In September 2018, my boyfriend and I took an 8 day trip to Morocco. Our flights were to Rabat, and we chose to use trains to visit other cities. The cities we visited were Rabat, Meknes and Fes. We stayed in some gorgeous airbnbs, meeting very kind owners who made us food, shared stories, and arranged transport.
This is the first post in the series of cities in Morocco. I will highlight travel costs and timings, cultural places to visit, and recommend food.
Languages spoken: Moroccan Arabic, Berber, French
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Rabat is the capital of Morocco, and it is less visited than tourist cities of Marakeh and Fes. The city focuses more on the business workers and is influenced by the embassies around the city. The more chill pace of the city is welcoming, and there is a large amount of historical areas to visit.
There are a lot of interesting sites to see in Rabat, many can be found just by wandering the city.
When the mosque was commissioned in the 12th century, it was intended to be the largest minaret and mosque in the world. The mosque stopped construction when the Caliph al-Mansur died. The unfinished complex, with a 44m tall tower (the Hassan Tower) are free to visit. There are some standing walls and it is a beautiful unfinshed ruin to wander about. On the grounds is the Mausoleum of King Mohammad V, built in 1971 and put to use upon the king’s death in 1999. The gorgeous building is also accessible and is surrounded by guards. The masolueum is decorated in beautiful Islamic art styles.
The Hassan Tower complex is located upon the bay. The seafront contains stunning views as well as nice cafes and ice cream places to chill and enjoy the views. The walk along the waterfront will take you to the:
Kasbah of the Udayas
The imposing entrance way , the Bab Oudaia, is the main way into this beautiful waterside fortress, containing stunning architecture and an exciting history.
Now, when visiting, evidence of the various building periods and occupations can be seen. The upper parts of the kasbah reflect the earlier 12th century structure, and range to the 18th century Andalusian gardens in the south.
Originally founded in the 10th century, the structure as we see it now was started in the 12th century by the same founder of the unfinished mosque. In the 13th century the kasbah was abandoned and it wasn’t until the 17th century that people began living in it- this time two thousand Moorish refuges expelled from Spain. This occupation led to the kasbah being used as a pirate base, and the structure of the kasbah was expanded.
We visited on a Friday afternoon, the holy day, and the shops and merchant areas seemed quite empty and shut. Some tried to offer guiding services but we were fine exploring the areas on our own.
The most striking part of the Kasbah are the beautiful uniform blue and white painted buildings. The narrow, maze like streets are painted in these colours and often decorated with an abundance of flowers.
A different gate will take you the Andalusian Gardens, which are based on the gardens found in Spanish castles such as La Alhambra and built in 1915. They are very large and peaceful, providing somewhere to sit in the shade on a hot day of walking.
Walking through these gardens, you can find a fantastic tea and cake spot that I shall describe further down the page.
Upon leaving the Kasbah and following the coast, you can walk to the Rabat Lighthouse, built in the 1920s, The crashing waves against rock formations make it another lovely spot to chill and observe the beauty of the area.
Chellah is a historical, ruined necropolis, consisting of multiple occupations and uses. The ruins, which have since become occupied by storks, can be explored, with entrance costing 70 DH.
We went to Chellah the day we had to travel onwards, so had our rucksacks with us. We walked there following map apps, we had to leave the large city gates and cross a busy road so getting a taxi there is also a sensible suggestion.
Chellah is a collection of several cultures and architecture. Initially the Phoenians had set up a trading emporium and port. A Roman colony was then set up in the area, before finally becoming a Medieval necropolis. The ruins reflect these different time periods, with the mosque of the Medieval necropolis the most prominent.
I would suggest around an hour to two hours to explore Chellah.
It is now also used as a live music venue, so perhaps combine the visit with seeing music!
St Peter’s Cathedral
If you are interested in more modern architecture, the Art Deco St Peter’s Cathedral in downtown Rabat is striking in the cityscape.
The Medina of Rabat is not as exciting and winding as the other cities we visited. It did contain interesting food and shop choices, and we stayed in a beautiful riad that we found on Airbnb. Airbnb had a lot of gorgeous properties in medinas, though we were sure to check through all reviews to make sure we weren’t going to be staying in semi-hotels. We enjoyed the personal touch of the properties we stayed in.
Food wise, there was lots of both traditional Morocco and traditional French foods to try.
During the walk between Hassan Tower and the Kasbah, we stopped for ice cream and were able to enjoy the breeze of the sea while we chilled with a cold treat.
This cake spot in the Kasbah was phenomenal. Through the Andalusian Gardens is a beauitful blue and white terrace in which you sit at a table, order some mint tea and select as many delcious cakes as you like off of a giant plate that continues to be brought round. The cakes cost around a pound each.
Tagines are delicious Moroccoan dishes, consisting of a spicey stew, usually served with special tagine bread.
Something to note: due to the high cost of alcohol, if a restaurant serves alcohol, the cost of the rest of the dishes rise to support these fees. If you are not fussed about drinking and want to save money, look for a place that does not serve alcohol.
This was a traditional restaraunt, recomended by our accomodation hosts. The food was incredibly priced (I believe due to in part not serving alcohol), with tagines costing 48 DH (about £4). The decor was traditional and colourful, and the location popular and lively, making for a pleasant atmosphere. The servers poured the delicious peppermint tea above their heads and behind their backs, making quite a skill of it. Highly recommend.
Le Petit Beur
Located in a side street near the station, the station, we found the tagines here delicious and reasonably priced. The decor was fancy and the atmosphere reflected this, whilst still being friendly.
Tagine Na Tagine
This was a more touristy spot, (refered to as a ‘concept restaurant’) and so meats such as camel was available. It seemed a little out of the way and we had trouble initially finding it but I enjoyed the food and the atmosphere.
The airport is in the neighbouring town of Sale. We had an arranged taxi (due to our late arrival) from our Airbnb hosts, though out the front of the hotel are the taxi ranks.
The Stareo Bus goes from the airport to the train station and costs about 20 MAD, taking around 40 minutes.
Train from Rabat to Meknes
We caught a 13 minute past the hour Train and had a booked first class Train ticket. The Train from Rabat to Meknes was predicted to take 2 hours to 2 hours 20 minutes. Our Train was over an hour late and there were some confusion with the seat bookings. The first class carriage consist of 6 seats in a private compartment. There is no smoking allowed although standard class does allow this. We bought our tickets at the station. First class on way Rabat to Meknes cost 95 DH.
We worked out a lot of our train journeys prior to going, the ONCF train website was very useful.
Train from Fes to Rabat
These were consistantly on the hour, about 20 minutes to the hour although we found long delays with our trains. I would advice not travelling on trains when you have tight scheduling.
The Fes to Rabat train takes just under 3 hours and cost 96 DH one way