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Sat at the crossroads between Africa and Europe, Morocco is a land of contrasts. Major cities with art-deco centres lead to rural areas that are as diverse as their residents. Rural oases gaze out over the Sahara Desert, while the snow-capped Atlas Mountains tower over the country.

A riot of colour at every turn, a burst of flavour in every plate, and the gentle call to prayer five times per day awaken senses. To best understand Morocco, roll up your sleeves and learn to cook a traditional tagine, soak up the surf culture along its coastline, or learn one of the traditional trades (zellig tilework, leathersmithing, or even coppersmithing) from a master craftsman.

The cuisine — fresh from the field, valleys and oceans — is known for being flavourful rather than spicy. But it’s the warm hospitality and enriching encounters that make a trip to Morocco unforgettable.

11 days

Classic Morocco

Imperial cities, nature and Berber culture
Casablanca (1 days) Rabat (1) Fes (1) Volubilis (1) Merzouga (2) Todra Gorge (1) Ouarzazate (3) Casablanca (1)
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9 days

Imperial cities and the Sahara

A journey through Morocco past and present
Casablanca (1 days) Rabat (1) Fes (1) Merzouga (2) Todra Gorge (1) Ouarzazate (1) Marrakesh (2)
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8 days

Morocco's imperial cities

Delve into Morocco's history and culture
Casablanca (1 days) Rabat (1) Fes (1) Volubilis (1) Marrakesh (3) Casablanca (1)
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14 days

In-depth Morocco

A grand tour of Morocco's highlights
Casablanca (1 days) Rabat (1) Chefchaouen (1) Volubilis (1) Fes (1) Merzouga (2) Todra Gorge (1) Marrakesh (3) Essaouira (3)
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  • Marrakesh

    Marrakesh

    Morocco's cultural capital
    Marrakesh can be bewitching...
  • Rabat

    Rabat

    Morocco's unexplored capital
    Although it’s the capital city of Morocco, Rabat is often just a half-day stopover on most itineraries...
  • Moulay Idriss

    ...
  • Casablanca

    Casablanca

    A city full of surprises
    Morocco’s largest city and the country’s economic hub sits beside the Atlantic Ocean and has a distinctively different vibe from other cities across the Kingdom...
  • Essaouira

    Essaouira

    Morocco's windy city
    Laid-back with a dash of charm, this seaside town on the Atlantic Coast never fails to impress visitors...
  • Merzouga

    Merzouga

    Sahara nights under the stars
    Once you’ve arrived at Merzouga — the gateway to the Sahara — you will find yourself surrounded by dry heat and vast golden sand dunes...
  • Chefchaouen

    Chefchaouen

    In this city in the Rif Mountains everything is a shade of blue, from the front doors of local homes to the staircases winding through the village...
  • Meknes

    Meknes

    An imperial city off the beaten path
    Once the country’s capital, Meknes is one of four imperial cities in Morocco (the others being Fes, Marrakech and Rabat)...
  • Fes

    Fes

    Morocco's medieval city
    Founded in the 9th century, the history of Fes is storied, with various dynasties passing through and making this their capital...
  • Midelt

    Midelt

    A mountain village
    This small town lies in the high plains between the Middle Atlas and High Atlas mountain ranges and is often just a stopover to break up the long journey between Fes and the Sahara Desert...
  • Todra Gorge

    Todra Gorge

    A walk in the wadis
    No trip to Morocco is complete without a walk in the wadis...
  • Ouarzazate

    Ouarzazate

    Red earth landscapes fit for the movies
    A gateway town to the vast Sahara desert, Ouarzazate is best known for the immense Taourirt Kasbah, a 20th-century palace built for Pacha Glaoui during the French Protectorate...
  • Volubilis

    Volubilis

    An archaeologist's dream
    Once one of the most remote outposts of the Roman Empire, partially-excavated Volubilis is an archaeologist’s dream...

Month-by-month

Winter hits Morocco in November and lasts until mid-February when the days begin to shorten. While temperatures are warm compared to European or North American climates, it’s worth layering your clothes, particularly as pleasant daytime temperatures tumble once night falls.

January is the perfect time for kite-surfing in Essaouira and Dakhla along the coast. Opt for a trek in the Sahara Desert rather than the towering Mount Toubkal when snowfall can be heavy at higher altitudes. In the cities, expect some rainy days and the occasional road closure when crossing Tizi n'Tichka Pass in the Atlas Mountains.

February to May is one of the best times to visit Morocco as temperatures are perfect for exploring its cities in the day before ending your evening on a rooftop. In the Atlas Mountains, the valleys are in bloom with wildflowers, making springtime an ideal season to summit Mount Toubkal or venture further in to the Sahara Desert where the rivers are wide with water.

During the summer months of June to August temperatures soar, but with both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, there are no shortage of wild beaches to explore, small coastal towns to wander through and festivals to enjoy. Moroccans living abroad often return for the month of August and locals head to the coast to seek refuge from the heat. Accommodations in cities like Fez and Marrakech may offer reduced rates to entice visitors who prefer to wander with fewer tourists. Several camps in the Sahara Desert may close for the summer as daytime temperatures soar. Shade and air-conditioning is limited.

When September rolls around, locals and expats return for la rentrée and business resumes after summer holidays abroad. With them come tourists as the temperatures decrease, becoming more and more comfortable towards October. Marrakech comes alive with cultural activities and art exhibitions. In rural areas, the olive harvest begins in autumn and a wander through a palm grove in the south provides an opportunity to taste dates from the source.

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Ksar Kasbah, Ait Benhaddou

Festival and events

Be sure to check the dates of each festival prior to planning your trip as dates change depending on the holy month of Ramadan, which changes dates each year due to the difference between the Gregorian and Islamic Hijri calendars.

The three-day almond blossom festival in Tafraoute in February promotes local culture through dance, folklore and – unsurprisingly – all things almond.

As the name suggests, Jazzablanca brings the best in jazz (and other crowd-pleasing performers) to Casablanca for energetic music-filled nights both indoors and out.

Providing access to some of the finest private venues, think centuries-old palaces and residences, throughout the medieval medina of Fez, the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music brings together some of the finest names in the industry for performances in unique venues.

A colourful and loud parade through the medina kicks off the four-day Gnaoua and World Music Festival held each June in Essaouira when electrifying energy from the three stages featuring Gnaoua masters turn this typically sleepy seaside town into an all-out party.

Despite the July heat, the Festival des Arts Populaires in Marrakech provides a display of local folklore through traditional dances and even costumes from across the country. Many shows take place in historic Badii Palace.

Each October, Essaouira plays host to the Andalusian music festival, highlighting the country’s Andalusian roots through music, dance, film and talks over the course of three days.

Hiking in Morocco

The best treks and walks in the Atlas Mountains and beyond

Home to a majority Amazigh population, life in the Atlas Mountains seems to have stood still. Children run freely through valleys. Farmers, both men and women, tend to their lush plots of land. Donkeys provide a mode of transport for both young and old. Stony pathways wind through the mountains to villages not visible from main roads. Little wonder that walkers, climbers and mountaineers come hiking in Morocco.

Agriculturally rich, the trees (apple, cherry, apricot, and even almond and walnut trees) begin to bloom in February throughout the Atlas Mountains, creating a riot of colours and smells. The Atlas Mountains are popular year-round with locals, but the summer months see many Moroccans escape the heat of nearby Marrakech by heading to the mountains of Toubkal National Park.

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The Dades Gorge in the High Atlas Mountains is said to be one of the most scenic drives in the world

How to visit the Atlas Mountains

The Atlas Mountain range comprises the Middle Atlas in the country’s north, the High Atlas in central Morocco and the Anti-Atlas in the south. Each is drastically different and provides varied trekking options – even the colourful carpets produced by the many tribes are as diverse as the landscapes.

The most popular route for those wanting to go hiking in Morocco is to trek in Toubkal National Park, an hour’s drive from Marrakech. Here, visitors can hike Mount Toubkal, Morocco’s highest peak at 4167m. However, there are many more trekking routes available across the Atlas Mountain range.

Given the unmarked paths and unfamiliar terrain, hiring a certified mountain guide for half, full or multi-day treks in Morocco is strongly advised. These highly-trained guides often hail from the local region and can navigate the diverse terrains, language barriers and unexpected weather changes. They also often have the contacts to provide access to encounters with locals one may not otherwise experience, such as visiting villages, finding amazing artisans or hiking alternative routes.

Whether venturing off on a full- or multi-day trek in Morocco, don’t be surprised if your host prepares a piping hot pot of mint tea in the middle of a lush green valley, shares fruits from the region depending on the season, or presents fresh bread and hot tajine to enjoy mountainside. A donkey often accompanies trekkers carrying supplies for the journey along with trekkers’ luggage.

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View from the hiking trail to the top of Mount Toubkal

Hiking Mount Toubkal

You’ll need moderate fitness, decent weather and at least two days to hike Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak. Starting in the village of Imlil, approximately 1.5 hours drive from Marrakech, this trek winds up to the Amazigh village of Aroumd before jagging up through small villages and rocky valleys to the basic Refuge de Toubkal. The trek takes between four and six hours depending on your pace, moving steadily uphill. Along the way, you’ll cross a river bisecting Imlil Valley, see the white rock shrine of Sidi Chamharouch, where superstitious Moroccans offer sacrifices to the Sultan of Jinns (King of devils) and see the majestic Mount Toubkal growing ever closer.

Most hikers break their trip at the Refuge de Toubkal, where basic rooms and dorms offer shelter overnight. Hikers on organised trips can expect dorm beds to be booked in advance by guides, who will often arrange for sleeping bags to be rented. If you plan on hiking independently, it’s a good idea to call ahead to book a space. Alternatively, it is possible to camp in the refuge’s grounds in the summer. Make sure to head outside after dark to look at the stars in the night sky -- one of the best hiking in Morocco experiences.

Many climbers will wake early and attempt to summit Toubkal before sunrise, allowing for spectacular views over Morocco as the sun breaks over the horizon. From the refuge, the ascent is 1km to Toubkal’s peak. The trail zigzags upwards for 750m to the Tizi n Toubkal Pass (South Col), a dramatic ridge that will take you to the summit. The pass can be slippery if you choose to trek in winter when ice axes are recommended and guides necessary. From here, you’ll descend to the refuge before heading back to Imlil. Expect a long day of around 12 hours hiking.

The trek can be difficult and inexperienced hikers should hire a local mountain guide (who will also organise a cook and mule for transporting baggage and supplies and accommodation in the gites). Summiting Toubkal is preferable in the summer months rather than winter when the snow-capped mountains can make for difficult trekking conditions (crampons and full winter gear required) and cold days lead to even colder nights. In winter, it is possible to have to abandon summit attempts if the weather is bad. Make sure to bring sturdy walking boots and mountaineering equipment if you decide to hike Toubkal between October and February.

Altitude sickness can be a real issue when hiking Mount Toubkal, so it’s worth acclimatising with an overnight stay in Imlil or at the refuge. For those looking for less strenuous hikes, try a half or full-day trek starting in Imlil and climbing up to Aroumd before crossing the dry riverbed and wandering through the region’s small villages.

Guesthouse options in the region range from simple homestays, to fancier kasbahs and the luxurious Kasbah Tamadot hotel nearby. From Marrakech, travel agents provide various day excursion options. For the more adventurous, share a grand taxi from Marrakech with other passengers escaping to the popular village and find a local guide at the tourist office upon arrival.

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A small vilage in the High Atlas countryside

Hiking Ait Bougmez and the Mgoun Massif

Few visitors journey to Ait Bougmez, a valley running along the Mgoun Massif in the Central High Atlas. Those who do are rewarded with lush pastures, picturesque views across the valley and hospitable locals who don’t let language barriers get in the way -- and some of the best hiking in Morocco. In the spring, nomadic Ait Atta tribes from the south hike across Mount Mgoun (the second highest mountain in the Atlas region) to reach green pastures and a glacial lake where they reside for the summer months. Mount Mgoun is exactly 100m lower than Mount Toubkal but receives 25% fewer visitors.

Experienced hikers can join the trek as donkeys and mules carry supplies and accompany the nomads along with their herds, spending between 3-4 days hiking in Ait Bougmez.

The region’s remoteness (it’s a six-hour drive from Marrakech or 3 ½ hours from Beni Mellal) means that most visitors choose to base themselves in Ait Bougmez’s main town of Tabant during their stay, which offers a number of gites and hotels. Day hikes in Ait Bougmez can be organised from the nearby Touda EcoLodge. Head out for a pleasant wander along the dirt treks winding through villages, green farmland and crumbling kasbahs.

For a more moderate full-day option, you can trek through juniper forests and rugged terrain to reach the glacial Lake Izourar. The return across the rocky trail returns to the small village where the Touda EcoLodge is located. Trekking boots are strongly advised.

The roads leading to the valley can be difficult to traverse during winter months. So, come during the warmer months between April and November.

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Ouzoud waterfalls, Grand Atlas

Hiking Ouzoud waterfalls

An easy hike in Morocco is around the Ouzoud waterfalls, or Cascade Ouzoud as they're known locally. This hike makes for a pleasant day trip from Marrakech any time of the year. Located 2 ½ hours drive from Marrakech, these stunning 110m waterfalls tumble down red rock cliffs. Start this easy hike at the top where the flowing river cascades into the basin 600m below. Follow the pathway down to the base of the waterfall, encountering cheeky Barbary macaques that will happily accept a peanut or two along the way. The trek takes about an hour, but sitting at the base and admiring the waterfalls from below and enjoying the cooling mist is satisfying.

Travel agents organise both private and group excursions daily. The area is not accessible by public transport, but the local guest houses in Tanaghmeilt can arrange private transport for travellers wishing to extend their visit beyond one day.

Hiking in the AmeIn Valley, Anti-Atlas Mountains

The Berber heartland of Tafraoute, surrounded by the majestic rocky Anti-Atlas Mountains, provides a starting point for multi-day treks or day hikes through the beautiful AmeIn Valley. You don’t have to wander far from Tafraoute’s town centre to spot millennia-old rock carvings of animals that remain throughout the region. Longer day treks through the argan trees, which only grow in southwestern Morocco, and almond trees dot the landscape as trekkers wander between the more than 20 villages that make up the valley.

More experienced trekkers may opt for a multi-day trek that includes summiting Jebel Kest, the region’s highest peak, before returning to Tafraoute. Don’t miss the light over the rockscape as the sun sets and the range radiates magical hues of red.

The craggy rock and huge boulders around Tafraoute make the region very popular with rock climbers, who descend on the region between September and April. Combine some climbing with hiking in Morocco.

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Road to Todgha Gorge, High Atlas

Hiking at Todgha Gorge

Located in the eastern part of the Atlas Mountains and carved between the Todra and Dadès rivers, Todgha Gorge is a 300m deep fault that offers excellent trekking routes.

Guides in Todgha Gorge are familiar with a day hike that leads to a nomadic family’s settlement, far from the village of Tinghir, overrun with tour buses. Leave the mudbrick village and lush farmland behind, wander through the limestone gorge and river that runs alongside, and begin the ascent to the rocky mountains that wind their way up along unexpected trails. Views from the top provide stunning vistas of the surrounding landscape. With only minimal scrub bush, start the hike early to avoid the heat of the midday sun. A guide is a must as are sturdy hiking boots and plenty of water.

Hiking the Dadès Valley

The backdrop to the picturesque Dadès Valley leading to the Dadès Gorge is one of mesmerising rock formations, known locally as the ‘monkey fingers’. Often a short stopover en route to the Sahara Desert, it’s worth scheduling at least a half-day trek climbing through the rocks, lush valleys and little bridges with the river running beneath. A local guide is a must as the paths are unmarked. Bus agencies drop passengers in the nearby town of Boulemane and comfortable hostels are available throughout the valley and closer to the gorge.

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Traditional red stone berber village and oasis in the Dades Valley

Where to stay when hiking in Morocco

Imlil is a bustling hub within Toubkal National Park as trekkers start their ascent to Mount Toubkal. Friendly locals have set up shop and are ready to sell all kinds of fossils, carpets, jewellery and other trinkets to visitors passing through. Homestays and lunches in a local family can be arranged with the help of a local guide or travel agency. Small snack bars and informal restaurants serving tajines cooked over coal-fired grills dot the roadside.

The Anti-Atlas Mountain town of Tafraoute is worth a visit for a night or two allowing for at least a day hike in Morocco, or just a break for travellers heading to/from the Sahara Desert. Famous for its almonds, colourful babouche slippers particular to the region, and even as a starting point for cycling up to the blue rocks and spotting prehistoric rock carvings. The town hosts an almond blossom festival, typically in February although the dates vary, which includes folklore displays to celebrate the harvest. The town is accessible by national bus companies.

Todgha (or Todra as it is sometimes spelt) Gorge has become something of a tourist bus hotspot with locals selling carpets, fossils, and other finds as visitors wander amongst the limestone canons and cafes lining the riverbed. A number of three-star guest houses provide the perfect base for leisurely wanders through the palm groves or a longer trek through the mountains where nomadic families are known to reside. National bus companies provide service to this region daily.

Weekly markets are held in busier towns across rural Morocco and provide an opportunity for locals from the surrounding villages to stock up on goods for the week – fresh produce and meats, dry goods and spices, and supplies for daily life. In the middle of the action, there is sure to be a tent supplying sfenj doughnuts and smoky grills preparing mouth-watering meats and vegetables to stuff into a fresh loaf of bread when hunger strikes.

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View from a hiking trail in Imlil, High Atlas

The best medinas in Morocco

Exploring the souks and shops of Morocco's old towns

Morocco is a land that conjures images of the vast Sahara Desert, colourful markets and trendy riads. And with tourism a priority of the government, (the country aims to be one of the top 20 tourist destinations in the world by 2020), this North African kingdom feels safe, secure and on the move. No trip to Morocco is complete without exploring at least one of its many medinas.

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Entrance to Fes Medina

What is a medina in Morocco?

In Morocco, a medina simply refers to a city’s old town or historical centre. Seven of Morocco’s medinas are included on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and they are fascinating places to visit.

King Mohamed VI recently inaugurated Bayt Dakira, a restored building highlighting Jewish heritage, in the Essaouira medina. The magic of Marrakech never ceases to enchant, while wandering through the narrow alleyways of Fez feels like a journey back in time. It’s understandable that a stay in a riad within the walls of these centuries-old cities is on the must-do list of most travellers visiting Morocco.

It is here in the old cities that travellers find themselves in the heart of the action – cavernous carpet shops where hours are whiled away sipping mint tea in an attempt to find the perfect rug. Spice shops lined with perfumes, hand-written signs describing potions for the adventurous, and perfectly displayed spices. And, of course, workshops passed down from generation to generation where artisans still produce handmade crafts.

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Crowd of people, Casablanca medina

What to see in a medina in Morocco

Historical monuments including koranic schools, palaces and mosques attest to the cities’ long history. While it’s easy to get caught up in sightseeing, Morocco’s medinas themselves are often a sight as well. Grab a spot in a cafe and watch the world go by. Step into an unassuming restaurant flooded with locals and order the preferred dish. Sip tea with an artisan in his workshop to learn more about his craft or trade – make a pair of babouche slippers, learn to hand cut zellig tiles that line the walls of the finest palaces, or try your hand at pottery. Wander down the little alleyways to seek out smaller and lesser-known museums and you may find yourself rewarded – typically in the form of meeting a friendly local – who will share his or her passion for the subject matter.

In Morocco’s medinas, mosques and zaouia (religious schools) shrines are closed to non-Muslims. Expect a slower pace on Fridays, the holy day, until at least late afternoon when business tends to resume throughout Morocco’s medinas. To experience the Friday ambience, listen to the midday prayers while sitting on a rooftop terrace. Keep in mind the medinas are the more traditional neighbourhoods within each city. As such, alcohol can be difficult to find in restaurants and bottle shops are non-existent.

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Babouche slippers for sale, Morocco

Negotiating is part of daily life in Morocco souks and international shoppers are no exception. Be prepared to negotiate from about 40% of the starting price until finally agreeing upon a price that’s both fair for the buyer and the seller. Remember, it’s ok to walk away from a negotiation and shoppers shouldn’t feel pressured to buy.

The medinas of Fez and Marrakech are renowned for their historic riads – Marrakech on the trendy, contemporary side and Fez with its high ceilings, decades-old intricate zellig and stucco work. When deciding on a riad, particularly in the medina of Marrakech, be sure to check which restaurants, historical monuments and other riads are nearby. Many riads advertise being ten minutes from the famous Jemaa el Fna square, which is technically true, but only if you’re a local and know shortcuts.

While Moroccans are incredibly friendly and hospitable people, be aware that faux guides do roam. In Marrakesh, men on bicycles claiming to work at nearby hotels are common. These false guides often lead visitors to local spice or carpet shops, where they feel an obligation to buy. It’s best to avoid this type of assistance and instead seek the services of a state-approved guide who can provide insight into the historical sites as well.

Medina of Marrakesh

Palaces, riads and the magic of the Jemaa el Fnaa

Under the French Protectorate (1912-1956), a new city of Gueliz was developed near the Marrakesh medina to lure travellers seeking an exotic destination. Today, more than 100 years on, Marrakesh continues to attract travellers to both the new city and the medina.

In fact, Marrakesh’s old city is gentrifying to the point of becoming unrecognisable to anyone who has travelled here in the last ten years. Riads with modern conveniences and contemporary designs have become boutique guesthouses, while rooftop terrace restaurants provide views from above and a magical setting as the call to prayer sounds throughout the medina. More and more trendy designers are opening air-conditioned shops, replacing old shop fronts which traditionally displayed their wares on the street.

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Streetfood in the Jemaa el Fnaa square

Despite the changes, Marrakesh’s medina remains steeped in history having passed under both Almoravid and Saadien rule – and at one point becoming the capital of the country.

Marrakesh was founded in the 11th century with the Koutoubia Mosque, the city’s iconic landmark, rising over the city. Visible from all directions, local building regulations restrict buildings to five storeys to avoid blocking views of the mosque.

From here, the famous Jemaa el Fna square changes throughout the day. Snake charmers entertain travellers from morning to sunset, while storytellers tell enchanting tales as afternoon turns to evening. After sunset prayers are called, musicians perform tribal music from across the country, creating a lively buzz as smoke from the nearby food market grills rises above. If you’re planning to visit the famous square and snap a few photos, remember that the entertainers live from their tips. Ten dirhams is a sufficient tip for the halkas (storytelling and musical circles) while 20 dirhams should satisfy the snake charmers. Just be sure to have small bills.

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Koutoubia Mosque at night, Marrakesh

Palaces both centuries old – see the Badii Palace which dates back to the 16th century but today lies in ruins – to more recent constructions such as the 19th century Bahia Palace are worth seeking out. More recently, the 20th century Dar el Bacha Palace (once home to politician Pacha el Glaoui, who ruled Marrakesh during the French Protectorate era) is open to the public after being reclaimed by the state following independence in 1955. Look for its beautiful zellig, intricate plasterwork and art exhibitions around the main courtyard. The palace remains an official residence with a police presence at the building’s exterior.

Medina of Fes

Morocco's most ancient old town

Once a small Amazigh village, the city of Fes grew centuries ago as Muslim residents of Andalusia fled persecution, finding refuge in this city divided by the River Fes. Established in the eighth century, Fes is home to the world’s oldest university (University of Al-Qarawiyyin, founded in 859 and still operating today) and is considered the cultural and spiritual capital of Morocco. While the much-anticipated Al-Qarawiyyin Library within the university complex opened very briefly following a restoration led by local architect Aziza Chaouni, it is now open only on request. Other must-see historical sites in Fes include Medersa Bou Inania, El Attarine Medersa, the Glaoui Palace and Batha Museum.

However, it is the local artisans that make Fes truly unique. Master artisans create beautiful pottery and turn hand-cut tiles into impressive zellig patterns (a craft that takes several years to master) based on geometric designs for tabletops, fountains and wall mounts. In Fes medina’s metalsmith district, it’s common to find artisans hammering brass kitchen materials and carving the finest details in copper trays.

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Tannery in Fes

You’ll notice the medina’s three leather tanneries by the strong smell coming from the dye pits – a pungent mix of rotting cow flesh for leather, bird poo and cow urine. Head to the thousand year old Chouara tannery to see men waded through these pits to tan the hides that become colourful bags, belts, leather jackets and boots on display in shops throughout the town. Fans of the famous babouche slipper will find a great selection in Fes.

Go beyond the architecture and the artisans to explore another important element of Moroccan culture in the medina of Fes – food. Head for Bab Boujloud at the western entrance to the medina, where small hole-in-the-wall cafes sells bissara (bean) soup in the morning with lashings of olive oil and sprinkling of cumin and paprika to be mopped up with a fresh loaf of khobz bread. Mountains of gooey pastries stuffed with almonds and orange-blossom water await those with a sweet tooth. And fresh from the griddles, grab a pancake stuffed with harissa, onions and olives and slathered in Laughing Cow cheese for a savoury snack.

Fes is a more conservative city than more modern Marrakesh, so alcohol is harder to find in restaurants and guest houses. Sip mint tea instead.

Medina of Casablanca

An old town with sea views

Given the size and population of Casablanca today, it’s hard to imagine that prior to 1912 this little medina, formerly known as Anfa, was all that existed. It was only after the French arrived that development of the city centre and its port began, and the residents of Anfa were relocated to the newly created medina of Habous.

But let’s start with the old medina, one where few travellers wander. Today, Casablanca’s medina retains a vibe that differs from other old towns in Morocco.

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Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

Entering via Bab el-Marsa, Place Ahmed Bidaoui is the perfect spot for coffee in the sunshine while watching the world go by. It was through this gate that General Lyautey entered Casablanca in 1912 when the country came under French protectorate. For a throwback, stay at Hotel Centrale with views overlooking the busy port which still bustles long after the Protectorate ended. Further along, wander up to Dar el-Ittihad with its sombre facade and pleasant gardens where General Lyautey lived. This is a place that feels a little different to the rest of Morocco, with more in common with Havana in Cuba than Fes.

Found mere steps from each other, the Ettedgui synagogue, the Spanish Eglise Buenaventura and the Jemaa ould el-Hamra mosque (dating back to the 1700s) attest to Casablanca’s once diverse population. Large merchant homes line the streets alongside shrines and local markets. Street food stalls dot the small alleyways. Find one popular with locals and grab a seat and sample the local specialities, often costing mere dirhams.

Today, beyond the walls of this small medina, art deco homes built during the Protectorate era line the downtown core, while post-colonial modernist architecture is found just streets away.

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Medina of Casablanca

Over in the Habous neighbourhood (or the new medina as it’s sometimes referred to) the Makhama du Pacha is an architectural masterpiece. Built as municipal administrative offices, the buildings’ rich decoration includes traditional Islamic architecture with arches and walls covered in intricately carved stucco, hand-carved wooden doors painted turquoise in a courtyard style, and an impressive Andalusian-style patio where more offices are located.

Commerce played an important role in Habous and today the arcade-like streets are the go-to spot for traditional artisanal crafts in Casablanca. Stop in at Patisserie Bennis for some chebakiya (deep-fried pastries coated in rosewater syrup) and other sticky sweet treats before heading to a café in Place Moulay Youssef where the nearby mosque resembles the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech.

Alternatively, grab a seat and a mint tea at Cafe Imperial for views of the Makhama du Pacha. Stop by the olive souk to sample different flavours – purple, green and black – and shop for harissa and preserved lemons.

On Thursday evenings, Dar Al Ala, Casablanca’s museum dedicated to Arab-Andalusian musical history, hosts live Andalusian musical concerts. The Andalusian-style Dar al Kitab (meaning house of the books) houses a small bookshop and art gallery for a dose of culture in Habous.

Medina of Essaouira

Argan oil, blue doors and a revived Jewish quarter

Famous for its thuya (cedar) wood, argan oil, Jewish heritage (Essaouira’s medina was once home to more than 30 synagogues) and Gnaoua music, the Essaouira medina is a hive of activity, with private lives tucked away behind sturdy blue doors. Once known as the Port of Timbuktu (due to the number of African goods that ended up here), the city has a rich history of trade and was included on the UNESCO World Heritage list as an example of an 18th-century fortified old town. A wander down to the bustling port just off the popular Place Moulay Hassan provides a glimpse into the life of a fisherman. Here, you can see small boats returning with their catch, which is often sold locally.

Morocco Essaouria Moroccan local men sell fresh fish and seafood on the market in port

Fishermen, Essaouira

Essaouira’s medina is full of cultural sites. Wander through the medina from Place Moulay Hassan and turn right down Derb Messaouda where the facade of the Portuguese church remains next to the former Portugese embassy, both buildings abandoned.

Essaouira’s Skala is a popular tourist destination due to being used in Game of Thrones. Its bastions provide breathtaking views over the ocean, particularly at sunset when the waves crash against the rocky coastline. Over in the mellah (Jewish) district, the Slat Kahal and Haim Pinto synagogues remain open to visitors. In January 2020, Morocco’s King Mohamed VI officially opened the Bayt Dakira museum, within the former residence of the late Essaouira merchant Simon Attia. Also home to the Attia synagogue, the museum pays tribute to Essaouira’s Jewish community and its contribution to the medina over the centuries. A display of traditional dress and religious objects, Andalusian music (the city also hosts the Andalusian music festival every October) and profiles of prominent community members are on display.

Throughout Essaouira medina, you’ll hear the rhythmic sounds of Gnaoua music playing. The spiritual music, which combines chanting, castanets and dancers, recently made its way onto the UNESCO World Heritage Site for intangible culture. The city plays host to the annual Gnaoua and World Music Festival every June.

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Essaouira medina

Essaouira is much slower-paced than nearby Marrakesh, with many travellers heading here as respite from Morocco’s hectic cultural capital. Head towards Rue Chbanate to escape the crowds and meet woodworkers using locally-sourced thuya wood to create intricate bowls, plates and bangles in tiny family-owned workshops. Keep in mind that when buying directly from the artist, you’re cutting out the middle man so prices are often much lower, meaning less haggling – if any – is necessary.

One final word of warning – Essaouira is known for the stiff winds that blow in from the Atlantic year-round. This makes it an excellent place to try windsurfing and kitesurfing, but less friendly for those looking to relax on the beach. Layers are recommended, even in the height of summer.

Where to go in Morocco

Our recommended places

Marrakesh

Marrakesh

Marrakesh can be bewitching. Palaces, koranic schools, historical sites and mosques dating back centuries are tucked away next to contemporary designer showrooms and picture-perfect restaurants. Souks filled with brightly coloured textiles, richly-patterned pottery and tribal jewellery are among the treasures on offer in Marrakesh’s medina.

Perfectly manicured gardens, private collections featuring artworks and Moroccan artefacts, and roaming the interiors of centuries-old palaces are all great ways to fill a few days experiencing Marrakesh.

In fact, with new venues, restaurants and boutiques opening frequently, it’s easy to spend a week here and still not see everything or dine in every recommended restaurant. But given the sensory overload that awaits in the old city, time whiled away in a café, slowly watching the world go by is highly recommended. Once you’ve had your fill of the medina, go beyond the old city and explore Gueliz, the neighbourhood developed under French rule. It’s here that the contemporary art galleries and designer showrooms are located and where restaurants serving up cuisine from around the world – including Protectorate-era establishments recalling French brasseries – showcase a completely different side to Marrakesh live to the old city.

Rabat

Rabat

Although it’s the capital city of Morocco, Rabat is often just a half-day stopover on most itineraries. With wide avenues for walking from the old city through the art deco downtown, passing by the Parliament building, exploring the city on foot is enjoyable.

The capital perfectly blends modern architecture and sites (the Mohamed VI Contemporary Art Museum for one is well worth a visit with world-class exhibitions) with historical sites dating back centuries. Kasbah of the Udayas, the Berber-era royal fort sits overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and the Chellah ruins on the banks of the Bou Regreg River have links to the Roman Empire.

The city is an unexpected treasure for those who dare to add a few extra hours or even a day to their itinerary. Nearby Salé, just across the Bou Regreg River receives few visitors and home to a lovely Koranic school where travellers often have the place to themselves to appreciate the architectural beauty.

Casablanca

Casablanca

Morocco’s largest city and the country’s economic hub sits beside the Atlantic Ocean and has a distinctively different vibe from other cities across the Kingdom. Often reputed as having “nothing to see,” the city is full of surprises for those who dare to venture beyond what they are told.

The city started as what’s known as the ancienne medina, previously known as Anfa, before the city developed during the French Protectorate. The art deco lined boulevards and architecturally diverse city centre were built during this era, making it an architecture-lovers dream, along with the port. The Habous area is known as the new medina, and was also developed during the Protectorate.

It’s not hard to miss the Hassan II Mosque, the largest in Africa and the third largest in the world, with a 210m tall minaret that punctures the city skyline. It’s also the only mosque open to non-Muslims in Morocco, but by guided tour only.

Essaouira

Essaouira

Laid-back with a dash of charm, this seaside town on the Atlantic Coast never fails to impress visitors. With little to do but slow down, wander and watch the world go by while sipping a mint tea or coffee nouss nouss (half coffee, half milk), Essaouira is a great place to unwind.

If shopping is your thing, then Essaouira is a pleasant place to experience it. Once known as the Port of Timbuktu, this fortified old city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, retains a trading vibe with laid-back markets filled with locally made textiles, honey, and wooden goods made from thuya or olive wood.

Try wandering along the bustling port as seagulls hover overhead ready to swoop in for your snacks. Known for its fresh seafood, fishmongers at the local markets sell their catch of the day with the nearby grills able to cook it to perfection for tourists and locals alike.

Merzouga

Merzouga

Once you’ve arrived at Merzouga — the gateway to the Sahara — you will find yourself surrounded by dry heat and vast golden sand dunes. The main attraction here is the Sahara Desert, with mountainous dunes in hues of red and orange that hover above this small town. A night in the desert is a must for most travellers. Try arriving at your campsite for the evening on camelback for a truly Moroccan experience.

Despite being in the middle of nowhere, it’s common for camps to provide piping hot tagines, drumming and traditional music around the campfire under a starry desert sky. Hotels at the edge of the dunes with pools are available for those who want a bit more comfort.

Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen

In this city in the Rif Mountains everything is a shade of blue, from the front doors of local homes to the staircases winding through the village.

Wander up and down Chefchaouen’s narrow alleys to explore leather and weaving workshops before visiting the red-walled Kasbah, a 15th-century fortress and dungeon, in Place Outa el Hammam. Once under Spanish occupation, the influence here remains – as does the Spanish Mosque. Just be aware that Chefchaouen’s recent popularity on social media means that tourism has boomed in this small hillside town.

That said, nature awaits at the village’s doorstep, with the 6km Jebel el Kalaa trail starting from the village and further afield the Talassemtane National Park where visitors can hike to Ackour waterfalls – some of the most beautiful in Morocco. Slow travellers could easily spend a few days here and not feel ready to leave.

Meknes

Meknes

Once the country’s capital, Meknes is one of four imperial cities in Morocco (the others being Fes, Marrakech and Rabat). Its historical sites are regal and recall days of power under Sultan Moulay Ismail.

While most tour operators combine a visit here with a stop in Volubilis and Moulay Idriss, you could easily spend a day taking in the historical sites alone. Or, try simply sitting in the Place el Hadim sipping coffee and admiring the imposing city walls of this UNESCO World Heritage site and the Bab el Mansour gate, behind which the imperial city’s main sites lie.

Because Meknes receives so few visitors (the city is often overlooked in favour of nearby Fes and the Roman ruins of Volubilis), meandering in the medina is pleasant and visiting the historical sites often means very few other tourists.

Fes

Fes

Founded in the 9th century, the history of Fes is storied, with various dynasties passing through and making this their capital.

Home to the oldest university in the world, the city was once the centre of knowledge in the region. Thousands of families fleeing the Spanish Inquisition made Fes their home. The culinary and arts and crafts here are renowned across the Kingdom.

Behind closed doors, some of the finest palaces lie where the elite once resided and which open to the public or act as venues during the Fes Festival of Sacred Music.

Today the medina of Fes is the best-preserved medieval city in the Muslim world, with more than 9,000 alleyways and hundreds of workshops housing artisans producing handicrafts using traditional methods. Wandering here is an assault on the senses, but one that visitors tend to enjoy.

Midelt

Midelt

This small town lies in the high plains between the Middle Atlas and High Atlas mountain ranges and is often just a stopover to break up the long journey between Fes and the Sahara Desert. Famous for its apple crops, the town is surrounded by mountain views and gentle walks to stretch the legs between long journeys.

Todra Gorge

Todra Gorge

No trip to Morocco is complete without a walk in the wadis.

The steep-cliff valleys of Todra Gorge are a series of limestone canyons that make for a unique walking experience and are often considered one of the must-sees when visiting Morocco’s south.

Hike along paths that have been carved out by rivers and enjoy spectacular views of pink rock as you pass through. The height of the canyon walls reaches 400m in some places.

Ouarzazate

Ouarzazate

A gateway town to the vast Sahara desert, Ouarzazate is best known for the immense Taourirt Kasbah, a 20th-century palace built for Pacha Glaoui during the French Protectorate. Today, it’s largely an administrative centre, with the city thriving on the film industry and the tourists it draws because of it.

Ouarzazate's red earth landscapes have been the setting for several famous films, supposedly depicting Tibet, Egypt and even ancient Rome and the nearby film studios are open for film buffs. Many of the townspeople have been cast in or worked on the films shot in this region including Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and Babel.

Given its location, this is the perfect jumping-off place for desert adventures. One night to break up the journey between the Sahara and Marrakesh is often enough.

Volubilis

Volubilis

Once one of the most remote outposts of the Roman Empire, partially-excavated Volubilis is an archaeologist’s dream. It’s a beautiful place to walk around and ponder what life must have been like in this bustling hillside city in the third century BC, when the settlement was developed on rich fertile grounds.

Today, the surrounding, rolling hills remain dotted with olive trees and wineries producing a huge range of red, white, rosé and gris that are largely drunk in Morocco itself. From the historical site, the Zerhoune mountain range is visible, with the nearby holy village of Moulay Idriss Zerhoune tucked within.

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