Straddling the northwestern corner of the African continent and fronting both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, Morocco is a land of contrasts. The Atlas Mountains rise to lofty heights, creating temperate zones and fertile valleys. However, in the south, the land drops to the barren dunes of the Sahara Desert. Scattered among these geological phenomena are a number of fascinating cities, each with a unique history and cultural importance. Exploring Morocco’s cities will bring you to nearly all of the country’s most noteworthy areas. Also, it will grant you the opportunity for meaningful interaction with the local population.
This article will showcase 10 of Morocco’s must-see cities along with the attractions that make them so popular with tourists, as well as how to best visit them on a trip to this intriguing North African kingdom.
Visit Tangier: The Old Fortress Of Morocco
Given Tangier’s location at the Straits of Gibraltar makes it easily reachable by ferry from the European mainland. This Moroccan city is often many visitors’ first port of call. The attractions here center around two primary locations: the Old City and Kasbah. Also known as Medina, this city has an amazing history of culture. Kasbah, on the other hand, is the ancient fortress that was built to protect the Medina.
The Old City of Tangiers is located on a slope that ends in the sea. In it, you will find a wealth of restaurants and cafes that were popular with literary figures from the 1940s to the 60s. You can also explore its winding stairways and small squares where you can have a cup of tea and watch the locals play backgammon. Top photo opportunities include the Petit Socco Square, impressive Grand Mosque, and Church of the Immaculate Conception. In the Kasbah, you can admire the ornate Moroccan architecture that dates back to the 1600s. Here is also where you’ll find the Kasbah Museum. It houses an impressive array of exhibits ranging from Roman antiques to Moroccan art.
If ancient history isn’t of much interest to you, there’s always the “New” City (Ville Nouvelle) that lies just across the square known as Grand Socco. Featuring architecture from more recent centuries such as the late 1800s to early 1900s, you can stroll along the scenic Terrasse des Paresseux. Alongside it, there are beautiful waterfront views intermingled among shops, restaurants, and fountains. Also, if those sea views aren’t enough, there’s always the beach district where you can look across the Straits in Europe.
Don’t Be Blue, Take A Stroll Down Chefchaouen
Just a two-hour car ride from Tangier is the increasingly popular Moroccan city of Chefchaouen—or Chaouen as the locals call it. Perched atop a slope in the Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen’s claim to fame is its monochromatic color scheme. Everything from houses to doorways to lampposts are painted in various hues of powder blue. This is similar to that of the Indian city of Jodhpur.
However, unlike its Asian counterpart, this city owes its blue adornment to an influx of Jewish refugees fleeing Spain in the Fifteenth Century. According to tradition, they painted their buildings blue—supposedly the color of heaven. This is so they could be closer to God. The tradition stuck, and today the city is a gorgeous palette of blue, making for exceptional photo opportunities.
Many visitors opt to spend their time winding through the Old Town to shop and take pictures of the quaint alleys and hidden staircases. Also, vibrant flowerpots add an additional splash of color for picturesque yet exotic ancient city views. Place Uta Hammam is the town square in the medina, and is dominated by the aptly named Grand Mosque.
Nearby is also the Kasbah, which has been converted from its past duties as a fortress/prison and now houses a museum and Andalusian themed garden. Wherever you go in the city, be prepared for stairs. Located on a hillside means lots of steps and exploring on foot results in an excellent workout.
Visit The Amazing Capital, Rabat
As the national capital of Morocco, it’s no surprise that this city has plenty of attractions to keep visitors occupied. Situated at the mouth of the Bou Regreg River and the Atlantic Ocean, the city boasts wide avenues, green spaces, and a lot of historic buildings. The Oudaias Kasbah is one such building, topping many visitors’ itineraries. Inside are narrow blue and white lanes that beg for exploration, while excellent city views are visible from the district.
Most dramatic though is the Bab Oudia; a large, highly ornate ceremonial gate to the Kasbah that was built in 1195. Nearby are the Andalusian Gardens for a tranquil escape into a beautifully adorned natural haven.
Another top tourist attraction in the city is the Palace Museum. Once a sultan’s palace from the 17th century, it now doubles as the Moroccan Art and Culture Museum, which houses a collection of musical instruments and Moroccan art.
Pop By The Movie Famous Casablanca
Perhaps the most famous of Moroccan cities is Casablanca, primarily thanks to the classic film of the same name. These days Casablanca is better known as Morocco’s commercial center rather than a tourist destination. However, the blend of French and Arab cultures ensures that there’s plenty to see and do in this vibrant city.
The biggest tourist attraction in Casablanca is the Hassam II Mosque. It is the second-largest mosque in the world and one of the few open to non-Muslims. This architecturally rich edifice perched on the Atlantic Ocean offers worshippers the chance to pray on a glass floor. By doing so, it gives the sensation of praying directly over the sea. Just to give an idea of the building’s size, the courtyard alone can accommodate 80 thousand worshippers. Also, it is a wonderful place to admire the builders’ craftsmanship.
Close by is a beachfront area known as La Corniche, a haven for surfers, sunbathers, and swimmers. It’s not exactly ‘traditional’ Moroccan culture but serves very well as an entertainment destination.
Like any good city, Casablanca has its fair share of classical buildings worth seeing. This includes the public buildings surrounding Place Mohammed V, the art-deco Villa des Arts, which showcases more modern works in a Moroccan context, and the King’s Palace.
Explore Fes And See What It Offers
As the oldest colonial city in Morocco, Fes is a cultural gem and shopper’s paradise. The Old Medina is an excellent place to shop for authentic Moroccan pottery, gorgeous rugs, and exotic spices. Haggling is a requirement here, but great deals can be had. For a unique, though stinky experience, visit the medieval Chouara Tannery for a look at this timeless technique.
One of the best reasons to visit Fes is its proximity to the Roman ruins of Volubilis. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is just 44 miles away and is a classic example of a well-preserved Roman town at the edge of the former empire.
Visit Marrakech City
Well known on the Morocco tourist route, Marrakech is home to many attractions that are synonymous with how foreigners envision a Moroccan city. Dominating the medina and serving as the city’s main square and tourist attraction is Djemaa el Fna. This colorful market square is host to an ever-changing variety of vendors.
They have juice sellers, to snake charmers to food stalls in the evening. Within the medina is a labyrinthine warren of narrow streets filled with shops and dripping with character. In the southwest quarter of the city medina is Marrakech’s most famous landmark; the 77-meter tall, red stone minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque.
Other famous landmarks to see on a visit to the city of Marrakech are the Bahia Palace; an ornate architectural gem blending Islamic and Moroccan influences. Also, there’s the El Badi Palace, which has sadly been stripped of much of its most precious elements over the centuries. It has been left with sprawling ruins in its wake.
A visit to Marrakech wouldn’t be complete without shopping in one or all of its five souks. The souks are popular with both tourists and the local population. Each is dedicated to a certain type of product and haggling is the norm. So get your bargaining skills ready!
Venture Into The Sites Of Ouarzazate
Also known as the Door to the Sahara, Ouarzazate is located along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. This places it in the southwest of the country, but well inland. Besides offering tours out to the surrounding dunes, this city is known for its greatest attraction; the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ait Ben Haddou. This fortified city with the Atlas Mountains as a backdrop houses six kasbahs behind its dried mud walls. Also, it has appeared in several movies for its authentic North African design and setting.
As if to prove this point, nearby is the renowned Atlas Film Studios. Here, they have filmed this location for several Hollywood blockbusters. While some of its sets are now withering in the sun, tours are Still offered daily. The tours are given between 8 AM and 5 PM. However, there is an exception of Fridays when it is closed to the public. Anyone looking to find the “real” North African desert vibe will not leave Ouarzazate disappointed.
Visit The City Of Meknes
Abounding in classical Moroccan architecture and beautiful mosaics, the up and coming destination of Meknes is itself considered worthy of protected status as a member of the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Once an imperial city, the old town boasts a wealth of architectural gems. For example, it has items such as the impressive Bab Mansour Gate leading into the medina. Impressive too is the Bou Inania Madrasa and its ornate mosaics and fountains. The souks are notoriously narrow, which prohibits the passage of cars and scooters, making for a more enjoyable exploration.
The city’s imperial legacy is on display in its varied collection of buildings, museums, and monuments. This allows for more than just a day’s activity. If all that isn’t enough, you can visit Meknes; the closest city to the Roman ruins of Volubilis.
Explore What Tetouan Has To Offer
For an authentic Moroccan city visit that isn’t too far off the beaten path, there’s the Mediterranean port city of Tetouan. Once the capital of Spanish Morocco, Tetouan retains much of its Spanish heritage in its architecture. Here, they boast whitewashed buildings and wide boulevards. Located near the Rif mountains between Tangiers and Chefchaouen, this city also features an authentic medina. Visiting the medina will make you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time.
For history enthusiasts, a visit to the Tetouan Archaeological Museum showcases spectacular remnants from the Roman era. For example, situated here is the impressive mosaic “The Three Graces”. It had been unearthed at the famous Lixus archaeological site. Also, the museum includes a library containing some sixty thousand volumes of North African literature.
Have A Beachy Time In Agadir
Tucked away along Morocco’s southwestern Atlantic coast is the resort city of Agadir. This is the nexus for beachgoers, who come on holiday from around the country and the world. However, it is mainly frequented by Europeans looking for sun and sea during the still sunny winter months. Agadir’s beach is lined by many restaurants, cafes, and numerous resorts catering to visiting holidaymakers.
Unlike many other Moroccan cities, in Agadir, there isn’t a whole lot to see of a historical nature. One of the only sites of real interest is the well-preserved Kasbah walls. These walls once served to protect the fortified town back in the sixteenth century. Nowadays it serves as a great vantage point to look out over the city and nearby Atlantic. For your best photo opportunities, come in the late afternoon.
Relatively nearby, though still 173 kilometers north along the Atlantic coastline, is the World Heritage Site town of Essaouira. Known for its well-preserved seaside fortifications, it is a picturesque town with a charming medina. Here it offers narrow walkways and leafy squares. Its port area is lined with bright blue fishing boats, making for some great photo opportunities. Given its coastal location, Essaouira is also a popular place for windsurfers and kiteboarding thanks to its windy weather. For a small-feel historic colonial vibe, this Moroccan city is certainly worth the detour.
While Morocco offers visitors a wealth of natural attractions, what really makes it so desirable a destination are its cities. Combining Islamic and North African architecture with colonial influences, the exotic and familiar come together in an unforgettable medley of culture and style in Morocco’s cities.