Last Updated: 2020-08-06
People often ask me: “If I only have one day, what is there to do in Marrakech?” Because of its complex history, there’s so much to see in this city.
Everytime I visit Marrakech, I discover new things to see and do. So, it’s just not fair to or even realistic to summarize all the important things it has to offer in one day, and is a real disservice to the spirit of this complex city.
So, I have turned the question around, proposing a tour in two parts and dedicating one day each to a specific area, so that in just two days you will be able to see the main spots (not everything of course), in addition to avoiding unnecessary walking time between places.
If you don’t have enough time, you can either “compress” the two routes and use one for the morning and the other for the afternoon, or choose only one. Obviously I don’t recommend any of those options, but if unfortunately you only have one day, those are the best alternatives.
A word of caution: if you only have one day, you should bear in mind that most of the monuments close at 5:00 p.m., and that on Fridays (which is the sacred day for Muslims, like Saturday for Jews and Sunday for Christians) they are usually closed between 11:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
Let’s get started!
Along the South of the Medina
Rather than starting from the heart of the medina, let’s start on the outskirts. The places of interest here are best appreciated during the calmness of the morning before the visitors start pouring in.
We start in the Plaza of the Tinsmiths (in French, place des Ferblantiers), strategically very well located and well connected by several main streets to the nerve center of the city. That way we won’t have any problems getting there, whether we go on foot or by taxi, regardless of our starting point.
For reasons that I find difficult to understand, the Jewish quarter of the Moroccan medinas (commonly called mellah, which in Arabic means salt, since the first Jewish quarter was located where salt-treated products were stored) usually goes unnoticed.
This is a mistake because, in my opinion, it’s impossible to understand the vast majority of Moroccan cities without understanding the role of Jewish culture in their history.
The mellah of Marrakech surrounds the plaza. Its streets are full of balconies, something unthinkable in traditional Muslim architecture. There are two spaces that I especially recommend visiting: First, the Al-Azmah synagogue, with its exceptional courtyard of white and blue tiles and central fountain, this synagogue serves as a museum as well as a place of worship for the Jewish community that still resides in Marrakech. Second, the Miaâra Jewish cemetery, with more than 120 acres of gravestones, it’s the largest of its kind in Morocco.
Neither place has an entrance fee, although it’s accepted and I recommend leaving a tip, to contribute to its upkeep.
East of the square, the Bahia Palace is located at the intersection of the rue Bahia Bab Mellah and Riad Zitoun el Jdid Street. It’s a large complex made up of numerous patios, lounges and rooms, with a total area of twenty acres.
Its most characteristic feature is not so much its general layout that’s compelling, but rather the individual gems. Less like a building divided into rooms, we get the sensation of crossing spaces without a clear relationship between them, but in which each one holds a special beauty.
A convergence of the most renowned and diverse artisans in Morocco, and the fact that everything is on the ground floor (since the vizier was too obese to climb stairs) contributed to one of the most complete and varied example of decorational art.
To the south of the square is Rue de Berrima, where the Badi Palace is located. It’s a completely different place from the previous one because, although it was originally more luxurious, a raid conducted to raise the status of the imperial city of Meknes left it in ruins.
So, we need to sharpen our imagination to understand the importance of this place with more than 300 rooms. However, the central courtyard has a beautiful esplanade with sheets of water and lush gardens.
Additionally, we can visit some of the temporary exhibitions housed in the art gallery, explore the underground galleries and go up to the tower to enjoy a unique view of the city.
Continuing along the same street as we reach the end we come across the Saadian Tombs. It consists of three mausoleums where the main representatives of the Saadi dynasty are buried, as well as a central garden where the graves of servants and soldiers are located. This dynasty were also the builders of the previous palace.
At first glance, this place gives a mistaken impression of simplicity. Instead, imagine entering a cemetery and interpreting the infinite variations that occur in each grave, based on characteristics such as the age, gender, work or situation of the deceased.
The main downside is that you can’t get into the mausoleums, but you can see the inside from the railing at the entrance.
The Jemaa El Fna Square
It’s easy to get to one of the most quintessential public spaces in the world, because if the saying goes that all roads lead to Rome, in Marrakech they lead to the Jemaa El Fna Square. As long as we head north we can’t help but run into it. If we’re afraid of getting lost, we can always go back to the beginning and take Rue Riad Zitoun el Kdim, which ends at this square.
Located in the heart of the medina, its charm does not lie so much in its architectural value as in the activity that takes place there, and its marked ever-changing character: during the day water carriers, musicians, dancers and snake charmers stand out, whereas when night falls the mobile food stalls begin to appear.
Without a doubt, the combination of smoke and light that emanates from each food stall in the darkness of night makes the square even more interesting at that time than during the day. Therefore, it’s recommended that once we have completed the tour we return to our accommodation to rest and clean up, which will give us the energy to come back and visit this place and maybe even have something to eat here.
The Koutoubia Mosque
The Koutoubia Mosque is one of the most visited buildings in Marrakech and, at the same time, often retains a veil of mystery. Although its minaret is one of the most visible points of the city, as is usually the norm in religious places in Morocco, non-Muslims are not allowed to go inside.
Still, it’s worth getting close to it and taking in your surroundings. We can visit it when we finish in the square. Just by looking up we can locate its tower and simply go walking in its direction. It seems strange to leave the bustle of the square to a place just a few steps away where silence is only broken by the call to prayer.
The Menara gardens are, together with the Jamaa el Fna Square, the other best-known public space in Marrakech, although this is their only similarity. While the square is a continuous and living spectacle, the gardens are one of the locals’ favorite recreational spots.
Unfortunately, we won’t be able to get there on foot, since it’s located on the outskirts. We have no choice but to take a taxi. Remember that, although the driver might complain and try to convince us otherwise, he shouldn’t charge us more than 10 dirhams for the ride.
Showcasing a large 450 by 600-foot (150 x 200 meters) pond surrounded by gardens and a pavilion, it’s the perfect climax for a first visit, and an ideal way to stretch your legs and take a break after a busy day of sightseeing. Now, all we have to do is to go to our accommodation and, if we have enough energy, go back to the Jamaa el Fna Square and see how the lights and smoke have taken over.
I hope you found the first day in the city interesting enough, but remember there’s still a long way to go! Much love! See you in the next article!
If you want to know more about the city, check out our Marrakesh Travel Guide.