Legendary Marrakesh, the “Red City”, the “Ochre City”, the “Daughter of the Desert” – no matter how you call it, Marrakesh is one of the most iconic places in the world and a definite must-see!
Dubbed as “a drum that beats an African identity into the complex soul of Morocco”, there is plenty of information out there about what to do and see in Marrakesh, but after my visit, I wasn’t as charmed as I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fantastic place with a unique culture and vibrant soul, but being as famous as it is, Marrakesh lost a bit of authenticity and became waaay too touristy for my taste.
So, I decided to write about all the things NOT to do in Marrakesh and give you the alternatives that will save you time, money, and maybe even food poisoning.
Skip Jardine Majorelle
Ranked number one in TripAdvisor about things to do in Marrakesh, Jardine Majorelle was the biggest let-down I had in a long time. Years ago, before it became so popular, the garden may have been a nice place to unwind from the overwhelming chaos of the medina. Today, however, the garden is way too overcrowded and overpriced.
Let me share my experience in detail – I went there in December (off-season) around 8:30 AM (it opens at 8:00 AM) hoping to get some top-notch photos – free of tourists. No such luck, there was already a queue of 10-15 people waiting.
Inside, it was even worse. A few dozen people were wandering around the not-that-major-garden and ruining every effort for a peaceful experience. The Berber museum hosted inside, while pleasant, is only three rooms big and can be explored in 15 minutes.
The Yves Saint Loran Museum that is located next to Jardine Majorelle, is part of the combined ticket of the gardens so I’ll include my impressions of it, here.
I understand it’s a specific museum that many girls and fashion enthusiasts would fall in love with, but for me, it was an overpriced room full of famous dresses.
See Also: The Ultimate Morocco Travel Itinerary
Jardine Majorelle – 70 MAD / 7 USD
Berber Museum – 30 MAD / 3 USD
YSL Museum – 100 MAD / 10.50 USD
Combined ticket (all 3) – 180 MAD / 19 USD
Just meh | Overpriced | Overcrowded | Bad location outside of the medina
What to do instead?
The Bahia Palace is another famous Marrakesh sight (number 2 in TripAdvisor) which is actually worth it. If you go early enough, unlike the gardens, there is a big chance to have the palace all for yourself.
There are plenty of rooms and gardens to explore and enjoy fine Moroccan craftsmanship. The palace itself is a masterpiece of architecture. Built in the late 19th century, intended to be the greatest palace of its time, it completely deserves its name Bahia ( meaning Brilliance ). The palace is located in the medina; just a short walk away from the Djemaa el-Fna square.
Avoid the monkey business
Been in Marrakesh, there is no way you’d miss the Djemaa el-Fna square. I call it the Rome of Marrakesh since all roads in the medina lead there ( psst, I got an awesome post about the real Rome. Check it out! ). The square offers an exotic mishmash of performers, food stalls, fortune tellers, henna artists, and all kinds of “typical” Moroccan attractions.
Enjoy the performers, skip the food stalls (more on that later), get your future read, or maybe even get a henna tattoo. Whatever you do, however, stay away from the monkey-tamers and the snake-charmers.
They are not only severely mistreating the animals ( wherever you go in the world, please be a responsible traveler and skip any animal mistreating attractions or transportation! ) but they will try to scam you and in some cases – rob you. How does it work? You mind your own business, and someone puts a monkey on your back, encouraging you to take a picture with it. You take the picture, and now you need to either pay a hefty tip or get in a conflict with the tamer and his friends.
Also, with a monkey on your shoulder, you are preoccupied, and just like that, your wallet/watch is gone. Same with the snake charmers. Dare to take a photo of them – you have to pay. Get the snake on your shoulders? You need to pay double to remove it, even you didn’t want it there in the first place.
Animal abuse | Could be costly | Chance to get pickpocketed
What to do instead?
An hour or two before sunset, go into one of the bars/restaurants surrounding the square. Djemaa el-Fna completely transforms when the sun falls and just observing the process is one of the best shows in Marrakesh. I went to Cafe Glacier which has one of the best views. Consumption is required, but you can buy as little as a mint tea and enjoy the show.
Marrakesh Museum is not worth it
Housed in a 19th-century palace, the Marrakesh museum is a collection of everything that has some connection to Morocco. The first two halls are an art museum ( where paintings are for sale ) followed by a few rooms with weapons, artifacts, and some clothing. With such a diverse collection, you expect to find at least a few intriguing pieces. If you do, please let me know cause I sure as hell didn’t.
The architecture is formidable but poorly maintained. There is also this horrible yellow roof covering the inner courtyard that makes the whole room yellowish thus ruining every decent photo opportunity.
Forgot to mention, the entry fee is 50 MAD – totally unjustified by what the museum has to offer.
Note: The museum would be worth a visit in 2020 since the 50 MAD ticket also covers the nearby Ben Youssef Madrassa. The most beautiful madrassa in the country is a bucket list must-see but currently under renovation until 2020. Once open It would be unreasonable to skip the museum.
*Update June 2020 – Ben Youssef Madrassa is still under renovation.
Entrance – 50 MAD / 5 USD
Just meh | Overpriced
What to do instead?
A lovely little museum, located in the heart of the medina, The Photography Museum was one of the most pleasurable places I’ve stumbled upon in Marrakesh. While the Marrakesh Museum took me less than 30 minutes to explore, the photography one was an extremely enjoyable trip through time that I spent a few hours into.
Besides the world-class pictures, there is a tiny cinema saloon, where you can learn more about the photo-history of the city and relax. There is also a rooftop café serving pretty good tajine and offering excellent panoramic views.
Dont waste your time with the Secret Gardens
Another garden, another skip. This one is not nearly as famous as Jardine Majorelle but it’s way better positioned inside the medina. Why skip then? There is an entry fee but absolutely nothing of interest inside. It’s supposed to be the oldest riad in Marrakesh, but it feels more like a cafe ( there are a few cafes inside actually ).
There is a tower with lovely panorama views, but of course, you have to pay extra (30 MAD) to get there. If the entry was free, the Secret Gardens wouldn’t have been in my NOT to do in Marrakesh list. The price of 50 MAD, however, cemented its place here.
Entrance – 50MAD / 5USD
Panoramic Tower – 30MAD / 3USD
Just meh | Overpriced
What to do instead?
For 10 MAD less, you may visit the Saadian Tombs and enjoy the epitome of Moroccan architecture. Located next to the Kasbah Mosque, the tombs are one of the few remains of the Saadian dynasty that reigned over the golden age of Marrakesh – 1524 to 1659.
To see the most famous hall – the Chamber of the Twelve Columns- you may have to wait on one extra queue. It’s totally worth the wait, though, since it’s one of the most beautiful halls in the world.
Avoid Medina’s street food
The Marrakesh Medina is an incredible exotic place that will surely overwhelm all your senses. Stalls with various typical Moroccan delicacies are a regular view. And I know, getting a cookie from the old man dressed in the quirky traditional red Moroccan robe is an experience by itself. So is grabbing a bite at one of the numerous stalls that pop up every evening on the Djemaa el-Fna square.
I strongly suggest you resist the urge, though. The hygiene of these places is absolutely abysmal and getting food poisoning there is not a rare case. Actually, 75% of the Moroccan travelers I talked to had some sort of bowel discomfort while visiting Marrakesh.
What to do instead?
Go to one of the many cafes and restaurants nearby. Always check the reviews and avoid eating any salads (salads are washed with tap water, and tap water in Morocco is not safe even for the locals).
Another good idea is to book a cooking class. You’ll be taught how to carefully pick fresh products from the local market and create the stunning dishes Moroccan cuisine is famous for. Nothing is safer than a tajine created by yourself!
Don’t book a hotel
If you want to experience Marrakesh (and Morocco as a whole), there is no better way than staying in a riad inside the medina. What’s a riad? The riads are the traditional Moroccan houses with two or more stories surrounding an Andalusian-style courtyard in the middle.
It’s a weird feeling staying in a riad (one I stayed in had my room right on the entrance, so it felt like I was sleeping at the reception) but no doubt a very unique experience that will contribute massively to your authentic Moroccan adventure.
The riads are designed to keep cool so If you travel during the winter, make sure the one you pick has a heater
Another Castaway Tip
In google maps (or maps.me or any map app) The riads are never shown on the exact place they really are. Try to book a transfer from the airport to avoid the long search in the medina-maze. Especially if you arrive after dark.
Bonus – Which Sahara day-trip is the best?
While it’s still a desert, the stunning dunes Sahara is famous for are missing in Zagora. The three-day one is going to Merzouga which on the other hand is one of the best places in the world to explore the beauty of the legendary desert.
That’s all from me, Now you know all the things not to do in Marrakech.
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