The best cities to visit in Morocco

The enigmatic and beautiful country of Morocco has lured foreign visitors for millennia, and remains one of Africa’s most-visited nations. Home to metropolises built around laid-back beaches, soaring mountains and bustling souks, here is our guide to the best cities to visit in Morocco.
Chefchaouen, the Blue City in Morocco. Photo: Shutterstock
Chefchaouen, the Blue City in Morocco. Photo: Shutterstock

Marrakech

Both African and Arab, eastern and western, Marrakech is an eclectic – and sometimes chaotic – meeting place of different cultures and styles. One of the four imperial cities of Morocco, Marrakech is nestled in the shadow of the Atlas Mountain range, and is perhaps most famous for its medina (old city), a UNESCO-protected maze of alleys and markets, and the iconic 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque, with a single minaret that can be seen for miles around. Broadly speaking, Marrakech is divided into the medina, and the Guéliz (the new town). For some, part of the fun of visiting Marrakech is getting lost, so if this is you, embrace the chaos as you wander the souks of the medina.

Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech, Morocco. Photo: Balate Dorin/Shutterstock


Meknes

The smallest of Morocco’s four imperial cities, Meknes offers a fascinating snapshot of the megalomaniac rule of the extravagant Sultan Moulay Ismail. This scenic hilltop city also makes the perfect base for day trips to the nearby Roman remains of Volubilis and the holy town of Moulay Idriss, and is located in the heart of Morocco’s premier wine-producing region. Moulay Ismail ruled Morocco from Meknes with an iron first from 1672–1727. During this time, the city, surrounded by fertile ground and good trade routes, prospered. Ismail built a complex defensive system, comprised of impressive fortifications that have stood the test of time. Home to its own UNESCO-declared medina to rival Marrakech's, the beautiful Bab Mansour gate and the mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes has plenty to offer and makes an excellent choice for those looking to get off the beaten track. 

The ornate interior of the mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes. Photo: Shutterstock


Fez

One of the oldest and most historic settlements in North Africa, Fez is another of Morocco’s imperial cities and its former capital. Interestingly, Fez is thought to be home to the world’s oldest university, which was established in AD 859, together with one of the largest mosques outside of Mecca and Medina. This city is a melting pot of cultures, with its significant Arab and Berber populations having been bolstered significantly by refugees from Spain and Tunisia. Step back in time to the Old City of el Bali, a mysterious, golden-hued labyrinth of medieval markets, palaces and mosques. Many of the crafts and trades that are the lifeblood of el Bali’s narrow streets have barely changed in 1,000 years.

Detail of the Blue Gate in Fez, Morocco. Photo: Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock


Chefchaouen

Nestled amongst the peaks of the Rif Mountains, the blue-washed city of Chefchaouen is a vibrant arts and crafts hub with a relaxed atmosphere. Many of the locals here speak Spanish, unlike the rest of the country, where Arabic and French are most widely spoken. There are several theories as to why the buildings in Chefchaouen are painted blue. Some believe this trend began when an influx of Jewish immigrants fleeing the Spanish Inquisition arrived; blue represents divinity in Judaism, as it is the colour of the sea and the sky. Others believe that the colour blue keeps away flies and mosquitos. Whatever the reason, this picturesque city facilitates a slower pace of life, and is well worth visiting.  

The picturesque city of Chefchaouen.

The picturesque city of Chefchaouen. Photo: Shutterstock


Tangier

The city of Tangier is one of Morocco’s best loved, and has long been a magnet for an eclectic crowd, ranging from artists and writers to international spies. Located at the northernmost point of Morocco – and indeed Africa – it is just 9 miles (14km) to Spain from Tangier. Unsurprisingly, the city has been a vital crossroads in trading routes for millennia, with plenty of cultures leaving their mark, particularly on the Medina. More recently, artists, writers and musicians such as Henri Matisse, Jack Kerouac and the Rolling Stones have made Tangier their home. The area around Tangier is also home to some of the best beaches in Morocco: explore them for yourself as part of Insight Guides' Morocco: On Hannibal’s Trail trip.  

Tangier's Cap Spartel lighthouse, looking out toward the coast of Spain. Photo: Pavel Szabo/Shutterstock 


Casablanca 

Another of Morocco’s iconic cities, Casablanca was immortalised in the 1942 film of the same name, starring Humphrey Bogart. Don’t be fooled by the city's on-screen sin city image though: Casablanca is one of Morocco’s most modern cities, its economic capital, and a fast-changing metropolis. The city’s burgeoning business sector and the westernised middle class and their cosmopolitan outlook make Casablanca more reminiscent of the south of France than the Maghreb. Architecturally, the city is home to an unusual but distinctive blend of Parisian art deco and local Moroccan craftsmanship, which starkly contrasts with the modern neighbourhoods and districts. Away from the Medina, the Hasan II Mosque, the Place du 16 Novembre and the Place Mohammed V are just a few of Casablanca's must-sees. 

The Hasan II Mosque, Casablanca. Photo: Anton Ivanov/Shutterstock


Ready to take a trip to Morocco?

Insight Guides can help plan and book incredible trips to Morocco for you. Simply get in touch with us, to let us know your ideas for the trip and when you would like to travel. Our local experts will then plan a Moroccan itinerary especially to your suit your individual tastes, which you can amend until you are completely happy with every detail before booking. Browse our existing Morocco trips for inspiration, and remember that all our pre-planned itineraries can be tailored to suit your specific requirements.


Updated 29 August, 2019