Marrakech Travel Guide

Marrakech is a wonderful and fascinating city to travel to, but the hustle and bustle, noise, traffic, heat, and the crowds, take some time to get used to.

People have different feelings about the city, same love it others hate it. The intense heat in the Medina, the intimidating nature of some men, pollution, constant harassment, rubbish everywhere, and animal exploitation are between the main reasons,  I can definitely see both sides and no place is only good.

I personally had a great experience, most likely because most people thought my partner was Morrocan 🙂

Marrakech is one of the most visited Moroccan cities and is also called ‘’the red city’’ because of the colour of its walls.

Marrakech is a city of small paths, amazing crafts and colourful atmosphere, is known for its markets, food scene, riads (traditional accommodation around a courtyard) and medina, the heart of the city.

Lost and found in Marrakech, the medina and the souks

The Medina is the ancient walled city that dates from the 12th century, a place to get lost walking the winding streets. All Moroccan cities have an older part where the medinas are located.

Visit the medina first thing in the morning is great, just before everything opens, so you can feel the city waking up. Also, make sure you get off the main streets and explore the hundreds of alleys without shops.

The medina is a place for selling and buying all kinds of products, and their streets are packed with shops and street vendors. The Marrakesh medina is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

The souks of Marrakech are messy, chaotic, colourful, smelly but kind of fantastic at the same time. I loved walking around watching life going by. The souks sell a variety of items such as carpets and rugs, traditional Muslim attire, used clothes, livestock, and fresh produce. Haggling is still a very important part of the trade in the souks.

Unlike the medina, the souk is a temporary structure that goes up in the morning and down later in the day, located in an empty field.

When you walk around, leaving the more touristic routes, you can find markets where you will see locals buying fresh ingredients. 

The alleyways and narrow turns seem to go on and on, they are packed with the busyness of the city so as the streets are usually packed, it’s the perfect place for pickpockets. Don’t be too complacent.

The top tip here is, if you don’t wish to buy anything, don’t ask neither answer. Simply keep walking and smile.  Also knowing two simple Arabic words can get you a long way: La= No, Choukran=thank you. 

Jemaa el-Fnaa 

Somehow Jemaa el-Fnaa comes on top of most websites and guides as a must place to go in Marrakech.

Jemaa el-Fnaa it’s a very busy market in the main square packed with stalls selling local wares/food, musicians, acrobats, and storyteller. Is quite an aggressive place for tourists, in the way you can’t really walk around without being disturbed, the harassment is constant, so get ready to feel overwhelmed to start. 

There are also snake charmers and men with monkeys chained to them trying to get people to pay for a photo. The animal tourism here is cruel so please don’t encourage it by paying to take pictures with the animals. As you know we create the demand..

I would still recommend you to go but lower your expectation…wasn’t my favourite part of Marrakech at all.  You can always go up to one of the bars and cafes overlooking the square and spend some time watching all of the antics going on below.

Some people say that if you skip Djemaa El-Fna you miss the soul of the city unless hardcore harassment is Marrakech’s souls it’s hard for me to agree with that statement.

Be aware of pickpocketers at Jemaa al-Fna square.

Enjoy the calm of the parks
Cyber Park Arsat Moulay Abdeslam

Just outside of the medina is the Cyber Park Arsat Moulay Abdeslam, that dates back from the 18th century,  a set of beautiful gardens with fountains and plants. A perfect place for a walk around and relax.

Jardin Majorelle (Majorelle garden)

The Majorelle gardens are located about 500 meters from the medina, behind the central bus station. It’s a charming place, wrapped by a water canal, with stunning cactus, exotic plants, palm trees, a lily pond, and a small bamboo forest.  Although this was not my favourite, I like the gardens to be tranquil and peaceful, and this one is usually pretty busy.

The entrance fee is 70 Dirhams (£5.50) per person plus an extra 30 Dirham to visit the Berber Museum.

Le Jardin secret

Le Jardin secret is a beautiful private medina garden revived for the 21st century that displays an exotic and traditional Islamic garden. (50Dirhams ~ £4.10)

Menara gardens

This isn’t really a garden, but acres of olive trees and an empty pavilion in the back. Not really worthy of 70 MAD entrance fee at all.

Bahia Palace

The Bahia Palace was built in the 19th Century, and it offers some quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the Medina. The palace has beautiful courtyards and rooms with magnificent ceilings. A must see if you like architecture as there’s lots of intricate tile, paint and woodwork.

The admission ticket is 70 Dirhams (£5.50) to go inside and walk around the grounds.

El Badi Palace

The Badi Palace is in bad shape nowadays but it offers fantastic views of Marrakech from the terrace where you can see the Atlas Mountains on a clear day.

It cost 70 Dirhams (£5.50) to visit the vast palace ruins, with its large pools and orange trees.

Koutoubia Mosque

Koutoubia Mosque is located right by Jemaa el-Fnaa and is the largest mosque in Marrakech. Unfortunately, you can also see it from outside and walk around the gardens unless you’re Muslim.  This place is quite beautiful after sunset when the light bouncing off the mosque.

There’s a public garden right behind Koutobia called Parc Lalla Hasna, is a great place to photograph the mosque and the minaret.

Ali Ben Youssef Medersa

(Closed for renovation works until 2020)

Ben Youssef Madrasa is a Quranic learning centre that was once the largest in North Africa and remains nowadays among the most splendid. The inscription over the entrance reads, “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded”.

Saadian Tombs

The Saadian Tombs, located in the south of the medina, contain the remains of the sultan Ahmad al-Mansur and members of his family. 

The structure dates from the late 16th century while interesting, the tombs can be very crowded with visitors. Some ornaments are quite impressive, reminding slightly Alhambra.

The tombs were built with marble imported from Italy and they have beautiful stucco work made with cedar wood.

Bab Agnaou

Bab Agnaou is a beautiful getaway to the old city built in the 12th century, right next to the Saadian Tombs.

The gateway used to have a stone that had a blueish hue in the beginning but that the desert sands turned into the reddish colour.

La Mamounia Hotel

My suggestions are not to stay at the La Mamounia Hotel, where the room price goes at £400 a night, but instead just to visit the most historic and famous hotel in Marrakesh.

Wondering around Marrakech

Walking around without a plan is wonderful, you will stumble on amazing markets where locals are buying fresh ingredients; stunning doors, alleys, and picturesque mosques. 

Landing in Marrakesh can be a bit overwhelming in the beginning, and tourist scams are far too common, be aware and enjoy. Find here the 15 essential tips for visiting Marrakesh  

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Best places to visit in Edinburgh – Scotland (part II)

Located beyond the east end of Princes Street is the Calton Hill (UNESCO World Heritage Site), surrounded on three sides by Regent Terrace, Calton Terrace and Royal Terrace. At Calton Hill you’ll find various iconic monuments and some incredible views out over Edinburgh. Take a hike to the top of the hill, sit and relax in a quiet(ish) park-like setting.

The monuments on Calton Hill include the National Monument, which looks like Athens’ Parthenon; the obelisk-like Nelson Monument and the Dugald Stewart Monument.

The Victoria Street, is a very picturesque street, known for its unique and colourful shops.

The Arthur’s Seat was one of my favourite places, despite being a bit of a hike for my fitness level.. 🙂 It’s located about 1 mile to the east of Edinburgh Castle; and it’s the main peak of the group of hills which form most of Holyrood Park, formed by an extinct volcano. From the top you get the greatest panoramic views of Edinburgh’s stunning skyline of Victorian and Georgian architecture and the Firth of Forth (estuary) in the distance.

Was a tough hike and some of the parts are rather difficult (at least for me) depending on your aptitude, the walk to the top takes approximately one hour, but the views from the top are worth it though.

The old Calton burial Ground also known as the Old cemetery, dates back to the late 16th century, and despite not being as extraordinary has the Glasgow one, still worths a visit. Supposedly JK Rowling got a few ideas for names in the Harry Potter series here. And just because I’m already talking about graveyards, there’s another famous one, the Greyfriars Kirk, laying on the tale of Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who supposedly sat upon the grave of its deceased owner for fourteen years following its masters death. The graveyard itself is quite beautiful and offers a nice view of the city.

The Museum of Edinburgh, offers a good view over the history of the city through a collection of artefacts, you can also dress up with replica costumes and have some fun 😉 the museum also has a great courtyard.

If you are on a tight budget walk and spend time at the parks, gardens, and museums,  almost all of these are free…

I will leave here a few more pictures of other corners of the city, hope you enjoy it..

Let me know if you have been to Edinburgh, and which are your favourite places..
Looking forward to hearing from you..

🚌  read part I 🚌

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Best places to visit in Edinburgh – Scotland (part I)

While traveling across Scotland, we took a bus from Glasgow to Edinburgh. We quickly dumped our luggage in the room, and went out to explore the beautiful city with gorgeous historical and natural wonders. No matter where I am, I always feel that stroll around is the best way to properly experience a country/city, so is what I always do… is no surprise that I did around 90 miles in 4 days (by foot), my legs and feet always complain but my heart and soul just crave for it..

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Even having been walking endless miles, I still need to say that all the main attractions are quite close to each other, and despite the hills, Edinburgh is a great walking city, so walk is the best way to discover this beautiful historic city.

Edinburgh is split in two by the valley that separates the Old Town from the New Town. The Old Town of Edinburgh, dates back to Medieval times, and is where we found the oldest attractions. The Royal Mile, is undoubtedly the most touristic street and is packed with people, pubs, shops, restaurantes, and street performers; feels like theres is nothing that can’t be seen on this street. To be fair, this packed touristic places are not my cup of tea, so what I enjoyed the most here were the escapes to the many quirky streets going from there.

The St Giles Cathedral, located in this street, is covered in lovely details and has beautiful stained glass windows. Pop in to see the pretty blue ceiling, and the intricate Thistle Chapel.

At the west end of the Royal Mile is the Edinburgh Castle, a landmark visible from many parts of the city. The entry fee is £17 for adult, so if you think is too much (what I do), you can always enjoy the views from the Castle Esplanade. I didn’t go inside, has I think is not worth the price. On the other hand the Craigmillar Castle, located in the other side of Edinburg have a more acceptable fee (£5.50) and it’s really nice.DSCF7113

The city’s best museum is for me, by far the National Museum of Scotland,  located very close to the National Galleries on The Mound. This museum is dedicated to the natural world, world cultures, art and design, science and technology, and Scottish history.  Like most museums in the UK,  it’s  free.

From here in direction to the Royal Botanic Garden you can stop at the charming village of Stockbridge. This place has a nice vibe and is away from the city center touristic buzz. The picturesque street Circus Lane, is another must.

The  Royal Botanic Garden  is a great hidden gem and a very special place; for me an absolute must-see in Edinburgh, specially if the weather is good. They are a great escape from the crowded Old Town. On a sunny day you can explore the many different features around the garden and also the glasshouses. The  Garden lies in Inverleith, a half-hour walk north of the city centre. The stroll through New Town and Stockbridge is worth the time. The gardens are free to enter, but for the Glasshouse you pay a fee.

Back at the crowded  old town the Princes Street Gardens are another free outing. The gardens are a great spot for relaxing on a sunny day; from here the views are excellent to the Castle. This garden is home to the gothic Scott Monument, which can be climbed by 200 ft above the city (£5). This area also contain some of the city’s key museums and serve as a venue for Edinburgh’s famous summer cultural festivals. The National Gallery  is located in the midst of the Princes Street Gardens and displays a lovely collection.

Princes street (named after George III’s sons) is the main shopping street in Edinburgh, so very frenetic and congested with people and buses. The National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy are both located just off Princes Street, so it’s very easy to pop in for a visit.

🚌 read part II 🚌

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Exploring Glasgow for free, Scotland

Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city, and a great place to start a trip to Scotland. Despite overshadowed by the famous Edinburgh, this city is at least equally amazing. I need to say that in the end of my visit I was totally in love with this city, that once was a former industrial powerhouse, but now is a cultural hub, with lots of interesting things do do and see.

Glasgow is today a cosmopolitan city, with a rich history,  and a national cultural hub, home to many great museums (most of them free). The museums and art galleries have superb collections, that will surprise you as much as surprised me.

We landed at Glasgow’s airport and got the connection to the city center, using the bus 500, that takes 30 minutes to be on the Queen Street, close to George Square, in this short trip it’s already visible the historic sandstone buildings and modern architecture.

For my surprise Glasgow serves very weird food from deep-fried piza or even fried Mars, but the vegan options just kept surprising me. I need to say that the claims that Glasgow is the mecca in Scotland for vegan food lovers may be very true!

We visit the city by walking around, without taking any public transports (what was probably a mistake, at least is what my legs and feet were saying).

We started our trip, walking around the city centre without a plan towards George Square, that is the heart of the city, and has impressive Victorian buildings and statues paying homage to the Scottish greats. From there we went to the Gallery of Modern Art,  where is the famous statue of the Duke of Wellington wearing a traffic cone as a hat.

While walking around, we just did a stop at Glasgow Central Station, not to take a train but to have a look at the arquitecture and its glass roof. Here you can also join a tour that supposedly  reveals some of the station’s hidden secrets 🙂 I can’t say that’s true, because I haven’t done it.

From the train station it’s only a couple of minutes’ to the Lighthouse, on Buchanan St. This place can be a bit difficult to find but deserves the effort. The building was designed by the Scottish architect Charles Mackintosh back in the 19th century, and is an exemple of Art Nouveau. Today is the centre for Design and Architecture, and has many different exhibits and galleries.  Including a free exhibition on Mackintosh’s work. From the lighthouse, you have an incredible skyline view of Glasgow.

We kept walking till we got to the river side that has a path along the River Clyde great for a walk or even cycle, from where you can see modern buildings like the Clyde Auditorium (known as the Armadillo) and the titanium-clad Glasgow Science Centre.

Then was time to visit one of the city’s most famous museums, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. This museum is definitely a must see. But not before a lovely man invited us to take a coffee and some biscuits at a local church, the Sandyford Henderson memorial church.

The Kelvingrove is an immense place with a great a collection, that you will enjoy even if your are not an art person, because part is a art gallery and part history museum. Essentially, it’s an art, life science, and cultural museum rolled into one, with plenty to see, housed in a beautiful historic building.

From here across the park is the  University of Glasgow, an imposing gothic-style buildings that reminds vaguely Harry Potter.

The Glasgow Botanic Gardens are located in the heart of city’s West End by the River Kelvin, and are a short walk from the university, and a must go if you are a nature lover like me. The gardens are lovely and the glasshouses looked like they were straight out of the Victorian Era revealing exotic ferns and tropical plants as you go.

The Riverside Museum,with its Zaha Hadid-designed sinuous curves, is another must. The museum is dedicated to transport and travel. the exhibition is very interactive and even has a recreated street taking you back to 1890s Glasgow, where you can pop in into different shops. From here you can take a tour of the Glenlee, a restored tall ship, If you fancy something like that.

Once in the city center we went to visit the the 15th century house, Provand’s Lordship, the oldest in Glasgow and the magnificent Cathedral.

The  Necropolis, it’s right behind the Cathedral, and it’s a cemetery with distinctive, decorative tombstones which are works of art in themselves designed by major architects and sculptors of the time. The necropolis is located on top of a hill and has great views to the city and the Cathedral.

The People’s Palace and the Winter Gardens are a great museum to have an insight about Glasgow’s history, and t’s located in southeast Glasgow.

Glasgow’s street art is visible over the city, Smug One is an Australian born street artist based in Glasgow that has painted enormous murals.

If you are planning your trip bare in mind that the weather can be very unpredictable so just pack clothes for each of the 4 seasons 🙂 I suggest at least 3 days if you want to visit Glasgow properly but I recommend 4, for the sake of you legs and feet 🙂

If you have the time, away from the city there are plenty of remote places to explore.. be happy and have fun..

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha