The Imperial Cities of Marrakech, Fez and Meknes have a wealth of Islamic architecture and crafts. Visit the magnificent palaces and tranquil medersas to see the exquisite carved plaster, carved and hand-painted cedarwood, delicate calligraphy, mosaic tiles and marble fountains. These ancient skills are still practised in the medinas of Morocco, along with other crafts such as brass and copperware, leather tanning, ceramics and embroidery. We have a special half-day tour in Fez where you can meet the artisans as well as our Architectural Insights tour. See our Experience pages (Fez and Marrakech) for details of all our city options.
Shopping in the souks is legendary as arts and crafts abound. Lanterns, colourful silky throws and scarves, leather bags and belts, pouffes, spices, ceramics, teapots and trays – there’s a fabulously enticing choice. Venturing outside the big cities to smaller towns on market day is fascinating – in Azrou, for example, there are carpets and antiques on sale alongside sheep and vegetables.
The medinas of these cities are just like a living museum. Fez is the biggest, and you soon realise that the medina operates not because you’re there as a visitor, but because people are living there. Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains is the famous blue town of northern Morocco that is so photogenic.
Modernity is visible in the satellite dishes, plastic goods for sale and the odd motorbike (or more in Marrakech). But the medinas are essentially ancient and nothing much has changed for more than 1200 years.
In each of these medinas you will find exquisite traditional houses that have been restored and renovated to include all modern comforts. Accommodation in these cities is in beautiful guesthouses in the medinas.
And on the coast, a tale of four cities definitely worth a visit:
Casablanca is Morocco’s gritty commercial hub, but there’s more to see here than initially meets the eye. The magnificent Hassan II mosque is definitely worth a visit, and it’s the only mosque in Morocco that non-Muslims can enter on an hour-long tour.
Tucked away out of sight is a jewel – wander the downtown area to see the crumbling Mauresque and Art Deco buildings. There is also a burgeoning art scene with galleries and performance spaces. To top it off, we have two excellent foodie options in Casablanca: learn to cook with two Moroccan women at their villa overlooking the sea, or venture out with Kool! Casa who will take you on a morning tour of the medina or the new city, stopping off en route to sample local delicacies and ending with a traditional lunch in a local cafe.
Rabat, the kingdom’s capital, is a gentle, slow-paced city with clean, wide streets, some interesting monuments such as the pirate lair Kasbah, the Phoenician/Carthaginian/Roman site of Chellah and the Mausoleum of Hassan I. Excellent restaurants abound, many of them specialising in fish. The handy tram system will whizz you over the Bouregreg River to Salé and its beautiful medina architecture. The Archeological Museum has treasures from Volubilis, and there’s a new Museum of Contemporary Art.
Tangier, the white city on the hill that has shrugged off its shady past, sports a delightful medina, a Kasbah with beautiful places to stay overlooking the sea, excellent shopping, superb restaurants and art galleries galore. And yet Tangier retains that raffish air of the Beat poets and bathes in the light that so entranced Matisse and Delacroix. (Blog: Tangier – look again)
Essaouira is everybody’s favourite coastal resort. With a history of Romans who harvested sea molluscs to give them their royal purple dye, to Portugese pirates who built the ramparts on the sea and with its extensive Jewish history, this little city is a fascinating spot. It can be windy here, giving rise to the many kite-surfing and wind-surfing opportunities. The beach is more for walking or playing soccer rather than sunbathing and swimming. The medina is small and fairly easy to navigate, with interesting galleries and shops specialising in naif art and thuya wood products. Lovely riads entice (especially if they have a sea view from the roof), and superb restaurants beckon. Best of all, though, is fresh fish at the harbour stalls – pick what you fancy and watch it being grilled before tucking in at a communal table.