Things to Do in Morocco
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The crowning glory of Marrakech’s numerous palaces, even the name of the exquisite Bahia Palace nods to its greatness – ‘Bahia’ translates as ‘Brilliance’. Located by the medina, on the northern edge of the Mellah, or Jewish quarter, the Bahia Palace was once the 19th-century residence of Si Ahmed ben Musa (or Bou-Ahmed), the Grand Vizier of Marrakech, who famously lived here with his four wives, 24 concubines and numerous children.
The Palace, a medley of Islamic and Moroccan architectural styles, is one of the city’s most visited attractions, a richly decorated masterwork that was intended to become the ‘greatest palace of all time’. Although ultimately falling a little short of its aspirations, elements of the elaborate design work are exquisite. The dazzling floor to ceiling embellishments took over 7 years to complete, and include intricate mosaics, inlaid wooden ceilings, molded stuccos and gilded finishes.
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.
More Things to Do in Morocco
The Majorelle Garden is one of the most magical places in a city with no shortage of enchantment. Its founder, French painter Jacques Majorelle, fell in love with Marrakech in the early 20th century and after developing this charming oasis, opened it to the public in 1947. Apart from the huge range of exotic plants, including rare succulents and towering palms, the most distinctive feature is the intense, almost psychedelic shade of blue used in the garden’s walls and buildings.
The garden fell into disrepair and in 1980 was purchased and restored by the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé. It now also houses the Islamic Art Museum, containing exhibits which belonged to both Saint Laurent and Majorelle himself.
The El Badi Palace is an open-air account of the successive dynasties which have held sway in Marrakech. It was built in the late 16th century by King Ahmad al-Mansur of the Saadi dynasty, who spared no expense, filling his home with the best materials and craftsmanship of the age: Italian marble, Sudanese gold and intricately carved Indian woodwork.
But the glories of El Badi (“the incomparable”) were fleeting, and Sultan Mawlay Ismail of the succeeding Alaouite dynasty ransacked the building for his own palace. Even in its ruined state you get a clear idea of the scale of the palace, with high, stark walls enclosing the traces of stately reception halls and other official chambers. The intricate Koutobia minbar (the pulpit-like stairway from which the imam preaches in the mosque) is also on display.
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.
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.
Bab (meaning ‘gate’ in English) Boujloud was built by the French during their occupation of Morocco in 1913. It serves as the gateway into the heart of the bustling streets of the Fez medina. Right next to it stands the original 12th-century gate, built with an indirect entrance on a slant to block battering rams from entering. Bab Boujloud is Mauresque-Andalusian in style. Its grand horseshoe arches are decorated with Fassi mosaic blue tiles on the outside and green ones within. From the main archway, two minarets are revealed in the distance: one is part of the crumbling 20th-century Sidi Lazzaz mosque, while the smaller one, topped by two golden orbs, belongs to the recently restored 14th-century Bou Inania Medersa. Throughout the day, the area around Bab Boujloud bustles with local life, and as such this is one of the best spots in the city to observe everyday life in Morocco, with mules, and mopeds filling the streets as much as the locals.
In the heart of the medina, close to the carpenters’ souk, Nejjarine Square is one of Fez’s most beautiful historic squares, best known for its distinctive centerpiece – the Nejjarine water fountain. Elaborately decorated with ornate carvings and zellij tilework, it’s the kind of drinking fountain normally seen fronting mosques or palaces. Also taking prize place on Nejjarine Square is the exquisite Fondouk el-Nejjarine, an impressively preserved 18th-century funduq (historic traveler’s inn), now home to a fascinating carpentry museum. Inside, the interiors are decked out with magnificent wood-carved balconies and sculpted pillars, while the permanent exhibition houses a remarkable collection of wooden arts, crafts and carpentry tools, dating back as early as the 14th century.
The Saadi dynasty, which dominated much of Morocco in the 16th and 17th centuries, is closely identified with Marrakech, and some 60 members of the ruling family are now permanent residents. Assuming your reverence for long-dead Moroccan sultans is limited, the main reason for visiting the Saadian Tombs is the outstanding decorative work on the buildings which house them. Stunning geometric mosaics, minutely detailed stonework and serene courtyards evoke comparisons with the Alhambra.
The more important tombs are arranged in three rooms, including the magnificent Hall of Twelve Columns, with lower-ranked notables resting in the garden. The site was sealed at around the same time that El Badi Palace was destroyed and was only rediscovered in 1917. Faithful restoration ensures this jewel of Moroccan architecture continues to delight, and it is one of the most visited sites in Marrakech.
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.
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.
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.
One of the great distinguishing landmarks of Marrakech, the Menara Gardens are grouped around a reservoir which once formed part of an irrigation system. They date back to the 12th century, with the green-roofed pavilion added four centuries later and occasionally used as a royal summer residence in the years since. This modest yet perfectly-proportioned structure is best viewed from the opposite end of the reservoir, reflected in the still waters with the majestic snow-capped Atlas Mountains as a backdrop.
Olive groves, citrus trees, palms and other plants offer shade from the burning sun. Here the frenetic souk seems a lifetime away, and the gardens attract as many locals as tourists, particularly at sunset.
Things to do near Morocco
- 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 Ouarzazate
- 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