Rabat is the capital of Morocco and although it is not a top tourist destination, the city has plenty to offer and should be on your bucket list for Morocco. When Morocco gained independence from France in 1956, the Moroccan King chose to base the government here. Today it is the country’s seventh largest city and has a population of approximately 1.2 million including the surrounding area. Today the King still lives in the area and while it is more of a town for businessmen and students, there are plenty of things to see and explore here. These are all the top sights that you want to see if you only have 24 hours in Rabat.
Also known as Dar Al-Makhzen, it is the official residence of the king of Morocco. There is a complex of official buildings here. The main thing to see here is the gate, with its decadent tiles. They also have guardsmen dressed in different regalia to signalize the different uniforms of guards in Morocco all in one place. It is illegal to take pictures of the guards or policemen in Morocco, but here is one area where you can freely snap away. To get the shot above, I used a 70-200mm lens. I also brought a 16-35mm lens as well to get some pictures of the area as a whole. There is an artificial line that you are not supposed to cross, just stick by all the people taking photos.
Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V
This mosque was started back in the 12th century, but was never finished. It was supposed to have the largest minaret and be one of the largest mosques in the world, however in 1199 construction was stopped after only 4 years. With the death of Sultan Abu Yusuf Yakub al-Mansur, funds were transferred elsewhere and it was left unfinished. Walk through the columns and imagine what could have been if it had been completed. Even though it remains unfinished, the minaret stands at 44m (140ft). This is the best known sight in Rabat, and is a must see if you only have a day in Rabat. It is part of the complex that is the resting place of Mohammed V, a Moroccan King. Wander inside to see the amazing architecture. If you want to see the Royal Guards dressed in full regalia, this is the place. Most are willing to let you take photos with them, just no touching them and no selfies.
Kasbahs of the Oudayas
This is a must do in Rabat. If you are like me and you didn’t have enough time to go to Chefchaouen while you are in Morocco, this part of town can give a glimpse of what that town is like. In Morocco, citadels or fortresses are referred to as a Kasbah. This Kasbah has many different spellings of Oudayas, Udayas, and Oudaias. It is located right next to the old Medina of Rabat and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The area is filled with narrow winding alleys and streets painted in blue and white. We only spent about an hour here, but could probably spend longer just meandering your way through. One of the things that I liked was that this area was filled more with locals than it was with tourists. There are so many great shots to walking around this area.
The Chellah is an old fortress and is a remnant of an ancient Roman outpost that the Romans abandoned at the end of the 5th century, but has been well preserved. Take some time to explore around the ancient ruins. You will notice that there are lots of storks and cats that have taken over some of the areas. We even found a stray chicken. Make sure to wear shoes with good traction as the walk down to the ruins can get slippery if it has rained recently. This is the only sight in Rabat that you have to pay an entrance fee for, but it is minimal.
Photo Tip: I was able to get a few good shots of some birds with my 70-200mm lens, but make sure to still bring either a 16-35mm or 24-70mm lens in order to get views of the ruins. If you don’t want close up shots of the birds, there is no need to bring a telephoto lens.
Explore the old town that is full of market shops and little riads (small hotels). As this is not as much a tourist town compared to some of the other cities in Morocco, most the time you can browse through the shops without getting hassled. It is mosty filled with locals shopping for food or clothing items. We saw only a few other tourists. Take some time exploring, but be careful as our guide warned us about pickpockets. I would plan on spending about a half hour here, more if you want to explore all of the side alleys, but the architecture is not as great as in other areas.
Photo Tip: Be careful what gear you bring into the Medina. While I didn’t feel unsafe, I did get a lot of looks carrying around my 70-200mm lens. Plus this is more for the experience, rather than taking amazing photos. If I had done it again, I would actually leave my camera at the hotel or in a backpack and just enjoy this experience.
Where to Stay
We stayed at Hotel Villa Mandarine. It was about 15 minute drive from the tourist spots, but was a beautiful hotel and had a great restaurant. Breakfast was included. There is also a spa, should you desire to relax after your journey.