Morocco is a land of mystery and magic like few in North Africa. Forged by the Carthaginians and the Berber traders, Mediterranean pirates and the military rulers of Andalusia, Sultans and Grand Viziers alike, it’s a land that fuses the styles of Europe and sub-Sahara. Its backcountry is spiked with the mighty massifs of the Atlas and the Rif, which tower – often snow-topped – above the shifting sand dunes and the sweeping oases of the Maghreb.
Its cities pulse with energy, from the spice bazaars of Fez to the endless souks of Marrakech, where cumin meets clove meets chilli powder amidst the pungent stalls. Everywhere you’ll discover elegant riad (traditional Moroccan homes with courtyards) and vast kasbahs, all adorned with intricate Islamic filigrees and beautiful arabesque motifs. You’ll sample spicy foods packed with cinnamon and dried fruits, taste mint teas, and chat the night away beneath a haze of shisha.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Morocco:
Fez has all the treats and draws you’d expect of a 1,200-year-old Maghreb city. There’s Fès el-Bali, the historic heart of the place, where a labyrinth (and we don’t use the word lightly!) of lanes and staircases and squares coalesce between the multi-coloured tanneries and the adobe cottages.
Then there’s the elegant boulevards of Ville Nouvelle. Here, the French worked to create beautiful palm-peppered avenues and babbling fountains, opulent hotels and Parisian-flavoured streets. So, move between the spice-packed souks and the fabled madrassahs, and try to get a feel for the real Morocco here.
Ah, Marrakech: the quintessential medina town of the Moroccan Maghreb. The onetime piece de resistance in the crown of the Almoravid dynasty, it sits sparkling in hues of ochre and beige stone beneath the scintillating tips of the Atlas Mountains.
At its heart is the colossal Jemaa el-Fnaa Square; the busiest in Africa and the hub of a great bazaar where everything from handwoven carpets mingle with shisha pipes and swinging golden lanterns.
Meanwhile, the medina also bursts with arabesque riad homes, their courtyards hiding mint-scented teahouses or some of the tastiest tagines you’ll ever discover. And that’s not even mentioning the Royal and Bahia palaces – a leftover from the sultans and the viziers that ruled these lands.
Known to many as the namesake and setting of Michael Curtiz’s 1942 magnum opus (entitled just Casablanca), the port city of Casablanca still reigns as the country’s largest, and the largest in the entire region of the Maghreb besides.
Booming forth onto the Atlantic coast midway between Rabat and El Jadida, it’s laden with row upon row of elegant Mauresque architecture – a unique fusion of the arabesque and the Parisian that’s seen on every roundabout and public square.
There is a small medina area, but the modern draws are of a different, more colossal character: the great King Hassan II Mosque (considered the largest in Morocco); the winding Corniche, peppered with super-clubs and chic hotels; the endless Morocco Mall – the second-biggest shopping center on the continent!
Oft referred to by its official UNESCO name, the Historic City of Meknes, this stopover on the route from Rabat on the coast to Fez under the rises of the Atlas Mountains, is a great place to wonder at the country’s fusion of Spanish and Moorish styles.
Raised to greatness by the Sultan Moulay Ismaïl during the 18th century, it’s got an enchanting medina that starts with the crenulations and motifs of the great Bab El Khemis Gate and ends with the elegant filigrees and inlays of the Dar El Makhzen royal palace.
Of course, there’s also a traditional souk here – even if it’s much smaller than the one at Fez and Marrakech – along with more spice-scented tagine houses than you can shake a dried apricot at!
The shifting desert dunes take over in earnest around the truly breathtaking town of Merzouga. Set deep in the country, on the eastward side of the Atlas ranges, this onetime camel caravan town is now a picture of the quintessential Sahara we all know from films.
Head for the great sand mounds of Erg Chebbi, which come sculpted by the ceaseless breezes of the desert. Or, take a camel ride into the borderlands with Algeria, to get lost between the ochre-yellow landscapes and the occasional nomad town where few other visitors will venture.
Steeped in the styles of the Moors and Spanish, Rabat not only boasts some of the best museums and art galleries in the country (check out the National Archaeological Museum and the Modern Art Museum) but also a prime location on the edge of the Atlantic.
Hit the lively corniche that weaves along the shore, or see the sparkling beach that lurks beneath the tower of the great Almohadan Citadel. The earthy Berber heart of Rabat is really the place to be though.
Named Oudaias Kasbah, it’s here that you’ll find those much-photographed alleyways of blue-and-white homes, winding and weaving up and down stairs, through hidden squares, and down towards the historic medina center.
Tangier heralds the African side of the Gibraltar Strait. A port town and a fortress that patrolled the entrance to the Med, it has been coveted by naval powers in these parts ever since the Carthaginians ruled the waves.
However, while the history remains palpable – especially amidst the historic medina and beneath the great Kasbah of the erstwhile Sultan of Tangier – this town now beats to a more modern tune.
The beaches and beachside haunts along the Avenue Mohammed VI throb with life on the weekend, Spanish holidaymakers arrive on fast ferries from Algeciras across the water, there are enticing organic eateries, and plenty, plenty more!
8. El Jadida
The great bulwarks of the El Jadida fort rise from the ocean like something out of Game of Thrones. They are just one – and certainly the most noticeable – reminder of the town’s unique history as a colony of not the French, nor the Spanish, but the Portuguese. You’ll see that influence in the baroque-topped churches and the between the synagogues of the Jewish Quarter, while heading to the seaside promenades and enjoying a mint tea in the salty breeze is just one example of how life’s a little more laid back in El Jadida than other centers like Fez and Marrakech. Don’t miss the beaches either, which are the main reason for those booming summertime weekend crowds!
Essaouira forms the northern end of the long stretch of beaches that runs all the way form Agadir (Morocco’s other favourite resort town on the sea – wait for it!).
As a town, it’s perhaps best known for its wealth of formidable 18th-century fortifications, which rise from the Atlantic Ocean in a series of keeps and crenulated lookouts.
It’s also famed for its cooling sea winds, which draw oodles of visitors from the sultry medina towns inland during the warmer months of the year. Unfortunately, this renders the sands close to Essaouira itself too blustery for combing and chilling. Still, there are harbours and awesome seafood to make up for that!
Sun-kissed Agadir rises from the salty shore of the African Atlantic in a medley of colourful homes and whitewashed Berber dives. For years now it’s been the chosen haunt of the beach-loving, surf-seeking traveler making their way to Morocco. And it’s really filled the role well.
Hotel resorts spill out of their palm-dotted gardens on the sea to offer up countless sunbathing opportunities on the main beach, while board riders attempt to conquer the roaring left-to-righters at famous surf spots like Devils Rock and Cro-Cro.
After dark you can look forward to one of the country’s best nightlife scenes too, with chances to sample traditional English ales in the pubs and whiskey-infused teas in the Moroccan riads. Nice.
Ever wondered what it might be like donning the skis and salotpettes some 2,600 meters above the dusty lands of the Sahara Desert and the sweeping fields of citrus fruits that spread out to the north, throughout the Maghreb? Well, Oukaimeden is your chance to find out!
Perched high atop the Atlas Mountains, it’s the highest ski resort in all of Africa (okay, there aren’t really many, but still!). Just 45 miles from the city of Marrakech, it makes for the perfect detour from the North African heat.
You’ll discover five individual runs, a series of drag lifts, a ski school, rental facilities and breathtaking views over the rugged tip of Jebel Attar.
12. Al Hoceima
A cocktail of the Andalusian influence and the traditional Berber character (which remains stronger here than in most all other cities found cascading down the ridges of the Rif Mountains in the north of the country), Al Hoceima is a chilled and charming place.
Its location is truly gorgeous, with shimmering beaches of gold sand spilling out onto the Med between rugged walls of cliffs.
What’s more, a clutch of great hotels and charming teahouses aside, the center often doffs its cap in favour of the legendary Rocade road that runs along the coast to the east and west.
This is where you’ll become immersed in grassy cliffs and soaring seaside mountains, carved gorges and more – it’s like Morocco’s answer to the Amalfi Coast!
A maze of winding streets and tight-knit passageways gives the legendary blue city (sorry Jodhpur!) of Chefchaouen a unique charm all of its own.
The handsome looks are only made better by the location too: the town spills its way down the green-brown ridges of the Rif Mountains, between the beautiful likes of Jebel al-Kalaa and the protected reserves of the Talasemtane (both of which are accessible on hiking expeditions).
However, it’s just wandering and wondering that tie most tourists over here. So, settle for a mint tea in one of the local teahouses and watch as the hazy blue of the hill town ticks over to its local Berber vibes.
Rising from the fringes of the Morccan Sahara in a medley of beige and brown adobe keeps and bulwarks, the aged trading outpost of Ouarzazate is used to receiving visitors from afar.
For centuries the camel caravans and merchants coming from the Med and Central Africa stopped here to flog their wares to the people of the impossibly beautiful Dades Valley.
Today, the old bazaar remains: a dusty conglomeration of holes-in-the-wall and emporiums that stacked with curious trinkets and goods.
Head to the nearby town of Aït Benhaddou to see an impressive UNESCO site where films like Kingdom of Heaven and Prince of Persia have been filmed!
You could be forgiven for thinking that you were travelling beneath the whitewashed cubist villages of the Greek Aegean Islands, not a coastal town on the far reaches of North Africa, when roaming between the sun-baked promenade and the glowing interior alleyways of pretty Asilah.
An artsy, creative place, the town shares its draws between the enticing little independent craft galleries that pepper the center and the run of dune-backed beaches that extend to the north and south – a surfer’s dream! One disclaimer: Asilah can often get busy during the height of the season.
Not only is it popular with locals coming from the capital, but it’s the first real resort you meet coming south from the Spanish ferries of Tangier.