12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Rabat
As Morocco's capital, Rabat is home to the country's most important museum, the Royal Palace, and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, as well as several historical attractions. Situated right on the Atlantic Ocean, with the Bou Regreg River running to the west separating it from its sister-city of Salé, Rabat is a pretty place. It has a much calmer atmosphere than nearby Casablanca. And for many tourists, a visit to Rabat can be a pleasant surprise and a welcome break from the hustle of other Moroccan cities. History-lovers are sure to enjoy wandering the Chellah excavation area and exploring the lovely Oudaias Kasbah.
See also: Where to Stay in Rabat
1 Oudaias Kasbah
Rabat's Kasbah district is one of the city's top sightseeing draws. Inside the 11th-century fortress walls, a tranquil and tiny neighborhood of twisting white-and-blue lanes were built in Andalusian-style. This is the perfect place for aimless, meandering strolls, and its winding alleys are a joy to photograph. Don't miss visiting Rue el Jamma within the district, where you'll find the Kasbah Mosque. Built in 1150, this is the oldest mosque in Rabat. Keen photographers should also note that the district has fine views over to Salé and the Atlantic Ocean.
Location: Off Boulevard Tariq al Marsa
2 Hassan Tower
Built by the Almohads, the unfinished Hassan Tower was the work of ruler Yacoub al-Mansour and would have been the minaret for his grand vision of a mosque on this site. Upon his death in 1150, construction was abandoned, and this 45-meter-high tower is all that remains of his original plan. Beautiful and intricate motifs and designs cover the tower's facade, pointing to the sumptuousness of what al-Mansour had in mind. The Hassan Tower is next door to the Mausoleum of Mohammed V.
Location: Off Rue Abdel Moumen
3 Mausoleum of Mohamed V
The glittering Mausoleum of King Mohammed V lies in state on the very place where, upon his return from exile in Madagascar, he gathered thousands of Moroccans together to thank God for giving independence to their country. The opulent tomb chamber is resplendently decorated, with zellige tilework covering the walls around the grand marble tomb. It's a showcase of Moroccan traditional design. Non-Muslims cannot enter the adjoining mosque but are able to view the mausoleum's tomb chamber from above, as long as they are dressed respectfully (shoulders and knees covered).
Location: Off Rue Abdel Moumen
4 Chellah Necropolis
The remnants of the 14th-century Merenid citadel-town of Chellah are an atmospheric place. The walled ruins are positioned on an older Roman town called Sala, which archaeologists uncovered evidence of in the 1930s. Today, parts of both these settlements can be seen. Chellah thrived as a Merenid citadel in the early 14th century. The crumbled ruins of mosques and mausoleums they built here are now covered with rambling brambles, providing nesting sites for storks. The excavated Roman part of the site includes a forum, bath, and temple. For a good overview of the entire Chellah ruins, an overlooking terrace provides excellent views across the site.
Location: Off Boulevard ad Doustour
5 Oudaias Museum and the Andalusian Gardens
Within the Oudaias Kasbah are the lovely Andalusian Gardens, which were laid out in the early 20th century. The Oudaias Museum, set within the gardens, is housed in the opulent 17th-century lodge built by Moulay Ismail as his first Rabat residence. At the far end of the lodge, a room displays an ancient Moroccan interior. Cushions in brocade, silk, and gold cover the divans around the room. A little further on is an exhibit of ancient illuminated Qur'ans, jewelry, pottery, and musical instruments.
Location: Off Rue Bazzo
6 Rabat Archaeology Museum
Built in 1932 and enlarged a few years later to display excavated finds, this museum is home to Morocco's best archaeological collection. The prehistoric section brings together human remains from the middle Palaeolithic period to the Neolithic, illustrating the continuity and size of the population at this time. Pre-Roman civilizations are well represented. The Roman and Hellenistic exhibits are renowned, and the collection of bronzes are incredibly impressive. Even if you're not a museum person, this is the one museum on your Morocco travels that you shouldn't miss.
Address: Rue al-Brihi Parent
Rabat's rambling medina area has a distinctly Andalusian style to its buildings as most of the architecture here dates from the 17th century, when Muslims from Spain's Andalusia region arrived. This makes it very different to the medinas of Fes and Marrakesh. The two best shopping streets are Souk es Sebbat and Rue Souka, and a number of interesting buildings within the district make a wander here worthwhile. In particular look out for the Koubba Mosque as well as the Merenid Fountain and Grand Mosque both on Rue Souka. The Mellah (Jewish Quarter) is in the southeast corner of the medina and has an interesting flea market.
8 Mohammed VI Museum of Contemporary Arts
For anyone interested in Morocco's modern art movement, this new museum is one of Rabat's top things to do. The collection, housed in an impressively renovated building dating back to the French colonial days is small but holds artworks from nearly all of the country's top names in the art world. A visit here makes a lovely contrast to viewing the traditional artisan work for which Morocco is rightly famous and shows the contemporary side to the country's long artistic expressions.
Address: Avenue Moulay Hassan
9 New City
Rabat's Ville Nouvelle (New City) is home to the Archaeological Museum and also the surprisingly interesting Postal Museum (on Avenue Mohammed V), which brings together a superb collection of Moroccan stamps, telephones, and telegraph machines. The streets of the Ville Nouvelle host a wealth of French colonial architecture and are a pleasant place for a stroll. Right on the district's edge, Avenue Hassan II follows the 17th-century Undulations Wall separating the modern city from the medina.
To the south of the Ville Nouvelle is Rabat's Royal Palace, constructed in 1864 and fenced off from its surroundings with a grand wall. The complex is not open to the public as the current king still uses the palace as his residence. You can get good photographs of the palace exterior from the nearby Sunna Mosque.
Location: Central Rabat
10 Abul Hassan Medersa
Directly across the Bou Regreg River, facing Rabat, the town of Salé is home to several interesting medersas (madrassa - Islamic school of learning) and mausoleums. In particular, the Abul Hassan Medersa is worth a visit. It dates from the Merenid era in the 14th century and has an interior covered with beautifully restored examples of traditional religious decoration, including zellige tile-work and carved wood panels. If you climb up to the roof, you can enjoy excellent views across the water to Rabat.
Address: Rue Ras ash-Shajara
11 Salé Medina
The medina area in Salé is a quaint and picturesque place to spend a few hours in the afternoon. As well as the Abul Hassan Medersa, the district is also home to Salés' Grand Mosque, the Mausoleum of Sidi Ben Ashir with its photogenic whitewashed tomb, and the Fondouk (khan) al-Askour. There are also some wonderfully atmospheric souks, where you can join in with the locals and try out your haggling skills. The shopping souks here are very much a local affair and haven't been overly trussed-up for the tourists, which makes them an interesting counterpoint to the souk streets of Marrakesh and Fes.
Location: Main entry from either Bab el-Jedid or Bab Lamrissa
Established as a military fort by Morocco's first French Resident General in 1912, Kenitra is a modern town on the road to Tangier. Although the town doesn't have much to offer visitors, it's a great base for trips to nearby Mahdia with its long beach, a haven for windsurfers. Other nearby sightseeing attractions include the interesting kasbah neighborhood and the Roman garrison site of Thamusida. The ruins of Thamusida include a temple, bath, housing, and a large garrison camp area.
Location: 46 kilometers north of Rabat
Rabat was founded as an Arab army outpost in the 12th century and given the generic name for military encampment, Ribat, which is still in use today. For centuries, Rabat and Salé were rival principalities, but eventually Rabat began to dominate the area. Salé's power was ultimately eclipsed altogether by its larger neighbor.
In the early 17th century, Rabat became a center of anti-European piracy, with its stronghold at the Kasbah des Oudaias. Rabat was first made a modern capital in 1912 by Morocco's French overlords and remained the nation's capital after independence in 1956. The city is the residence of the royal family.
Where to Stay in Rabat for Sightseeing
To experience all the fascinating sights and sounds of Rabat, the best area to stay is in the city center, near the medina and the Oudaias Kasbah with its tangle of alleyways and old buildings. Other attractions, such as the Hassan Tower and Royal Palace, are a short taxi ride away. Some of the best-value accommodation options are in riads, a type of traditional Moroccan guesthouse with an interior courtyard. Here are some highly-rated hotels in this convenient and central location:
- Luxury Hotels: Distinctly Moroccan, the Hotel la Tour Hassan, with a pool and spa, lies within walking distance of the medina, Oudaias Kasbah, Hassan Tower, and the Royal Palace. The Sofitel Rabat Jardin des Roses, about two kilometers from the Royal Palace, sports a more contemporary Moroccan style and presides over acres of palm-studded gardens and a lovely outdoor pool. At the high end of the luxury hotels, Villa Diyafa Boutique Hotel and Spa is in Rabat's Ambassador's District, a short taxi ride from the city sights, and offers limousine transfers and personal butlers for select rooms.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Near the coast and just inside the medina, the Riad Kalaa is steeped in elegant Moroccan style, about eight minutes on foot from the Oudaias Kasbah, while the nearby Riad Dar El Kebira is another stylish guesthouse, with a hammam and spa. Breakfast is served on the rooftop terrace. An easy stroll from the medina and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, Le Diwan Rabat - MGallery Collection has colorful, modern rooms.
- Budget Hotels: Just outside the gates to the medina, Riad Meftaha is an authentic Moroccan guesthouse, with a tranquil courtyard and striking tile work. Nearby, in the heart of the medina, Riad El Bir is popular for its comfortable rooms and caring owner. Also in the medina, Riad Zyo resides in a modern whitewashed building, with chic rooms, a small courtyard pool, and a rooftop terrace.