Beyond the markets of Marrakech

Although the main lure of Marrakech is the markets, there is certainly more to do and experience than just shopping. Marrakech is split chiefly into the Medina (Old town) and the New Town. The Medina is clearly outlined by reddish city walls and has plenty of buildings made of red sandstone, which is why Marrakech is also known as the Red City. The Medina is also where you will spend most of your time when visiting this exotic city.

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Old buildings everywhere in the Medina

Medina

The atmosphere in the Medina is very different compared to any modern city. One of the first things you will notice is that motorcyclists “rule” this area. Motorcyclists ride wherever they want to and that includes the marketplace and any alleyway within the Medina. In fact, it seems like the only traffic rule in Marrakech is to not cause an accident. These motorcyclists can be aggressive riders, but they will not run you over. All you need to do is stand to the side and give way.

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Motorbikes are common in the alleyways, just that this one is piled high with mint leaves

Other main attractions in the Medina include Koutoubia Mosque, Badi Palace, Bahia Palace, Saadian Tombs and Ben Youssef Madrasa. There are also a few museums showcasing Moroccan arts if that interests you. I only visited the Koutoubia Mosque and Badi Palace. Ben Youssef Madrasa is an Islamic college that is unfortunately under renovation until 2020. The main draw of these attractions are the distinctive and alluring architecture of the buildings. These attractions are not particularly close together, but still within reasonable walking distance.

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Koutoubia Mosque, which is right next to Jemaa el-Fnaa
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El Badi Palace

Unsurprisingly, it is easy to get lost while wandering around the Medina. There are warnings about not accepting help or guidance from people on the street because they will charge or scam you. Your perception of Moroccan people may have been negatively affected by all those shopkeepers and street vendors in Jemaa el-Fnaa. But I feel that the people in Marrakech are generally okay.  The few strangers that tried to assist me were genuinely helpful. They simply asked which attraction I was heading to and pointed me the way.

New Town

Aching to go back to modern comfort? Then Gueliz is the town you should visit. One thing that really pleased me was seeing convenience stalls again as I did not encounter a single one within the Medina. If you are fed up with not being able to locate a trash bin in the Medina, you will find plenty of them lining the roads of the New Town. The New Town is basically what you expect it to be in any modern city.

You can get to the main area of Gueliz within 25 minutes of walking from Jemaa el-Fnaa. There is also a Hop On Hop Off bus service to help you get around the common attractions in Marrakech with ease. In Gueliz, there are nice gardens like the famous Jardin Majorelle and modern shopping centres that you are used to like Carré Eden Shopping Centre. But beyond that, there really isn’t much else to see and do.

Many tourists that visit Marrakech want to experience staying in a riad, which is a traditional Moroccan house that has an interior courtyard. I am certain that most (if not all) of them are situated in the Medina. Hotels are located in the New Town.

Outside Marrakech

There is only so much you can do within the Red City. Many tourists do go on day tours out of Marrakech to enjoy the beautiful countryside. Marrakech is situated near the High Atlas Range of the Atlas Mountains. Day trips that involve visiting the mountain valleys such as the Ourika Valley and seeing Berber villages are popular among tourists.

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Picturesque Ourika River Valley

Unfortunately, major cities in Morocco are not particularly close to Marrakech. It will take many hours by train to get to another major city or attraction, which is a shame as I would like to go up north and visit places like Fes and Chefchaouen. Casablanca and Essaouira are the only exceptions. I didn’t have time to visit Essaouira.

Casablanca is around 2.5-hour drive from Marrakech. This is the financial hub of Morocco and is located at the seaside. Casablanca is also home to Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in Africa. I had 3 hours to spend in Casablanca, so I only visited the Hassan II Mosque and admired the North Atlantic Ocean.

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Me in front of the Hassan II Mosque
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View of the North Atlantic Ocean from Casablanca

You can enter the mosque even if you are not a Muslim, but you need to join a guided tour to go inside. The guided tour in the mosque will bring you to see the huge prayer hall and the ablution room.

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Prayer hall in Hassan II Mosque

One could argue that this is the only attraction worth visiting in Casablanca. But even if you don’t want to go in, the exterior of the mosque is huge and breath-taking. You could spend an hour just walking around the mosque and admiring the view. I felt that it was worth the travel time from Marrakech to visit this remarkable piece of architecture.

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