Things to Do in Morocco
As one of the world’s largest mosques, the magnificent Hassan II Mosque not only boasts a capacity for over 100,000 worshippers, but is also one of Casablanca’s top tourist attractions. Built to commemorate the 60th birthday of former Moroccan King Hassan II, the elaborate mosque was the brainchild of French architect Michel Pinseau and opened its doors in 1993.
From its regal cliff-top perch overlooking the ocean to its soaring 210-meter high minaret (the world’s highest) that shines a beam towards Mecca in the evening hours, everything about the Hassan II Mosque is grandiose. No expense was spared for the landmark building, with hand-carved ceilings, 10-meter-high zellijs, gleaming marble floors and Venetian stained glass windows, complemented by high-tech conveniences like heated flooring and a retractable roof. Inspired by the Koranic verse that tells of God's throne being built upon water.
The star attraction of Morocco’s hippie haven has to be its eponymous beach, and the windswept coast and sandy shores certainly live up to the hype. Lined with bars, restaurants and surf shops, the beach is best known as a hotspot for surfers, windsurfers and kitesurfers, thanks to its steady, year-round winds. The shores near Diabat may be the quietest areas for a bit of relaxation.
With few wind-free days, Essaouira beach is better suited for water sports than swimming and sunbathing, but there are still sunbeds and umbrellas available for rental during the summer months. In addition to kitesurfing and windsurfing lessons, Berber horse and Arabian camel rides are possible and popular along the beach. You’ll likely also see travelers enjoying quad buggy rides along the coast and local children playing soccer in the sand.
Carved into the sea cliffs looking out over the Atlantic, the Hercules Cave is one of Tangier’s most distinctive landmarks, located just down the coast from the Cape Spartel. The vast cave takes its name from Greek hero Hercules who allegedly slept in the cave while undertaking one of his twelve labors, and has been inhabited since prehistoric times, as well as being used more recently by the Berber people to carve millstones.
Today, the cave’s most interesting feature is the man-made entrance that looks out towards the sea – nicknamed the ‘Map of Africa’ for its striking shape, which appears like the outline of the African continent. Whether intentional or not, it’s a fitting tribute, considering the cave’s location, at the northernmost tip of Africa and just minutes from the Strait of Gibraltar.
Jutting out into the Strait of Gibraltar, just west of Tangier, Cape Spartel lies on the northwestern-most tip of Africa, at the meeting point of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Famous for its jaw-dropping views and dramatic coastal roads, the scenic cape is also a popular spot for walking and wildlife spotting, with its pine-covered headlands fringed by sandy beaches and laced with hiking trails. Highlights include the Spartel Lighthouse, which makes a striking landmark perched on the sea cliffs at the end of the cape, and the Hercules Cave, renowned for its magnificent views and rock face that resembles a map of Africa.
Few places in Morocco offer the epic sunrises and beautiful sunsets found amid the towering sand dunes of the tiny village of Merzouga. Located in the unforgiving Sahara Desert near Erg Chebbi, this quiet destination is known for its iconic views, camel safaris and Berber culture.
Intrepid (and fit) travelers can attempt to climb the massive dunes that surround Merzouga, while less the adventurous embark on a 4x4, motorbike or camel trekking tour. While spotting wildlife in the barren desert landscapes can be a challenge, birders will find plenty of opportunities in spring months when a nearby lake fills with water and attracts rare winged wonders.
The historic core of Fez and the seat of the Moroccan government until 1912, Fez Medina (Fez el-Bali) remains the city’s biggest draw – a sprawling district of jumbled souks and snaking alleyways, dotted with grand mosques, palace and madrassas. The old medina is now a protected UNESCO World Heritage site, still surrounded by its 13th-century city walls and reached via a series of monumental gates, most notably the 20th-century Bab Boujeloud, celebrated for its striking blue tilework. With the medina largely pedestrianized, the best way to explore Fez Medina is on foot and there’s plenty to see, starting with the rambling souks, home to the famous Tanner’s Quarters, the soul of the city’s leather trade, where animal hides are soaked in gigantic pots of natural dye.
Home to some of Morocco’s best preserved Kasbahs, the UNESCO-World Heritage listed city of Aït Benhaddou once occupied a prominent position on the trans-Saharan trade route and is now one of the country’s most famous attractions. Sculpted from traditional mud bricks, the town is a striking sight, perched on the edge of the High Atlas Mountains and fortified by walls of dark red pisé.
The highlight of the city is the Telouet Kasbah, once the lavish 20th-century home of notorious Thami el Glaoui, ‘the Lord of the Atlas’, who was both a pasha of Marrakech and the chief of the Berber Glaoua tribe, and famously conspired to overthrow Sultan Mohammed V. Since his death in 1956, Aït Benhaddou fell into ruin, but traces of its former glory linger on in the immaculately restored buildings, the magnificent hilltop Granary and the elaborate Mausoleum of Benhaddou.
More Things to Do in Morocco
Djemaa el Fna, or Place of the Dead, a huge open expanse at the core of the medina (old town) of Marrakech, is one of the great meeting places of the world. Traders meet merchants, merchants meet travelers, travelers meet snake handlers. And the past meets the present, with storytellers carrying on a centuries-old oral tradition, keeping their listeners spellbound with tall tales. The square functions as an outdoor market, music hall, restaurant and theatre as well as the point of departure or arrival for exploration of Marrakech’s myriad delights.
To get an overview, head for a terrace at one of the cafes which loom over the edges of the square. The price of a coffee will buy you respite from the commotion at ground level and a sensational view of the market, the Koutobia Mosque and the Atlas Mountains. And once the sun goes down the Place of the Dead is anything but. In fact it’s just getting going, with mesmerizing music and the smoke.
Perched on the edge of the vast Sahara Desert and with access to 30,000 square meters of natural landscapes, the Atlas Film Studios have made a name for themselves not only as the center of Morocco’s film industry, but as the world’s largest film studio. With a history dating back to the early 1960s, the studios boast an impressive pedigree, having hosted iconic film sets like Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and ‘Star Wars’; popular movies like The Mummy, Jewel of the Nile, and Babel; and even scenes from recent TV hit Game of Thrones.
Today, the legendary film studios are open to visitors outside of filming hours and tours offer the chance to peek into the studios, see the remains of old sets, marvel over film memorabilia and get the inside scoop on the studio’s most famous projects.
Rising above the northeastern corner of Rabat, Hassan Tower stands as a visual promise of what the city’s historic residents hoped it to be: a grand city, even a capital city (which it now is). Also called Le Tour Hassan, its construction began in 1195 during the Almohad Dynasty, and it was built as part of a larger mosque, which was meant to be the largest in the world.
But alas, when the sultan passed away, work on the project came to an end, leaving the mosque unfinished, and its minaret – the tower – standing only 44 meters high (some say half as high as it would have been). Then, come an earthquake in 1755, the incomplete mosque was further destroyed. Today, though, you can still see the surviving, sandstone Hassan Tower, along with the mosque’s remains, such as the columns and walls. Other highlights while here include impressive city and sea views, as well as a visit to the nearby, free-to-enter Mausoleum of Mohammed V.
Found in the north of the city between the port and the majestic seafront Hassan II Mosque, the Old Medina of Casablanca contains the last vestige of pre-20th century Casablanca. Up until the French took over in 1907, the coastal city was defined by this small area, encircled by defense walls and presided over by the Portuguese-built Borj Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah fort. Today, the modern city has grown out in all directions but the historic quarter remains, still surrounded by the remnants of its city walls and 18th century fort.
Today, the maze of narrow alleyways that trace the Old Medina are home to a sprawling souk, selling everything from linens, brass-work and leather goods to traditional handicrafts, jewelry, food and spices.
This well-restored former fondouk – a place where traders took lodgings and stored and sold their goods during the 18th century – is now home to the Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts and Crafts. Opened in 1998, the museum allows visitors to marvel at such artefacts as craftsmen’s tools, prayer beads, ancient chests, and musical instruments. Much care has been taken with regards to the presentation of the displays, and the building is almost an attraction in itself, although photography is now allowed. Displays are presented within an attractive inner courtyard, in rooms through intricately-carved wooden archways, and beneath cedar ceilings. The Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts and Crafts is located in the picturesque setting of the Place el-Nejjarine (Carpenters' Square). Here you’ll find one of the medina’s best-known mosaic fountains, plus small alleys that lead off to the Nejjarine Souk, where carpenters still chisel, carve, and sell their cedar wood items.
Marrakesh, once the most powerful commercial and political center in the Arab world, was founded in 1062 by Berber chieftain Abu Bakr ibn Umar as the capital of the orthodox-Muslim Almoravid Empire. Full of ornate monuments built mostly between the 12th and 16th centuries, a visit to its medina, or old town, is like a walk through a heavily fortified open-air museum. It was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1985.
Surrounded by ancient walls and enormous gates, the medina contains a huge central courtyard called the Jemaa el-Fnaa, a center of trade and public gatherings since Morocco’s inception. The medina is also home to a series of stunning gardens, including the Majorelle Garden, set beside the Museum of Islamic Art and featuring plants collected from five continents.
The lavish Royal Palace and Badi Palace stand adjacent to one another, but neither are open to the public; to get a look inside royal life in the medina.
Built in the 12th century, the Koutoubia Mosque is not only the largest in Marrakech, it is also one of the most influential buildings in the Muslim world. Throughout Spain and beyond you’ll see echoes of its intricate geometric stone work, graceful arches and imposing square minaret.
This last feature, flood-lit at night, is a much-needed point of reference when exploring the low-lying tangle of streets and alleyways which comprise the medina. At 220 feet / 61 meters it was quite a climb for the five daily calls to prayer in pre-elevator times, so a spiraling ramp was installed for the muezzin to ride on horseback to the summit.
A sea of startling blue buildings set against a backdrop of the rugged Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen (pronounced “shef-sha-wen”) is one of the real gems of Morocco’s north, effortlessly retaining its authenticity amidst the influx of tourists. There’s no mistaking where the “Blue City” gets its nickname and with its bright blue-painted walls, doors and stairways, punctuated by red-tiled roofs, it’s a city begging to be photographed.
Chefchaouen might be notorious for its prevalent (but still illegal) hashish trade, but the real highlight is its UNESCO-listed Old Medina, where the lively cafés, cobbled souks and distinctive handicrafts stalls show off the town’s unique heritage—an intriguing blend of Spanish, Moroccan and Riffian cultures.
A short taxi ride from the bustling Djeema el Fna, La Palmeraie offers a tranquil escape from the lively souks and traffic-laden streets of the Old Medina and Marrakech’s most affluent district has often been nicknamed the ‘Beverly Hills of Marrakech.' A quiet, sun-soaked oasis of palm and orange tree-fringed boulevards, neatly-tended rose gardens and vast swimming pools, La Palmeraie is home to many of the city’s most extravagant resort hotels and luxurious private villas.
Even if you can’t afford to stay in La Palmeraie, the scenic district makes a worthwhile detour from downtown Marrakech and the 32,000-acre stretch of palm groves provides a shady backdrop for leisure activities. As well as walking and biking tours, horseback riding and camel riding are popular pastimes, and there’s also a beautifully situated golf course overlooking the villas.
As Morocco’s second-largest mosque and the oldest Islamic building in Fez, it’s hardly surprising that the Kairaouine Mosque is one of the city’s most admired monuments. Founded in 857, the mosque adjoins the historic university of the same name, and is considered Morocco’s holiest mosque, making it an important spiritual center for Muslims. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the mosque, which can hold up to 20,000 people at prayer, but it’s still worth a visit to admire its exquisite façade, with its striking green roof and ornate minaret.
A winding strip of blacktop known by locals as the “Road of a Thousand Kasbahs” leads to the famous Dadès Gorge in the beautiful countryside of Morocco. This scenic drive is lined with hundreds of Islamic cities, fortresses, palm trees and desert sands, which make it one of the most epic roads in the country, but traveler say it’s the rolling red hills of the Dadès Gorge that are truly worth the trip.
After navigating switchbacks by car, visitors can wander the quiet trails of this scenic destination on foot and enjoy a steaming cup of Moroccan mint tea at the top of the gorge. Breathtaking vistas and uninterrupted views of rolling read rocks make for a memorable resting place and quiet escape before embarking on a return trip to the city.
- Things to do in Marrakech
- Things to do in Fez
- Things to do in Casablanca
- Things to do in Agadir
- Things to do in Tangier
- Things to do in Essaouira
- Things to do in Merzouga
- Things to do in Rabat
- Things to do in Spain
- Things to do in Portugal
- Things to do in Central Morocco
- Things to do in Atlantic Coast
- Things to do in Morocco Sahara