Rabat, the capital of Morocco, doesn’t make it on many tourists’ itineraries. Which in my opinion is a mistake, as there are many things to do in Rabat. The city has made it onto the UNESCO world heritage list as “Modern Capital and Historic City, a shared heritage”. And if that isn’t reason enough to entice you to visit, I hope my article does.
What is the capital of Morocco? Casa? Marrakech? No! Rabat!
When you ask people, what is the capital of Morocco, quite a few would answer Casablanca or even Marrakech. But, in reality, the capitol of Morocco is Rabat. A mid-size city on the Atlantic coast, just north of Casablanca. One reason it is rather unknown might be the fact that its airport is rather small and international flights typically arrive in Casablanca, Marrakech or Fes.
Introduction to Rabat
Rabat was once the capital of Morocco before, in the 12th century. But only for a very short period. One of the main attractions of Rabat, the Hassan tower, dates from this period.
More recently, the French made Rabat the capital during the occupation and it remained so until today. It is one of the four Imperial Cities (the other 3 are Meknes, Fes and Marrakech. Sadly, the imperial palaces are mostly off limits for visitors.
Under the French the city grew by what is today called Ville Nouvelle. While this part of town is worth a stroll through and you can find many cafés and restaurants here, really the only tourist attraction in this part of Rabat is the museum.
So, if you are wondering what to see in Rabat, I am here to help you out. I spent 3 days in Rabat and really took my time to check things out.
Things to do in Rabat
Kasbah des Oudayas
The most popular attraction in Rabat is the Kasbah des Oudayas, one of the the oldest parts of the city. It is basically a small, well-fortified residential area on the cliffs in the corner where the Bou Regreg River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. In the Kasbah, all the houses are painted blue and white, reminiscent of the medina of Chefchaouen. There are lots of great photo opportunities and several viewpoints over the river, sea and beach.
Make sure to entre through the old palace gate, the Bab el Kebir. It is one of the most impressive things to see in Rabat, with its intricate decorations.
While it seams easy to get lost in the tiny alleys that all look the same, the Kasbah is actually too small for that. So, leave the main street, which is always crowded, and head down the random little ways that you come across.
Before leaving the Kasbah, you have to visit the Jardins Andalouses. Together with the Museum (s.below) they are located in a palace that has been built in the late 1670ies. The garden itself was implemented by the French during the occupation.
Surrounded by high walls, the garden really is an oasis of green and quiet in the busy city. I actually spent an hour or so just sitting here and enjoying the atmosphere. The garden is full of flowers of all colours, palms and other trees and is home to many cats.
Musée des Oudayas
Located in the old palace adjacent to the gardens, this museum features mostly handcrafted jewellery and how they are made. As the entrance fee is 70 DH, you need to be a fan of jewellery to make it worth your while I guess.
Hassan Tower in Rabat
The Hassan Tower was once supposed to be the minaret of the largest mosque in Morocco. Commissioned by Youssef al Mansour in 1192, construction stopped after his death. And then parts of the building were destroyed by an earthquake later.
The plan for the Minaret was for the muezzin to ride up on horseback inside the tower to call out for prayers. Even though it only got to half its planned height, it is still very impressive to see.
In the square in front of the mosque, you can see the pillar bases that would have supported the great hall of the mosque. Just imagine what an impressive building this would have been.
Mausoleum Mohammed V
Just on the other side of the square you can find the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. He rests there with his 2 sons. Designed by a Vietnamese architect, it is a beautiful, intricately decorated monument. One of the very few mausoleums open to non-Muslim visitors.
All you need to do is dress and behave modestly. The tomb is guarded by the Royal Guard and they do take their job seriously.
Hunt for coloured doors in the Medina of Rabat
The medina in Rabat is very clearly laid out, as the streets and alleys are all perpendicular to each other. It’s a very relaxed place to look for souvenirs, just let yourself drift and find very tasty street food.
Another thing you will find here are many, many coloured doors. It is a lot of fun to try to find the brightest or oldest one.
The Royal Palace in Rabat is rather unspectacular, especially in comparison with the one in Fes. But, you can enter the gardens at least and if you are lucky some parts of the interior are also open to visitors.
This is the palace the Royal family spends most of their time in and where a lot of the government meetings with the king take place. So you can get a peak inside when they are featured on TV.
Lighthouse for sunset
The lighthouse sits on a very photogenic rocky cliff with the Atlantic waves crashing around it. Just below the main cemetery of Rabat and next to the surf club, it is easy to find. It is best visited around sunset, when the cliffs are full with people watching the sun dip into the ocean.
The Chellah is the oldest part of Rabat, dating back to the Roman period. It grew and thrived until the Kasbah des Oudayas was built and drew people there. These days it is a field of ruins on the banks of the Bouregreg river, but makes for a nice excursion to get out of the busy part of the city.
Beach and surf
If you are visiting during the hotter months of the year, heading to the beach is one of the best activities in Rabat. For swimming it is recommended to go a bit further north or south, e.g. to Temara beach, which is much cleaner than the city beaches. You can book surfing lessons at the Oudayas Surf Club. There are different beaches available with smaller and bigger waves, according to your comfort level.
Go for a walk along the river promenade
In my opinion there are better places for a river walk than here. But, it is a fast developing area and maybe it has improved since I’ve been. It does give you a different perspective on the Kasbah and you can admire the fancy new apartment buildings on the other side, in Salé.
Visit the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
One of the coolest place to visit in Rabat is the Musée Mohammed VI d’art modern et contemporain. The MMVI is one of the few places to see young and modern Moroccan art. The collection encompasses more than 400 pieces, so you should bring some time with you to enjoy. And even if art is not your thing, the building itself is worth the visit. Entrance is very affordable at 40 DH.
Check out the newest attraction of Rabat, the Grand Theatre de Rabat
So far only “open” to see from the outside, this building looks like it’s from another planet. Picturesquely located on the banks of the Bou Regreg river, you could think a spaceship has landed. Everyone is anxiously waiting for the grand opening, so soon it will be possible to see plays and operas in one of the most modern theatres here in Rabat.
Things to do in Salé
Cross the river to Salé by boat
If you still have time left in Rabat, I suggest heading over to Salé, Rabat’s sister city. The most fun way to go is by rowing boat. It should only cost a few dirhams, but make sure to agree to a price before you get on the boat. Alternatively, you can of course also just take the tram.
Visit the Medina and Medersa of Salé
Much more organically grown than the medina of Rabat, here you find more chaos, but also more handicrafts and nice souvenirs. Let yourself drift through the alleys and try to have a chat with some of the locals, maybe even share a tea. And don’t miss out on visiting the Medersa des Mérinides.
Check out the Salé Mosque
As with almost all other mosques in Morocco, as a non-Muslim you are not allowed to enter. But, the Salé mosque is apparently the third biggest mosque in Morocco and worth a look from the outside.
Visit the Zoo, the Jardin Zoologique de Rabat in Temara
Normally I don’t like to promote Zoo’s, especially without having been there myself, but I read and heard great things about this one. They feature mostly local Moroccan animals and some others from the African continent. Apparently, their enclosures are simulating their natural habitat, be it the High Atlas Mountains or the desert.
It is one of the best things to do with kids in Rabat, and they give discounts to families, making it worth it even with only one child.
How to get to Rabat
Flights to Rabat
There are some direct flights to Rabat from Paris with RAM and Air France, and from some other cities with Ryanair, but as Casablanca is so close, you might as well fly there.
Train to Rabat
The train system in northern Morocco is pretty great. So if you are coming from Fes, Meknes or Marrakech, it is easy and cheap to get to Rabat by train.
Bus to Rabat
Of course, there are plenty of busses to and from Rabat, the more upscale ones are CTM and Supratours. Just beware, they all have different stations in the cities, so if you arrange transfer to your Riad, make sure to let them know the bus company you are travelling with.
Taxi to Rabat
If you come from somewhere close by, you can choose to go to Rabat with a shared taxi. These always leave from a certain place in every city and have a fixed price.
You can read more about public transport in Morocco here.
How to get around in Rabat and Sale
The best way to get around is actually walking. But if it is too hot, or you are tired or travelling with kids, you can easily take the tram. Or the small blue taxis that are everywhere. But, beware, they normally only take 3 people at a time.
Hotels in Rabat, Morocco
Restaurants in Rabat, Morocco
My favourite way of eating in a new city, is trying to find out where the locals eat. In Rabat, that leads you to many small restaurants or to-go places in the medina.
I literally snacked my way through the city for 3 days. From harira, the traditional Moroccan soup, to snails (which I didn’t eat), to sandwiches filled with fried fish, fresh veggies and spicy harissa sauce, everything is delicious. And, what was even better, you can find fresh squeezed fruit juices and milkshakes at every corner.
Tour tip: Check out these food experiences:
If you are looking for a sit-down dinner experience, check out the following restaurants, that have been recommended to me.
Matsuri – Sushi
The Dhow – more for the experience than the food
Al Marsa – high end Spanish inspired cuisine
Borj Eddar – Seafood, Rabat is on the coast after all
La Brasserie – as the name suggests, French cuisine
Dinarjat – Moroccan dishes with a modern twist
For your trip planning, also look at these posts:
For more general information on Morocco, also check out these posts:
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