Exploring Marrakech in a day: A discovery itinerary

This circuit can be completed within a few hours. Although we may not observe everything, we monitor the heartbeat of the bustling city in hopes of returning soon. 🙂

The map below shows the circuit, with turquoise indicating visited buildings, coral marking restaurants, and purple denoting unvisited buildings due to time constraints.

Menara Garden

Start the tour at the Menara Garden, located only 10 minutes away from the airport. This garden, dating back to the 12th century, served as a water reservoir during the Almohad era and still operates using a 700-year-old hydraulic system. The Saadian dynasty later transformed the area into a garden of olive trees, also used as a romantic rendezvous spot for the sultans. The garden features a Saadian pavilion from the late 19th century and a breathtaking view of the Atlas peaks.

➜ The Menara garden offers a tranquil escape from the city’s busy atmosphere. Although it is a pleasant place to walk, it may not be a memorable stop beyond a typical postcard photo. If you have the time, it is worth visiting, but if you cannot, there are plenty of beautiful pictures available online 😊

Helpful information

  • If you’re looking for the Menara garden, you can find it three kilometers southwest of the Jemâa El Fna square. Just take Avenue de la Ménara, and you’ll get there. It’s about a 30-minute walk from the Koutoubia mosque, but be careful because the avenue isn’t very shaded, and it can get pretty hot.
  • Access to the Menara Garden is completely free!
  • You can visit the Menara garden any day of the week, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

➜ If you want to explore the medina, you don’t need to worry about renting a car. It’s easily accessible on foot. However, if you have a car, we recommend parking it in the safe car park on Rue Sidi Mimoun, as shown on the map.

Bab Agnaou

Bab Agnaou is one of the 19 gates of Marrakesh, built in the 12th century by the Almohades. It’s located in the southern part of the medina and was constructed to protect access to the Kasbah’s administrative and military district. The gate is made of Guéliz stone and has four arches, although it used to have two towers that are now gone. Its name, “the gate of the hornless ram”, comes from its history.

➜ If you begin the tour in the morning, make sure to take a breakfast break at Café Zeitoun Kasbah. The café is located 800 meters from Bab Agnaou and is situated across Kasbah Mosque. I made reservations a few weeks before our arrival to ensure ample seating. Upon arrival, we were seated on the main terrace with a lovely view of the mosque. The food was delectable, and the service was exceptional 🥰

Helpful information

  • The Zeitoun Kasbah cafe is located at 417, Bab Agnaou, in the medina of Marrakesh.
  • The café has an air-conditioned room and an elevated terrace that offers a magnificent view of the El Yazid mosque.
  • At this café, you can enjoy a breakfast formula that includes orange juice, a hot drink, and a dish such as omelets, batbout, baguettes, pancakes, and more for a price range of 45 to 60 dhs. Additionally, you can choose from various salads and traditional Moroccan dishes for lunch and dinner.

El Yazid Mosque

The El Yazid Mosque, also known as the Kasbah Mosque, was constructed between 1185 and 1190 under the orders of Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansour. As a significant mosque, it is located in the new Imperial Kasbah district and serves as a Friday mosque.

The mosque’s minaret has a square-shaped base and comprises two parts: a primary body measuring 8.8 meters per side and a smaller lantern measuring 4 meters per side. Although it differs from the Koutoubia, the minaret’s decoration was a model for many minarets built in the Maghreb and Andalusia.

El Yazid Mosque, Marrakech
El Yazid Mosque, Marrakesh

After an explosion in a gunpowder warehouse in the late 16th century, the mosque suffered severe damage and underwent multiple restorations. Its significance led to the establishment of a nearby cemetery called the “Saadian Tombs”, where leaders and important figures were buried.

➜ Although the mosque is closed to non-Muslims due to its use for prayer, its exterior is beautiful and worth a brief stop before continuing to El Badi Palace.

Saadian Tombs

Located next to the El Yazid mosque, the Saadian tombs are enclosed by a high wall and serve as the final resting place for the rulers, women, children, and servants of the dynasty that governed Marrakesh during the 16th and 17th centuries. The main mausoleum boasts three funerary rooms adorned with white marble columns and glazed earthenware, representing a stunning example of Hispano-Moorish art.

Even after the Saadian dynasty’s decline, the necropolis remains a burial site, featuring 56 tombstones marked with marble epitaphs and an additional hundred ordinary tombs. Nowadays, art historians and tourists visit the tombs, making it one of the popular tourist attractions in Marrakesh. This may explain the crowds at the entrance to the site. Nevertheless, we decided to pass after reading mixed reviews about the place.

Helpful information

  • The Saadian Tombs are located Rue de La Kasbah in Marrakesh.
  • The site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • The entry price is 70dhs.

Place des Ferblantiers

If you’re traveling between El Yazid Mosque and El Badi Palace, you can take a 5-minute walk and enjoy the sights and sounds of Rue Tougma. This street is home to many stalls selling fabrics and spices, sure to delight your senses with their vibrant colors and fragrant aromas.

At the end of the street, you’ll come across a large roundabout that marks the entrance to Place des Ferblantiers. This charming square is less well-known than the bustling Jemaa el-Fna square but is no less enchanting. Here, you can witness the traditional tinworking techniques of skilled craftsmen, whose hammers create a rhythmic beat that fills the air.

➜ The craftsmen’s workshops display beautiful lanterns that create a unique and memorable souvenir. If you’re looking for one, Place des Ferblantiers is worth a visit 🙂

While you’re in the area, be sure to check out the other nearby attractions.

  • The Mellah district, established in 1558 by Sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib of the Saadian dynasty, was the old Jewish quarter designed to protect the Jews from the Muslim population’s intolerance following the Jewish community massacre in 1232. Although not strictly a ghetto, the Jews were required to reside and conduct business in the Mellah, except for special circumstances. Nonetheless, they could venture out to other districts, and non-Jewish individuals could enter the Mellah. The Mellah of Marrakesh fell into disuse over time, but in 2016, King Mohamed VI underwent major renovations to restore it.
  • Dar Si Saïd, like many other impressive buildings in Marrakesh, was once the home of a representative and was later transformed into the National Museum of Weaving and Carpets. The vast residence is spread across two floors. It showcases an extensive collection of Moroccan carpets and the art of weaving, jewelry, accessories, weapons, and everyday objects related to weaving.
  • The Bahia Palace is located near Place des Ferblantiers and was constructed in the late 1800s to be the home of a powerful vizier named Si Moussa. After him, the spacious palace, which covers an area of 80,000 square meters, was occupied by his son, Ahmed ben Moussa, his four official wives, his 24 concubines, and their numerous offspring. The palace is named after the vizier’s favorite, Bāhiya, which means “the beautiful, the brilliant.” Despite being unfurnished, the palace is still impressive due to its magnificent architecture, including intricately carved wooden ceilings, painted shutters, an interior garden, and fountains.

El Badi Palace

The El Badi Palace, also known as El Badiî Palace (the “palace of the incomparable”), was constructed in the late 16th century by the Saadian sultan Ahmed al-Mansur ad-Dhahbî. It was built to commemorate the victory over the Portuguese at the Battle of the Three Kings, which stopped the Portuguese King, Sebastian 1st, from invading Morocco.

El Badi Palace

The palace was inspired by the Alhambra in Granada, and it surrounds a large rectangular courtyard measuring 135 meters by 110. In the center of this courtyard is a basin measuring 90 meters by 20. The palace consisted of various pavilions, including the crystal pavilion, the audience pavilion, the green pavilion, and the heliotrope pavilion. Additionally, a dungeon system allowed enslaved people and servants to move around the palace unnoticed.

El Badi Palace

The El Badi Palace was decorated with the finest materials of the time, including marble from Carrara in Italy, gold dust from Sudan, porphyry from India, and jade from China. However, in 1696, the Alaouite sultan Moulay Ismaïl decided to transfer the capital from Marrakesh to Meknes. He thoroughly looted the El Badi Palace during the transfer to build his new imperial city. Today only ruins, and a vast esplanade surrounded by high walls remain of the once magnificent palace.

➜ Although in ruins, the El Badi palace leaves a lasting impression. Interestingly, a portion of the underground system remains accessible. Upon exploration, we come across various plans and documents that provide insight into the remarkable history of the palace.

Helpful information

  • The El Badi palace is located Ksibat Nhass in Marrakesh.
    To reach the entrance, head towards the “Bab Berrima” door on Place des Ferblantiers, then turn right on Rue Berrima and follow the long corridor.
  • The palace is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and takes 1 to 2 hours to explore.
  • Visiting in the morning is recommended to avoid the hot weather, as the site offers very little shade.
  • The entry price is 70 dhs (+/- 7€), and it’s advisable to bring change in dirhams or euros as credit cards are not accepted on-site.

To reach Jemaa el-Fna Square from El Badi Palace, return to Place des Ferblantiers and take Rue Riad Zitoun Lakdim for approximately 800 meters. The narrow streets are frequently covered, and the market stalls offer abundant goods such as spices, jewelry, slippers, bags, and souvenirs.

Jemaa el-Fna Square

Jemaa el-Fna Square is an essential social and cultural hub and the center of Marrakesh, with a triangular shape. It sits in the southwest of the medina, between the souk and the Koutoubia minaret, and is dominated by the Quessabine mosque’s minaret. Some believe that the name Jemaa el Fna refers to the spot where criminals were executed, while others suggest that Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour wanted to construct a mosque called Jemaâ el Hna, which means “mosque of tranquility.” However, due to a plague outbreak that killed many people, including the king, the mosque was never built, and the square became known as Jemaa el-Fna, or the “place of the annihilated mosque.”

Nowadays, the square is encircled by various establishments such as restaurants, shops, and public buildings. In the daytime, it becomes vibrant with street performers like monkey trainers, snake charmers, and henna tattoo artists who roam around the fresh juice and spice stands. As the night approaches, the stalls occupied during the day are replaced by food vendors, musicians, and artists of different genres.

➜ Jemaa el-Fna Square attracts over a million visitors annually. While it may not be admired for its architectural beauty, it offers a unique atmosphere, making it a must-see destination. However, visitors should be cautious with their belongings and hands, as some henna tattoo artists can be overly eager and may draw a tattoo without your consent. Keep this in mind and stay safe 😅

The medina’s souks

From the Café Zeitoun terrace, you can enjoy a view of the square opposite the Koutoubia mosque. After taking in the sights of the snake charmers, head to the medina’s souk, which stretches from the north of Jemaa el-Fna Square to Medersa Ben Youssef.

A veritable labyrinth, the souks of Marrakesh bring together more than 2,600 artisans organized by district and trade. Each trade body is structured in the form of corporations. To complete his apprenticeship, an apprentice must make a piece of his creation, judged by a commission of master artisans. Only then can he set up on his own as a craftsman.

In the main alleys are stalls where artisans sell their wares made in the adjacent workshops. These stalls offer various Moroccan crafts, including jewelry, vases, lanterns, carpets, clothing, fabrics, spices, and more.

➜ Although alleys sometimes seem dark, the souks are generally safe and secure. The main risk is not negotiating enough when buying items, as haggling is a tradition. Without displayed prices, bargaining is necessary.

At 2 p.m., the hunger is starting to set in. Luckily, L’Mida is nearby! Despite the unassuming entrance and small staircase leading to the two floors of the restaurant, the decor, terrace, and view are exceptional 😍

terrace of the L'Mida restaurant
Panoramic view from the terrace of the L’Mida restaurant

The L’Mida restaurant is a beautiful and cozy spot with green benches and charming wicker lamps above. The menu features innovative dishes that still honor traditional Moroccan cuisine, and everything is delicious.

Helpful information

  • You can find L’Mida at 78 bis Derb Nkhel Rahba Kdima, conveniently near the Place des Épices.
  • The restaurant is quite popular, especially the terrace, so it’s best to make a reservation in advance, even dining alone. You can easily book online through their website.
  • Prices for starters range from 75 to 95 dhs, main courses are between 90 and 150 dhs, and desserts cost 55 to 75 dhs. As with many places in the medina, alcoholic beverages are unavailable, but don’t miss out on the incredible signature mocktails from L’Mida!

Leaving L’Mida, it is possible to continue on Rue Sidi Isshak towards the Medersa Ben Youssef and the Almoravid Qoubba.

  • The Madrasa Ben Youssef is an Islamic religious school common in Muslim countries. It has 132 rooms and has served as a reception center for over four centuries for students from outside Marrakesh. The medersa can accommodate up to 900 students and is the largest in Morocco and one of the biggest in North Africa. Although the rooms are plain, the courtyard and prayer room are beautifully decorated. Of all the religious buildings in Marrakesh, the medersa is the only one open to non-Muslims.
  • The Almoravid Qoubba or Qoubba al-Bu’diyyin is a religious building built in 1117 by Ali ben Youssef. It served as the center of ablution for worshippers visiting the nearby mosque. For centuries, the Qoubba also had one of the first fountains in Marrakesh. It is the only remaining architectural structure from the Almoravid period (1040 – 1147) still standing in Marrakesh.

We didn’t have enough time to see both buildings, so we returned to Place Rhaba Kadima, also known as the Place des épices.

This vibrant marketplace is perfect for finding spices, dried plants, and essential oils.

Upon closer inspection, certain stalls offer unique items like snake or lizard skins, crow’s feet, and even live turtles and chameleons (for now). These items are typically used in magic rituals, whether of the black or white variety or as ingredients for a healer’s medicine. The spice market is also known as the Sorcerers Square, a fitting nickname for unusual offerings 😅

As we hurried through the Souk Stalilia to get to Rue Mouassine and the Secret Garden, we couldn’t help but notice the Cherifia Souk’s chic bazaar appearance. The ground floor’s stalls sold various goods, including designer brands, while the upstairs La Terrasse des épices offered amazing homemade pastries and a breathtaking view of the Atlas and Koutoubia.

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden had its roots in the 16th century when the Mouassine district was developed by the Saadian sultan Moulay ‘Abd-Allah. Several buildings were constructed during this time, including palaces home to prominent figures. Unfortunately, the palace was later destroyed during the downfall of the Saadian dynasty.

The Secret Garden

During the 19th century, a prominent figure from the Atlas region purchased the land where the palace stands. This individual chose to reconstruct a new palace that resembled the original one. After the owner’s passing, the property became occupied by some of the most influential political figures in Morocco and Marrakesh. However, in 1934, the palace was no longer maintained and fell into disrepair. It was not until 2008 that an open-air museum was conceived by an enthusiastic Italian architect named Lauro Milan.

The palace and its gardens will be reconstructed over eight years. Two types of gardens will be created – an exotic garden incorporating plants from various parts of the world and an Islamic garden featuring water, fountains, and basins as its primary design and aesthetic elements. It’s worth noting that the Secret Garden will receive water from the Agdal Gardens through a hydraulic system called the khettara, which has been used for over a hundred years.

The Secret Garden is a popular tourist spot known for its towering structure that offers breathtaking medina views, almost as tall as some minarets in Marrakesh.

➜ The Secret Garden features a beautiful combination of impressive architecture and stunning flora. Despite its simple exterior, it’s a must-see attraction that provides an enchanting and unique experience. The contrast at the end of the tour is particularly striking, making it a place worth exploring.

Helpful information

  • The Secret Garden is located 184 Rue Mouassine in Marrakesh.
  • The Secret Garden is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (closing time changes during the year, please check).
  • The entry price is 60 dhs. You have to pay 40 dhs more to access the tower.

As the discovery day ends, we head towards the parking lot to pick up our cars in the red city. From afar, you can see the Koutoubia.

Koutoubia Mosque

Located 200 meters away from Jemaa el-Fna square, between the medina of Marrakesh and the New City, is the Koutoubia Mosque. It got its nickname “mosque of the booksellers” due to its proximity to the old souk of the booksellers.

The Koutoubia
The Koutoubia (Copyright @ Thibaut Colson)

Built in the 12th century, it reflects the art of the Almohads and is the largest mosque in the red city. The first mosque was built in 1148 by Sultan Almohade Abdelmoumen, followed by a second version of similar size in 1158. Yacoub Al-Mansour completed the minaret in 1195, 77 meters high, decorated with geometric patterns, and topped with a spire and metallic orbs. The minaret is an urban landmark and an important symbol of Marrakesh.

After a day of exploration, it’s time to switch up the scenery and leave Marrakesh.

The weekend itinerary includes a night at the Petit Hôtel du Flouka on Lake Lalla Takerkoust’s shores and a night of glamping in the Agafay desert. I tell you all about it in the article: “Weekend in Marrakech: A Fun Getaway with Friends“.

➜ How to plan a weekend with friends in Marrakesh? Where to stay, when to go? You’ll find all the answers here: “Weekend in Marrakech: Practical Tips & Must-Visit Spots

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