The medina (or old town) is the heart and backbone of the city and consists of a maze of winding alleys, which can be overwhelming at times. The medina must be explored by foot, as parking is hard to find and cars should only be used for excursions outside the medina. Most tourists want to stay near Jamaa el Fna square, which is surrounded by souvenir stores, bars and restaurants, and just a few meters from the Kutubia Mosque, so it is overlooked by its minaret. However, we think it is more pleasant to book a beautiful hotel a little more off-center, as the atmosphere near the square is very agitated and the prices in the stores increase exponentially the closer you get to the square.
During the day, however, you'll find everything in the square: monkey tamers climbing monkeys, snake charmers, dentists displaying their latest teeth, a variety of orange juice and mint tea stands, and ladies mastering the art of henna tattoos. At sunset, the picture changes and you will find food stalls where you can have dinner or taste tapas (A side tip: pick the stall with the most Moroccans, it's usually the best), also musicians and different types of shows.
The best you can do in Marrakech is just to stroll the streets of the medina. Note that the mosques are only open to Muslims, but there are other religious sites, such as madrassas (schools) and some tombs, that are open to the public. The people are outgoing, talkative, and exceedingly friendly; they speak a variety of languages and have a talent for bargaining that they push to the limit. When entering a store, remember that no matter what you want to buy, you should negotiate a third off, this usually satisfies both parties. Never offer a price if you are not really interested in buying.
In addition, in the medina there are special areas where certain activities and businesses are concentrated, such as the souk of weavers, dyers, spice merchants, blacksmiths and tanners. To make things even more complicated, there are neighborhoods with their own character:
- Old Medina (Medina): The historic heart of Marrakech with the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa square. This is where you'll find bustling souks, markets, and a variety of traditional architecture.
- Mellah: The old Jewish quarter, known for its narrow streets and historic buildings. Explore the unique architecture and learn about the history of the Jewish community in Marrakech.
- Kasbah: This neighborhood is home to the Royal Palace and the beautiful Agdal Garden. In this quiet and less crowded area, you will be able to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere.
- Riad Zitoun Jdid: Known for its lush gardens and palaces, this neighborhood is an oasis of tranquility amidst the hustle and bustle of the medina.
- Bab Doukkala: This is the location of the local market for food and fresh produce. It is an ideal place to immerse yourself in the daily life of the inhabitants of Marrakech.
- Bab Taghzout: This neighborhood is famous for its beautiful gates and architecture. Explore the winding streets and discover the charming stores and workshops.
- Riad Laarous: This neighborhood is known for its relaxed atmosphere and is great for a leisurely stroll and exploring some charming riads and restaurants.
- Sidi Bel Abbes: This neighborhood, where the mosque of the same name is located, is a place of pilgrimage with picturesque streets and authentic locals.
- Bab Aghmat: Here is the famous Jardin Majorelle, a peaceful green oasis in the middle of the medina.
Especially worth seeing are the Spice Square, the Babi Palace, the Saudi tombs, the Kotubia, the Jardin Majorelle, the Yve Saint Laurent Museum, the Madrasa Ben Yousef, the Jardin Secret and of course the Jaama el Fna square.
The medina is like a maze, so take a map or use navigation apps to avoid getting lost.
The best time to visit this beautiful city is between October and June, as in summer the heat can be very oppressive. At night, on the other hand, the temperature can drop a lot (10 °C), especially in December, January and February, so you should also bring warm clothes.
Ramadan (religious fasting) takes place one month a year, although the month changes depending on the lunar calendar, which is different from ours. During this time, it is possible to travel, but people's mood can be somewhat affected during the day. Out of consideration for those who are fasting, it is advisable not to eat in public places during this time and to be patient, as everything can take a little more time during this period.
Be sure to try the hammam, the traditional Turkish bath of the Muslims. It is an extremely relaxing ritual in a sauna where you are rubbed with a black soap made of olive or argan oil, followed by a full body scrub with a glove to remove dead skin. There are public hammams, but from experience we recommend going to a tourist-oriented hammam. Always have cash on hand - you will find plenty of ATMs throughout the city, especially in the tourist and shopping districts.