The Imperial Cities: The Classic Tour of Morocco
For longer stays in Morocco, you can tailor your tour around more exhaustive exploring of regions and more adventurous diversions, but if you have limited time, focus on the major experiences and sights. This weeklong holiday gives you enough time to sample the best of Morocco. Remember to add a day for getting there plus a day to get back (a direct flight from New York to Casablanca takes approximately eight hours), and pace yourself to see the most important places.
Day 1: Arrival in Casablanca
Flights generally arrive in Casablanca in the early morning. Casa doesn't have that many sights, so once you drop your bags at your hotel, you should head out to explore; a few hours should do the trick. As your starting point, visit the Hassan II Mosque and the Mohammed V Square in the Habous Quarter designed in French colonial-Art Deco style. You're going to be exhausted after a transatlantic flight, so spend your first night in Casablanca; however, if you want to make an early start in the morning, you can travel one hour along the coast to Rabat.
Day 2: Rabat
Explore the capital city of Rabat. The best sites in the city are the Hassan Tower and Mohammed V Mausoleum, Chellah Gardens and Necropolis, and Oudayas Kasbah overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. In the late afternoon, drive to Meknès, where you'll spend the night.
Day 3: Meknès & Volubilis
Begin your tour by passing the Bab Mansour and visiting the holy Tomb of Moulay Ismail, which is open to non-Muslims. Walk towards the lively Place el-Hedim, which leads towards the medina. Tour the open bazaars of the medina streets. Enjoy an inexpensive classic Moroccan lunch. Near the row of pottery stands, visit the food souk. The Museum of Moroccan Art in the 19th-century Dar Jamai palace and Heri el-Souaini (Royal Granaries) are recommended stops. By afternoon, drive 30 minutes to the ancient Roman archeological ruins of Volubilis. When you approach, the Triumphal Arch rises in the open field. Count on 90 minutes for a thorough visit. The Tangier Gate, House of Orpheus, House of Columns, and House of Ephebus are must-sees. You can spend the night at Volubilis or head back to Meknès.
The only mosque in Morocco that non-Muslims can enter is the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. Visits are allowed only between prayer times (with official on-site guides) at 10 am, 11 am, and 2 pm.
During Ramadan, check for special hours; while many sites are open on holy days, some local restaurants and cafés close for the day or entire month.
Make your visit more special. Plan a visit around an annual outdoor venue, such as the World Sacred Music Festival held in Fez or the Marrakesh Popular Arts Festival hosting traditional musicians and dancers from all over Morocco.
Days 4 and 5: Fez
Try to arrive in Fez as early as possible so you can spend two full days exploring everything the Fez el-Bali, Fez el-Djedid, and Ville Nouvelle have to offer—medieval monuments, artisan workshops, public squares, ancient tombs, cultural museums, chaotic souks, atmospheric cafés, and palatial gardens. The blue-tiled gate of Bab Boujeloud is the gateway to the main alley of Talaa Kebira. The most important sites include the Bou Inania medersa, Attarine madrassa, Moulay Idriss zaouia, and Karaouine Mosque and University (the latter generally considered the oldest academic institution in the world). Visit the restored Nejjarine fondouk for the best examples of woodworking craftsmanship. Watch the full fabrication process of the leather tanneries from a rooftop terrace. Shop for the famous blue-and-white Fassi pottery. If time permits, see the arts and crafts (including a must-see collection of astrolabes) at the Dar Batha Museum housed in a beautiful 19th century Hispano-Moorish palace. Discover the area of the Royal Palace (Dar el-Makhzen) that leads to the active mellah quarter beyond the Fez el-Djedid. Watch the sunset over the entire medina from the Merenid tombs or Musée des Armes atop the hills of the Borj Nord or from the Borj Sud, south of the walled city. Indulge in an authentic Fassi dinner in a riad courtyard. Spend two nights here.
Days 6 and 7: Marrakesh
The quickest way to travel the 398-km (242-mi) distance between Fez and Marrakesh is by plane; if you plan well, you can be in Marrakesh by midmorning. After dropping your bags at your hotel, hit the ground running. The best place to start is the famed Djemaâ el-Fna, the perfect gateway into the labyrinth of medina streets filled with hundreds of souks, including the Souk des Teinturiers for leather, Souk Addadine for metalwork, and Souk Zarbia, the main carpet market. The Ali Ben Youssef Medersa, Dar Si Saïd museum, Palais Bahia, and Koutabia Mosque are important sites (though non-Muslims cannot enter the mosque). Walk south of the Palais Bahia to explore the bustling streets of the mellah, the former Jewish quarter and largest in Morocco. In the evening, splurge on a Moroccan feast, or head to the open grills back on the busy main square. On your second day in Marrakesh, take a petit taxi for a relaxing promenade through the Ville Nouvelle and lush Majorelle Gardens and Museum, where you can do some bird-watching and see an extraordinary collection of Islamic ceramics, textiles, jewelry, and art. After, head back towards the medina and visit the Saadian Tombs, which date back to the late 16th century, for one of the country's finest representations of Islamic architecture. Plan a relaxing hammam treatment to rejuvenate after a week of touring.
Coastal and Inland Oases: The Southern Tour
For those who want to escape the bustling medinas and touristy feel of the imperial cities, the Southern Atlantic coastline is the perfect alternative to experience Morocco, with miles of deserted beaches, enchanting seaside villages, and colorful exotic landscapes to enrich the mind and spirit. The scenery is stunning and varied with rocky wilderness, vast seascapes, and fertile plains. Much of the area (except for Agadir) remains pristine and gets relatively few visitors. Swim, surf, sunbathe, bird-watch, and breathe in fresh ocean air. Laid-back towns, surfer havens, coastal resorts, and unexpected oases offer a holistic way to learn about local culture, food, language and history.
Day 1: Marrakesh
Fly directly to Marrakesh Menara International Airport. Rent a car in the airport terminal, and check in to a hotel in Guéliz. Take a taxi to enjoy a delectable Moroccan dinner and experience the exotic activity of the Djemaâ el-Fna, the city's main square. Don't miss the city's excellent nightlife with live street entertainment, local clubs, bars, and theater performances showcasing the fusion of Berber, Arab, African, and Andalusian influences in music and dance.
Day 2: Essaouira
Rise early to drive west towards the relaxing, picturesque port city of Essaouira. After you check in to your hotel, take a walking tour of the harbor and town of whitewashed houses. Have lunch near the shore. Don't miss the fresh charcoal-grilled sardines and shrimp in seaside food stalls. The town is a hub for contemporary Moroccan artists—check out art galleries showcasing Gnaoua expressionism. Shop the colorful pedestrian-only medina streets for ceramics, thuya wood, leather babouches (leather slippers), and woven fabrics. Watch the sunset on the ocean horizon atop the ramparts of the kasbah. For the best panoramic view, access the fortress at Skala de la Ville, the cliff-side sea bastion lined with brass cannons. Dine on fresh local seafood at a casual open grill or in one of many restaurants along the shore.
Day 3: Agadir
Head south to Agadir, stopping off for magnificent sea views on undisturbed sand dunes of Morocco's most beautiful beaches. Sidi Kaouki, Tafelney, Bhibeh, and Moulay Bouzerktoun are the most-well-known beaches to sunbathe and dip your toes into the Atlantic waters. Taghazoute attracts windsurfers and offers brisk ocean breezes. When you finally arrive in Agadir, visit the kasbah and fish stalls by the harbor. Enjoy dinner and one night here.
Day 4: Tiznit
Continue your journey to Tiznit, famous for its silver and wool blankets. Stay one night in Tiznit to experience local Berber living and hit its wonderful market, especially if you are looking for jewelry.
Go off the beaten track—head to coastal destinations of Oualidia and Mirleft, a small village fast becoming a trendy spot for surfers and sun-worshippers.
For an outdoor adventure, arrange a horse ride on the beach or rent ATVs through several stables and quad-trek companies.
To avoid serious problems, buy and carry a supply of bottled water to beat the heat on beaches and while walking through villages and open terrain of the Anti-Atlas. Bring sunscreen. Both are difficult to find on the road.
Carry an Arabic phrase book. English is not widely spoken in rural regions.
Day 5: Tafroute
On day five, discover the natural beauty of the Anti-Atlas region, passing palm groves, almond orchards, rocky landscapes, fertile valleys, and fortified towns. You'll pass through the small villages Igherm and Oumesmat before enjoying the exotic beauty of Tafraoute. Explore the Amen Valley region, then return to town in the late afternoon. Spend the night at the Hotel Kerdous, overlooking a dramatic valley on the road to Tiznit.
Day 6: Taroudant
Take a relaxing drive towards Taroudant. The atmosphere is very low-key. Walk around the open markets and historic ramparts. The red ochre-walled city is well-known for handcrafted silver items and aromatic spices. There are two main souks in the village. In the medina, don't miss the jeweler's souk, fish market, kasbah, and pretty gardens. Listen for Tashelheit, the Berber dialect of the southern Souss region. On Sundays, locals from surrounding areas sell produce, livestock, and all sorts of wares near the main gate. A short loop drive east, about 10 km from Taroudant, will take you through the fertile Souss valley plains and barren terrain leading towards the ruins of the Kasbah de Frieja. Spend the night in Taroudant.
Day 7: Return to Marrakesh
Count on a few hours to return to your starting point. If you plan to depart on the same day, head straight to the Menara airport. If you decide to stay one more evening, head back to the famed Djemaâ el-Fna, and shop for last-minute souvenirs in the Souk des Teinturiers for leather, Souk Addadine for metalwork, and Souk Zarbia for carpets. The Ali Ben Youssef Medersa, Dar Si Saïd museum, Palais Bahia, and Saadien Tombs are important sites. If time and energy permit, walk south of the Palais Bahia to explore the bustling streets of the mellah, the largest former Jewish quarter in Morocco. As another option, book a hamman treatment in your hotel for a final hedonistic treat.
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