for a one- or two-hour calleche ride around the medina.
There are many restaurants where you can enjoy dinner; establishments with roof terraces overlooking the square are recommended, as you can watch as Djemaa el-Fna transforms as darkness falls.
After taking your time over your meal, go back down into the mêlée of the square. Rhythmic music fills the air and dancers perform an assortment of moves, from traditional folkloric demonstrations to modern street dance. People wearing traditional outfits wander through the crowds, hoping to make tips from photographs, and Moroccans listen enraptured to story tellers and magicians. It’s a terrific place to end your action-packed day.
With history, culture, religion, entertainment, and a dash of nature, a day in Marrakesh is sure to be one to remember for a long time afterwards.