Marrakesh is a city steeped in history, culture, and tradition. This North African outpost is the capital city of Morocco: a nation that blends and balances African, Middle Eastern and European cultures.
Because Marrakesh is such a cultural hotchpotch, it is the perfect place to visit for a long weekend of relaxation, fun, and cultural exploration.
Marrakesh is a city whose sounds and smells will seep into your soul and create obscure memories that you’ll never forget. The sound of pouring tea or the smell of rich herbs will send you flying back to the souk: a chaos of stalls at the heart of Morrocan life designed to get lost in.
You’ll hear bells ringing all day long: the call to prayer from the city’s many Mosques ring out five times a day and it will punctuate all of your memories of this unforgettable place. The people bustling from one place to another define the city, and it is the people that will make your trip here so exciting.
Because of its location at the very tip of Africa, and just a short flight away from Northern Europe, Marrakesh is incredibly easy to access, making it a wonderful place to visit for a city break.
If you’re thinking of visiting Marrakesh for your next city getaway, then here is our guide to spending 48 hours in the city:
Visit the Koutoubia Mosque
Marrakesh is home to hundreds of mosques, but by far the largest of these is the Koutoubia Mosque. Built in the 12th Century, its Moorish minaret is so tall that it is visible for miles around, making it one of the most common and immediately recognisable visual symbols of the city.
The call to prayer has rung out from the minaret here five times a day since 1158, and its sound is distinctive, echoing and beautiful. It is a wonderful sight to see the busy people of the city stop everything to take time out and pray, either by visiting the mosque or simply by praying wherever they are.
The mosque is located in the south-west medina of the city, but its huge stature makes it incredibly easy to find.
It is important to note that because this is an active place of worship, it is not possible to go inside the Mosque unless the practice the Muslim faith. However, the external architecture, traditionally Morrocan arches, and truly stunning statues and grounds around the mosque mean that a visit here really shouldn’t be missed.
Whilst you could spend a full day exploring everything that the exterior of the mosque (and its beautiful surrounding gardens) has to offer, we recommend that a couple of hours is enough time here if you only have 48 hours to enjoy the whole city.
Explore the Souks
Marrakesh is synonymous with its souks. They are the first thing people think of when they think about visiting the city. For those not in the know, a souk is a traditional Arabic marketplace or bazaar, and it is the perfect place to fully immerse yourself in city life.
It doesn’t matter how long or short your visit to Marrakesh is, you should definitely spend a significant portion of that time absorbing the atmosphere of the souks. During a 48 hour stay, we would recommend you spend half a day exploring here.
This ancient place has everything you imagine and more: you’ll find snake charmers, magicians, gipsies, and folk singers. You can have your fortune told, or spend time with the medicine man, who will give you a wonderful blend of herbs designed to cure all your ills.
If you don’t want to engage the locals in their unusual (and exciting) services then the one thing everyone wants to do when they set foot in the Morrocan souk is shop!
There are so many incredible things on offer, and the unique blend of colours, textures and smells will leave you wanting to buy everything: I could have recreated a Morrocan souk in my apartment after my first visit to the country!
Items worth picking up include bags of fresh herbs and spices if you are a keen from-scratch cook at home.
For fashionistas, the leather goods are amongst the best in the world: you can even visit one of the tanneries in the souk to see the leather pieces being dried and dyed. It is an incredible experience. Leather bags, belts, and other small leather goods (such as wallets) are definitely worth buying here.
If you’re looking to take souvenirs home for loved ones then the abundant ethnic jewellery is always well received, whilst a traditional Moroccan tea set will look great in almost any kind of kitchen.
Note: If you plan on shopping it is important to learn to say no. Morrocan vendors can be incredibly persistent (often annoyingly so) particularly with visitors to their country. If you’re being pestered to buy something you don’t want then a firm no and moving on should save the day.
It’s also important to haggle. Never accept anyone’s first price for anything: they don’t expect you to! Bartering often takes the form of friendly banter and is a great way to engage with the locals and get to know them better. Expect to pay around 40-60% of the price that is first suggested to you.
There is a unique rhythm of life in the souks, and this can be difficult to understand in a relatively short period of time: the swirl of noise and activity can be dizzying, and many people leave the souks for the first time feeling dazed and confused.
If the thought of walking straight into the heart of the souk feels too daunting, then our advice is to get a cooling mint tea from one of the many street cafes on its outskirts, and simply sit and watch the world go by.
You’ll see so many incredible things you never expected (from ventriloquists to witch dentists pulling teeth in plain sight) that for the reluctant adventurers, you won’t even need to enter the heart of the souk to absorb its atmosphere and feel its excitement.
Drink Cocktails At Nomad
After a long day of sightseeing and other important tourist business, you’ll be ready for a drink! Nomad is one of the very best restaurants and cocktail bars in Marrakesh, beloved by locals and tourists alike.
There are plenty of tables inside in case of (very rare) inclement weather, but if possible ask for a seat outside on the terrace. This area is beautifully lit in the evenings and affords incredible views over the city.
Spend the whole evening here and enjoy a leisurely meal: each dish is hand prepared and inspired by traditional North African flavours, meaning there’s no better place to enjoy an authentic taste of Morocco.
Classic Moroccan dishes are reworked to give them a modern twist whilst still remaining true to their roots. Two of the best examples of this on the menu are the chicken tagine with preserved lemon and olives and the traditional pastilla, which changes its flavour base on a regular basis but is often filled with a gently spiced pigeon.
The whole atmosphere here feels very chilled out and relaxed, making it the perfect place to get away from the bustle and chaos of the surrounding souks.
Dig Below The Surface
Morrocan designer Artsi Ifrach recently said that “What the eye sees is not always what is going on…There are two levels to Marrakech – the tourism and the underground” These are wise words, and once it is important to bear in mind if you want to see and understand the ‘real’ Marrakesh.
As a tourist, Marrakesh can seem like an ancient city that hasn’t changed for centuries: the ancient souks sell much the same goods and services as they would have sold for decades, the ancient buildings, the ancient prayers – much of Marrakesh seems old and otherworldly.
Dig below the surface though and you will see that, thanks to many of the younger inhabitants of the city, Marrakesh has a thriving modern art scene.
Take time out of your day to step into any of the city’s galleries or communal art studios and you will be amazed by the incredible new works that are being created. The David Bloch Gallery (pictured above) is particularly worth exploration.
Whilst this change is being spearheaded by a relatively small group, it is a fascinating change of pace for a city that has long been so resistant to change.
It is only when you open yourself up to this more modern heart of the city that you will truly understand the depth, the contradictions, and the true wonder of spending time in Marrakesh. One of my favourite cities in the world!
Explore The Ruins of the El Badi Palac
The ruins of the El Badi Palac are not considered to be a traditional tourist haunt, so it’s likely if you choose to visit you’ll find these ruins eerily empty. Despite the fact that they don’t attract crowds, these incredible ruins offer some of the best views in the city.
The palace was commissioned by the Saadian King Ahmad al-Mansur in the sixteenth century only too be looted and then burnt down by his successor. However, a surprising amount of the building remains and is intact.
The site is so large that you can easily spend an hour or two exploring it. Be sure to visit the terrace at the very front of the structure – the view it affords of the Atlas mountains is truly breathtaking. If you want to see the mountains during your stay then this is the best, and most easily accessible, way to do so if you’re short on time.
If you’re travelling to Marrakesh on a relatively tight budget then you’ll be pleased to know that entrance to the ruins costs just 10 Moroccan dirhams (approximately $1) and the atmosphere here is remarkably calm and relaxing.
There is an extra charge (of another 10 Moroccan dirhams) to see the impressively carved Minbar de la Koutoubia, which dates from the mid 12th Century. This exhibition also features lots of information about its recent renovation so if you have an interest in Islamic art then this is a superb example.
The El Badi Palace is a wonderful place to visit and unwind, particularly after a day of madness and mayhem in the souks!
Drink Some Orange Juice
It might not seem like the fanciest or most exciting thing to do when you’re on vacation, but the oranges of Marrakesh are famed the world over for being the sweetest and having the most delicious juice.
You’ll see orange trees growing almost everywhere in the tangled alleyways and courtyards of the city and Djemaa-El-Fnaa (the city’s central square) is jam-packed with vendors selling glasses of this delicious and refreshing juice.
Not only is orange juice plentiful here, it’s also cheap. You can expect to pay around 5-10 Moroccan dirhams (less than $1) for a glass. Leave your traditional travelling bottle of water in the hotel, and simply enjoy a glass of juice in the city everytime your thirsty.
Many stalls will offer you orange juice served with a dash of local lemon juice, or rich red blood orange juice, which is also incredibly popular (although much more expensive than its traditional counterpart). Whilst its fun to experiment, nothing will beat the simple taste of 100% orange juice here.
It’s a ritual that will leave you with so many wonderful memories when your return home: every time I enjoy a glass of orange juice with my brunch or breakfast, I am immediately transported back to the wonderful souks of Marrakesh.
When To Visit
If you’ve been persuaded to make your next city break a weekend in Marrakesh then you’ll be wondering when is the best time to go. Our advice is to visit in spring (anytime between March and Mid May) as this is when the city is at its most beautiful – the roses are in full bloom and the weather is warm and sunny.
The temperatures in Marrakesh in the summer tend to be too warm for most people to find comfortable, so we would recommend avoiding the hot summer months of June, July and August.
Autumn is the second best time to visit, once the heat of the summer has begun to be a memory, whilst the temperatures in Winter are mid-range during the day but positively chilly at night: not good if you want to feel the Moroccan sun, but ideal if you don’t enjoy the warm weather.
If you’re thinking of booking a break now, we would suggest that Spring 2019 is the perfect choice.
Marrakesh is an incredible city, and one well worth visiting. Even if you do nothing but sit and drink tea, watching the world pass you by you will fall in love with the kindness of its people and its vibrancy.
One of the first things most people notice about Marrakesh is the colours: colours are everywhere! From the warm terracotta brick of the buildings to the rainbow of spices in the souks, and every other colour in between.
Marrakesh is the place to be if you want to fully submerge yourself in an entirely new culture and experience a way of life completely different to your own. My advice? Visit. You won’t regret it!