Time feels like it is standing still in many parts of Morocco. The old walls around the city’s medinas, built to protect them from attack, are now protecting them from the march of modernity.
Within these historic centres, the heritage buildings are decorated with colourful tilework, the souks (markets) are selling the same wares they have been for generations, and it’s not uncommon to see donkeys pulling carts through the mazes of alleyways.
Some of the best things to do in Morocco are found in the cities, bursting with attractions but also offering new takes on the country’s dining and cafe scenes. For many visitors, places like Marrakech and Fez will be the first impression of this beautiful country.
But even outside the urban centres, there are so many things to see in Morocco. Smaller towns like Chefchaouen offer relaxed and authentic glimpses into daily life, trips into the Atlas Mountains or the Sahara Desert reveal the stunning natural landscapes of the country, and other landmarks along the way like Ait Ben Haddou provide interesting stops to see unique sights.
There are nine World Heritage Sites in Morocco – and I think each one of them is worth seeing.
One of the things I love about this country is that there is variety – yet there’s also something quintessentially Moroccan about everything you see. You can never forget you’re in North Africa, regardless of where you are.
If you’re planning a longish trip to Morocco – perhaps the only one you’re likely to ever do – I would recommend trying to see a range of cities and other experiences. Each is a little different.
But, if you think you’ll come back to Morocco, maybe just concentrate on the north or the south and explore in as much detail as possible. There are so many things to do in Morocco, it can feel like a rush trying to squeeze them all in.
To help you plan a trip, I’ve put together this list of my favourite places to visit in Morocco, covering the whole country and a range of experiences.
It’s in the cities that most visitors will first start to see the magic of the country, and exploring the historic centres are some of the best things to do in Morocco.
These are the main cities to visit in Morocco, each with its own unique character.
Although it is the second-largest city in Morocco, Fez can often feel like the most important. An enormous urban centre with a sprawling medina, it is the economic centre of the north of the country, and a focus for the heritage.
It’s the historic medina of Fez that is the main attraction here. Built in the 9th century and then expanded until the 13th century, the warren of alleyways takes you through markets, past cafes, to madrasas and mosques.
It feel historic – and that’s part of its charm. Unlike some other parts of the country, it hasn’t become overly gentrified to appeal to hip young travellers.
There are plenty of things to see in Fez, including historic sights like the Bou Inania Madrasa and Al Quaraouiyine. But a lot of the enjoyment comes from just getting lost in the maze.
If you would like a guide, though, there are some great tours of Fez here:
Perhaps the most famous of the cities to visit in Morocco, Marrakech has embraced tourism and integrated it into the heritage.
The large medina of Marrakech still has plenty of important sights to see, including the Ben Youssef Madrasa, Bahia Palace, and El Badii Palace. But there are also quite a few hip cafes and luxury riads amongst them.
It’s much more about aesthetics in Marrakech, where new art galleries and modern villas mix with ancient mosaics and old-school teashops. It’s this blend that makes it such a vibrant city.
Compared to Fez, I think there are more things to do in Marrakech and it’s easy to spend a few days here seeing the historic sights, enjoying the cultural experiences, and enjoying some great food.
It can be a bit overwhelming at first, though, which is why I would recommend one of these tours:
Although smaller and less famous than the two main tourist cities, Meknes has one of the most impressive collection of historic sights in the country.
The controversial ruler Moulay Ismail built his capital here in the 17th century and embarked on a huge infrastructure campaign. Enormous granaries and stables on the edge of town give you a sense of how big Meknes once was – along with the shocking underground prison that once held 100,000 slaves!
The beautifully decorated Bab Mansour gate is a highlight, along with the Dar Jamai museum in an old palace, and the intricate Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail.
It’s worth visiting Meknes as an overnight stay to appreciate the historic centre of the city without the crowds – or there are some good tours here from Fez:
Tangier unfortunately doesn’t have the best reputation these days – and I can see why. On the northern tip of Morocco, just across the water from Europe, it feels a bit like a hectic bordertown, with all the businesses that come along with that.
But beneath that chaos, the internationalism of Tangier is what makes it such a special place, with a blend of languages, cuisines, and cultures all adding to the dynamism.
The medina of Tangier offers historic sights (although far fewer than Fez or Marrakech), while there’s still some of the atmosphere from the 1950s when writers like William Burroughs, Truman Capote, and Tennessee Williams spent time here.
But there’s also a modern side to Tangier that embraces its coastal geography for beachside dining and even swimming. There’s even a bit of European influence because of its proximity to the continent.
To see all the sights, I would suggest this full-day tour of Tangier.
When it comes to a mix of modern of historic, you won’t find more of a contrast than Rabat, which embraces how the distinct periods in its history have defined the capital city of Morocco.
There are ancient citadels and Islamic buildings from as early as the 12th century, and seeing the unfinished Hassan Mosque is a highlight.
The French period in the early 1900s also had a big impact on the city, with large imperial palaces. And then modern office buildings and wide boulevards came as part of the government being based here.
Although it may not be at top of the list for travellers, there are plenty of things to do in Rabat and I think it’s one of the best places to visit in Morocco because of its interesting mix of styles.
To learn more about the city from a local, there are some good tours here:
Although it has the name recognition (because of the movie), Casablanca has less to do than you might expect – from a tourist’s perspective at least. As Morocco’s largest city, it’s much more about daily life here.
The main landmark in Casablanca is the Hassan II Mosque, an enormous compound that can hold about 100,000 worshippers. But there’s lots of other interesting architecture here too, including Art Deco buildings from the past century.
Beyond the sights, though, Casablanca has a vibrant arts and dining scene that is aimed at locals but easily accessible for visitors. In fact, everything feels a bit more relaxed here without the touts you find in Fez or Marrakech.
Some of the historic centres of the cities I’ve just mentioned have been named as World Heritage Sites, and you’ll find plenty of interesting history within their old earthen walls.
But beyond the big cities, there are a few other particular heritage sites that I think are among the best places to visit in Morocco – and worth the effort to get there.
Ait Ben Haddou
Located in the desert a few hours from Marrakech, Ait Ben Haddou is a fortress town completely built from a mud-like substance. An outer earthen wall and towers are the first layer of defence, before a maze of alleys leading up a hill between the buildings.
Ait Ben Haddou was founded in the 11th century but most of the current buildings are from the 17th century. It was once located on a popular caravan route, which is why it grew in wealth and importance.
These days, the site is often used as a backdrop for movies and television (including Game of Thrones) and is a popular stop on trips into the desert from Marrakech.
I would recommend doing a multi-day trip and seeing a bit of the region, but there is this good full-day tour from Marrakech, if you’re short of time.
On the northern coast of Morocco, Tetouan is an important port and was once the capital of the Spanish protectorate of Morocco. But, although it has a population of about 400,000 people, it feels much smaller.
That’s partly because the historic medina in its centre – the focus for many visitors – is not particularly big. Still surrounded by an ancient wall, you can only get in through its grand gates, then follow the small streets winding up the hill.
What makes visiting the Tetouan medina so special is that it feels like an authentic city centre, full of heritage architecture but a part of modern everyday life. It’s not really about tourism – and that is refreshing to discover here.
The small coastal town of El Jadida is one of the most underrated places to visit in Morocco, with lovely beaches, great seafood, and a relaxing holiday atmosphere.
But, for me, the highlight here is the World-Heritage fortress called Mazagan, built on the water in the 16th century by the Portuguese as an outpost on the trading route down the west coast of Africa.
Mazagan was never penetrated and it has been very well preserved since it was handed back to Morocco in 1769. Today, you can walk through the old compound and trace the cliff-like walls.
More than 2000 years ago, the Roman Empire established an outpost in Morocco, at the very edge of its domain. Over the years, it grew into a city called Volubilis.
Volubilis became wealthy from the fertile agricultural lands around it, and large houses decorated with mosaics were built here. Officials erected monuments, including a basilica and a triumphal arch.
Eventually the city was abandoned but some of its ruins remain today and they make up a fascinating heritage site. Visiting Volubilis that takes you into a period of time that’s very different to many of the other historical things to do in Morocco.
The most convenient tours to Volubilis leave from Fez, and there are some good options here:
Discovering the heritage and culture is often one of the main things to do in Morocco for visitors, but there are also incredible natural landscapes out of the city that reveal another side of the country.
The Atlas Mountains are a huge mountain range that stretch across much of Morocco, separating the greener Atlantic coast from the drier Sahara desert. So saying you should ‘visit the Atlas Mountains’ is actually very broad, because there are so many parts of the range you can get to.
From Marrakech, you can do multi-day trips in the mountains, where one of the main attractions (for experienced climbers) is the highest peak in North Africa – Mount Toubkal. Around Fez, on the other hand, it’s easier to do day trips into the mountains to see the landscapes and do some easy walks.
You’ll find some great options for different tours here:
Whichever part you visit, you’ll find local Berber villages and kasbahs, plus there are opportunities for cycling, canyoning, and other adventure activities.
The Sahara Desert, with its dramatic sandy landscapes, is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Morocco. Like the Atlas Mountains, it covers a large area and there are lots of different ways to see it.
One popular option is Erg Chebbi, where there’s a large sea of sand dunes that give you that classic desert atmosphere. The town of Merzouga is the base here, and there are lots of different tours you can take to see the landscapes.
Less visited, because it’s further away and harder to reach, is Erg Chigaga, which is the largest sand sea in the country. Going here is one of the most spectacular things to do in Morocco, but also takes a bit of planning.
Gorges of Dades
Although this is not your typical Moroccan landscape, the Gorges of Dades are spectacular and a really special place to visit.
This series of gorges was carved by the river over many years, leaving rock formations in different colours from rust red, to gold, to mauve.
You get wonderful viewpoints from the road that winds its way down the steep slope, or there are hundreds of hiking trails you can choose from to experience the gorges up close.
There’s even a multi-day walk from the Gorges of Dades to Todra Gorge, another great place to see in Morocco.
Because they are easy to reach from Marrakech, the Ouzoud Waterfalls are a popular destination, but the day trip is worth doing to see one of the least-expected sights in Morocco.
For a country often defined by desert and dry landscapes, it’s unusual to see the lush greenery around the Ouzoud Waterfalls. And the falls themselves are particularly impressive, the water cascading over a crescent-shaped rim and down through several layers of terraces.
Unless you’ve got a car, it will be much easier to reach the waterfalls with one of these tours:
Although the Ouzoud Waterfalls are Morocco’s largest (and most popular), another option in the north of the country is the Akchour waterfalls, which are not as tall but flow gently through small cascades and emerald-green pools.
Aside from the cities and the natural wonders, there are some other fascinating places to visit in Morocco that will take you to some real delights.
The small town of Chefchaouen might not have been anything special… except the whole place is painted blue. Dark blue, light blue, vibrant blue – you’ll find all the hues here, creating a dazzling wonderland.
It wasn’t always this way. Chefchaouen was only painted blue in the mid-1900s, apparently because the Jewish population that moved here wanted it to represent heaven.
These days, it’s a photographer’s delight. But there’s also a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere here that makes it a popular place for visitors to chill out for a few days, wandering the streets and enjoying the cafes with terraces offering beautiful views.
The easiest place to reach Chefchaouen from is Tangier, and there’s this great tour of the town.
A few hours west of Marrakech, the coastal city of Essaouira is a nice change of pace – although there’s still lots to see.
At the centre of the city, the old medina is a World Heritage Site, but it’s different to the one in Fez, for example. It was designed in the 18th century by a French architect and incorporates European styles, including more of a grid system.
Beyond that, there are lots of things to see in Essaouira. It’s famous as a historic port and the fishing boats in the harbour are a colourful sight. And the coastline attracts many of the visitors – with golden beaches for swimming and surfing.
If you want to visit as a day trip, there’s a good tour from Marrakech.
(Also, speaking of surfing, the village of Taghazout is one of the best places to visit in Morocco for waves. It’s about 150 kilometres south of Essaouira.)
If you make the journey to see the earthen fortress of Ait Ben Haddou, it’s worth also finding the time to see the nearby Atlas Studios, on the edge of the city of Ouarzazate.
By area, this is the largest film studio in the world, with dozens of movies made here over the years, including Gladiator, Kundun, The Mummy, and The Kingdom of Heaven.
Many of the film sets are still here and, when you visit Atlas Studios, you can wander through them to see a bit of movie magic. The outdoor ones, surrounded by desert, are really impressive.
Near the old Roman ruins of Volubulis, the town of Moulay Idriss is also well worth a visit. It’s considered to be one of the holiest places in Morocco and is a pilgrimage destination for Muslims.
The town is named after a man called Moulay Idriss, who arrived here in 789 and brought Islam with him. He’s considered to have founded the Morocco you see today, with a new dynasty that ruled for generations.
Although only Muslims are allowed into the leader’s mausoleum, there are other things to see in Moulay Idriss and it’s a charming place to spend the night, with rooftop terraces looking out over the green fields surrounding it.