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A Guide To The Best Cities in Morocco

Charlotte Boswell

Awaken your senses in the north African jewel of Morocco. Awash with colours, spices and mystery, Morocco is a land of fascinating culture, stunning scenery and breathtaking cities. From the bustling souqs and performers of Marrakech and the medieval medina of Fes to the beautiful blue-washed city of Chefchaouen and the picturesque seaside resort of Essaouira, here are our favourite cities in Morocco.

Chefchaouen

Perched in the dramatic Rif mountains in the shadow of Jbel ech-Chaouen, the beautiful blue city of Chefchaouen is one of Morocco’s best kept secrets. Known for its powder blue-washed buildings dotted with colourful hanging baskets and keyhole shaped doorways, this unique and pretty city is fast becoming one of Morocco’s most sought-out destinations. As the city cascades down the mountainside, it is easy to lose yourself admiring the architecture and darting in and out of the charming cafes enjoying fresh mint tea. Founded in the 15th century under Spanish rule, the old medina offers a wonderful blend of both Andalusian and Islamic architecture and is not to be missed. Other highlights include the tumbling Ras El Maa waterfall located just outside the city as well as the Ethnographic Museum of Chefchaouen which houses folk art, local handicrafts and regional costumes.

Blue City of Chefchaouen Morocco

Fes

Located in the Middle-Atlas Mountains, the old imperial city of Fes served as Morocco’s capital until 1925 and is now known for its cultural and historical delights. In its heyday, Fes attracted philosophers, scholars, astronomers and theologians who would study at the University of al-Qarawiyyin, now the world’s oldest functioning university, and would enjoy the grand houses that local craftsman had built for them and the finest wares from the sub-Saharan trade routes. Today, the city is a treasure trove of mosques, palaces and fountains, some of which are the most magnificent in Morocco. Fes is also home to the world-renowned Medina of Fes el-Bali, this UNESCO-listed site is dotted with intricate alleyways which are filled with merchants selling fragrant spices, colourful shoes and traditional rugs. Take in the colourful sights and aromatic delights of this beautiful city as well as visiting the many mosques, vibrant souqs and religious schools decorated with ornate carvings and tiles.

Tanneries of Fes in Morocco

Marrakech

Marrakech is the epitome of Morocco. Set amidst the arid foothills and snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains, Marrakech is a kaleidoscope of colours, scents and sounds. Towering minarets and tall palms dominate the skyline, whilst bright ochre walls protect the city’s medina full of bustling souqs, maze-like alleys and street-food stalls. At the heart of the medina sits the Djemaa El Fna, Marrakech’s main square, where visitors will find a plethora of activity from dawn until late in the evening. Expect snake charmers, dancers, performers and a range of local delicacies such as sheep’s head and liver sandwiches. Other highlights in Marrakesh include the striking Koutoubia Mosque which is surrounded by rose gardens and orange trees, the regal Bahia Palace which is filled with enchanting rooms, mosaiced ceilings and ornate carvings and the famed Majorelle Gardens which offer an oasis from the city and include exotic plants and cobalt blue fountains. It is recommended to stay in a traditional riad whilst in Marrakech. Often hidden along narrow alleyways, and built in traditional Moorish style, riads offer a haven of tranquillity and provide a unique and genuine glimpse into Moroccan life.

Skyline of Marrakech and the medina, Morocco

Rabat

Located on the Atlantic Coast resting along the shores of the flowing Bou Regreg River, Morocco’s enchanting capital Rabat is full of charm and character. The city features unspoilt public beaches, palm-lined boulevards, cosmopolitan cafes and a fairy-tale 12th-centruy kasbah that overlooks the glistening water. The architecture throughout Rabat reflects the country’s French-colonial and Islamic heritage and can be viewed within the city’s different areas including the elegant ville nouvelle and the attractive walled medina and old quarter. A trip to Rabat is not complete without a visit to the evocative Kasbah of the Udayas. Perched above the ocean, this Berber-era royal fort is dotted with blue and white houses, pretty Andalusian gardens and charming art galleries. Other highlights of the city include the iconic Hassan Tower, a 12th-century unfinished minaret which dominates Rabat’s skyline, the Roman ruins and scenic gardens of Chellah and the ornate Mausoleum of Mohammed V.

Seafront and Kasbah Medina in Rabat Morocco

Essaouira

Located on Morocco’s west coast, the ‘Wind City of Africa’, is a picturesque seaside town which has retained its traditional character and culture due to the hoards of sun-seeking tourists bypassing this beach destination due to its windy conditions. The Atlantic port city of Essaouira is noted for both its bustling harbour dotted with colourful wooden boats and the charming medina that is protected by 18th century ramparts. Within the medina lies alluring souks, palm-lined avenues and white-washed houses. It is a popular destination in the spring and autumn where visitors can wander down the spice-scented lanes, barter for local handicrafts and visit the many art galleries and boutiques. The crescent-shaped beach at Essaouira is a popular spot for wind and kite surfing, due to the strong ‘alizee’ wind, and attracts both local and international participants.

Essaouira Beach in Morocco

Meknes

The imperial city of Meknes situated in the north of Morocco rivals the likes of Fes and Marrakech yet doesn’t quite attract the same loyal following. This quaint and scenic hilltop city has however plenty to offer and for those curious and intrepid travellers it is a great destination to experience some of Morocco’s most beautiful architecture. Visit the magnificent Bab Mansour gate, built in 1732 this iconic gateway decorated with lavish embellishment including geometric tiling, inscriptions and marble columns leads to the city’s old medina. Within the medina you will find bustling souqs selling crafts, spices and textiles, ornate riads, the twelfth-century Grand Mosque and boutique teahouses in secluded courtyards. The Dar Jamai museum is also a popular stop on any Meknes itinerary. Situated at one end of the Place Hedim Square, the museum housed in a 19th-century palace features various collections including ceramics, jewellery furnishings.

View of Meknes in Morocco

Ouarzazate

Situated in the south of Morocco’s High Atlas mountains, Ouarzazate is the gateway to the Draa Valley’s lush palm groves and the towering dunes of the Sahara Desert. Historically Ouarzazate acted as a crossing point for African traders, however, grew into a sprawling garrison town in the 1920’s to oversee France’s colonial interests. After the French protectorate left in the 1950’s, the movie business bloomed in Ouarzazate giving it the name ‘Oaullywood’ due to the exotic backdrops it provided emanating locations such as ancient Rome, Egypt and Tibet. Some of the biggest films to be shot at Ouarzazate include Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy and Gladiator. The city itself features palm-lined boulevards and fort-like buildings, but the real star of the show is the vast Taourirt Kasbah which is home to a 19th-century palace and offers fabulous views over the rugged landscape.

Palm and date trees in Ouarzazate Morocco

Casablanca

Often overlooked by visitors in favour of the atmospheric medinas and souks of Marrakech and Fes or the exotic beaches of Tangier and Essaouira, Casablanca is the perfect destination for those that want to feel like a local, rather than a tourist. This vast port city and commercial hub is where Morocco’s money is being made; where creative industries prosper and young Moroccans seek their fortunes. Casablanca is known for its diverse and fascinating architecture ranging from traditional Moroccan style and handsome Moorish buildings to Art Deco and radically modern styles. Highlights of the city include the intricate Hassan II Mosque which is the largest in Morocco and took more than seven years to build, the French-influenced palm-lined Boulevard Mohammed V in the heart of Casablanca, the Gothic-Art Deco Église du Sacré-Couer which hosts art exhibitions and concerts and the beautiful Cinema Rialto. Take a trip to the beachside suburb of Ain Diab or the bustling Quartier Habous to really get into the swing of local life.

Casablanca ornate exterior kasbah Morocco

Agadir

After the devasting earthquake in 1960, the seaside city of Agadir was completely rebuilt and is now the country’s premier destination for sun, sand and sea attracting thousands of visitors every year. Boasting 300 days of sunshine a year and tranquil sea, Agadir mainly attracts package holidaymakers, however it is a great destination that can be added to any independent travellers’ itinerary. The biggest draw to the city is the waterfront promenade which feels free and spacious to the rest of the city, and is dotted with bobbing boats, charming cafes and vibrant bars that lead down to the wide crescent beach. The Memoire d’Agadir is also worth a visit; a peaceful garden filled with plans and cacti, this exhibition displays photos and newspaper clippings documenting the city’s history, focussing on the earthquake.

Agadir landscape in Morocco

Tangier

The white port city of Tangier situated between the Mediterranean and Atlantic on the Strait of Gibraltar has been a gateway between Africa and Europe since Phoenician times. Historically Tangier carried a slightly seedy and sleazy reputation, however contemporary Tangier couldn’t be more different. The white-washed hillside medina is home to the 17th-century sultans palace, the Dar el Makhzen, which now houses an excellent museum displaying Moroccan artefacts. The medina also is dotted with many cafes, boutiques and galleries which contribute to a cosmopolitan Tangier. There are also a couple of places of interest outside of the city which are worth a visit including Cape Malabata, a beautiful cape featuring a lighthouse and fantastic views of the Strait of Gibraltar, and the intriguing Caves of Hercules where, according to mythology, the Roman god Hercules once slept.

Tangier tower in Morocco

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