Journeys, Travel Guides

Rabat, Morocco – Where beautiful & ugly lose their meaning

(Last Updated On: July 11, 2018)

Rabat is the most authentic, raw, unfiltered experience one can have in Morocco, but it’s what I wanted to see: the beautiful, the ugly, and the outrageous.

Sure, we choose our frames of Morocco carefully, leaving out the bad and the unbearable, but maybe authentic traveling implies depicting them as well, at least in writing.

I never expected to feel a constant pain in my stomach while walking in Rabat Medina. But it snuck up on me and stayed for the day, even if I’m far from being faint-hearted.

Seeing the amount of starving cats on every street does melt the heart of any animal lover; and if you add the widespread fish smell in the air and the dirtiest Medina in Morocco, you’ll have an accurate description of the old Rabat.

Still, the city has some beautiful corners, so spending a day in Rabat is worth it.


Kasbah des Oudaias / Kasbah of the Udayas

On the upside, Kasbah des Oudaias invites you to wander its two-tone streets, some painted in white and indigo, others in yellow and blue, reminding of Chefchaouen.

The flower-adorned windows and doors, the freshly coated alleys, the quietness of a sunny morning, and the golden sand beach invite you to explore more of this beautiful corner of Rabat.





Andalusian Gardens, Rabat

It’s funny how we expect to find beauty beyond the ramparts of a citadel. It usually is so, but Andalusian Gardens are the exception to this rule.

Since I’ve been to Andalusia, I know this place in Rabat doesn’t even begin to look like an Andalusian garden. That’s a pity, especially because Rabat has a great climate and beautiful flowers on the streets and even gorgeous bougainvillea that could have been planted here.

Instead, Andalusian Gardens looks like a lost Paradise, with fountains crumbling, and only a few plants around. There are so many starving cats around the gardens that make the experience even worse. I would have avoided this place if I knew the sadness lying behind the beautiful walls.


Rabat’s waterfront and the Beach – Plage de Témara

The waterfront dotted with fishermen, blue boats and seagulls moving in a loop, and Kasbah’s creamy backdrop create the magical atmosphere of a painting.

We found the beach bathing in a glowing light, with youngsters playing football on the yellow sand or heading out to the sea to surf. This is how a common Wednesday in Rabat looks like, quiet and poetic like there’s nothing wrong in the world.


Hassan Tower & Mausoleum of Mohammed V

Up the hill, Hassan Tomb & Tower area stands as the cleanest part of the city, but here too, people’s frowning and hostility will make the beauty of this establishment dissolve in the sea of “unacceptable” written all over the guardians’ faces and gestures.

Honestly, I expected them to pull me out of the tomb because I was wearing a shorter sleeve than the standard. Nothing happened, but the tension in the air was palpable, so I didn’t take enough time to admire the beauty of this place.

Hassan Tower is the unfinished minaret of a mosque and Mausoleum of Mohammed V is a grandiose tomb, where Hassan II is buried. The building is considered a masterpiece of modern Alaouite dynasty architecture (*wiki says).

The architectural ensemble is beautiful and worth the visit, with the ever-present mosaics that make you linger just to admire the legendary craftsmanship of the Moroccan people.

Moroccan-woman-in-front-of-Hassan-Tower Mosaic-fountain-at-Mausoleum-of-Mohammed-V Guards-at-Mausoleum-of-Mohammed-V

Rabat Medina

Rabat Medina is no place for the faint-hearted.

The raw side of Morocco is here, jammed on every narrow street, kidnapping every inch of beauty and covering it with the scent of poverty and death.

In the food market stretching a few streets, fish are peeled on the sidewalk day in and day out until that’s all you can smell. It’s way beyond miserable!

Rabat’s Medina is a visceral, unfiltered experience, and an unkind one to outsiders. As a woman, you get awful looks from men of all ages, even if you’re dressed head to toes, and accompanied by a man. You can’t escape their piercing eyes, so you constantly feel under scrutiny.

Fish market aside, there are so many ill cats on the streets, most of starvation, that it makes your heart stop; you just can’t escape that feeling of emptiness taking over your body.

All of Rabat’s Medina is a huge marketplace, with hundreds of shops on every street, but all filled with produce for locals. Nothing touristy here, but that’s what I wanted to experience – the raw and unretouched parts of Morocco’s capital.

The lines between acceptable and outrageous blur out in Rabat, beautiful and ugly lose their meaning, and I’ve just experienced my first cultural shock.




Day Trip to Rabat – Top things to see and do [Takeaway]

We only spent a day in Rabat, visiting some of its landmarks, but not all, mainly because the heat and humidity combo was slowing us down. Still, if you wake up early and don’t linger too much at breakfast, the city’s main attractions can be visited in just one day.

  • Hassan Tower and Mausoleum Mohamed V
  • Kasbah des Oudaias / Kasbah of the Udayas
  • Rabat’s Waterfront & Beach / Plage de Témara
  • Rabat’s Old Medina
  • Andalusian Gardens

King’s Palace and the Chellah* are two places we didn’t get a chance to see, but you can, if you’re spending a full day or two days in Rabat. There aren’t that many things to do and places to see in Rabat if you compare it with Marrakech, but it’s a very interesting city to visit from an anthropological perspective.

*I think Chellah might have been an interesting place to visit because it’s a medieval fortified city buried in the heart of Rabat, accommodating the remains of a pre-Islamic city.

Where to eat in Rabat

Le Dhow is a fabulous boat docked on the shores of Rabat and a meeting place for expats and travelers.

It’s a good restaurant that serves European food, but also some fresh fish, probably caught a few meters away from the boat. Young people living in Rabat consider it a great Instagram place, so they constantly take photos in front of it, especially at sunset, when the lights turn on and the boat looks like a fairy-tale.

Also, it’s one of the few places that serve beer, so Vlad was pleased.


Where to stay in Rabat

Riad Dar Soufa is a small and beautiful place to stay in Rabat.

The breakfast here is the best we had in Morocco, and it was a delight to serve it on their great rooftop terrace. The newly designed rooms are beautiful, all painted in indigo blue and white, bearing a perfect mix of traditional and modern items, creating an elegant and cozy atmosphere.

It was also the cheapest accommodation we got in Morocco (65€ / $78 per night, for a double room), probably because it didn’t have a pool or a big patio as the other Riads we’ve stayed in (really, the pool or the patio gets the price of a riad up by 25% – 100€ /$120 per night, for a double room).


How to get to and around Rabat

Rabat has an airport, but if you’re planning to take a road trip through Morocco, renting a car is a good idea. We landed in Fes, rented a car, and drove to Chefchaouen, Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakech, and Imlil – Atlas Mountains. We left the car at the airport in Marrakech, at our departure.

Outside Rabat’s Medina, the city looks as European as they come, traffic jams included, so we chose to visit all the attractions on foot, even if the humidity levels were high and the heat kept slowing us down, especially when walking uphill. But if you choose your riad or hotel close to Rabat’s Medina, you’ll be able to walk to the main points of interest.

Rabat Medina is a difficult one to wander because it all looks the same, so expect to spend more time here searching for an exit.

What to wear in Rabat, Morocco

As a woman, covering yourself head to toes is recommended. I did the mistake of wearing a short sleeve and got awful looks from men in Rabat Medina and at the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. Unfortunately, even a conservative outfit gets you unwanted attention, so better take this seriously just so your mood won’t have to suffer from all the scrutiny.

Weather in Rabat, Morocco

We chose to visit Morocco during the last week of October because we wanted to avoid the crowds. The best period for visiting Morocco is November – April, but going the first week of May (like my sister) or last week of October (like me) offers a less crowded experience when visiting major attractions.

Due to Rabat’s waterfront, the humidity levels here are high, unlike the arid feel of other cities. The temperatures in Rabat are similar to the standard ones in Morocco (North & South) for this time of year 30°C/86°F. At times, the temperatures in North Morocco might go down a few degrees, so having a cardigan with you might help.

Hope you enjoyed this travel guide of Rabat, Morocco. If there’s something else you want to know about Rabat, please leave a comment below and I’ll answer as quickly as possible.

Road Trip in Morocco: Rabat, Marrakech, FezChefchaouen, Casablanca, Imlil – the Atlas Mountains, Rif Mountains | October 2017 | All Photography ©Ana Matei >Instagram: @MateiAna

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