Morocco's Best City Breaks
Morocco's cities are impossibly exotic. North African culture bumps up against all the quirks and traditions of the Middle East, leaving travellers caught up in haggling sessions for carpets, tripping over snake charmers' baskets, drinking scalding mint tea or getting lost in dark, maze-like souks. From the capital to the coast, there's plenty to discover in the urban hubs across the country. Here's our pick of the top spots to see.
Morocco's most famous city is the biggest tourist draw and no wonder. Particularly around the main square of Jemaa el-Fnaa, the city has a timeless Arabian appeal. Uneven, shabby looking streets wind throughout and behind them lie amazing riads (traditional Moroccan houses), some private and others converted into guesthouses and cafes. Almost all have a cool central courtyard with a swimming pool or water feature, and are perfect places to sit with a sweet mint tea.
Spend your evenings back in the square, where the action goes on all evening. Groups of Moroccans gather to chat, eat, play games or listen to music. Take a table at the one of the restaurants at the centre of the square to soak up all the atmosphere, and if you're brave enough, buy a bowlful of cooked snails to eat from one of the vendors.
Don't Miss: brave a Moroccan Hammam where you'll be scrubbed, steamed and bathed to within an inch of your life. Try Hammam De La Rose for an authentic experience, at about $35 US for 45minutes.
Anyone with a soft spot for Beat literature should make a stop in tangier - once upon a time a notoriously seedy, dirty and debauched city, where writers such as Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac spent time in the fifties.
While Tangier is still far from polished, it's certainly less edgy that it used to be. The city centre is undergoing modern development and the beach is packed with Moroccan sun seekers at weekends. For a taste of the city’s older history, visit the Kassbah museum in Dar el-Makhzen, the former sultan's palace.
Don't Miss: the Cafe de Paris (find it at the Palace de France) was a popular counterculture hangout for the writers, artists and poets that flocked to Tangier for inspiration.
If you need a break from crowded streets, persistent carpet sellers and honking, screeching traffic, clean, quiet Rabat is the place to go and decompress. It used to be a refuge for the Barbary pirates who would hijack European merchant ships, but its crooked past it now far behind it. Palm trees line the wide streets and there are a handful of Unesco sites to visit too, including the Roman ruins of Chellah, the historic Almohas gates and wall and the mausoleum of Mohammed V.
Don't Miss: Head to the Kasbah des Oudaias which looks out over the Bou Regreg river, then take a walk through the surrounding small streets lined with blue and white houses.
Casablanca is just as manic as you'd expect the economic powerhouse of Morocco to be. Visit the imposing Hassan II Mosque, which is the second-largest religious building in the world and one of only two mosques in Morocco open to non-Muslims. While Morocco is by no means a place to go for a boozy break, Casablanca does have a thriving nightlife scene, and there are trendy bars and clubs along the beachside strip in Ain Diab and in the city centre, on Rue Allal Ben Abdellah.
Don't Miss: There's great surf along Essaouira Bay (gentle waves here are best for beginners ) or at spots a short drive away, such as Moulay Bouzerktoun or Sidi Kaouki.
If you want to get a sense of what Morocco might have been like in the Middle Ages, try Fes. Home to the largest functioning Islamic medieval city in the world, the medina of Fes el-Bali looks as though nothing has changed since the city was first founded. Donkeys carry produce around (although these days they're often sharing the thoroughfares with motorbikes) and there are 9000 winding passageways, where tanneries and stores selling huge sacks of dye ply their trade in the same style they have for centuries.
Don't Miss: Stroll down either of the two main alleys in old Fes to reach Bab Bou Jeloud, the city's monumental main gate, decorated with swirls of blue tiles. It's always busy in this area so sit at one of the cafes for a spot of people-watching.