The Best Things to See and Do in Morocco

Volubilis is one of the best preserved ancient sites in Morocco
Volubilis is one of the best preserved ancient sites in Morocco | © M Ramírez / Alamy
Jo Fernandez-Corugedo

So close to Europe – south across the Mediterranean from Spain – Morocco is another fabulous world altogether. It has the lot: remote landscapes and an unforgettable culture, from the magnificent old palaces of imperial Fez to the faded-fabulous art deco architecture of Casablanca. The pulse of life in the city souks is irresistible and the artisanal output is phenomenal, from vivid tiles to high-quality leather goods. Here are the best things to see and do in Morocco.

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1. The dunes of Erg Chebbi

Natural Feature

The largest desert in the world is a whopper, spanning several countries including Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. Erg Chebbi, near Merzouga, south of the snow-capped High Atlas mountains, is a large sea of dunes formed by powerfully wind-blown sand. What can you do as a visitor? What do you fancy? Activities range from camel trekking through the sunburned peaks to sleeping in a desert camp and visiting Berber villages. Accessible only by camel, on foot, or in a four-wheel-drive, the remote dunes won’t disappoint, and see fewer visitors than their well-known cousins at Merzouga.

2. The hill town of Ifrane

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark

Buildings in the town of Ifrane, Morocco, with Forest Restaurant to the right and cars on the road outside
© agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

Built in the 1930s by the French, this lesser-known resort, 45 minutes’ drive from Fez, is famed for its alpine-style architecture and for the nearby ski slopes in the Middle Atlas mountains. It’s a picturesque place, all pointy, red-roofed houses surrounded by natural beauty, from the largest cedar forest in the world to the Barbary macaques and rare bird species you’ll doubtless spot as you hike the mountain trails. Where to lay your hat? Choose the luxury of the one-and-only golf and spa hotel at the resort or one of the many steep-eaved chalets.

3. The lagoon town of Oualidia

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark

Two hours’ drive from Casablanca, Oualidia takes things down a notch, offering a laid-back coastal alternative to the hum of the Medina set around a crescent-shaped lagoon. You won’t come here for the buzz of noisy bars or sultry clubs, instead you’ll find soulful joy in the sublime fish restaurants – the resort town is particularly famous for ocean-infused oysters – and sinking your toes into the golden sands. Stay at one of the handful of hotels allowed in this protected, whitewashed, blue-shuttered village.

4. Ouzoud Falls

Natural Feature

If you want a relaxing day trip a couple of hours from Marrakech, head for the dramatic Ouzoud Falls – much loved by tourists and Moroccans in search of a cool retreat in the searing heart of the desert. The approach takes you 110m (360ft) upwards, on a lovely walk through photogenic olive groves. At the summit you can circle the cascades, keeping your eyes peeled (and your camera primed) for monkeys high up in the trees above. Need to refresh? Be warned – only the hardiest swimmers brave the waters, which are ice-cold all year round.

5. Imperial Fez

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark

parker-hilton-_XfxS-Av8RY-unsplash
Photo by Parker Hilton on Unsplash

Fez is a city of almost overwhelming sensory appeal, lodged in a Medieval past of dilapidated old palaces behind tall walls, and pungent markets shouty with life and trade. The atmospheric and oldest of the imperial cities in Morocco is laced with slender alleyways, fountains playing in squares and streets full of aromas: inhale the fragrance of pastilla, a crumbly pie made from flaky pastry filled with shredded pigeon meat, sprinkled with roasted almond, sugar and cinnamon. Also let your nose lead you to the vendors of artisan leather goods. Getting lost is one of the best things you can do in the ancient medina.

6. Roman Volubilis

Ruins

Welcome to the old, old capital of Mauretania. The lonely beauty of these ancient ruins attracts many visitors, but somehow they never feel overrun, as you clamber among wildflowers, marvelling at the intricate mosaic floors of long-since-fallen homes. One of the best-preserved ancient sites in Morocco, partly excavated Volubilis was finally declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1997. Photographers go crazy for the beautiful tilework underfoot and the graceful columns and crumbling walls set against a fertile valley backdrop graced with almond and olive trees.

7. Seaside city of Larache

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark

Setting Sun Shining Warm Light on the Shoreline of Larache, Morocco
© Edwin Remsberg / Alamy

Here’s a fine, easy-living coastal port, 80km (50mi) south of Tangier, on the banks of the Loukkos river. Occupied many times by the Spanish until Morocco’s independence in 1956, it is a fine place to wander at will, seduced down side alleys by the flutter of palms and the scents of cooking. Architecturally it’s a picture: Andalucian and Arabic styles blending to charming effect with blue-and-white houses, seafront promenades and a lovely medina with streets sloping down to the Atlantic.

8. Demnate in the mountains

Natural Feature

This small off-the-beaten-track town at the foot of the High Atlas mountains is worth a swerve from Marrakech, an hour away. It’s the perfect place to delve deeper into Berber culture and get a sense of local life. It was once known and admired for the artisanal ceramics produced here – and some of the traditional kilns are still firing away. Haul yourself up to the rectangular ramparts, amble about the crumbling Medina and nose around the local souk, all stalls piled high with refreshing, colourful sun-ripened oranges, mandarins and watermelons. Top tip: Demnate is a good place to stay if you wish to visit the nearby waterfalls at Ouzoud.

9. Cooking in Marrakech

School

Learn to cook an authentic slow-cooked tagine or bake sublimely sweet Moroccan pastries and help empower women at the Amal Center, a non-profit organisation in the Targa neighbourhood of Marrakech. Here, disadvantaged women can take part in a six-month programme to learn all aspects of the restaurant industry to secure a job, from cooking and cleaning to security and service, in French and English. There’s also a restaurant that helps fund the initiative.

10. A traditional hammam treatment

Spa

Soothe yourself in an authentic hammam that’s been around since 1562. The amiable staff at Hammam Mouassine, in the heart of the fashionable Mouassine district of Marrakech, will wash and scrub you into a blissful state working with the renowned rhassoul clay of Morocco. Nothing feels as good – or relaxing – as getting the full treatment in this steamy, atmospheric pamperdome. There are separate entrances for men and women, so expect to split up at the door if you’re a couple.

11. Have a deco at Casablanca

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark

Morocco, Casablanca, the Cinema Rialto in rue Mohamed-El-Qorri built in 1929 by architect Pierre Jabin
© Hemis / Alamy

While you won’t find any vestiges of the famous 1942 film (which was all shot on sets in Hollywood), Casablanca is a city laced with ambience. Its grand boulevards are lined with ornate architecture which rubs shoulders contentedly with the art deco buildings and villas nodding to France’s colonial presence in the early 20th century. This era spawned Mauresque, a mix of traditional Moroccan designs and art deco, which can still be admired today, if you crane your neck to take in the elaborate Cinema Rialto to the Palais de Justice and La Poste, the Central Post Office, built in 1918.

If you’re planning a visit to Morocco, check out our guide on things tourists should never do.

This is an updated version of an article originally by Sarah Williams.

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