When I first arrived in Madrid during my study year abroad, I was keen to make friends – lots of them.
Wait, isn’t this a post about Marrakesh I hear you say. It’s okay, stick with me here…
I had just moved into an apartmento with eight Spanish chicas and while I had put lots of effort into finding this living arrangement to improve my Spanish, the first few weeks were nerve racking.
A girl from my home university and I helped one another to settle in. After a few cartons of sangria at a street festival under the Arco de Alcalá, we found ourselves tapping Madrid -> Marrakesh into Skyscanner and hitting ‘book flights.’
As a result, we have become the best of friends. Praise be to alcohol.
Below is a list of must-sees if you are looking to spend three days in Marrakesh.
Rest assured, far more planning went into this itinerary than the spontaneous booking of the flights.
Arrival: Jemaa el Fna
If you are a culture vulture like me, eager to experience the true Marrakesh, there is no better place to start than the famous Jemaa el Fna and its bustling side streets.
Located in the Medina quarter – or the old city – it is truly the heart and soul of Marrakesh, oozing with fascinating sights, vivid colours and deep spicy fragrances.
During the day, the square is full of keen market traders, hand made trinkets and scores of delicious fresh orange juice carts.
By night, the square comes alive with the hum of live music, street performers, snake charmers, story tellers and large gatherings of locals and tourists alike.
The Maze that is the Souks
When visiting Jemaa el Fna, if you are only spending three days in Marrakesh like I did, make sure to set aside half a day to browse and barter in the famous souks, especially if you like to shop and secure a bit of a bar-gain.
Shopping in the souks is like navigating your way around a maze.
Spilling over with local produce, natural remedies and handcrafted goods, there is nothing you cannot find here.
The natural cosmetics are fascinating and include toothpick plants, blocks of natural amber perfume and this berber lipstick wheel.
Made of poppy leaves, pomegranate and henna, berber lipstick comes in this terracotta bowl shape.
Wet your finger, smooth the rim and apply to your lips for long-lasting berry red – lips. Totally natural.
Don’t be afraid to barter at the souks. Market traders expect to negotiate and price their products accordingly. It’s all part of the fun!
My most treasured souvenir from Marrakesh was a beautiful silk throw which I haggled down from 1,000 Moroccan Dirham to 550 Moroccan Dirham.
Not only did I leave feeling pleased with myself, having almost halved the price, but it was a memorable experience too.
El Badi Palace Ruins
The El Badi Palace, translated as ‘the incomparable,’ is a magnificent, must-see palatial ruin in the centre of Marrakesh.
As a lover of historical sites, I made this our second stop and put aside a good few hours to leisurely wander the grounds. Clear blue Moroccan skies set the perfect backdrop.
Built by Sultan al-Mansur at the end of the Moroccan-Portuguese war in 1578, the original palace consisted of more than three hundred and fifty rooms made of onyx, gold, marble, ivory, wood and semi-precious stones.
Less than a century later, the palace was stripped over a twelve year period. Today, its dry sandy skeleton serves as a powerful reminder of the destruction that took place.
Have fun using your imagination to return this palatial shell to its former glory as you explore its central courtyard with sunken gardens, side chambers, narrow passages and underground cells.
One of the highlights of both of my trips to Marrakesh was the accommodation. Whether you are looking for an authentic experience, value for money or even a lick of luxury, I highly recommend staying in a Moroccan riad which can provide all of these things.
These traditional Moroccan homes of two storeys or more are centred around a courtyard or internal garden, quite often with decorative water features.
If you are a fan of buffet style breakfast like me, you will also appreciate the brekky! Our breakfast was always served in the riad’s courtyard, consisting of delicious fresh fruits, traditional cake slices, moroccan flatbread, jams and dips, tea and coffee.
I also highly recommend a riad with a roof terrace.
While all roads should have an indoor courtyard, we loved having this additional break out zone to chill in the sun and meet new, like-minded travellers.
Peak across the terracotta rooftops of Marrakesh with its assortment of satellite dishes, cables and washing lines. A secret photo opp all to yourself.
Although we did not spend as much time at the Saadian Tombs as we did at the El Badi Palace, they were equally as fascinating and worthy of a visit.
There are significant historical links of course between the two famous sites, as the Saadi Tombs were built by the same Sultan al-Mansur and seized by the same Sultan Ismail.
It is believed Sultan Ismail’s superstition prevented him from destroying the tombs as he did the El Badi Palace. Instead, he chose to conceal them by sealing up the entrances.
Hidden until the early 1900’s, this made our visit to the tombs even more special. We were witnessing a sacred site that had been forgotten and untouched for so long. A secret finally revealed.
The Koutoubia Mosque
It is difficult not to catch a glimpse of the Koutoubia Mosque during your stay in Marrakesh.
Also finished by Sultan el-Mansur in the 12th century, it is an important monument and landmark. Calls for prayer ring out from its tower five times per day.
You will also find lots of touristy stuff to do surrounding the Koutoubia Mosque such as riding in these bright green horse-drawn carriages.
I’ll be writing more about this along with more things to do in Marrakesh towards the end of October in my Marrakesh Take II post.
Wits About You
One final thing to keep in mind on your three-day extravaganza to Marrakesh…
With all of this excitement, don’t forget to be aware of pickpockets. Keep your hand over your bag at all times and try to avoid backpacks.
Street performers tend to demand large tips so it is always best to ask ‘how much’ before you agree to put the monkey on your shoulder or have the snake draped across your arms.
We found this out the hard way. My friend Patrizia had a monkey plonked on her shoulder and before we knew it, I was being encouraged to take photographs of her for which I was later charged £10! We managed to get out of the situation but if you do agree to photographs, remember locals see this as a service and will expect a good tip.
I hope you enjoyed and found some useful tips here.
Thanks for reading,