The 12 best things to do in Morocco
The 12 best things to do in Morocco: Morocco is a country of dazzling diversity, from its ancient cities and rugged mountain ranges to rolling deserts and deserted beaches.
One day you could be climbing Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak; the next you could be meeting designers in Marrakech, riding the Atlantic rollers in Essaouira, strolling the winding blue streets of Chefchaouen or savoring street food in the medieval medina of Fez. There’s certainly no shortage of things to do, but here are just a few of the best.
Lose yourself in the medinas of Marrakech, Fez and Chefchaouen:
The legendary red city of Marrakech is a sensory overload of sights, sounds and smells. Its ancient medina is a labyrinth of narrow streets, with the Djemaa El Fna square – arguably the most famous square in Africa – at its heart, and its nightly circus of storytellers, snake charmers and musicians.
In Fez, Morocco’s oldest imperial city, time seems to stand still. Dating from the 8th century, Fès El Bali – the world’s largest living medieval medina – is a jumble of souks, workshops and mosques, with a tangle of over 9,000 narrow streets to explore.
Nestled in the green folds of the Rif mountains, charming Chefchaouen is famous for its blue-hued medina. Soak up its laid-back pace of life as you explore its cobbled streets and sip mint tea in an open square, then wander the trails of Talassemtane National Park with its luminous waterfalls and fir forests.
Planning advice: Spring and fall are the ideal seasons to visit Morocco’s medinas. Summers get very hot – temperatures can reach over 40°C (104°F) in July and August – and winters can be cold.
Discover Casablanca’s spectacular architecture:
The city’s most emblematic monument is the Hassan II Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world, open to non-Muslims on guided tours. The monumental prayer hall can accommodate 25,000 worshippers – a further 80,000 can fit in the outer courtyards – and showcases the very best of Moroccan craftsmanship, with hand-carved stucco, painted wood and superb zellige (mosaic tiling).
Downtown Casa is an open-air museum of architecture, from the neo-Moorish tiled facade of La Grande Poste to art deco apartment blocks, and the ultra-modern Grand Théâtre de Casablanca in Place Mohammed V designed by French architect Christian de Portzamparc.
Hiking in the Atlas Mountains:
The High Atlas is a hiker’s paradise, crossing the country diagonally for around 1,000 km (620 miles), from the Atlantic coast to northern Algeria. Imlil, located in the foothills of the High Atlas 90 minutes from Marrakech, is the starting point for climbing Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak at 4167 m (13670 ft), a two-day ascent.
If you have more time, the week-long Toubkal circuit follows centuries-old paths between isolated Amazigh villages, crossing fertile valleys, rugged massifs and panoramic passes.
For even less-traveled trails, the region around Tafraoute is the Amazigh heartland of Morocco, where tribes and traditions hold firm. Surrounded by lush palm groves and hilltop kasbahs, the Anti Atlas is the ideal base for hikers – at 2,359 m (7,740 ft.), Jebel El Kest is the highest peak in the region, but there are gentler hiking and cycling trails through the picturesque villages of Ameln Vallée.
Sail with the wind and waves off the Atlantic coast of Morocco:
The 12 best things to do in Morocco: Nicknamed the “Windy City of Africa” for its coastal breezes, Essaouira is the ideal place to take to the water, whatever your ability. Alternatively, head 30 minutes south to sleepy Sidi Kaouki, with its constant waves, wild beaches and affordable accommodation.
Further down the coast, peaceful Mirleft, 130 km (80 miles) south of Agadir, is home to some of Morocco’s best surf spots. Here, Spot-M takes experienced and novice surfers for group and individual lessons, and organizes week-long surf camps with yoga thrown in.
DEVIATION: Remote Dakhla is as southern as it gets, but with reliable year-round wind conditions and calm lagoon waters, it’s hailed as Morocco’s kitesurfing capital.
Take a gastronomic tour of the Fès medina:
Moroccan cuisine is a veritable melting pot – alongside Amazigh (Berber) influences, Arabs, Moors, Ottoman Turks and the French have all left their culinary mark. One of the best ways to discover this is on a street food tour. Intrepid gourmets will sample everything from snail soup and boiled sheep’s head to mouth-watering sweets such as chebakia (fried dough coated in sesame seeds) and wild honey.
Head to the legendary Café Clock to learn how to concoct three traditional dishes after shopping in the souk for super-fresh ingredients, or keep busy at the Ruined Garden, where you’ll bake five kinds of typical bread, including baghrir or “thousand-hole” crepe.
DEVIATION: In the Middle Atlas, you can also visit a cheese store, discover the age-old process of hand-rolling couscous and taste new Moroccan wine from a French oenologist. Find out more about Plan-it Morocco luxury tour clothing.
Steam and scrub yourself in a hammam:
The 12 best things to do in Morocco: Visit a hammam to be steam, soaped, scrubbed, and massaged into a state of complete relaxation after a taxing day of sightseeing. Every neighborhood has one, and they come in all shapes, sizes and levels of luxury, from a simple hammam and scrub in a no-frills public bath to a higher-priced private bath. Hammam in a chic hotel offering more elaborate wraps and massages. Wherever you go, you’ll emerge perfectly clean with baby-soft skin.
Planning tip: pick up traditional Hammam equipment at the souk, including beldi soap (black soap), a kessa (scrubbing glove), and ghassoul (cleansing clay).
Shop-til-you-drop in Marrakech:
Marrakech will satisfy even the most insatiable shopaholic. The souk’s labyrinthine passages are devoted to everything from aromatic spices to leather babouches (slippers) and shaggy wool rugs, with artisans weaving, hammering and carving their wares as they have done for centuries. And now, local and expatriate designers are working alongside them, giving age-old craftsmanship a contemporary twist.
The fixed-price boutiques of Guéliz (the French-built Ville Nouvelle) take the hassle out of haggling. Along Rue de la Liberté, Atika sells top-quality leather shoes at a fraction of the price of designer brands. And opposite the must-see Jardin Majorelle (the former home of Yves Saint Laurent), the concept store at 33 rue Majorelle offers clothes, accessories and jewelry from Morocco’s top designers, including fair-trade cooperatives.
Local tip: Don’t start negotiating a price unless you really want to buy something. Stay calm and courteous. If you feel under intense pressure to make a purchase, you can always walk away, but remember: for the shopkeepers, it’s a living.
Starry gaze from a shape-shifting Saharan dune:
The 12 best things to do in Morocco: Climb to the top of a vertiginous dune at sunset and savor the silence and stellar views as you watch the desert transform into gold, pink and purple. Camp at night Bedouin-style and sleep under a blanket of stars. You might even catch a glimpse of the Milky Way’s arc. At Erg Chigaga, you’re not only off the grid, but several hours’ camel ride from the nearest lampposts.
The best time to visit the Sahara is from October to early May. In the depths of the Saharan winter (especially in December and January), night-time temperatures can drop below zero. An almost unbearable heat blankets the Sahara from June to early September.
Planning tip: Camel excursions from M’Hamid to Erg Chigaga. From Merzouga, you can also take a 4×4 excursion to Erg Chebbi. Merzouga and M’Hamid are a day’s bus ride from Marrakech.
Move to the rhythm of one of Morocco’s many music festivals:
With influences ranging from Amazigh to Andalusian, Arabic to sub-Saharan African, Morocco’s rich musical culture is fast becoming a mecca for music festivals featuring eclectic rhythms.
One of the most popular is the Gnaoua World Music Festival, which draws festival-goers to the laid-back coastal town of Essaouira for four days of open-air concerts to the hypnotic rhythms of gnaoua, a musical and spiritual tradition brought north by sub-Saharan slaves in the 16th century. Casablanca plays host to Jazzablanca, mixing well-known and emerging artists from Morocco and around the world.
The 12 best things to do in Morocco
From Sufi singers, Afro-American jazz saxophonists and Colombian harpists to international headliners such as Björk, musicians flock to Fez for its annual Festival of World Sacred Music.
While Mawazine is considered the world’s biggest music festival, attracting 2.75 million people and turning Rabat into a gigantic open-air stage.
Planning tip: If you’re heading to a festival, book your accommodation as early as possible and be prepared for higher prices.
In Tangier, emulate the literary greats by doing the following:
The 12 best things to do in Morocco: During the first half of the 20th century, Tangier was one of the Mediterranean’s most cosmopolitan seaside resorts, an international zone with a bohemian ambience appreciated by the Beat Generation in the 1950s.
Numerous literary figures have drawn inspiration from this legendary port city over the years. William S. Burroughs wrote Déjeuner nu at the Hotel El-Muniria, where you can still enjoy mint tea on the terrace overlooking the Mediterranean. And Paul Bowles made Tangier his home for over 50 years, using it as both subject and setting for The Sheltered Sky. Visit his exhibition at the American Legation Museum in Tangier, then follow in his footsteps at Café Hafa overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar.
DEVIATION: You can find these authors and many more in the historic Librarie des Colonnes bookshop, which opened in 1949 and was frequented by the likes of Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote.
Ride the rails of Africa’s first high-speed train:
With the opening of Al Boraq, Africa’s first high-speed rail connection named after a legendary winged steed, you can travel from Casablanca to Tangier in a single day, or combine the two very different coastal cities on a mini-tour. The elegant silver train will take you to your destination in just over two hours, reaching speeds of up to 320 km/h (200 mph), with stops in Rabat and Kénitra. And it’s environmentally friendly, getting 25% of its electricity from renewables, with plans to extend this to 50% by 2023.
Planning tip: If the ONCF website still only accepts Moroccan credit cards, you’ll need to buy tickets at the station. Alternatively, you can go through an online retailer like Marrakech Tickets, which will add a small commission to the total.
Step back in time in the palm groves of Skoura:
The 12 best things to do in Morocco: Like a green carpet spread over the red-tinged rocky landscape, the idyllic Skoura palm grove rustles with date palms. With elegant guesthouses and farm-to-fork restaurants, it’s the ideal place to linger and enjoy the slower pace of oasis life.
The region is dotted with labyrinthine ksar (fortified villages), including Ait Ben Haddou – a Unesco World Heritage site and star of many films, including Gladiateuret and imposing mud-brick kasbahs, such as the magical ruins of Kasbah Amridil. The rural souks showcase the abundant produce of the oases, including pomegranates, apricots, figs and almonds, and are an ideal base for exploring the picturesque Dades and Todra gorges The Draa valley lies to the southeast and to the northeast.