Must-do activities when visiting Rabat
Rabat, the capital of Morocco, is a less popular destination than Marrakech, Essaouira, Agadir or Casablanca. However, this city with its rich historical and cultural heritage, situated at the heart of a magnificent region with a coastline almost 60 kilometers long, is a prime tourist destination.
To visit Rabat is to discover one of Morocco’s most interesting cities. In this post, I invite you to discover the best things to do & see in Rabat, a city you can also discover in just a few days if you decide to take a week-long road Morocco Tours!
The Kasbah des Oudayas
The Kasbah des Oudayas is an absolute must-see during your stay in Rabat. This former military camp is a walled city within a city. You’ll need to pass through the Bab-Al-Oudaïas gate to enter.
In the 12th century, when it was built during the Almoravid dynasty, the Kasbah was simply a small fortress overlooking the Bouregreg river. It was only later, under the Almohad dynasty, that it became a true kasbah. It was in this fortified convent that the soldier-monks were based during the conquest of Andalusia. If Rabat became the country’s capital, it was largely thanks to this stronghold, reputed to be impregnable, where the sultans could take refuge in complete safety from popular uprisings.
The Andalusian influence is evident in the narrow cobbled streets steeped in history, lined with blue-and-white-walled houses. You’ll be able to make some wonderful discoveries and enjoy the pleasant coolness and soothing atmosphere, in stark contrast to the city center.
Discover the Palais de la Kasbah, the very first royal residence built by the Alawites, and the Jardin des Oudayas, or Andalusian garden, located at the foot of the palace. Take the time to sit down at a café, such as the famous Café Maure, where you can enjoy a view of the Oued Bouregreg while sipping mint tea and an oriental pastry.
Rabat’s medina and souk
In Rue des Consuls and the surrounding alleyways, right next to the Kasbah des Oudayas, you can discover the Rabat souk, also known as the Tahti souk. Although not as large and renowned as Marrakech’s souk, it remains one of the Moroccan capital’s must-see attractions.
Rabat’s medina stretches for over a kilometer and was founded in the 17th century by Andalusians who had been expelled from Spain. Since 2019, the area has been extensively renovated to make it brighter and more spacious. Here you’ll find numerous artisan stalls selling pottery, carpets, fabrics, jewelry and typical decorative objects. Don’t hesitate to haggle for a bargain!
One of Rabat’s most emblematic historical monuments. This 45-meter-high tower was built in the 12th century as the minaret of the world’s largest mosque, before its construction was halted on the death of Sultan El Mansour. The style of this tower is reminiscent of the Giralda in Seville and the Koutoubia in Marrakech.
Nine centuries later, the tower remains unfinished, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most famous buildings in the country. The Hassan Tower cannot be visited, but you can admire it from all angles from its beautiful garden or from its esplanade. On the other side of this great square is the Mohamed V mausoleum, another of Morocco’s great architectural wonders. You can visit the Hassan Tower on a guided tour of the city. Other sites of interest include the Kasbah des Oudayas, which I mentioned earlier in this article.
Mohammed V Mausoleum
This mausoleum, where King Mohammed V and his two sons are laid to rest, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its Arab-Muslim architectural style, the Mohammed V Mausoleum is one of the world’s most famous royal tombs. Over 400 Moroccan craftsmen worked on its construction between 1961 and 1971.
Covering an area of 1,500 m², the building’s walls are made of white marble, and the green tiles represent the star of the Moroccan flag, symbolizing the Alawite dynasty, which has ruled the country since the 17th century.
Visits to the Mohammed V Mausoleum are free of charge, except on Fridays at prayer time.
El Chellah is a 13th-century necropolis built on the ruins of an ancient Roman city called Sala Colonia. Although it’s a necropolis, there’s nothing sinister about the place, and it’s often touted as Morocco‘s most romantic spot, although for me, the Andalusian garden of the Kasbah des Oudayas is serious competition.
El Chellah lies outside the Almohad walls of Rabat, about 2 km to the southeast. Severely damaged by earthquakes in the 18th century, the site was abandoned for a long time, falling victim to looting. It has been a listed monument since 1913.
A visit to the Chellah necropolis will reveal vestiges of the past dating back to several eras, including Roman and medieval ruins. You’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy superb views over the region, the marshes and the Boureberg river.
You can also see a colony of storks, which has settled near the ruins of the mosque. It’s probably at dusk that this site is at its most bewitching, but if you have the chance to discover it during the spring, when the flowers invade the ruins, you’re sure to keep an unforgettable memory.
Museums in Rabat
In the modern part of the city of Rabat, you can visit two particularly interesting museums (what’s more, you can visit both with a single ticket):
The Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain Mohammed VI, a very recent museum showcasing the work of Moroccan artists of the 20th and 11th centuries. In addition to permanent exhibitions, numerous events are organized to promote the richness and variety of Morocco’s contemporary art. I recommend buying a ticket for a guided tour of the city’s most artistic sites. The ticket includes admission to the museum, but also to the photography museum and the Abla Ababou art gallery.
The Musée d’Histoire et des Civilisations, Rabat’s museum of archaeology, is a must-see place for discovering the many absolutely unique pieces found during archaeological excavations. You’ll learn a great deal about the country’s history and the way of life of the inhabitants of the Maghreb since Neolithic times.
Saint Peter’s Cathedral
For a very long time, several religions have coexisted in Morocco, so it’s not surprising that one of the most important religious buildings is a cathedral. Saint-Pierre Cathedral was built between 1919 and 1930, during the French protectorate, on Place Golan in the Hassan district.
Its Art Deco style, with its sharp angles and immaculate white walls, is a distinctive feature. Moroccan influences can still be seen, notably in the interior, with zellige (a traditional Moroccan tile) and the traditional lanterns that light the tabernacle.
The National Zoological Garden in Rabat is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Moroccan capital. It has recently been completely refurbished to offer animals habitats closer to their natural ecosystems. Several “biozones” have been created: a swamp, a tropical forest, a savannah, a desert and an area that reproduces the conditions of the Atlas Mountains.
Rabat Zoo is home to some 1,500 animals of around 130 species that live in northern Africa: tigers, meerkats, eagles, parrots, mouflons, crocodiles, flamingos…
In addition to the 5 zones, a 1700 m² vivarium reproduces the conditions of different African ecosystems. It houses around 150 African reptiles, including snakes, lizards, amphibians and turtles.
The zoo also has a museum that sheds light on Morocco’s paleontological heritage. Many fossils and animal bones are on display, revealing much about the fauna of this region since the Tertiary period.
The botanical testing garden
Right in the heart of the city of Rabat lies a large 17-hectare area that was created in 1914 and is a veritable open-air living museum.
The Rabat Botanical Trials Garden is home to a flora of astonishing biodiversity. Here you can discover over 650 species of ornamental plants and fruit trees from Morocco and other parts of desert, tropical and subtropical Africa.
It’s the ideal place to take a walk in the heart of nature, just a stone’s throw from the center of Rabat, and enjoy a little coolness in the shade of the trees.
Salé is just across the Oued Bouregreg from Rabat. During your stay in Rabat, you can easily devote a day to visiting this superb city, which also boasts a beautiful medina surrounded by impressive ramparts, from which the view of Rabat and its kasbah is superb. The Salé medina is home to a number of souks, including a popular jewelry and food souks.
You can also visit the Grand Mosque of Salé, one of the largest in the country, and the Medersa Mérénide, a magnificent former Koranic school.