Morocco Travel Guide: Places to See and Things to Do in Morocco
When people think of Morocco, a mosaic of colors, golden desert sand dunes, various spices and an exotic culture come to mind. The country provides one of the best values for travelers looking for adventure in the Northern African continent. It is replete with history, amazing architecture, delicious food, a myriad of colors and a culture uniquely its own. This is why the Kingdom of Morocco is one of the favorite travel destinations around. There is a never-ending list of interesting places to see and fun things to do while visiting Morocco.
The sub-tropical climate of Morocco makes it ideal to enjoy a number of outdoor activities. Its location facing Spain’s Rock of Gibraltar makes it an ideal hopping point for those who want to further explore Europe, or those who want to make it an entry point to visit Africa. Travelers will be pleasantly surprised that there are a number of places to see while in Morocco. There are also a number of things to do to keep the traveler busy day and night. This section of our Travel guide Morocco will give travelers an idea on the best places to see in Morocco as well as things to do in Morocco.
Places to See in Tangier
Tangier is the main port of Morocco and is often one of the places where travelers can get a first glimpse of the country. Those who want to learn a bit about Morocco can visit the Dar al-Makhzen. It is the Sultanate Palace but has been converted into a museum. The palace was built in the 17th century on a high point in the city, affording it a view of both the Medina and the Strait of Gibraltar. Both the Museum of Moroccan Arts and the Museum of Antiquities can be found here.
The Museum of Moroccan Arts and Antiquities used to be the apartments formerly occupied by the Sultan. The museum is home to a spectacular array of Moroccan artwork, such as various intricate firearms, carpets and Fez silks. On the other hand, what used to be the kitchen of the Sultan has been converted into the Museum of Antiquities. Here, travelers can view a collection of Roman antiquities, as well as a number of archeological artifacts dating from pre-historic to the medieval times. There is an impressive Carthaginian tomb and a beautiful Roman mosaic called The Voyage of Venus in the museum. Both museums are splendid not only for the priceless artifacts inside, but also for the amazing and intricate architecture of the buildings themselves, showcasing colorful mosaics, enamel-covered Zellige terracotta tiles, paved courtyards and cedar painted ceilings, well as coffers from the 18th century that has complex locks.
The Old American Legation is an excellent place to learn about Tangier. Also known as the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies or TALIM, the building is a historical landmark of the city. There are various antiques and paintings in the museum. Travelers will like that there is no entrance fee, although a minimal donation is appreciated. It is the first public property of America outside of the US.
The Medina (walled town) in Tangier is one of the better ones in Morocco because the streets are wider and there is so much to see. You can pass by the largest co-op bakery in Morocco and see the various stalls and vendors. This is a good place to go souvenir shopping.
The Terrasse dex Paresseux is another favorite of tourists. It is the square located in the Ville Nouvelle. It is adjacent to the Place de France. This is a good place to take pictures of the buildings as well as the canons facing to the sea or enjoy a meal at a local restaurant. The views are spectacular and on a clear day, tourists can even see Gibraltar.
Grottes de Hercules or The Cave of Hercules has natural and man-made formations. The cave used to be occupied by the Berber tribes and has one opening that leads to the sea and another that leads to land. The cave got its name from local legends claiming that Hercules himself slept in it. It is also one of the locations of a Guinness Book of World Records rock concert by Def Leppard, serving as a venue of the three concerts performed in three different continents on the same day by any band. Nearby is the summer palace of the Moroccan king.
Things to Do in Tangier
When in Tangier, one of the best things to do to be able to check everything out is to sign up for a tour. A tour group is one of the best ways to see the various landmarks and points of interest in the city with a knowledgeable guide. Many tour guides speak a variety of languages and are able to talk about the culture and provide a more comprehensive insight into life in Tangier.
Tangier beach is a popular place for both locals and tourists to hang out and enjoy the outdoors. The water isn’t very ideal for swimming, but the beach does provide a nice peaceful backdrop. Travelers may be lucky enough to see some local fisherman catching and selling their fish for the day. Travelers should remember that while there is a promenade that can be enjoyed and that this is a beach, guests should still dress conservatively, especially women.
Travelers may also enjoy a meal or a quick break at the Café de Paris. This is a good place to enjoy a glass of Moroccan Mint tea and has been around since World War II. It is said that during the war, spies used to make the café their meeting point to exchange information.
From Tangier, travelers can quickly go to the beaches in Asilah to soak in the sun. In August, travelers and locals head to Asilah for an annual international arts festival. Travelers can also go sightseeing and take pictures of the Grand Mosque or even the walls of the city, which date back to the 15th century.
Take a day trip to Chefchaouen from Tangier. This mountain city that was founded in the 15th century is a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of Tangier. You will be delighted to see most of the buildings here that are painted in different shades of blue. To enter the Medina, travelers walk through the Bab al-Ain to see the Grand Mosque with its gold and red colored minarets as the main exterior features. Those who enjoy hiking will find that Chefchaouen is a good starting point to explore the Rif Mountains.
Places to See in Fez
As a former imperial city, Fez has a number of medieval streets, old medinas and city gates. The city remains as an artistic and spiritual center of the Kingdom.
The University of Al-Karaouine put Fez on the map as it is a university mosque complex. This was built in 857, making it one of the oldest universities in the world. At the same time, it is also the second largest mosque in the country. The Qairaouine mosque is a large place of worship that can hold up to 20,000 people at a time. Those who are not Muslim must enter through a different entrance or portal.
Bou Inania Madrasa is a school that was constructed in the 14th century. It teaches the Islamic science and the Qu’ran to students but the building itself it an architectural gem, replete with archway carvings, colorful mosaic tiles and detailed woodwork, using cedar and greenstone. Even though it is a Muslim building, non-Muslims are welcome to enter and explore. The Bou Inania Madrasa is considered the largest Fassi Madrasa, also making it the busiest and one of the most important monuments in the city.
The Royal Palace of Fez or the Dar el Makhzen is located in the Jewish Quarter. Travelers who appreciate architecture will enjoy the intricate construction of the Palace, featuring brass work, carvings and mosaics. It is one of the most elegant structures in the city, although visitors aren’t allowed inside. Fortunately, travelers can get their pictures taken by the main gate of the palace.
The Zaouia of Moulay Idriss II mausoleum can be found at the Place de Marche Verte. This is the resting place of the city’s founder and Islamic saint. Travelers can take a quick peek, although non-Muslims are not allowed inside, as this is a sacred area. The construction of the mausoleum stated in 1717. After more than 100 years it was finally completed in 1824. Muslims believe that they will have good luck when they visit this place and Muslim women specifically go to the mausoleum for fertility reasons.
Dar Batha Museum is a specialty museum that features traditional Fez crafts. It is just in front of the Bou Inania Madrasa. Most noteworthy are the cobalt blue pottery that the country is famous for. The museum is located in a Spanish-Moorish palace and provides travelers a peek at Moroccan culture through various artifacts, such as embroidered items, Berber carpets and ceramics. The precursor of digital watches, the astrolabe is located here. This was a 2nd century BC calculation instrument that was used to compute the times of sunrise prayers.
The Medinas in Fez can be quite difficult to navigate since there are over 9,000 streets occupied by over 50,000 people at any given time. However, it’s well worth a visit to see handicraft items that are exported by the country. There’s a jeweler’s souq, the metal souq, spice souq and a number of other specialized areas.
Things to Do in Fez
The best way to explore Fez is to hire a private tour guide. This way, travelers will have the convenience of having a knowledgeable guide lead them around one of the most intricate and busiest cities in Morocco. When touring, don’t miss Fez el-Bali or the old town because it is like stepping back in time. Narrow maze-like streets, winding alleys, a Mosque, an old palace, fountains and Royal Garden are just some of the things that travelers can find here. A World Heritage Site, the Medina of Fez is the Arab-Muslim world’s best conserved historic town, as well as the most extensive.
Many travelers will enjoy a visit to a traditional leather tanning factory. The Medina of Fez is a must go to because travelers can pick up a number of handicraft items here. Fez is known for its fine handicrafts so this is one of the best places to buy some authentic Moroccan souvenirs. If you can find it, pass by the attarine or the spice souq to pick up some authentic Moroccan spices.
Travelers visiting Fez will enjoy the Fez Sacred Music Festival, which is held in the early weeks of June. The festival has been held close to two decades now and features performers from all over the world.
Places to See in Essaouira
The Medina of Essaouira is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also known by its former name Mogador. The Medina is a prime example of an 18th century fortified town. There is a small fishing harbor in the old city. Travelers can see the small handicraft businesses such as cabinet making and woodcarving.
Many travelers start exploring Essaouira by going to the Skala de la Kasbah. This is a fort that faces the sea. Its impressive turrets and artillery-lined walls will make travelers feel like they stepped back in time. The other famous skala or fort in Essaouira is the Skala Stata de la Ville. These forts date back to the 18th century, fortifying the city against attackers.
One of the most famous places to see in Essaouira is the beach. Many travelers head to the Essaouira beach to relish the winds and enjoy a number of water sports activities. Travelers can also see the local fishermen go about their daily routine.
From the beach, travelers can make their way to the Purple Isles. These islands got their names because they were famous for their fabric dyeing industry. It is said that the color used to dye the very cape of Julius Caesar came from here back in 100 BC.
Things to Do in Essaouira
Over at Skala Stata de la Ville, travelers can pick up a few unique souvenirs, especially masks, statues, drum sets, chess sets and other hand crafted items. Those who want to go shopping should go to rue Abd al-Aziz al-Fechtaly.
Travelers can try a camel excursion trip right on the beach of the Medina of Essaouira. Those who don’t feel that adventurous can try a riding a horse, although nothing beats riding a camel. There is an ancient fishing village here. The Medina is the best place to pick up some wood carved souvenir items made from the thuya tree.
Overall, Essaouira is a good place to unwind and enjoy the blue sea. The beach is known for its surfing, swimming and a number of outdoor water sports activities. Some locals also go kite flying because of the strong winds. It’s not as crowded as Marrakesh so travelers appreciate the tranquility the city affords. It’s a good place to people watch, take photographs and relax.
Places to See in Marrakesh
Marrakesh remains as the top tourist destination for travelers visiting Morocco and is the tourist capital of the country. The city was founded in 1062 and today continues to draw many travelers. Many start off at Djema’a al-Fna, which is the main square. It is found in the Medina Quarter or the Old City. Also known as the Assembly of the Dead or Jamaa el Fna, the square got its name, as this was where sultans used to behead criminals. The square is one of the biggest and the oldest in the world, and provides travelers an authentic feel to the sights, sounds and culture of Morocco. It has been declared a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Today, it is a bustling congregation of mystics, performers, vendors, tourists and locals.
Al-Bahia Palace, which means “The Brilliance,” is a palace constructed in the 19th century by Si Ahmad Ibn Musa or Ba Ahmad as the residence of the official concubines. Travelers can take a tour and take pictures of the beautiful architecture, soaring ceilings and the splendor of the palace with 160 rooms, sprawled over 2 acres of land.
The Madrasa Ben Youssef dates back to 1565 and was commissioned by Sultan Moulay Abdallah al-Ghalib. Up until the 1960s, it was the largest Qur’anic school.
Travelers will find the Museum of Moroccan Art at the Dar Si Said. This is a 19th century palace. The Museum is the best place to view Berber carpets and other handiwork, pottery and various jewelry pieces. Aside from this, the museum hosts an extensive collection of Berber woodcrafts.
El Badi Palace translates to “the Incomparable Palace” or “The Marvel.” These historic ruins date back to the 17th century and took over 25 years to complete construction at the cost of ransom money, gold and even sugar. It only costs 10dh to get in and stroll through the grounds. The palace design was inspired by the Alhambra in Granada, with 350 rooms and utilized the best materials during that time: Indian wood, gold from Sudan and Italian marble. The palace consists of four prison cells, various tunnels and holding tanks, an old aqueduct and a large courtyard. The palace is being restored to give travelers a glimpse of its former grandeur.
The Koutoubia Mosque boasts of a minaret that dates back to the 12th century. The mosque’s minaret was the inspiration for the ones found on the Hassan Tower of Rabat as well as the Giralda mosque of Seville. It boasts of being the biggest Mosque in the city and is the prime example of traditional Almohad style and architecture. The name of the palace translates to “librarian” (al-Koutoubiyyin) since during its time the surrounding areas were filled with manuscript vendors. The impressive tower stands at 69 meters or 221 feet and is 12.8 meters or 41 feet wide. At the top lie four copper globes, although it used to be made of pure gold. The minaret of the mosque is about 70 meters high.
Things to Do in Marrakesh
Marrakesh is known as the “Red City” and is one many travelers envision exotic Morocco to be. The city itself still has the impressive gated defense walls, which are remnants of the imperial capital. The Saadian Tombs are a must see. The tombs were discovered only in 1917 and are believed to have existed since the time of Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur who ruled from 1578 up to 1603.
Travelers can best take in the sights and sounds of Marrakesh by going to Djema’a al-Fna. There are many boxers, street musicians, preachers, fortune tellers, monkey trainers, snake charmers, acrobats, mystics and a variety of street entertainers here. Travelers can bet on boxing matches, even fights between young boys or matches between girls. Travelers can also listen to storytellers or watch dancing boys of Chleuh, or have their picture taken with a snake charmer. This is also the best place to try a number of street food items sold at the various stalls. Travelers who come during the daytime should stay till the evening hours since the entertainment changes. Every day is different at the Djema’a al Fna.
Those who want to go shopping will find great deals at the different souqs in town. The souqs are grouped together based on the type of product or wares sold. There is a fabric souq, where travelers can pick up hand dyed Berber blankets and even a spice souq, where travelers can bring home a few bottles of Moroccan spices, especially saffron and cumin. Morocco’s best street stalls and vendors are located here, and this is the best place to pick up Moroccan handicraft souvenirs and other items. It is also known as the place to purchase spices when in Morocco. Other popular items that are purchased here are iron and sheepskin lampshades. Those willing to try some ancient remedies can pick up a few traditional cures at the apothecaries here, such as goat hooves to fight hair loss or perhaps ground ferrets to combat depression. When shopping at the souqs, remember to bargain to get the best prices. Ask for half of the declared price and negotiate your price from there.
Places to See in Casablanca
Casablanca is probably the most famous Moroccan city, thanks to the Ingrid Bergman movie with the same name. It is the economic capital of the country. One of the most amazing sights to see is the Hassan II Mosque, and it is one of the most visited sites in the city. This mosque has the distinction of being one of the largest mosques in the world, second only to the Grand Mosque found in Mecca. The minaret of the mosque is also the tallest in the world, standing at 689 feet or 210 meters. It is also the only mosque in Casablanca that is open to non-Muslims. A total of 105,000 worshipers can gather inside and at the grounds of the mosque at once. Another feature that makes the mosque unique is that it is built on the reclaimed coast jutting out to the Atlantic Ocean. The interior boasts of crystal chandeliers and fine craftsmanship. It is earthquake-proof and has a sliding roof, heated floors and electric doors. Most of the materials used for its construction were sourced around Morocco.
The Royal Palace of Casablanca is a royal complex built in an Arab-Muslim architectural style. It is built in close proximity to people’s homes, which is an indication of the king’s affinity to his people. It is also the venue of a number of nationwide and international events, such as various summits and conferences. There are large walls and the palace is heavily guarded, but travelers can still walk on the outside perimeter. Pope John Paul II himself visited the palace in 1985, marking the first time a Christian leader visited and addressed young Muslims in the Islamic nation.
In a modern art deco city, one of the most visited in the city is the Old Medina of Casablanca. This is a good place to get an authentic feel of the way of life of the people living in this city. Travelers can check out the old architecture painted in blue and white or pick up a souvenir or two from a number of sellers. It is smaller than the Medinas found in other larger cities.
Things to Do in Casablanca
No trip to Casablanca is complete without trying one of the baths or spas around the city to get an authentic Hamman experience. Travelers can relax after using the steam room, getting a scrub or seaweed wrap then a massage. Some places offer a hydro massage. Nudity is not allowed and there are separate areas for men and women.
Travelers will enjoy taking photographs of the colonial architecture juxtaposed with more modern construction in Casablanca. The art-deco look of the city, combined with a distinct Hispano-Moorish architecture is sure to impress many travelers.
Those who want to take a more leisurely pace can do so at the Parc de la Ligue Arabe. Sit down on a park bench and do some people watching, or enjoy a glass of Moroccan mint tea from the various coffee and tea shops or garden restaurants. The Playas Ain Diab y La Corniche is another relaxing place to hang out, affording travelers a view of the beautiful coast of Morocco.
Places to See in Meknes
Meknes served as the Kingdom’s capital city during the late 17th century, making it one of the imperial cities, although it is the smallest one in size. Travelers will want to see the “Versailles of Morocco.”
The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail may be trickier to find since there is no evident sign so travelers need to ask around. Moulay Ismail is credited with transforming the city into an Imperial settlement and is responsible for the construction of the palace. He envisioned a palace that would surpass Versailles and it took more than 50,000 slaves to realize his dream. The sultan is considered one of the greatest rulers of Morocco and his resting site is a showcase of fine craftsmanship. Non-Muslims are allowed to enter, although guests need to remove their shoes before entering. Also, non-Muslims cannot approach the tomb.
The Bou Inania Madrasa is an Islamic learning center. It was built in the 14th century by Abu Inan Faris. There is a similar madrasa located in Fez. This structure is a prime example of Islamic architecture, featuring detailed carvings, highly decorated doors and columns and various writing on ornaments found inside. Non-Muslims cannot enter the prayer rooms inside.
The Meknes Medina is a good place to simply walk around and check out the sights. It’s the place to interact with people, especially vendors. Unlike other Medinas, this one is quite quaint so travelers aren’t likely to get lost.
A place that you shouldn’t miss is the Volubilis, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Travelers can still see the victory arch, the basilica, a number of mosaics depicting the seasons, sea monsters and a number of other artifacts at these ancient Roman ruins, which are considered the best preserved in the continent.
Things to Do in Meknes
Those interested in ancient architecture will be impressed with the Spanish-Moorish architecture found in Meknes. Bring a camera, as the Volubilis is a spectacular sight to behold, as well as the various architectural sites constructed by Moulay Ismail dating back to the 17th century. Some of the notable ones include the Bab el-Mansour, considered as one of the grandest gateways in Morocco and the Koubbat as-Sufara’ that used to function as a reception hall. Even the granaries and grand stables Moulay Ismail had constructed, the Heri es-Souani, featured many innovations such as under the floor water channels to regulate interior temperatures and has a capacity of accommodating up to 12,000 horses. Near it is the serene Agdal Lake.
Travelers can simply walk around the Jewish quarter or the Mellah. Many start a walking tour at the main square or the Place Hedim, although some prefer to take a cab to get around. For a unique experience, hire one of the horse chariots to get from one point to another. The main square is where snake charmers, story tellers and a number of other curiosities can be found.
Try some chicken kebabs from the different cafés located in the square. Travelers will also want to do a bit of shopping at the souqs or shops in the Medina. Silver goods, tapestries, items made of copper, lamps and decorative pillows are just some of the things travelers can buy at the shops.
Those who want to learn Moroccan style cooking can participate in a cooking tour. Learn how to make Tajine or couscous or a plate of eggplant salad. It’s a fascinating and tasty way to learn about the culture of the people and the different techniques the Moroccans apply in creating their dishes.
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