Morocco is home to a vibrant alchemy of Maghrebi and Islamic history, culture and traditions, infused with European, Berber and Arabian influences. The buzzing streets of Casablanca and energetic souks of Marrakesh continue to attract millions of visitors. The revived coastal town of Tangier are the often overlooked capital, Rabat, are both growing as tourist destinations, and those looking for a seaside break will find golden sands and azure waters in resorts such as Agadir and Essaouira.
Outside of these hubs, the country’s natural beauty remains as impressive as ever, from the Atlas Mountains – the tallest peak in North Africa – to vast swathes of red desert dunes in Agafay or Zagora.
With Roman ruins, ancient villages and more to add to all of this, Morocco makes for a holiday destination that’s as diverse as it is fascinating – here are some ofthe best things to do during your visit.
See the capital
Rabatl has all the characteristics of a great Moroccan city, from an excellent medina quarter to a variety of souks. A calmer than Marrakesh or Casablanca, the capital welcomes less tourists but is an equally captivating place to visit, whether you’re strolling through the variety of green spaces (such as the Andalusian Gardens or the Botanical Gardens) or discovering the impressive array of historic sites, like the Mausoleum of Mohammed V.
The medina – the original walled city – is a good starting point. Its winding lanes are centred around the Old Market and streets such as Rue des Consuls and the Rue Souiqas (the main market area). The area is also home to monuments such as the Kasbah of the Udayas (a fortified part of the city) and the Grand Mosque. Next to the medina sits the Ville Nouvelle, a central part of the city that was built by the French during the protectorate (from roughly 1912 to the 1930s). Within this area are the other main landmarks, including the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and the Hassan Tower (the minaret of a 12th-century mosque). There’s also a beach under the shadow of the kasbah, a stretch of clean, fine sand – a great place to surf and bodyboard thanks to reliable waves.
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Marrakesh is a lively blend of modern Moroccan living and historic influences. The Jemaa el-Fna square is the focal point, where the sights of vibrant market stalls are met with the buzz of people haggling and the music various street performers. The square is overlooked by the Koutoubia Mosque – one of the city’s best-known landmarks – though you’ll see plenty more as you walk through the medina, including the intricate Bahia Palace, the ancient Saadian Tombs and the ruins of the El Badi Palace.
Mouassine and Mellah contain many newer additions to the city and several museums, and you can’t miss a trip to Gueliz and Ville Nouvelle. Gueliz houses the Majorelle Gardens, while Ville Nouvelle is an example of modern Marrakesh, where wide European-style streets and shopping outlets meet the city’s main nightlife and shopping areas.
Take in Casablanca’s striking architecture
Morocco’s largest city has a more cosmopolitan atmosphere, contributed to by a mix of its own past and a recent history that is intrinsically linked to the western world. A French legacy is particularly visible here, from the Art Deco Rialto cinema and the beautiful green spaces of the Arab League Park to the Notre Dame church and Sacre Couer cathedral (which is set to re-open as a cultural centre).
The city’s architecture is incredibly varied, ranging from neo-Moorish buildings (including the central post office and central bank) to the Art Nouveau and neo-Moroccan buildings that line the Boulevard Mohammed V. By far its most impressive structure is the Hassan II Mosque: sitting by the sea, it is home to the world’s second largest minaret and offers guided tours daily (except Friday) between 9am and 4pm. Inside the medina there is a large area lined with white-washed buildings and people selling locally produced products.
Hike in the Atlas Mountains
The Atlas Mountain range stretches across Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and Morocco is home to the Anti-Atlas, High Atlas and Middle Atlas sections. Marrakesh is a good base for exploring the mountains, with several towns and villages – some lying as little as 40 miles away – acting as gateways. One village is Imlil, the starting point for many of those wanting to summit Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa (standing at 4,167m).
The mountain – part of the Toubkal National Park area – can be climbed in a few days (with two days usually taken for the ascent), but for those who don’t fancy spending a large amount of time in the area, stay in the Toubkal National Park, where there are dozens of trails that offer sweeping views of the mountains.
Visit Tangier and Chefchaouen
Sitting at the northern tip of the country, the buzzing port city of Tangier overlooks Gibraltar and southern Spain. A historic cultural hub, the city that welcomed artists from Henri Matisse to Jimi Hendrix is making a concerted effort to preserve and prolong its cultural legacy. Once a bohemian city at odds with the more conservative attitudes in the country at the time, Tangier has undergone a revival project, backed by the country’s current king, Mohammed VI.
The medina and the kasbah are the two main links to a bygone era. As well as the souks, those walking here may stumble across the modern additions to the city, like the Contemporary Art Space in the Kasbah Palace, or the long-standing American Legation Museum, the Art Deco facade of the Rif Cinema or the Grand Socco (the city’s tree-lined main square). Carry on walking southeast to arrive at the city’s beach, or go north if you want to visit the port.
Alternatively, for an interesting day trip, visit Chefchaouen, the famed “Blue City’ about two hours south. This charming mountainside city is replete with blue buildings, including its own azure medina, though its kasbah is the usual hue of clay brown. Attractions include the Grand Mosque, Spanish Mosque and the Kasbah Museum – though you’re really coming here for the views of a blue-washed city.
Explore the Atlantic Coast
Away from the northern port of Tangier, Morocco’s Atlantic coast is home to several popular seaside resort destinations. Essaouira and Agadir are the main ones, both famous destinations for package holiday and offering long stretches of golden sand.
Essaouira sits around three hours west of Marrakesh. Its Unesco-listed medina is a good place to start your visit. It’s much smaller than that of the main cities, a casual area where markets and stalls line the cobbled streets. The port and beach areas are obvious attractions, but the city’s famed winds make it a good idea to replace a day of sunbathing with some wind surfing or an afternoon drinking in a beach shack.
Agadir’s beaches are the opposite. Sheltered from the winds by high surrounding hills, they make for an ideal place to relax by the sea. The city itself – destroyed by an earthquake in 1960 – is a modern grid of relatively new-build streets that house Moroccan classics, from Turkish baths to the Souk El Had. Attractions here include the Oufella – the remains of the ancient part of the city that overlook the “new” Agadir – and the detailed replica of the old city at the Medina d’Agadir.
See the ancient village of Ait Benhaddou
One of Morocco’s Unesco sites, the Ait Benhaddou is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat that is locally known as a ksar,or fortified village. A collection of earth-toned buildings crowded together within castle-like walls, it dates back to the 18th century and is labelled a “perfect synthesis of earthen architecture of the pre-Saharan regions of Morocco” by Unesco’s World Heritage Centre.
The village sits at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, roughly three hours southeast of Marrakesh. Walking around the village is free, though residents offer official guided tours starting from just £10 per person.
Visit the historical site of Volubilis
Another Unesco-listed monument, Volubilis is the site of a partly excavated Roman city. Located near Meknes (itself a former capital of Morocco), the ruins date back to the 3rd century BC, and according to Unesco, demonstrate urban development, historic epigraphy and evidence of several ancient civilisations. As one of the best preserved archaeological sites in the country, it contains an on-site museum, several incredible mosaics and the ruins of buildings including a Roman Forum, Capitol, Triumphal Arch and thermal baths.
Take a Turkish bath
Known locally as hammams, the selection of Turkish and Moroccan baths throughout the country serve important roles in the daily lives of locals as well as being a popular attraction for tourists. While slightly different from a thermal spa – these are steam baths – they serve a similar role in the country as a place to meet, chat and relax.
The baths are a nourishing, relaxing experience that supposedly rejuvenates the body. Often housed in intricate complexes, some even offer spa treatments and massages. The bathing ritual is complicated – starting in the waters and then moving onto a series of sauna rooms – with entry prices starting at around the equivalent of 80p.
Some of the best rated in the country include: Les Bains d’Orient, Hammam de la Rose, Royal Mansour, Mariah Spa (all in Marrakesh); Les Bains Amani, Le Spa du Palais Faraj, Hammam Mernissi (all found in Fes); and Casablanca le Lido, Gaia Spa or Hammam Ziani (all in Casablanca).
See the deserts
The three main deserts in Morocco are the Merzouga, Zagora and Agafay. Camel rides, dune tours, desert safaris (in 4x4s or buggies), walking tours and overnight camping stays are all common activities when visiting, with the remarkable landscape of dunes serving as a backdrop.
Zagora and Merzouga are home to some of the longest dunes in the country (reaching up to three miles long), as well as the village of Ait Benhaddou and the striking Draa Valley. The Agafay lies just 30 minutes away from Marrakesh, and is a great place to discover traditional Berber villages and camp under the clear skies. There’s also a small oasis here, home to several species of desert flora and fauna.
Drive through the Dades Gorges
Situated close to the centre of the country, these gorges are a series of river valleys carved out by the Dades River. A land of rugged red, gold and beige terrain, the gorges run through Berber villages and kasbahs, and are best accessed through the “Road of a Thousand Kasbahs”, the R704 – this route follows the river, and takes you along some of the best scenery in the area. Be aware that the route is occasionally a dangerous one, with the thinnest points in the road leaving you just 12 inches from the side, with no barrier to protect you; for the more faint-hearted, some hotels in the area offer guided 4X4 tours. Alternatively, hiking is also popular in the area.
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