You'll want to bring your wallet to Marrakesh: with so many markets and shopping stalls crammed into the ancient medina, Marrakesh is the perfect city for shopping – and splurging. But if you're traveling on a budget or just saving up to buy that authentically made Moroccan souvenir, you can experience the best of Marrakesh without spending a cent.
From the city's rowdy main square and sprawling souqs to its quiet and calming gardens, these are the top things to do in Marrakesh for free.
Editor's note: during COVID-19 there are restrictions on travel. Check the latest guidance in Morocco before departure, and always follow local health advice.
1. Djemaa El Fna
Djemaa El Fna, Marrakesh’s main square, is always busy with pedestrians and street performers, and as night falls, food stalls and smoky grills set up shop for the dinner crowd. The hoopla and halqa (street theater) have been non-stop here since the 11th century, and Djemaa's nightly carnival continues to dazzle. Amazigh musicians strike up the music and gnaoua troupes sing while henna tattoo artists beckon to passersby. This is a show you don't want to miss, and it's a bargain too: it's all free to watch, and applause and a few dirhams ensure an encore.
2. Menara Gardens
The Menara Gardens are arguably Marrakesh's most attractive green space, with a 19th-century pavilion and reflecting pool set against the Atlas Mountains backdrop. Away from the commotion of the medina, the Menara Gardens make for a more peaceful stroll and a great spot to take photos.
The iconic view of the Atlas Mountains from this park is often featured on postcards for sale around the city. The historic gardens were laid out in the 12th century, and Moroccan families continue to enjoy relaxing around the huge water basin and among the rows of olive and palm trees.
3. Koutoubia Gardens
With tall palm trees, plenty of seating on benches and a tiered fountain, the Koutoubia Gardens are well manicured and make an easy escape from the narrow alleyways of the medina. The park has great views of the minaret of nearby Koutoubia Mosque, which was constructed in the 12th century and stands nearly 250 feet (75m) high. The Koutoubia Gardens are a popular central meeting point near Djemaa El Fna, and the mosque's minaret is the tallest structure in Marrakesh.
4. Mellah Market
The bustling Mellah Market is great for a wander, and its lanes are fascinating to explore in the morning when stalls are at their busiest. For the southern side of Marrakesh, this market is a major source of food, flowers and spices (which are cheap compared with souq tourist stalls). The mellah is Marrakesh's Jewish quarter, and visiting here feels like you’ve stumbled onto a secret. Even though it’s only a few paces from the center, the mellah has an atmosphere all of its own, with Stars of David etched above doorways and shaded balconies overlooking the narrow lanes.
5. Comptoir des Mines
The arts scene in Marrakesh is growing quickly, especially in the trendy neighborhood of Gueliz, and some of the city's best galleries and art spaces are free to visit. A top pick is Comptoir des Mines, home to three floors of contemporary art in old art deco offices that once belonged to a mining company. Comptoir des Mines is a project by Hicham Daoudi, who founded the Marrakech Art Fair. Restored to its original art deco glory, the sweeping staircases, terrazzo flooring, crystal-shaped wall sconces and furniture make this spot worth a visit in itself. Rotating art exhibitions profile leading and up-and-coming artists from Morocco and elsewhere in Africa.
6. Riad Kniza Musée and Galerie
Riad Kniza Musée and Galerie, a private museum, has been a labor of love for its owner Mohammed, who used to run an antique shop in the Gueliz neighborhood. When his family closed the shop, the big question was what to do with his overflowing collection of Moroccan antiques. The answer was this lovely little museum, displaying carpets from the High Atlas Mountains, tribal jewelry and clothing, decorative pottery from Fez dating to the 17th century and a wonderful collection of Amazigh sugar hammers. The museum is free to visit.
7. Dar Bellarj
Dar Bellarj is Marrakesh’s premier community arts center, and it's located in a former stork hospital (bellarj is Arabic for stork). Each year, the nonprofit Dar Bellarj Foundation creates a program themed around living culture, ranging from film to women’s textiles and storytelling. Admission is usually free, but a fee is sometimes charged for certain events. Calligraphy demonstrations and arts workshops are regular draws, and during Ramadan, the foundation hosts a series of evening music concerts in the beautiful central courtyard.
8. Bab Debbagh Tanneries
Leatherworking is one of Morocco's medieval trades, and the tanneries around Bab Debbagh have been in use for hundreds of years. Unlike the more famous tanneries in Fez that have pots filled with a rainbow of dyes, the tanneries in Marrakesh only work the natural leather, and dyeing is done elsewhere.
Your nose will let you know when you've arrived: the pungent smell comes from the use of ammonia in the troughs that are used to soften the leather and strip it of its animal hairs. The best time to come is in the morning when you'll usually be able to see tanners at work, transforming animal skins that are dropped off by donkey carts into supple leather ready to be tailored into wares sold in the souqs.
The largest cooperative, Association Sidi Yacoub, is open to visitors and theoretically free to visit, but it's likely you'll be stopped by a 'guardian' at the entrance telling you otherwise. Some visitors ignore them or offer a small tip of Dh10 to Dh20. If you're not up for this battle, go with an official guide as part of a medina tour.
9. Souq Haddadine
Souq Haddadine, the blacksmith's market, is full of busy workshops where the sound of the metalworkers' hammers provides a steady staccato beat. You can watch the blacksmiths at work, or if you've been tempted by some of those lovely Moroccan lamps for sale throughout the souqs, buying direct here will probably get you the best price. This souq is difficult to find: follow the noise.
10. Funduq El Amri
Fanadiq (inns once used by caravans and traveling merchants) can be found across the Marrakesh medina, and some are undergoing renovations while others remain in a dilapidated state. Funduq El Amri, a well-preserved caravanserai, would have once been the staging post for medieval merchants selling sugar and tea, but today the courtyard chambers are filled with small artisan shops.
It's free to browse the stalls and admire the architecture, which is particularly noteworthy for the red-ochre geometric decoration of diamonds, hexagons and stars that border this funduq's internal stone arches.
11. Criée Berbere
Criée Berbere is Marrakesh's main market for carpets, and it's packed to the rafters with rugs of every hue and weave. You can watch auctions that are held here around 4pm to 5pm every day of the week except Friday. To find it, look for the archway with 'Le Souk Principal de Tapis' written above the door on the north side of Rahba Kedima.
12. Assouss Cooperative d’Argane
The road between Marrakesh and the coastal town of Essaouira is dotted with plenty of argan trees, and Assouss Cooperative d’Argane is the big-city branch of a women’s organic-certified argan cooperative that's located outside Essaouira.
The all-female staff will ply you with free samples of amlou (argan-nut butter), and it's worth spending some of the dirham you've saved on your free adventures around Marrakesh on some of the argan goodies, prickly pear oil or gourmet dipping oils on offer.
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