5 of the best things to do in Morocco

We look at some of the best things to do and inspiring places to visit on your next trip to magical Morocco.

By Andy Stevens

Published 9 May 2024

Panoramic views of Marrakech, Morocoo

Rather overshadowed by the big, boisterous and far more famous city of Fez down the road, Meknes nonetheless has its own impressive historical tale of past grandeur to tell.

Meknes was one of the four great imperial cities of Morocco and made its name under the reign of Sultan Moulay Ismail in the late 1600s. The fearsome sultan's towering power may be long gone, but much of the imperial material remains.

The ruler's legacy, as is so often the case, is now becalmed as an architectural one, and visitors to Meknes can witness elements of a city's fortified design that's an amalgam of Spanish and Moorish influences of the time.

Meknes' grand city gates, Bab Berdaine, Bab El Khemis and the stunning Bab Mansour are testimony to its former imperial might.

In Meknes itself, Moulay Ismail's mausoleum is well worth a visit, where you can enjoy the distinctive, geometric courtyards, fountains and tilework so singular to the design of grand houses and palaces in the North African Maghreb.

But we recommend venturing a short distance out of Meknes on a guided excursion to the Roman remains at Volubilis, the one-time site of a significant if remote Roman city with a shared history in Morocco's Berber culture.

Archaeological finds at Volubilis are still very much a work in progress, with only perhaps half of the city having so far been revealed.

Its importance has been recognised by Unesco who have made Volubilis a world heritage site, and impressively-preserved finds include a triumphal arch and a basilica.

Your only mild of the mildest dilemmas on visiting Morocco's fabled blue-tinted town of Chefchaouen is this: how many photos should you take, or should you really just absorb its beauty first-hand in your memory bank, without memories merely logged through the prism of your digital camera or smartphone obscuring the views?

Some dilemma, you'll agree. But Chefchaouen's other-worldly beauty raises questions like this. That you'll have never seen its like through your own eyes or through a lens is something on which we can all concur.

Everywhere you look and everything you see in Chefchaouen is a vibrant, electric blue: the town's houses, municipal buildings and mosques are all washed in a blue tinge in a tradition dating back to the 15th century.

It's believed the idea behind this is that the buildings' blue colours reflect the skies (which it certainly does here) and thus the heavens, thereby bringing the town closer to god.

How apocryphal or otherwise that story may be, no matter. Chefchaouen's look remains a source of wonderment to the visitor six centuries down the road.

What's more, Chefchaouen's dazzling blueness is enhanced further by its spectacular setting with a 500-year-old fortress as its centrepiece and the magnificent Rif Mountains doing their bit in the background.

Guided excursions are the way to enjoy Chefchaouen, which is situated a few hours away from Tangier. On top of the stunning visuals, there's plenty for souvenir hunters to buy on your visit, including traditional crafts such as ornate blankets woven by local people.

Chefchaouen really is quite the looker. And on reflection, do make sure you pack that camera.

Morocco is a country to confound expectations. No more so than at Todgha Gorge in the eastern High Atlas mountains.

Todgha Gorge - sometimes called Todra Gorge - will get you doing a double-take that you're not in some soaring, barren red-stone outcrop of North America's big country, such as Colorado.

Other grand canyons are of course available, but Morocco's Todgha Gorge does high drama on a superlative scale for the sightseer.

The gorge is carved into cliff-sized canyons thanks to the geological intrusions of the Dades and Todra rivers. At its narrowest and most dramatic point,

Todgha Gorge spans little over 30 feet across, but a neck-straining 500 feet high on each side, for a distance of just under 2000 feet.

We won't test you later, but we bet that after a trip to Todgha Gorge you'll be quoting those figures when you get home.

The energetic and more adventurous among you might want to make the most of the relatively gentle hiking trails in the region.

The gorge is also well served by mountain lodges and small hotels, while the nearby Berber town of Tinerhir is friendly and geared up for high season tourism.

South to Marrakech and a dash of old world elegance, courtesy of that distinctive grandee of French fashion chic, Yves Saint Laurent, no less.

YSL moved to Marrakech in 1964 to a villa including the Majorelle gardens, which he bought and then gave to his adopted city. Nowadays they remain a much-loved and hugely popular legacy from the king of style to the city he adored.

Jardin Majorelle was the original brainchild of French painter Jacques Majorelle. The artist's exquisite art deco studio is open to the public in its modern guise as the Musee Berbere, which houses a stimulating collection of artefacts highlighting the traditions of Morocco's Berber people.

YSL's electric-blue villa within the gardens dazzles in its own right; it's that colour again which runs as a visual thematic thread throughout the serene landscaped gardens.

And as this strikingly stylish spot was bestowed in the gift of the late YSL, there are of of course high-end, branded gifts galore to buy in the gardens' up-market souvenir shop at the end of your visit.

Visitors with a love of fashion in 2017 might also be lucky enough to time their visit with the opening of a new dedicated Yves Saint Laurent museum in Marrakech.

Combining the modern and the traditional, hip, cosmopolitan and desirable...Essaouira on Morocco's bracing (and then some) south west Atlantic coast has the full estate agents' armoury of superlatives in its winning hand. But don't let that put you off - at all.

That scenes from one of the myriad series (seriously, we've lost count) of the all-consuming Game Of Thrones were filmed in this cool and charming town boosts the tourist appeal and cred stakes ever skyward for globe-trotting Netflixers and the HBO generation.

But cool kids of a slightly earlier vintage, who may or not have once boarded the mythical 'Marrakesh Express' in the song of note, can quote back another modern(ish) claim to fame: that Essaouira's ancient Borj el-Berod fortress is believed to have inspired Jimi Hendrix to write his pared-down, blissed-out classic, 'Castles Made Of Sand'.

So that sort of makes it even, then. Trivia bragging rights aside, one thing all visitors to Essaouira agree on is that it's so easy to fall big-time for the place.

For starters, its enticing and sheltered sandy bay is a magnet for surfers of various kinds, from board to wind to kite.

Or you can take a stroll around Essaouira's striking ramparts; now you'll see where Game Of Thrones' location scouts were coming from.

There is Essaouira's vibrant souk, naturally, replete with all the sights, sounds and smells and everything else sensory that are pure Moroccan market central casting. But in essence the town's medina area is pleasingly laid-back compared with bigger, brasher places, and easy to get round on foot.

Spices and herbs, pottery, tapestries, perfumes, tea, arts and crafts and all manner of souvenirs are the long-established players in the souk experience.

If you're looking for particularly special souvenirs to take home from your visit, then Essaouira is notable for Morocco's traditional Thuya carvings, intricately wittled by craftsmen with generations of handed-down skills and yours to buy, after in all likelihood a spot of haggling if you're up for some sport!

Essaouira is also a small working fishing port, and an enjoyable time can be spent watching the boats return from the rigours of a bob around in the Atlantic with their daily catch, along with an amble around the lively fish market.

Now for lunch...with no prizes for guessing what features prominently on the menu in the restaurants and cafes, often just caught and as fresh as they come.

If fish is indeed your dish, then make a beeline for the area between the port and the square called Place Moulay Hassan, where your seafood wishes will be granted.

And when the sun goes down in Essaouira, you can set the seal on the day and embrace the town's relaxing vibe with a refreshing mint tea at Taros.

A beautiful, traditional old house and popular people-watching spot during daytime and evenings off the main square, Taros includes a bar, gallery, bookshop and live music adding to the spectacle from time to time in this charming coastal town.

Discover Morocco for yourself on an escorted tour or relaxing hotel holiday.

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