If the hustle and bustle of urban life get too overwhelming, and you are looking for more than a European getaway, then we invite you to Morocco. Only 32km from the bottom of Spain and about 3 hours by plane from the UK and most European capitals, Morocco is the perfect destination for adventurous short city breaks.
Yes, Morocco is just a stone’s throw away from Europe, but comparing them is like comparing apples to oranges. It is a country with a totally unique character—part Arabian with a French twist and part African with Moorish cultures. It is like you have travelled far further than you actually have.
Morocco overflows with beauty. Full of colour, warmth, charm, and hospitability, this vibrant North African country, nestled between the Sahara, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean, is a treasure trove waiting to be explored.
To truly absorb Morocco’s essence, from its bedazzling culture and architecture to its mouth-watering cuisine and unparalleled Moroccan hospitability, and still stay away from the urban life bustle, allow us to invite you to two Moroccan city breaks that will transport you to a world that feels like a world away.
Tangier: A City With an African Allure With a Taste of European Elegance
Tangier, without a doubt, is the epitome of cosmopolitanism in Morocco. Its fame is due to its location on the Strait of Gibraltar and proximity to Spain and the northern Moroccan border, making it a cultural crossroads of Europe and Africa. Overlooking the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Tangier serves as a port city, vital for the trade between Europe and Africa.
Tangier’s charm is so exceptional as it combines the charm of its past with modern vitality, beckoning you to uncover its secrets and revel in its magnetic aura. The city has long nourished the imaginations of writers and artists, drawing inspiration from its captivating allure. Over the years, it has attracted a diverse community to its shores, creating a unique cultural melting pot.
Best Things to Do in Tangier
Tangier is an inviting and beautiful city. You can never get bored in Tangier because of its strategic location, nestled between coasts and hills, and its diversity, where traditions, cultures, and religions mix and mingle. Here are a few things to do when in Tangier:
Unveil Tangier’s Labyrinthine Streets
Embark on a sightseeing adventure through Tangier’s snaking streets, nestled within the medina (the city’s old quarter). The narrow alleys are adorned with beautiful bougainvillaea and vividly painted doors on white houses with colourfully patterned carpets hung on display outside on the walls. Tangier is called “the white city” because of its spotless white houses. As you wander leisurely, you will encounter the vibrant tapestry of local life, from children playing to snake charmers captivating onlookers. Lose yourself while walking through the mazes of Tangier.
Take advantage of the Grand Souk, an exhilarating market brimming with lively energy and fresh produce. Indulge in the city’s rich culinary scene and savour the flavours of Moroccan gastronomy. You will not be able to resist much of the spiced aromas that waft out from the restaurants. Some cafés host oud and guitar players to strum their evocative Arab-Andalusian rhythms that have passed from generation to the next infallibly.
Journey Through Time: A Glimpse Into Tangier’s Rich History
Navigate through the steep streets until reaching the upper and oldest part of the medina, the Kasbah of Tangier, one of the city’s must-visits, dating back to the 10th century.
A kasbah translates to a citadel or fortress in English. Since Morocco was tribal, each tribe had to build its own Kasbah to protect its leaders. When you enter the Kasbah Palace, you will feel you are teleported to another era, sensing the city’s history resonating within its ancient walls adorned with stunning royal architecture. You will undoubtedly feel the chills down your spine that all inspiration-seekers have experienced when delving through its labyrinth of alleys.
It is worth stopping at Dar-el-Makhzen Palace in the eastern part of the Kasbah, built by Sultan Moulay Ismail after the departure of the English troops from Tangier. It served as the residence of the Sultan’s representative, a home to Morocco’s Sultan when staying in the city, a courthouse, and a treasury. It is centred within two courtyards decorated with wooden ceilings, marble fountains, and arabesques.
Now a museum, the palace speaks volumes of Moroccan prehistory, showcasing the different civilisations that marked the city, including Greek, Roman, Phoenician, Berber, and Arab. A magical Andalusian-styled garden awaits in the palace, surrounded by arches decorated with ceramics from the hands of master Moroccan craftsmen, transposing you into a thousand and one nights in the life of the Sultan.
Another magnificent place in the Kasbah is a square at its highest point, where you can marvel at the breathtaking views of the port, medina, and the legendary Strait of Gibraltar. Snap some photos to engrave these unforgettable moments.
Explore Tangier’s Coastal Charm
Stroll along the picturesque Tangier Corniche (coastline) and connect with the authentic essence of this coastal city. Then, continue your exploration journey to the mythical Caves of Hercules in Cape Spartel. Legend says that the Tangier, particularly Hercules Cave, is the final resting place of the mighty Hercules. The cave has two openings, one facing the land where visitors can enter and the other facing the sea and has a distinctive shape resembling the African map.
Perched high above the sea, at the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar, the cave offers picturesque views. It provides a gateway to Morocco’s finest beaches on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts.
A Day Trip From Tangier: Morocco’s White Dove
As a day trip from Tangier, you can visit the old Spanish colonial capital of Tetouan, renowned as Morocco’s White Dove City for its overall white appearance and bright-white boulevards full of whitewashed Spanish Deco buildings.
Arriving in Tangier
Chefchaouen: A City That Will “Blue” You Away
In the embrace of the dramatic Rif Mountains of northwest Morocco lies a blue pearl, a blue city cascading down the green and brown levels of the mountainside, known as Chefchaouen. The city’s name, Chefchaouen, originates from the Berber term for horns. The word ‘chef’ means ‘look at,’ and the word ‘chaouen’ means ‘horns,’ relating to the shape of the two mountain peaks encircling the city.
Beyond the Filters: Chasing Chefchaouen’s Blue Mystique
You have probably seen Chefchaouen’s pictures popping up on Pinterest and Instagram if you searched for beautiful places to travel, and we are pretty sure you wondered whether only some of the streets and buildings are painted in those blue hues or the entire city is really blue. Are they filtered pictures, or is it the real thing?
The truth is, the whole city is dipped in a popping blue palette of colours. When you set foot in Chefchaouen, you will think the town is a scene from a fairy tale book or an underwater world. Chefchaouen is bathed in all hues of blue; there are light, dark, vibrant, dull, and royal blues in every direction. The city is dressed in blue, from the buildings, roofs, and streets to the walls, stairs, and even the flowerpots. Let us not forget the blue skies adorning this blue wonderland. No wonder Chefchaouen is every photographer’s dream!
Why Is the Entire City Painted in Blue?
Chefchaouen, founded in 1471, was initially a tiny military fortress to protect against the Portuguese armies. It became a haven for Muslims and Jews fleeing the Reconquista of Granada. With time, Chefchaouen thrived and prospered into an important trading centre in Morocco.
It wasn’t until the 1900s that it started to get painted in blue. At that time, lots of Jews fled from Spain to Chefchaouen after the Second World War started. Jews began to practice their traditions in the area; one of these traditions was painting their communities in blue. Blue, for Jews, symbolises the colour of water, sky, and heaven and reminds them of God and to lead spiritual lives.
Nowadays, the community still continues to paint everything in blue to preserve the heritage and legacy of its past. Blue is not so sad after all! Apart from the tranquil ambience it creates, blue colours repel mosquitoes, keep buildings cool during the scorching summers, and give a unique allure to this out-of-this-world city that is found nowhere in the world.
Best Things to Do in Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen is a picturesque secluded small town with fewer than 50,000 people, making it an intimate and welcoming city break. Here are a few things to do when in Chefchaouen:
Wander the Blue Labyrinth
First, stroll the maze-like alleyways winding through the old medina and witness the shifting blue glows as the light changes throughout the day, revealing the rare charm of the blue city. As you go through its narrow labyrinth of lanes and blue-washed buildings, you will be captivated by its relaxed ambience and soak in nothing more than tranquillity. You will be welcomed by people’s friendly smiling faces and drowned in their hospitability wherever you go.
Unleash Your Inner Photographer: Capture the Magic!
Take pictures! A LOT of pictures! Bombard your Instagram followers with each and every corner. Pictures in Chefchaouen are mesmerising. The city is known for its photogenic appeal and numerous Instagram-worthy photo opportunities unveiled around every corner. For the perfect, dreamy, crowd-less pictures, allow yourself to get lost in the atypical non-touristic random routes.
Photography Tip: To make your photos “pop,” it is recommended to wear bright colours opposite to blue on the blue spectrum. So wearing white, gold, yellow, red, pink, and orange will colour the scene and make your shots really stand out.
Enter Plaza Uta el-Hammam: Where Blue Walls Meet Colourful Souks
Besides wandering around and taking photos, you will definitely be lured to the beating heart of the city, Plaza Uta el-Hammam, the city’s main square and hub of all vendors. The square is a social and cultural cornerstone in town, where people gather to socialise, conduct business, and celebrate weddings and religious events.
The contrast of the colourful goods displayed against the blue walls of the souks (markets) delivers a different appeal than any other Moroccan market. Make sure to buy some of the special Moroccan handicrafts and souvenirs, which include handmade pottery, traditional clothing, kaftans, textiles, and aromatic spices.
Time Travel in the Kasbah to the 15th Century
Standing in the Plaza Uta el-Hammam is the Chefchaouen Kasbah. Built by Rachid Ben Ali to protect the city, the Chefchaouen Kasbah has served as a residence for governors, a prison, and a military fortress for several centuries. Since then, various dynasties have taken over, each leaving its imprint on it.
It is now transformed into an ethnological museum, where you can peek into the city’s history, culture, and heritage, with its display of weapons used to defend the fortress, musical instruments, sculptures, and embroidery.
The Kasbah’s central tower is distinguished by a delightful mix of Moroccan and Andalusian architectural designs with intricately carved wooden ceilings, arches, domes, and exceptional tile work. Tucked in the middle of the Kasbah is a striking central courtyard with a garden dressed in red flowers and a drizzling water fountain. The view from the top offers breathtaking views of the city and the overlooking mountains.
Savour Flavours and Rooftop Views
A great trip is only complete with great food, and this is the right place. Indulge in Chefchaouen’s local cuisine in any restaurant and get acquainted with the friendly locals. You have to try Chefchaouen’s special dishes, from their different kinds of tagines to their famous couscous.
Taste their high-quality, mouth-watering, local goat cheese, Jben, a delicacy exclusive to Chefchaouen produced by local farmers. It is made from unpasteurised milk from pampered goats allowed to roam freely in the mountain pastures. You will definitely have some packed with you on your way back home.
They are also famous for their traditional camel burgers and roasted chicken with lentils. Finish off your meal with a cup of the famous Moroccan mint tea at one of the rooftop terraces whilst admiring the city’s scenery with the mountains in the backdrop.
Step Into Extravagance: Stay in a Riad
For the complete authentic Moroccan experience, book your stay in a riad instead of a standard hotel. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house known for its open-ceiling structure, an indoor Andalusian garden or courtyard, and an ornate marble fountain in the middle. The courtyard is usually decorated with colourful traditional mosaics called ‘Zellij.’ Riads used to be homes of very wealthy merchants and traders. Now, riads are converted to luxury guest houses for local and foreign travellers.
Visit Ras El Ma Waterfalls: A Refreshing Oasis Amidst Nature’s Embrace
On the outskirts of the city, burbles the Ras El Ma Waterfalls, a gem secluded in the greenery. Sitting in one of the restaurants beside the river and sipping on their famous orange juice is the best way to unwind and freshen up in the middle of a hot day.
Watch the Sunset: From the Spanish Mosque
As the sun sets, hike to the hill overlooking Chefchaouen, where the Spanish Mosque stands. Built by the Spanish Muslims living in the area in the 1920s, its terrace is a breathtaking place to watch the sunset over the city. As the sky gets adorned with flashes of pink, orange, and purple, and the sun starts to hide behind the mountains with its rays glimmering against the blue-hued city, you will be awe-struck by the panorama.
Explore Nature’s Splendour Beyond the Blue City
Whilst you can stay busy in Chefchaouen, spending a day in the mountainous nature surrounding Chefchaouen can be a wonderful addition to your itinerary if you like off-the-beaten-track travel. Several easy hiking trails will thrill mountain enthusiasts, just 45 minutes from the city. As you trek through the thick jungle, the mesmerising Akchour waterfalls and the God’s Bridge begin to unravel.
The waterfalls are a gem literally hidden in the mountains’ embrace. The God’s Bridge is a stunning natural bridge towering over the river. You can splash in the lagoon beneath the waterfall and lose yourself to the sound of water cascading down the cliff and the bedazzling chirps of the birds.
Getting to the Blue Gem: Transportation Tips for Chefchaouen
Reaching Chefchaouen requires taking a bus from Tangier to the town, as there are no airports or train access directly to Chefchaouen. Private taxis are also an option but can be expensive.
Whether you are a mountain adventurer, photographer, solo traveller, sea-lover, or just seeking a quiet getaway from the bustling urban life, Tangier and Chefchaouen will be ideal for serene city breaks to experience an unspoilt vibrant Morocco. What are you waiting for? Set your foot in the country next door and unveil its mystical beauty!