Ways for budget travelers to embrace the Moroccan culture while visiting Marrakech.
Very few travelers visit Morocco without stopping in Marrakech. Although it’s not the capital (Rabat is), it’s the most popular city for tourists to visit.
Marrakech is conveniently located in the center of the country, so it’s a great place to base yourself for outward tours to the Sahara Desert, the Atlas Mountains, and coastal towns like Essaouira, Agadir and Taghazout.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it; Marrakech can be hectic. It’s loud, dirty, and sometimes smelly. The locals are always yelling at you to buy their things, and walking through the city is never easy due to the crazy traffic (of people, cars, and motorbikes). But this is all part of the experience, and you just have to embrace the chaos.
Though some areas of the city scream “tourist trap”, you can still find some of the core aspects of Moroccan culture here.
I’ve compiled a list of some fun things to do in Marrakech, some that reveal the authentic Moroccan lifestyle, and some that celebrate the popular tourist attractions.
1. Buy fresh produce in a street market
You won’t find many big grocery stores in Morocco, as most locals buy their food at the street markets.
Whether it’s a truck bed piled high with melons and plums, a blanket on the ground covered in potatoes and zucchinis, or an actual shop with overflowing boxes of colorful fruits and veggies, there is no shortage of fresh produce in Marrakech.
Locals usually give you a basket to fill yourself, which they weigh and price accordingly. This makes shopping easier if you don’t speak French or Arabic, and the prices are usually so cheap as well. You can also buy eggs, seafood, grains, bread and spices in the street as well.
Be sure to try the peaches, nectarines, oranges and figs, as they are exceptionally sweet here in Morocco.
Also try the strange looking cactus fruit, which is green and prickly on the outside but tasted like a watermelon made love to a passionfruit on the inside.
My favorite street market in Marrakech is on the street called Derb Demnat, right behind Saadien’s Tombs. It’s a bit more chilled out here than other, more central areas of the city.
2. Visit Saadien’s Tombs
The Saadien Dynasty ruled Morocco during the “Golden Age” of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the family tombs are preserved in a way that reflects their wealth and power.
The entrance fee is 70 Dirhams, and it’s open from 9am to 5pm.
The halls holding the tombs are architectural masterpieces, with high domed ceilings, regal pillars and intricate carvings. Even the ceilings and floors are adorned with tiled artwork and beautiful designs.
Small gardens sit between the chambers, which seem so peaceful despite the tourists snapping photos. It’s a pretty small area and it doesn’t get too crowded, which is a nice change of pace from the wild city streets.
After admiring the stunning architecture, you can watch an informational video about the creation of the magnificent mausoleums .
3. Sip mint tea
As the staple beverage of Morocco, mint tea is consumed at all hours of the day, either at home or in cafes and restaurants.
If you don’t want sugar, let the waiter know beforehand otherwise they might shove 5 sugar cubes into your silver teapot.
But this tea is simply a handful of fresh mint leaves steeped in boiling water, and it’s delicious.
4. Educate yourself in a natural medicine shop
You’ll definitely see lots of natural medicine shops in the city, which often have baskets of fragrant herbs, colorful spices, wellness teas, and other unknown objects piled out front.
When we finally entered one and asked about the weird stuff on display, we were amazed by how interesting and healthy all the natural products are.
Common finds in a medicine shop include sandalwood for incense, argan oil for cosmetic and culinary uses, and black nigella seeds which can be sniffed for asthma and sinus relief.
Some of the stranger things I was introduced to include slimy olive soap that looks like brown goo but actually cleans your hands really well, and crystalized mint flakes that you can sprinkle in tea to help clear the sinuses. Just one tiny flake of that mint and I had to close my eyes to drink the tea because the mint fumes were so strong.
5. Eat olives as often as possible
Morocco is home to the most delicious olives I’ve ever tasted.
You’ll find them thrown into salads, tagines, and couscous dishes, or scattered on top of pizzas and omelettes. Eat them at every opportunity, as you won’t find olives this flavorful anywhere else.
You can buy them at street markets for super cheap, only a couple Dirhams for a scoop. There are lots of different flavors and sizes and colors, so try them all!
6. Stroll through Jardin Majorelle
This famous garden costs 70 Dirhams to enter, and is open daily from 8am until 6:30pm.
Designed by French artist, Jacques Majorelle, in 1923, the garden has tall bamboo framing the walkway and interesting plants and cacti scattered around. It is also home to a vibrant blue villa, designed by French architect, Paul Sinoir.
Jardin Majorelle was a beautiful spot, but too crowded for my liking. I didn’t realize how Instagram-famous this garden was until I witnessed about ten different tourists posing for photos in the span of five minutes.
I recommend visiting early in the morning to beat the crowds.
7. Shop in the Medina
Marrakech has the second oldest Medina in Morocco (Fes has the oldest). Visit this historic area of the city and get lost wandering through the narrow, walled streets.
You will definitely get lost. Just enjoy the sensory roller coaster while walking through the maze and you’ll eventually wander out by accident.
The Medina is a great place to buy souvenirs, including rugs, traditional clothing, ceramics, paintings, jewelry, and other handicrafts.
When you ask the price, assume you’re being told the tourist price, and try to bargain for a bit cheaper. Just be respectful when haggling, and you’ll almost always get a cheaper price than the first.
8. Drink fresh juice in the street
You can’t walk two blocks in Marrakech without seeing a local selling fresh orange juice from a stand in the street.
Orange juice usually costs around 5-10 Dirhams, and it’s so refreshing on a hot day of sightseeing. I’ve also found ginger juice for 5 Dirhams, which is zingy and cleansing and also refreshing.
Just beware of the juice stands in the main square with fruits piled up so high that you can’t see them making the juice. Sometimes they dilute it with sugary bottled juice, which is a bit disappointing.
9. Visit a rooftop terrace
The phrase “panoramic view” or “rooftop terrace” is common to see plastered onto the front of a cafe or restaurant, especially near the Jamaa El Fnaa square. These places tend to be expensive, but it’s nice to just order a tea or a coffee and enjoy the view.
I recommend visiting in the early morning or evening when the heat has subsided a bit, though sunset can be a very busy time near the square so you may need to wait for a table.
10. Feast for super cheap in a restaurant
Many restaurants in Marrakech charge tourist prices, meaning around 40-60 Dirhams or more for one meal. This is still pretty cheap compared to other countries, but if you look hard enough you can get massive meals for much cheaper.
Look for the cafes that aren’t very flashy, are far from the main square, and have lots of locals drinking tea or coffee in the front.
We visited a cafe for breakfast and paid 39 Dirhams (almost $4) for a massive breakfast including coffee, 2 omelettes, bread, Moroccan salad (chopped tomatoes, onions, olives, and seasonings), and a huge crepe with chocolate. I wish I could remember the name, but there are plenty of local cafes with similar prices.
There is also a little pizza shop across from the Bubble Cafe (again I cant remember the name) which sells a delicious margarita pizza for 10 Dirhams.
After finding these hidden gems, I’ll never pay 50 Dirhams for a meal again.
11. Brave the madness of Jamaa El Fnaa Square
This is the main square of Marrakech, and it’s quite intense. Street performers, snake charmers, and henna painters fill the grounds, begging for tourists to toss them money. The crowds here are ideal for pickpocketing, so come with few belongings and watch them carefully.
You’ll also see lots of men carrying poor little monkeys on chains, usually wearing a silly outfit for tourists to take photos with. I felt like crying when I saw that, so please do not support that cruel act, ever.
I didn’t really like the commercialism, animal abuse, and tourist traps that lurk in the main square, but it was interesting to see this famous spot in Marrakech and wonder why so many tourists fall for the facade of true culture.
12. Book a Sahara Desert Tour
A must-do when traveling in Morocco is visiting the Sahara Desert. This mysterious and stunning spot of our planet is very accessible from Marrakech, so if you have 3 days to spare you should definitely book a tour.
Drive through the Atlas Mountains on the way, ride camels, admire the rippling golden dunes, and camp under the stars; it’s an experience not to be missed.
Read about my amazing and affordable desert experience here.
13. Take A Day Trip
There are plenty of wonderful day trips you can do to escape the craziness of Marrakech.
My favorite day trips are:
Essaouira: A gorgeous, relaxing beach town. Read my full travel guide here.
Ouzoud Waterfalls: Most day tours cost around 200-250 Dirhams, and they include round-trip minivan transfer to the falls.
There is no direct public transport to this remote area, so a tour is the easiest option. The journey is about 3 hours each way, and you get a few hours to swim and enjoy the magnificent waterfalls.
Other popular activities in Marrakech that I’ve been recommended but didn’t do myself:
Museum of Photography
To escape the blazing sun, or the inclement weather, venture inside this museum to see Moroccan culture captured in photographs. Entry fee is 40 Dirhams, open from 9:30am – 7pm.
El Badi Palace
An old royal palace of the Saadien Dynasty, this is a great stop for people who love history and the cool ruins it leaves behind. Entry fee is 70 Dirhams, open from 9am until 5pm.
Ben Youssef Madrasa School
This old Islamic school is supposedly full of gorgeous architecture, but it’s closed for renovations until 2020, unfortunately.
Stay in a Riad
A Riad is a traditional Moroccan guesthouse, usually including a nice terrace, gardens, courtyards, and a pool. They are supposed to be very beautifully designed and offer a classic Moroccan breakfast, but even the cheapest Riads are a bit out of our budget.
If you are willing to splurge a bit on nice accommodation, research some cool Riads in Marrakech, as I’m sure there are many.