Marrakech is a city full of contrasts. The city is divided into two distinct areas – the old quarter, the Medina, and the new town known as Guéliz. Many of the hotels are in Guéliz and you could easily spend days relaxing in a holiday oasis here. However, anyone who is interested in taking a deeper look at the city’s history and culture should make a point of exploring the ancient, dusty Medina, where the daily bustle of life goes on as it has for centuries.
The focus of the whole city is Djemaa el Fna, a large open space full of entertainers and food sellers at the heart of the Medina. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, this square is a crazy place where you will find your senses attacked from every direction. Large crowds of onlookers gather to watch groups of acrobats, drummers, snake charmers, story tellers, dancers and many other performers.
The Koutoubia is one of the most famous sights in Marrakech. The mosque’s seventy metres high Moorish minaret dominates the Marrakech skyline. Its light comes not from a glowing bulb, but from the five daily prayers that are projected live through the minaret’s speakers. While the mosque is closed to non-muslims, the gardens and courtyard are open to the public
The souks of Marrakech can be found in an area close to Djemaa el Fna. Vast, colourful and varied, with small squares devoted to specific crafts and products, they are a “must-see” for every visitor. The ideal time to visit the souks is either in the early morning (between 6 and 8am) or late afternoon (between 4 and 5pm). If you’re looking for a bargain the latter may be the best time as sellers may be more receptive to bargaining at the end of the day.
Other sights worth seeing during any stay in Marrakech include the Almoravid Koubba, the only Almoravid structure still standing in Morocco, with a design that is at the root of all Moroccan architecture, and the Marrakech Museum which is housed in a magnificent late nineteenth-century palace, Dar Mnebbi, on the west side of Place de la Kissaria.
With the hustle and bustle of the souks of the Medina, and the afternoon heat reaching temperatures of 38 C, a good place to get a cool and peaceful break is in one of the many gardens in the city. The Jardin Majorelle provides peace and tranquillity in a lush desert garden which explodes with vibrant colours and life. Once the former residence of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, the 12-acre botanical garden contains more than 300 plant species and is frequented by more than a dozen bird species indigenous to North Africa, including the African Songbird.
Marrakech offers the visitor some very high quality accommodation. The Medina is packed with Riads (old grand houses converted into hotels) which are wonderful places to stay to get a feel for life in Marrakech. The new town of Guéliz also contains many hotels of all types and standards, and lies only a short distance from the Medina, the beating heart of Marrakech.