The exotic atmosphere of Jemaa el Fna entertains the evening crowds with mystical readings, snake charmers and delicious street food. But there are some tourist traps to avoid in the interests of ethical travel.

By: Paul Healy | Published: 20 Feb 2022

For buzzing atmosphere, it doesn’t get livelier, more exotic or more mystic than Jemaa el-Fna square, recognised for its important cultural heritage by UNESCO.

During the day, the square is a popular destination in Morocco with a massive open market with a particular fascination with selling orange juice.

But as the sun sets and darkness descends it is transformed into a mix of Berber and Arab fantasy. Chefs fire up their grills. The square fills with intoxicating smoke. Gas lanterns cast patchy light across rows of stalls. A hubbub rises from tourists enchanted with live music, fortune tellers, snake charmers, storytellers or simply sitting down for a local meal. It’s one of the unmissable experiences in Marrakech.

But, unfortunately, tourism has cast a spell on the square. Each night hawkers parade chained monkeys wearing nappies, and snakes are aggravated into performing for music. Stallholders can hassle you to get money, and pickpocketing is rife.

So, read on for some wonderful things to do at Jemaa el Fna while supporting tourism in a positive way.


At night, Jemaa el Fna takes on an exotic ambience. Food stalls are in full swing and smoke from grills fill the air. Tables are set up and Jemaa el Fna becomes a makeshift dining space for thousands of hungry locals and tourists alike. It’s a stunning scene. Backed by the Koutobia Mosque and surrounding buildings, the square is illuminated with atmospheric lanterns, providing texture to the hundreds of stalls below.

The best view of Jemaa el Fna is from one of the roof terraces framing the edge of the square. And the best terrace is at Le Grand Balcon du Café Glace – perfectly positioned to witness the full scale of the activity on the square below.

The cafe itself is as bad as the name suggests. Entry is only possible with the purchase of a compulsory over-priced soft drink and it is more of a buffet bar than a cafe. But head here just before dusk and be treated to a remarkable scene as the final rays of light drain the colour from the medina. Once night falls, the lights and smoke from the stalls pierce the gloom as the hubbub rises. It’s nothing short of breath-taking.

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Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech


There’s no special trick to Jemaa el Fna food – each of the stalls basically serve the same thing. Nonetheless, it’s one of the best places for street food in Marrakech.

But eating here is not about the food, it’s about soaking up the atmosphere at one of the most exciting venues in the world. Avoid the more aggressive stallholders and gravitate to the most entertaining. The ones whose performance and banter bring a smile to your face.

Once you’ve selected your vendor, shuffle into your cramped seats, being careful not to displace the paper tablecloths and order a round of mint tea to warm things up. There’s little ceremony at Jemaa el Fna; the vibe achieves something that’s both relaxed and frenetic at the same time.

Offerings are likely to be merguez sausages, grilled meats, harira soup and fried fish. Plenty of bread will accompany whatever you order. The more adventurous might want to try a whole sheep’s head with eyes still intact.

Whatever you dine on, you’ll certainly remember your evening at Jemaa el Fna.


Tourists provide important input into Jemaa el Fna – atmosphere and money. After dinner, spend the evening strolling around soaking up the square’s theatrics. Both the entertainers themselves and the shrill of excitement from tourists add to the carnival atmosphere of the square.

Listen to storytellers recant the heritage of ancient Berber tribes. Watch magicians extract oohs and aahs from attentive kids. Enjoy the grace and energy of dancers silhouetted by the glare of naked lightbulbs.

Have an ailment that needs attending to? No problem, Jemaa el Fna is also a hot spot for traditional medicines. Got a tooth that’s bothering you? A local medicine man can extract it on the spot at very competitive rates.

The downside to the entertainment at Jemaa el Fna, is the nightly animal rights abuses. Snake charmers perform to crowds of tourists and kids use Barbary Apes as photo props. The practice of using these animals for tourism affects their well-being, so we suggest doing what you can to not encourage their use. We have some more tips about this further on.

Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech
Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech
Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech


Jemaa el Fna is one of the most incredible things to do in Marrakesh and it’s not easy to miss. The labyrinth of alleys that make up the medina all point towards the square. In the nearby souks, craftsmen sell their wares from makeshift stalls. Dates, figs, almonds and walnuts are piled high on carts. Towers of spices match the colour of the handbags on display and the waft of orange juice weaves through the laneways.

The hum of thousands of people being seduced by local preachers, musicians and storytellers, beckons you in; broken only by the water sellers banging brass cups together – an attempt to frighten customers into thirst.

Throughout the middle of the day, you’ll find mostly Moroccans in Jemaa el Fna, listening to tales from storytellers and selecting the produce for lunch. So, it’s a great way to see the square without the hassle and crowds of the evenings.

Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech
Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech


We highly recommend trying the street food on the stalls at Jemaa el Fna. However, if you’d prefer to soak up the atmosphere without digesting it, here are some recommendations for where to eat in Marrakech.

Snack Grand Atlas / Although it may look like any other touristy Moroccan restaurant, Snack Grand Atlas is a cut above. With friendly service and high-quality food, this is the pick of the budget eating options in Marrakech.

Café Des Épices / This little café is perfectly positioned on the edge of Rahba Kedima and there can be few finer people-watching places in the city. Select from their large menu and sit back and enjoy the comings and goings while giving your feet a rest.

Nomad / If you fancy an escape from the madness of Jemaa el Fna head to Nomad – an eclectic mix of European and Moroccan food served on a lovely terrace overlooking Kedima square.

Le Fondouk / Dine in style on the upstairs terrace at Le Fondouk, the class act in town. Stare up at the skies as the cool evening air descends and sample some of the best cooking in Morocco

Ksar Essaoussan / Set in an opulent Riad, Ksar Essaoussan has a set menu offering a selection of Moroccan flavours. There’s only a small number of tables dotted around the central courtyard, so bookings are essential.

Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech


The magic of listening to storytellers, enjoying the atmosphere from above or engaging with animated hawkers is a great way to immerse yourself in Moroccan culture. However, it’s best enjoyed if you can avoid the more annoying side to Jemaa el Fna. So here are some tips for how to get the most out of this fascinating place.


Hawkers clearly make money from tourists engrossed with the novelty of Jemaa el Fna. And for the most part, they’re engaging, entertaining and add to the overall atmosphere of the square. But, at times they can hassle tourists to the point of frustration, impacting how safe you feel in Marrakech. Henna tattooists have been known to offer a quick design for what appears to be free, only to chase customers for payment later. Food stall hawkers can get a little too aggressive when trying to lure customers or deliver food you didn’t order then demand you pay for it.

Our best advice is to avoid engaging if you don’t intend to make a purchase and don’t accept anything for free. If someone is trying to sell you something you don’t want or give you something for free, just politely decline.

Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech


Jemaa el Fna is a busy place that entertains thousands of people each night. With so many distractions going off around you, it’s easy for pick-pocketers to excel at their craft. Fortunately, Morocco is a very cheap destination so there’s never a need to carry to much cash on you. But stay alert and keep an eye on your belongings.


The magic of Jemaa el Fna is the transformation from relatively functional market square during the day, to bustling food stalls in the evening. As the light fades from the day and darkness descends on the square the atmosphere is electric. With the last fragments of light still on the square, the photo opportunities are amazing.

The best plan of attack is to arrive at Le Grand Balcon du Café Glace just before sunset to get photos from above. Then make your way down to the square to have dinner and take some photos of the stalls in the evening.

Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech


Moroccans don’t like their photograph being taken. Something you will become very familiar with when trying to capture the atmosphere of the souks. They’ll cover their faces and generally make it known they don’t want their photo taken.

It’s a similar situation in Jemaa el Fna except hawkers are here to make money from tourists wishing to take a photo of them holding a monkey or charming a snake. If they see you take a photo without paying, they’ll hassle you for money, or ask you to delete the photo. I had to scroll through a heap of photos on my memory card just to prove I hadn’t actually taken a photo from someone who was adamant I had.

Jemaa el Fna is one of the most photogenic spots in Marrakech. Enjoy it, but take a bit of care with what you capture.


Throughout Jemaa el Fna, animals are used to entertain the crowds. Snakes are kept in baskets only to be released sporadically and tormented by their owners. Monkeys are carted around with chains on their necks and treated like toys.

Unfortunately, there’s a market for this type of entertainment because tourists give money for the novelty of getting a photo with a creature not seen every day.

By all means, enjoy the magic of Jemaa el Fna. But please don’t support the animal handlers by giving them any money.

Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech
Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech


There’s no shortage of accommodation options in Marrakech.

There are several riads near Jemaa el Fna (traditional Moroccan house) that are popular choices for their authentic feel and family-run service. Many have been meticulously and beautifully renovated and offer not just a good place to sleep, but also a glimpse into Moroccan life. Greta’s Travels has a great list of riads in Marrakech for every budget.

Another popular option are the high-end resorts located on the outskirts of the centre which provide all the modern comforts (and space) if you don’t mind travelling into the media every day.

All our accommodation recommendations are in our 3-day Marrakech itinerary.

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Although only a short flight from Europe, Morocco is a different world. Explore medieval medinas, bustling souks, and stunning scenery with more of our Morocco guides.


The best things to do in Marrakech

Our walking tour of the Fez medina

3-day Marrakech itinerary


Stunning places to visit in Morocco

Desert vibes in cool Ouarzazate

Scenic circular hike through Todra Gorge


Driving in Morocco – all our useful tips

Our 10-day Morocco itinerary


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Paul & Mark



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The exotic atmosphere of Jemaa el Fna entertains the evening crowds with mystical readings, snake charmers and delicious street food. But there are some tourist traps to avoid in the interests of ethical travel.