What to do in Marrakech
The Koutoubia – the prototype for Sevilla’s Girala (where I was just a few days ago) – is the main monument in Marrakech, and the largest mosque in Morocco. It is a modern mosque built directly next to an older mosque, which has been mostly torn down. It is a good starting place for a day of touring the city.
A ten-minute walk will bring you to the Bahia Palace, which is where the Prime Minister used to live (named after his favorite wife). Some fun facts about the palace: slaves were used there until 1958; only part of the palace is open to the public as the majority of it is still used to house the king when he comes to town; the prime minister had four official wives and 24 concubines.
Around the corner from the palace is the old town’s only synagogue. (When facing the entrance to the palace, take the road on the right, turn under the arch, turn right under the rectangular arch and it is the first (unmarked) door on your left.) Ask for Hedvah to give you a little background on the Jewish history in Morocco (and how there went from being 36 synagogues to 3 in Marrakech) and take a look around the small but beautiful premises.
If you back up to the Bahia Palace once again and turn left, you will find the Hammam Ziani on your right, about 2 minutes down the road. This is where I went for my first Hammam experience, and I recommend it! Make sure to ask for Ziani, talk about NYC and ask to meet the puppies he has upstairs!
The last attraction I’d recommend in this neighborhood is the El Badi Palace, which was a bit under construction as I visited, but there is still a bunch to see. It is a giant palace inspired by the design of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. TIPS: Be sure to look up and see the dozens of stork families in their large nests lined across the top walls of the palace! Also, across from the entrance to the palace there is a photography exhibit highlighting Moroccan artists and Morocco as a subject. I really enjoyed this and it was free!
Another stop in the same area is the Dar Si Said Museum, which shows artisanal works of Morocco from intricately designed wooden doors to leather work to metalwork. It is interesting to take a quick walk through if you have the time, but is not a must-see if you don’t.
The obvious next stop in Marrakech is the souk maze. There are many souks (markets) in the city, but the main one starts at the Jemaa el Fna square, and can keep a tourist occupied and entranced for hours. I went on my own my first day in Marrakech and was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of shopkeepers talking to me and trying to woo me in. But the second time I went, I was with a local guide and my tour group and we were left alone to explore the market without being bothered. We got to take a look at everything from the fruits and vegetables to leather and metal goods to spices, shoes, artwork, and more. My favorite part was exploring the back area where the artisans can be seen working on their crafts to then sell at the shops in the front of the souk.
Some other highlights include the Jardin Majorelle (used to be Yves Saint Laurent’s garden), the photography museum and the museum of Marrakech. Note: I didn’t have a chance to visit those two museums, but if I had one more day I would have gone. The garden is pretty but was very crowded and small. It had plants such as trees from all over the world, but not many flowers. I enjoyed it but don’t think it was a must-see.