From the glistening waters of the Mediterranean to the sandy plains of the Sahara, Morocco has fascinated and enticed travelers for thousands of years.
Morocco’s strength lies in its integral position for trade with the rest of Africa; as such, the country has seen many influences infused with its own Berber traditions. From French to Spanish and others in between, each of Morocco’s cities – whether they be cosmopolitan metropolises or traditional medieval towns – are ready for you to discover. Here is our pick of the best cities in Morocco to help you to plan your next trip.
Asilah is an arty little city where brightly colored murals adorn the walls. The old fortified coastal city is a vibrant and fun place where the cultures of both Spain and Morocco fuse. Walk around the old city and discover the creativity and tradition oozing from every street. The seaside promenade provides the perfect place for a slow pedal past the pretty cafes and views of the ocean.
This chilled-out, summer city is an easy going place that is thronged with domestic tourists during the summer months. Larache’s River Loukas runs slowly through the city and the incredible ruins of Lixus sit nearby, where the legendary Gardens of the Hesperides are said to have been located. The Spanish part of this city is still very much alive – don’t be surprised to stumble across tapas bars and Spanish churches.
Hugged between the High Atlas Mountains and the beautiful sands of the Sahara, the tantalizing city of Tinghir sits in the middle of the Todra Valley. Tinghir is an old French town that has grown to become a city overflowing with blooming flower gardens, magnificent Kasbahs and charming narrow streets. Overlooked by the remains of the 18th Century Glaoui Palace, hike up to the top for amazing views of the surrounding areas.
The punchy port city of El Jadida is a popular holiday resort for Moroccan residents. The length of sandy beach here gets busy in the summer months, with families enjoying time off together. The city itself doesn’t have a wealth of character, and can be explored on an easy day trip from Casablanca. Walk around the 16th Century Portuguese Cistern and take in the sites from high up on its ramparts.
Charming Chefchaouen, with its pops of famous blue-washed buildings and red-tiled roofs, is one of the most beautiful cities in Morocco. Surrounded by breathtaking mountains, the city’s narrow labyrinth of lanes hide plazas and ancient kasbahs, (meaning ‘citadels’) with plenty of photo opportunities around every corner. With a mix of both Moroccan and Andalusian influences, this town is a hotbed of creativity and development. It’s also the perfect place to spend a few days enjoying delicious food, chatting with locals, and adventuring in the surrounding hills.
In the north of the country, the little city of Tetouan – which translates as ‘the water springs’ – sits strikingly at the foot of the Rif Mountains. The city is an important port on the Mediterranean sea and was once the capital of Spanish Morocco. Its streets are filled with square, white-washed, Spanish-style buildings and wide boulevards – make sure to visit the city’s wonderful medina and feel like you have stepped back in time.
Everyone knows the city of Casablanca as the colonial setting of the 1942 romantic film, but the city of today doesn’t quite reflect that dreamy, enchanting feeling. Instead, modern-day Casablanca is a trading powerhouse – the importance of the port city means it is Morocco’s economic hub. You can still take a walk around Casablanca’s curious old downtown to discover its past. Ornate Moorish architecture is infused with European shapes and styles. If you really want to hark back to black-and-white films, have drinks at Rick’s Cafe – the famous bar from the film (it’s a reconstruction, but we can all pretend right?).
The gateway to Africa – for Europeans, at least – has a strange and checkered past. The city’s famous International Zone was a magnet for all sorts of bizarre and curious characters, attracting many writers and artists during the 1950’s and 60’s – inspiring numerous novels and songs since. The Tangiers of today still holds on to its fanciful past, and outside influences have affected Tangiers’ aesthetic. But with new business booming and money flowing in, the city has seen much development and is now a fine display of Morocco’s future.
Busy and bustling, the port city of Agadir is a holiday destination in its own right. After much of Agadir was destroyed following a devastating earthquake in 1960 – especially its most historical parts – the city was rebuilt, and is much less beautiful that Morocco’s many intricate old towns. But Agadir rose from the ashes and became a thriving seaside resort with a chilled out atmosphere to match. The city’s laid-back beachfront promenade is perfect for days spent strolling and enjoying life like the locals. Make sure to stop at one of the food stalls for a snack and chat with some of the city’s friendly inhabitants.
Essaouira is a serene coastal city with a distinctly European vibe. Once under French protectorate, which led to a fusion of cultures and architectural styles, it saw hippies, musicians, and travelers of the 1960’s moving into the city. As a result, it became accustomed to foreigners, and is now a destination city for travelers wanting to spend some time wandering around the beautiful medina.
Essaouira boasts pretty, sandy beaches, but the strong winds make sunbathing out of the question. Water-sports fans know the benefit of the wind, however, and meet up on Essaouira’s beaches in the summer months to practice their windsurfing skills. The harbor and old city walls add a depth to the city’s history and, with its small lanes and interesting streets, make for the perfect place to get lost and discover new and interesting secrets hidden among the walls.
The Moroccan capital of Rabat sits on the banks of the Bouregreg River. It is famous for its incredible Islamic architecture. The city also has strong ties to its French past and – as it lies on the Atlantic coast – has a distinctly European coastal town atmosphere. Rabat’s kasbah is ensconced in the fortified center of the town. It is a fantastic spot to sit and soak up the atmosphere. Take a stroll to St. Peter’s Cathedral and soak in its strange and surreal art-deco style – then enjoy a nice cup of refreshing mint tea at one of the numerous cafes.
Dating back to the 11th Century, the old city of Meknes was once the capital of imperial Morocco. The Sultan at the time developed the city, building high walls and huge doors to protect it, and creating elaborate and ornate Moorish-Spanish-style buildings.
The city’s historic blend of European and Islamic design can be seen in its many monuments. The mosaic tiled Bab Mansour Leleuj, as well as the Bab Mansour Leleuj, are stunningly beautiful. The mausoleum to Sultan Moulay Ismaïl – who made Meknes his capital – is a regal display of power, with fountains and decorative gardens.
The gateway to the Sahara Desert, Ouarzazate sits to the south of the High Atlas Mountains. This small and dusty desert city is dominated by the colossal Taourirt Kasbah, a 19th Century fortified palace. The palace boasts amazing views across the mountainous, red landscape. In fact, it is so distinct that has been used in many movies.
The city itself has many options for hotels and small, reasonably priced local restaurants to enjoy. The position of the city also means that it’s easy to take day trips to nearby sights such as the Ait Benhaddou – an excellently preserved kasbah.
Once the capital of the Kingdom of Morocco, Fez exudes culture and history. Well-known for its famous small, red hats, the city also has many compelling sites to take in. Fez’s emblematic medina is a huge pedestrianized sprawl that oozes ambience and history. It can seem completely overwhelming to many visitors, whilst others fall in love with the ebullient atmosphere.
Those who are brave enough to wander down the narrow alleys can discover the city’s two Islamic schools or madrasa. Dating back to the 14 Century, Bou Inania and Al Attarine have intricate faces carved from cedar as well as elaborate tiles. The 11th Century Chouara Tannery is one of the oldest in the world and has been making leathers for traders for many generations – make sure to look out for it in the bustling marketplace.
One of Morocco’s four Imperial Cities, Marrakech has been a key trading hub for many years. The city’s position is integral to the trade of goods into the country, and its focus on trading has shaped the city. Take a look at the iconic Koutoubia Mosque, which dates back to the 12th Century and is an iconic symbol of the old town – the exquisite 19th Century Bahia Palace also stands out for its lavish design.
Marrakech is a busy and hectic city. The main market place, Jemaa el-Fnaa in the city’s medina, is a hot and cramped experience for most people. Everything and anything is on sale, from monkeys to musical instruments. Traders call out to customers to heckle and entice – bartering for goods is the norm . As night falls, the main square changes and gives way to steaming food stalls. Though it doesn’t seem possible, the city becomes even more of an animated, dynamic and exuberant travel experience.