I am often asked: “If I only have one day, what would you advise me to see in Marrakech? This is understandable since Marrakech is one of the cities in Morocco that has the most to offer. And even though it’s a disservice to try and see all the highlights of Marrakech in one day, here’s a list of what to see during your trip.
Start From The South of The Medina
Instead of going into the heart of the medina, we will opt for one of its perimeters, since the places of interest located there will be crowded by the influx of visitors later in the day.
We will start at the Place des Ferblantiers, which is strategically very well located, as it is very busy and is connected by several main streets to the nerve centre of the city. This way you will not have problems getting there, either walking or by taxi, wherever you’re coming from.
Once there, we will take one of the streets leading to the square, called Bab Mellah Bay. At the beginning of this street, on the left, is the Bahia Palace, at the intersection with Riad Zitoun el Jdid street. It is a large complex consisting of numerous courtyards, halls and rooms, with a total area of eight hectares.
The intention of the architect was to achieve the most complete and varied decoration, hiring the most reputable and diverse craftsmen in Morocco.
Once we return, the opposite side of the square connects to the Rue de Berrima, where the Badi Palace is located. It is a completely different place from the previous one since, although it was originally more luxurious, a later plundering to raise the imperial city of Meknès left it in ruins.
The space has more than 300 rooms with a central courtyard defined by an esplanade in which sheets of water and green areas coexist.
You can also visit some of the temporary exhibitions housed in the art gallery, explore the underground galleries, and climb the tower to enjoy an unparalleled view of the city.
Continuing on the same street and arriving at the end we will come across the Saadien’s Tombs. It consists of three mausoleums where the main representatives of the Saadian dynasty are buried. It also has a central garden where the tombs of servants and soldiers are located.
The main problem is that the mausoleums are not accessible, and you have to appreciate their interior from the railing that protects the entrance.
Jemaa El Fna Square
It will be very easy to access one of the public spaces par excellence in the world, because if the saying goes that all roads lead to Rome, in Marrakech they lead to Jemaa El Fna Square. As long as you head north you will find it, but the easiest way, if you’re afraid of getting lost, is to go back to the beginning and take the Rue Riad Zitoun el Kdim, which leads to the square.
Located in the heart of the medina, its charm lies not so much in its architectural value as in the activity that takes place there and its markedly temporary nature. During the day it’s filled with those who offer their services, musicians, dancers and snake charmers. However at night, they all make room for the temporary food stands.
Undoubtedly, this combination of smoke and light emanating from each one these kiosks in the dark makes the square even more interesting at that time than during the day. We highly recommend that once you’ve completed the tour, you return to your accommodation to rest and clean up, which will allow you to revisit this place and have dinner there.
The Koutoubia Mosque will be one of the buildings we will see most when we visit Marrakech and, at the same time, one of the most unknown once we leave. This is because its minaret is one of the most visible points of the city but at the same time, and as is often the case in religious places in Morocco, it is forbidden for non-muslims to enter.
It will seem unbelievable to you that you have come out of that hustle and bustle and a few metres away there is silence, interrupted only by the call to prayer.
The Menara Gardens are, along with the Jamaa el Fna Square, the other most famous empty space in Marrakech, although this is the only similarity they have. While the first is a continuous and living show, the second is the place of entertainment par excellence of Marrakech.
Unfortunately, you will not be able to walk there, as it is on the outskirts of Marrakech. You will have no choice but to take a taxi that should not cost more than 10 dirhams.
Dominated mainly by a large pond of 150 meters by 200 meters and surrounded by gardens and a pavilion (the pavilion of the Menara) is the perfect end to a first visit, and an ideal way to stretch your legs and take a break after a busy day of sightseeing.
Next, we visit the souk of Marrakech
The souk is an area where you can spend the whole day watching, photographing and haggling, but it will also serve as a thread to reach three places very close together.
The initial street, Rue Souk Semmarine, is at the back of the square, on the opposite side of the Koutubia, just behind a row of restaurants (as a guide, the famous Café France is on the right). Shortly afterwards it will be divided into two: Rue Souk Attarine and Rue Souk El Kebir.
It is the second one that will lead us to the next three points of interest, so once we get to the fork we will take Rue Souk Attarine and, once we have visited the souks that cover it, we will go back, taking the other street at the crossing.
We will have another opportunity to talk in depth about this area but, as a summary, you should always have the streets mentioned referenced while you let yourself be surprised by the spectacle offered to all your senses.
Ben Youssef Madrasa
Once the Rue Souk El Kebir is finished, we will be presented with the ensemble formed by the Kuba Almoravide, the Marrakech Museum and the Ben Youssef Madrasa. I recommend to begin in this last one, because surely we will have already spent a lot of time in the souks and it begins to fill up, so it’s better to get it out of the way first.
Madrasa is the name given to Koranic schools or boarding schools in which some classes are given but which, above all, focus on the teachings in the adjoining mosque. The Ben Youseff mosque was the most important in all of Morocco, accommodating nearly 900 students.
The central courtyard is dominated by a pond and surrounded by arcades in the lower area (leading to the common areas) and galleries in the upper area (leading to the students’ rooms). Decorated with engravings, mosaics and wood, it is a masterful example of how to combine detail and elegance.
Together with Bou Inania’s in Fez, it is probably the most interesting in the whole country, keeping similarities in its design. However, the one we are visiting today is better, as the student galleries located on the first floor can be visited without problems.
Just to the right of the madrasah is the Marrakech Museum. With a hanging lamp of a unique design and generous dimensions of its central courtyard, all kinds of traditional objects are exhibited around it: jewelry, metalwork, ceramics, embroidery, … forming a discreet but none the less interesting catalog of Moroccan culture. It also has a hammam, only for exhibition purposes.
Before leaving the area we will visit the Almoravid Koubba, located just in front of the mosque also called Ben Youseff. The reason for this proximity is that it originally provided the space for preprayer ablutions, and also gave the city one of the first sources of drinking water.
We will have no problem in visiting it even if it is late, since it is not usually given any importance, besides being semi-hidden because of the buildings surrounding it. You’ll be amazed to experience one of the few testimonies of the first dynasty that reigned in Marrakech, of the work realized inside the dome and of its advanced system of plumbing.
To conclude the afternoon, you can take a Petit taxi that will take you to some gardens, in this case those of Majorelle, originally thought as a private space by the painter after which it was named, to later be opened to the public and finally acquired by the famous designer Yves Saint Laurent.
Its facilities house a botanical garden where all vegetation has a place, highlighting the presence of palms, cacti and bamboos. In addition to the ponds with water lilies and intense blue paint, it offers an exquisite and timeless design in which everything seems to have been studied to the millimetre.
You will also have the chance to visit, among others, a museum, an art gallery or a café, the latter being the ideal place to stop on the way and discuss everything you have discovered today with a fellow traveller.
To top it all off…
In theory, the visit to the city would have ended here, but if your restlessness as a traveller allows it, and your legs are still not weak, you must enjoy the night in the Gueliz and the Hivernage
This is a unique opportunity to experience a different Morocco, and Marrakech is one of the best cities to check it out. In fact, it is one of the favorite places to go out at night not only for the local people, but also for most Moroccans.
You can start by having dinner in an international restaurant and continue dancing until midnight in a club (in fact, the city has its own Pasha). If I’m honest, it’s not the kind of place I look for when I travel to a country, but it’s always interesting to see how Moroccans move in this kind of environment.
We have now seen the most important attractions that Marrakech has to offer. I hope that the experience will leave you satisfied with a desire to see more. If you have more time, get to know the surrounding area: Essaouira, the Ourika valley, Ouarzazate, …