Uniquely Marrakech

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Uniquely Marrakech
There’s a reason Marrakech is Morocco’s most popular destination. Its vast medina is a tapestry of souks, mosques, palaces, and artisans, all pulsing with the energy of a country that proudly carries ancient traditions into modern times.
Photo by Emily Smith
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    Get Lost in the Medina
    The winding lanes and alleys of Marrakech's medina seem designed to confuse the unwary visitor, but getting lost is part of the fun. Strike out from the central Djemaa el-Fna square to explore the many kissarias (covered markets) and funduqs (courtyard caravan rest houses). The Kasbah district is home to the city’s royal legacy, while the Mellah—the old Jewish quarter—still bears traces of its roots despite being primarily Muslim today. If you do get confused, there’s always someone happy to offer directions, and a café with mint tea is never far away.
    Photo by Emily Smith
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    Mosques and Medersas
    The beautiful 12th-century minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque is Marrakech’s iconic landmark, visible for miles around. But the call to prayer rings out from a number of other minarets across the city (look for the stork nests that adorn many of them). While non-Muslims are rarely allowed to enter Moroccan mosques, you can get a taste of their interior splendor by visiting one of the historic medersas (theological colleges). The most famous is the Ali ben Youssef Medersa, a masterpiece of Moroccan architecture with barely a square inch left undecorated.
    Photo by Thuy Vi Gates
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    Magnificent Imperial Palaces
    Marrakech is one of Morocco’s four imperial cities, and its rulers made sure they left behind plenty of evidence of their grandeur. The most impressive of which is the 19th-century Bahia Palace, which was built for a grand vizier of the Moroccan sultan. It’s an excellent example of fine Moroccan arts, with its zellij mosaic floors, carved stucco plasterwork, and painted cedar ceilings. The mammoth 16th-century El-Badi Palace has fared less well over the centuries and is more of a magnificent ruin, with sunken gardens and a massive pool. Its former rulers are buried nearby in the opulent Saadian Tombs.
    Photo by Darrell Hartman
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    Colorful Museums
    While the story of Marrakech is relived every day on the streets and in the medina, its museums allow you take stock of everything. The Musée de Marrakech is housed in the Dar Menebhi Palace, a fitting place to show off its rich collection of historical objects and contemporary Moroccan art. The nearby Musée Tiskiwin displays a more eclectic group of artifacts and crafts, showcasing the city's former role as a trading post for caravans coming from the Sahara. For another opportunity to travel back in time, check out the Maison de la Photographie: A vast collection of photos chronicles the country's evolution from 1870 to 1950.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    The Djemaa El-Fna at Night
    Simply put, the Djemaa El-Fna is at the heart of everything in Marrakech. This large public square is many things all at once: a meeting place, an entertainment venue, and a dining spot. Fringed by orange juice sellers and traditional herbalists, it becomes even more lively in the evening, when dozens of food stands fire up their grills. A sensory experience unfolds as the smells and smoke waft through the square, lanterns illuminate the night, roving entertainers beat on drums and perform songs, and Moroccan families chatter. While you can find other squares in the medina, nothing compares to the grand entertainment of the Djemaa El-Fna.
    Photo by Karel Schoonejans
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    Sublime People-Watching
    Pull up a seat in a café, order a mint tea, and watch the parade of characters who come and go before you. Water sellers wearing wide-brimmed hats adorned with red pom-poms carry goatskin vessels and clink brass cups to attract the thirsty. Berber women hawk fresh produce and entice visitors with intricate henna tattoos. Boys on scooters outmaneuver men on donkeys and handcarts piled high with goods. Young women in fashionable headscarves chat on cellphones, kebab vendors shout for customers, kids play soccer, and onlookers stand amazed at the entire scene.
    Photo by Karel Schoonejans
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    Street Theater and Cultural Events
    You don’t have to go far to see a show in Marrakech. The Djemaa El-Fna, noted for its "intangible cultural heritage" by UNESCO, is at the heart of the city's street entertainment scene. During the day, you can hear the droning pipes of snake charmers long before you see them. As the sun sets, they’re replaced by storytellers, acrobat troupes, and roving bands that play trance-like Gnawa music. For a reminder that you're still in the 21st century, check out the trendy clubs in the Ville Nouvelle. And to mingle among chic international crowds, plan to visit during the popular annual film festival or the Marrakech Biennale, a large arts festival.
    Photo by Morgan Paar
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    Unwind in a Moroccan Garden
    Marrakech can sometimes feel like it's all hustle and bustle. When you need a bit of calm, escape to one of the city's green oases. While many larger riads offer serene courtyard gardens, seek out the Jardin Majorelle in the Ville Nouvelle for a taste of Eden. Formerly owned by Yves Saint Laurent, the botanical garden spans more than two acres and features palm trees, fountains, streams, and numerous bird species. At its heart is an art deco villa painted in cobalt blues and lemon yellows that pop in the sunlight. Even more spacious are the palm-fringed Menara Gardens on the outskirts of the city. A royal pavilion and a reflecting pool provide scenic views for picnics and late afternoon strolls.
    Photo by Thuy Vi Gates
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    The Souks: A Shopper’s Delight
    Marrakech has been a trade city for more than 1,000 years, and tourists are only the latest visitors to snag a bargain. Half the medina seems full of enchanting things to buy, with shopkeepers who try to reel you in to sample their wares. You'll encounter painted tajine dishes, countless Berber rugs, apothecaries offering herbal remedies, and handcrafted leatherwork in a dozen bright colors. Haggling for your prize is half the fun. Expect plenty of mock outrage from the shopkeeper as you counter his "best price," but then there will be smiles all around once you close the deal.
    Photo by Karel Schoonejans
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    Venture Outside Marrakech
    Marrakech is ideally situated for quick trips that show the diversity of Morocco. If nature beckons, you can easily reach the snowy ridge of the High Atlas mountains. From Marrakech's medina, drive about two hours to the village of Imlil. This serves as the starting point for an overnight hike up Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak. If you'd rather stay on flat land, venture to the coast and visit the artsy, white-washed fishing port of Essaouira. Behind its sea walls, you'll find fishermen cooking their catch of the day over hot coals. Grab a bite and savor it as you watch the waves crash below you.
    Photo by AJ