Explore Morocco's imperial cities and Atlantic coast with this 9-day circuit from Casablanca. Start in northern Morocco between Rabat, Chefchaouen, and Fes. Continue further south to bustling Marrakech to explore the "red city" before wrapping up with a relaxing stop in Essaouira. Returning to Casablanca along the Atlantic coast.

Highlights

  • Visit the Hassan II Mosque and the world's tallest minaret in Casablanca
  • Roam the picturesque blue alleys of Chefchaouen's medina
  • Discover souks, tanneries, and artisan workshops in medieval Fes
  • Climb ramparts overlooking the Atlantic and eat fresh seafood in laid-back Essaouira

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive; Morning in Casablanca, afternoon in Rabat Rabat
Day 2 The Blue City of Chefchaouen Chefchaouen
Day 3 Roman ruins at Volubilis and imperial cities of Meknes and Fes Fes
Days 4-5 Fes: Exploring the Imperial City and medieval Medina Fes
Day 6 Marrakech Marrakech
Day 7 Marrakech: Exploring the Red City Marrakech
Day 8 Essaouira Essaouira
Day 9 Return to Casablanca along the Atlantic coast; Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Morning in Casablanca, afternoon in Rabat

Detail of Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco
Detail of Hassan II Mosque

Welcome to Casablanca! If you only visit one place in Casablanca—the commercial capital of Morocco—make it the Hassan II Mosque. Sitting in a picturesque location on the ocean, its 690 feet (210 m) minaret is the tallest minaret in the world. While the exterior and surrounding area are impressive, what makes this mosque even more unique is it is one of the few mosques in the country where non-Muslims are permitted to enter. Join a morning tour of the mosque and marvel at the fine artisanship: hand-carved stone and wood, intricate marble floor detailing, and gilded ceilings.

Venture north to the imperial city, and present-day capital, of Rabat (MeknesFes, and Marrakech are the others). Explore the medieval fortification of the Chellah Necropolis and wander the Roman and Islamic ruins. Enter through the grand door of the Kasbah des Oudaias into Rabat's old city center. From there, visit the 20th-century Andalusian Gardens and enjoy the serene space away from the crowds. Discover the Hassan Tower, a minaret of the incomplete mosque and Mausoleum of Mohamed V. A 12th-century project that was abandoned.

Day 2: The Blue City of Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen, Morocco
Blue painted streets add to Chefchaouen's charm

This morning head north to the striking blue city of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains. Just before you reach Chefchaouen, stop to hike (2-3 hours) through lush vegetation and small pools to enjoy the Cascades d'Akchour (Waterfalls of Akchour)—a hidden gem. From there, arrive in charming Chefchaouen.  Mostly untouched since the 15th century, Chefchaouen offers a relaxed atmosphere with some of the friendliest people in the country and is known for its blue-washed buildings in its historic medina (old quarter). Explore its narrow streets and alleyways which cling to the northern hillside of the mountains. 

Discover Plaza Outa el-Hammam, the main square named for the number of hammams (public baths) which used to encircle it. Find a restaurant or café for a bite to eat, before browsing the many shops offering traditional wares. Visit the Grand Mosque and kasbah (old fortress or fortification) and tour the kasbah's garden, museum, and even some of its old prison cells. As the evening approaches, ascend the path leading to the abandoned white Spanish Mosque (20 to 30 minutes) to enjoy one last view over Chefchaouen as the sun sets behind the mountains.

Day 3: Roman ruins at Volubilis and imperial cities of Meknes and Fes

Volubilis Roman ruins, Morocco
The remains of the Roman Empire at Volubilis (photo by Chris McCarty)

Meet your driver and head south toward Fes. Along the way, stop and stretch your legs to visit the Roman ruins of Volubilis. A UNESCO protected site, founded in the 3rd century BCE, it remains incredibly well-preserved. From there, stop to explore Meknes. A smaller version of Fes, Meknes offers a calmer medina and shopkeepers are not as pushy to make a sale. While Meknes is quite large, the two main areas of interest are the Ville Impériale (Imperial City) and the manageable medina. Be sure to check out the grand Bab al-Mansour gate and the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail

Carry on eastward to Fes. Before venturing into the medina, with your driver, drive up the hill to spend some times wandering the ruins of the Merenid Tombs for an all-encompassing view of the medieval city. The best time to visit the tombs is around dusk. The muezzin's calls to worship can be heard through the valley as the city lights begin to glow on, adding to the atmosphere. Return to your traditional riad for a warm meal and settle in for the evening.

Day 4: Fes: Exploring the Imperial City and medieval Medina

Chouara Tannery, Fes, Morocco
A view over the Fes medina (photo by Chris McCarty)

Fes is the oldest of the four Imperial Cities in Morocco and perhaps the most interesting and exciting to explore.  It has the most complete medina in the Arab world and is relatively untouched since it was founded over 1000 years ago. Often considered the country's cultural capital, it is made up of three parts, two medina quarters, Fes el Bali and Fes el Jdid, and the more modern, French colonial influenced, Ville Nouvelle. Meet your guide and spend a half day learning about the history and culture as you navigate the narrow streets of the medinas.

Start in Fes el Bali at the Bab Boujeloud gate and enter the main thoroughfare of Talâa Kebira. Notice the Spanish and Tunisian influenced architecture as you make your way past shops and souks (markets). One of the most unique sights in the old Medina is the tanneries and Chouara Tannery is no exception. Next, climb to the rooftop of a nearby leather shop for a better view of the 11th-century stone pots filled with dye and men at work still using centuries-old techniques. 

Next, make your way to the 14th-century Al Attarine Madrasa, a beautiful example of Moroccan architecture and artisanship showcasing intricate zellij tilework. From there, find your way to one of the oldest still-operating universities in the world, Al-Qarawiyyin University (859 CE) next to the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque. Though the mosque is only open to Muslims, there are a few places where you can glimpse inside to its decorated interior. Cooking enthusiasts may also wish to join a cooking class and learn how to prepare a typical Moroccan meal before retiring for the evening.  

Day 5: Fes: Museums, Ceramics and Tile Collective, and gardens

Al Attarine Madrasa, Fes, Morocco
Characteristic Moroccan tilework 

Today, visit the Batha Museum. Housed in a 19th-century palace, the Museum is home to a collection of traditional Moroccan arts and crafts, including carved wood, zellij, and local pottery (its highlight). Spend time in the Andalusian-style gardens before walking to the mellah (old Jewish quarter and cemetery). Take advantage of its location for a stunning panoramic photo of the city. Continue south to Ville Nouvelle and discover the dramatic change in architecture. 

Tour a Ceramics and Tile Collective to learn how local artisans make wares, from shaping the clay to painting the designs. As well as watch the tile masters at work: fitting together small pieces of tile to form intricate mosaics. Return toward Fes el Bali, stopping along the way in Jnan Sbil (Bou Jeloud Gardens)—a halfway point between the mellah and Bab Boujeloud. Spend some time relaxing in the gardens' grandeur and cool off in the central fountains or beside the lake.

Day 6: Fes to Marrakech, evening in Jemma el-Fna square

Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech, Morocco
Jemaa el-Fna Square at dusk

Today you will make the journey west to the coast and then south to Marrakech. In order to break up the drive, you will have the option to stop again in Meknes, Rabat, or Casablanca.

You may want to spend the rest of the afternoon at a slower pace. In the early evening, Jemaa el-Fna comes alive with musicians, performers, snake charmers, and games. As the Square is best experienced in the evening, roam its stalls and vendors taking in the spectacle. Grab a bite at one of the many food stalls or if you want to enjoy the goings-on from a distance, choose one of the cafés surrounding Jemaa el-Fna and enjoy a cup of mint tea and a meal. Take an evening stroll and walk the short distance to admire the floodlit Koutoubia Mosque, before retiring to your accommodation.

Day 7: Marrakech: Exploring the Red City, Palaces & Gardens

Admire the intricate Bahia Palace in Marrakech
Admire the intricate Bahia Palace in Marrakech

Nicknamed the "Red City" for its 1000-year old red sandstone city walls and buildings, Marrakech is a major economic center. Begin your day revisiting the 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque and take a respite from the heat in its gardens amid fountains and palms. Indulge your senses and explore the spice market, Souk el-Attarin, or Souk Smata for your choice of slippers, rugs, and leather goods. Next, visit the Islamic school, Ben Youssef Madrasa, for a taste of 16th-century architecture and marvel at the exquisite details: arabesques, Islamic calligraphy, and colorful geometric tilework.

As you walk Marrakech's alleys, notice the fondouks or caravanserai—medieval inns along ancient trade routes that provided travelers and traders with shelter and supplies. Depending on timing and your energy level, you may wish to visit a few sites south of Jemaa el-Fna. Some options to consider are the 500-year old Saadian Tombs, the extensive courtyard and sunken gardens of the 17th-century El Badi Palace, or the intricate woodwork and painted ceilings of the 19th-century Bahia Palace. Return to Jemma el-Fna for a bite to eat before retiring to your accommodation for the evening. 

Day 8: Marrakech to Essaouira

Seaside ramparts along the Atlantic Ocean in Essaouira
Seaside ramparts along the Atlantic Ocean in Essaouira

After breakfast, make your way west to the Atlantic coast and to the charming beach town of Essaouira. The route along the way takes you over extensive rolling plains and through endemic argan forests. If you're lucky, you may see goats in the trees grazing on the argan fruit, a sight seen when grass pasture is limited or unavailable. Along the way, there is an option to stop at an Argan Oil Cooperative to see how the precious and expensive oil is extracted from the nut.

Arrive in the port city of laid-back Essaouira, a nice contrast to frenetic Marrakech, and spend the rest of the day as you choose. Walk the Skala de la Kasbah (the 18th-century seafront ramparts) along the coast. Designed by European engineers, old brass canons line the walls and offer viewing access over the Atlantic. Explore the UNESCO-protected medina before making your way to the windswept beach. Jimi Hendrix fans may want to take a short taxi ride to Diabat at the end of Essaouira's beach where he reportedly spent some time. Walk back to Essaouira and enjoy a meal of freshly caught seafood.

Day 9: Return to Casablanca along the Atlantic coast

Essaouira, Morocco
Seafront fortifications of Essaouira

Known as the "Windy City" for its strong Alizée trade winds that hit its crescent beach, Essaouira is a popular kiteboarding destination. Take the morning to watch the windsurfers and kiteboarders or for the more adventurous, take a lesson, before saying goodbye and returning to Casablanca for your flight home. 

Map

Map of Moroccan Cities & the Coast - 9 Days
Map of Moroccan Cities & the Coast - 9 Days