Things to Do in Central Morocco
Capped with snow throughout the winter months and cloaked with wildflowers through the summer, the rocky plateaus and lush valleys of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains provide a striking backdrop for hiking and mountain biking treks, as well as cultural visits to Morocco’s remaining Berber tribes. Sprawling along the frontier of the Sahara, the range runs from the Atlantic coast to the northern Rif Mountains.
With its bold blue color scheme, towering palms, and gigantic cacti, set around pools of water lilies and gardens filled with exotic plants, the Majorelle Garden (Jardin Majorelle) is one of the most idyllic spots in Marrakech. Owned by designer Yves Saint Laurent, it’s also one of the city’s most visited attractions.
An outdoor market by day and packed to bursting with diners, shoppers, storytellers, and singers by night, Jemaa el-Fna (also written Djemaa el-Fna or Jemaa el-Fnaa) is the epicenter of Marrakech life, where locals and tourists come night after night to see the clash of colors, sounds, smells, and sights that make up this memorable location.
The name of the Bahia Palace (Palais Bahia) nods to its greatness: "Bahia” translates as “Brilliance.” Part of Marrakech’s UNESCO-listed medina and located on the northern edge of the Mellah (the Jewish quarter), the palace was the 19th-century residence of Si Ahmed ben Musa (or Ba Ahmed), the Grand Vizier of Marrakech.
The historic heart of Marrakech and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Marrakech Medina (Medina of Marrakesh) is the first port of call for most visitors to the city. Known for its famous Jemaa el-Fna square, a dizzying maze of souks, and a magnificent array of mosques and palaces, this is Marrakech’s most atmospheric district.
The largest and most famous of Marrakech’s many mosques, Koutoubia Mosque (Mosquée Koutoubia) is also the city’s most prominent navigational landmark. Just a short stroll from Djemaa el Fna square, the mosque’s soaring minaret stands proud at the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed medina.
Fringing northwest Marrakech, the Palmeraie (Palm Grove is the city’s favorite recreational area and most upscale vacation and residential enclave. A refuge from the bustling Medina and Jemaa el-Fna, the oasis comprises 54 square miles (140 square kilometers edged with prestigious hotels and villas.
A lush expanse of terraced fields, forested hillsides, and cascading waterfalls in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, the Ourika Valley ((Vallée de l’Ourika) is a natural oasis just an hour from the city of Marrakech.
Located by the village of Tanaghmeilt in the High Atlas Mountains, the Ouzoud Waterfalls (Cascades d’Ouzoud) are Morocco’s highest falls. They are a magnificent sight, tumbling 361 feet (110 meters) through a dramatic red-rock gorge of El Abid River.
Constructed by Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur during the 16th century, the Saadian Tombs (Tombeaux Saadiens) are home to more than 200 crypts belonging to members of the Saadian dynasty. The magnificent mausoleums are renowned for their lavish design, featuring stunning zellige tiles, exquisite woodwork, and gold and marble embellishments.
More Things to Do in Central Morocco
The N9 road from Marrakech to Ouarzazate crosses the central High Atlas at the Tizi n’Tichka pass (Col du Tichka. Both that airy mountain crossing and the winding stretch of road around it are regulars on lists of the world’s best road trips. At 7,415 feet (2,260 meters above sea level, the high mountain views are spectacular.
Towering 13,751 feet (4,191 meters) above sea level, Mount Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains is the highest peak in all of northern Africa. The trail up the mountain to the summit is more of a long, very steep stroll than a technical climb (no ropes or special equipment are needed), takes two to three days, and is accessible all year round.
The UNESCO-listed Kasbah of Aït Ben Haddou (Ksar of Ait Benhaddou) is one of Morocco’s most impressive historic landmarks and a popular film location for Hollywood movies. Sculpted from traditional mud bricks and fortified by walls of dark red pisé, this kasbah lies on the old trans-Saharan trade route, at the border of the High Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert.
For over 500 years, Ben Youssef Madrasa in Marrakech’s buzzing medina has served as a temple to education—and while students no longer memorize the Quran or study Islamic law here, visitors can enjoy the school’s special ambiance and magnificent Andalusian design details.
For a day of family-friendly fun, head straight to Morocco’s biggest water park, at Oasiria Marrakech. You’ll find attractions for all ages, from river rapids and corkscrew slides to pools and restaurants nestled in 25 acres (10 hectares of palm-shaded gardens.
Just minutes from the bustling medina of Marrakech, the Menara Gardens (Jardin de la Ménara) offer a tranquil oasis with olive groves, towering palms, and citrus trees. Arranged around a 12th-century pavilion, the botanical gardens feature a large lake and a stunning view of the distant Atlas Mountains.
Perched around 6,000 feet (1,800 meters above sea level among the rugged peaks of the High Atlas, overlooking Lake Takerkoust’s azure waters, the Kik Plateau (Plateau du Kik is the Morocco that time forgot. Tiny donkeys still plow the fields, while Berber villages offer warm hospitality amid gnarled olive trees.
Built in the 16th century by King Ahmad al-Mansur of the Saadi dynasty, the lavish el-Badi Palace (Palais el-Badi) was designed to be one of the grandest in the world: "el-Badi” means “The Incomparable.” Today, this architectural masterpiece lies in ruins, but it’s still among the most visited monuments of Marrakech’s UNESCO-listed medina.
Established in 1980, the dinner show at Chez Ali restaurant is a Marrakech institution. Dine on Moroccan signature dishes as musicians and dancers perform folk songs and dances from around the country. Then transfer to the arena for a traditional show that includes a cavalry charge and horseback riders, as well as belly dancers, acrobats, fireworks, and more.
Housed in the 19th-century Dar Mnebhi Palace, at the heart of the medina, is the Marrakesh Museum (Musée de Marrakech). Founded by Moroccan journalist and activist Omar Benjelloun in 1997, the museum houses a small but impressive collection of Moroccan art and artifacts.
Few places on earth compare to the Sahara Desert, a natural wonder of vast plains and sun-baked dunes that dominates the south and east of Morocco. The world’s largest hot desert, the Sahara stretches a staggering 5.6 million square miles (9 million square kilometers) over several countries. Hemmed in by the Atlas mountain range, the Saharan sands are one of Morocco’s many highlights.
With its deep-blue waters set against a backdrop of sweeping desert plains fronting the Atlas Mountains, Takerkoust Lake (Lac Lalla Takerkoust) is a world away from the heat and bustling atmosphere of Marrakech. The French made the lake in the 1920s to provide the city with water and electricity; today it’s a recreational area popular with both locals and visitors.
Dar el Bacha Museum of Confluences (Dar el Bacha Musée des Confluences) was built in the Marrakech medina by Pasha Thami el Glaoui in 1910. Visit to see the lovely gardens and zellige mosaic tilework of this opulent palace, and to enjoy exhibitions focused on Moroccan culture.
Get a very visual understanding of Morocco by visiting the Photography Museum of Marrakesh (Maison de la Photographie de Marrakech). A small, photo-dense museum, it's tucked away on a tiny street in Marrakech’s medina, or old quarter. Housed in a former fondouk—a building to lodge merchants and travelers—the museum’s collection of images highlight life in Morocco over the course of roughly 100 years, from the 1870s to the 1950s.
Not just photos are on display either: you’ll also find glass photographic plates, postcards, and documentaries, including the first color film taken in the High Atlas Mountains. The collective images – of which the photography museum has thousands --provide a thought-provoking and visually intriguing overview of the country’s culture and history, especially as it relates to its Berber people.
A relatively small venue, the Marrakech Photography Museum spans several floors, on top of which sits a rooftop terrace. It is there that visitors are rewarded with sweeping views of Marrakech and even the Atlas Mountains beyond. The rooftop is also home to a café, so to take full advantage of your visit, plan to stop for a snack or even light lunch at this delightful and scenic spot.