Marrakech is like no other city on earth and should be on everyone’s bucket list of places in the world to visit. This sprawling North African metropolis is a fabulous and exotic destination with so many interesting things to see.
The true heart of Marrakech is the historic Medina area and its Jemaa el-Fna Square. A trip to Marrakech isn’t complete without experiencing the hustle, bustle and charm of Jemaa el-Fna. The square is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Marrakech.
Here are the most essential things to see and do in Jemaa el-Fna Square, as well as survival travel and etiquette tips.
Peruse Jemaa el-Fna Square’s Famous Night Stalls
It seems unimaginable, but when the sun begins to set, Jemaa el-fna Square takes on an even crazier vibe than in the daytime.
The best place to watch the square busy itself and transform for the evening ahead is from the balcony at Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier. Perched on the corner of the square, just off Rue Riad Zitoun Kdim, you will find this popular café/restaurant next to the Hotel Restaurant Café du France.
The upstairs terrace is popular with locals and tourists and is the perfect place to absorb the splendour of the square, enjoy a soft drink and watch as the food stalls are set up for the evening trade. The restaurant serves food too, but you may wish to experience eating from the food stalls in the square.
Watch the Local Entertainers
Crowds form around budding Moroccan musicians here. Especially around the captivating Gnawa musicians, who dress in their colourful robes and red caps studded with cowry shells.
You’ll instantly recognise Gnawa music by the distinctive beat of iron rattles or ‘karkabas’ and the strumming of guembri (the three-stringed bass lute).
This unique sound will quickly become a recognisable beat as you acclimatise to this mesmerising red city.
Haggle with the Hawkers
Some of the most enticing souks in Morocco can be found just off Jemaa el-Fna Square. Whatever you’re buying, the aim of the game is to haggle, haggle, haggle.
The rule of thumb is to offer about a third of the price they are offering and negotiate from there. Don’t be afraid to walk away and come back. Here are some tips on how to bag a bargain in Marrakech.
Capture Some Serious Travel Photographs
Marrakech is one of the most fantastic destinations in the world to take photographs.
Be aware that when taking photographs in the square, especially of people, you will almost certainly be hassled to pay for the privilege. Always ask people for permission before you take photos of people.
Tips for Surviving Jemaa el-Fna Square
- If you really don’t like crowds but are curious to see the square then try to go first thing in the morning. Nothing much happens there before 10am.
- Take plenty of coins. The locals are friendly and helpful but they do often expect to be paid for their trouble. Don’t think you won’t need to ask a local for directions at some point. Getting lost in the Medina is all part of the experience.
- It may take you a day or two to align yourself with the pulse of this amazing city, so do go to Jemaa el-Fna Square more than once. It can be quite a shock when you first arrive, but a completely different experience once you are accustomed to the throng.
- You will be hassled (locals will try to get you to eat at their stalls, have photos taken with them, buy wares and offer sightseeing tours). Politely decline and walk on if you aren’t interested.
- Many of the locals trying to sell you something are persistent and pushy sales people. You will get people trying to make you buy things and they might put snakes or monkeys on your shoulders. A story teller or musician may pick on you to take part and will expect you to contribute generously at the end of their skit.
- You’ll encounter many women with piping bags of henna paste peddling henna tattoos. They are persistent sales people too. Beware of the synthetic black henna, which contains a toxic chemical. Only red (brown) henna is natural.
- Be aware that there are pickpockets. It’s best not to wear a watch, a money-belt or have much money on your person.
- Don’t drink the water from the water sellers as it’s treated tap water and the cups are used by dozens of people.
- Performers, musicians and anyone else you fancy having your picture taken with will ask for 100 DH, but just give them 5-10 DH and tell them you don’t have any more.
Best Time to Explore Marrakech is Jemaa el-Fna
Jemaa el-Fna doesn’t really get going until late afternoon, but you’ll still find plenty going on from mid-morning onwards, when snake charmers, juice sellers, hopeful hawkers, herbalists and teeth pullers set up shop.
The labyrinth of streets and winding alleyways which cocoon the square provide some welcome shelter from the heat of the day.
As the heat of the midday sun starts to subside (around 4pm), a flurry of cart-pulling men arrive to set up food stalls and makeshift seating areas, and more sellers and musicians appear.
The evening is really the best time to visit when Jemaa el-Fna Square is buzzing with life and eclectic charm.
Expect an assault on the senses when you enter Jemaa el-Fna Square for the first time. Especially at night, the square is a bustling melting pot of incredible sights, sounds and smells. There’s no other way to describe the experience than intense.
Jemaa el-Fna is filled with cafes, restaurants, food stalls, orange juice stalls, storytellers, musicians, snake charmers, acrobats, medicine men, men with monkeys on chains, fortune tellers, boxing fighters, women ready to lure you in for a henna tattoo and more.
Where to Stay in Marrakech
By far the best places to stay in Marrakech are the more upmarket riads. It’s best to choose a riad inside the Medina if you want to benefit from an authentic Marrakech experience. Your host will give you directions to the square.
Best Time of Year to Go to Marrakech
The best time to visit Marrakech is in the spring between March and May, or during autumn between September and November. Summer is way too hot – at the height of summer the temperature can reach 45°C.
It’s also great to visit in winter, when you’ll find the climate is idyllic in the daytime, but you’ll need to book accommodation with heating or a fireplace in the bedroom as it gets really cold at night.
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