20. Marrakech, Morocco
Marrakesh is a place that travelers either love or hate. But it’s also one of these places where you need to adjust your expectations accordingly and be prepared that it’s a place like no other.
If you ever visit this place, it’s best to check out its artisan heritage. Bahia Palace and the Dar Si Said are a riot of tilework and intricate floral painted-wood ceilings, the Saadian Tombs are enriched by an opulent bounty of marble, while the Musée de Mouassine and Musée de Marrakech are a showcase of swirling stucco and carved-wood design. And if you choose to bed down for a night in a riad, you’ll be able to sleep amid some of this splendor too. Marrakesh is a city steeped in ancient artistry that continues to thrive, kept alive by the modern craftspeople of the souqs and the contemporary art and design scene of the Ville Nouvelle.
Marrakesh’s culture is also worth noting. You’ll understand how religion permeates the rhythms of daily life when you hear the sonorous call to prayer echo out from the mosques. As an old imperial capital, Marrakesh is home to some beautiful examples of Islamic architecture, most impressively the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa and the Koutoubia minaret. The city also holds on to a heritage of the other religious communities that once helped it become a vibrant caravan town. Head to the old Jewish district of the mellahto visit the Lazama Synagogue and the Miaara Jewish cemetery to gain a greater understanding of Marrakesh’s cosmopolitan past.
If you’re into shopping, Marrakesh is also a good place to be. Think of the medina’s souqs as a shopping mall, but laid out according to a labyrinthine medieval-era plan. Whether you want to spice up your pantry with North African flavors or buy a carpet to add Moroccan-wow to your house, this magpie’s nest of treasures is manna for shop-til-you-drop fanatics. The main market streets are Souq Semmarine and Souq El Kebir. If you see something you really like there, fine – but understand prices will be higher. Smaller souqs and souqs dedicated to artisan workshops such as Souq Haddadine (Blacksmith’s Souq), where you can buy directly from the producer, generally have the best deals.