Travel tips, hotels, food, sightseeing in Rabat – Rabat (الرباط) is the capital of Morocco.
Rabat is well served by train and you can get frequent connections to most places. Marrakesh is a pleasant 4 hour journey, Fez 2.5 hours and Casablanca 1 hour. There are two stations in Rabat – centre and Agdal.
It’s possible to get a bus from almost any town in the country to Rabat. Note though that the buses often don’t stop at the bus station, but instead just go through the city. It may be a good idea to ask someone which is the correct stop, or use a decent street map to work out where you are. It is easy to miss the main stop and find yourself heading out into the suburbs again.
Petite Taxi, All blue in color mostly fiat uno. Buses, Not recommended as the numbering system is complicated and the buses are ghetto. Car: the streets of Rabat are big is most area and driving shouldn’t be a problem, you do want to avoid rush hours since it is the capital and alot of gov workers and others drive home and jam the streets.
Hassan Towers, Kings Palace, Oudaia, Chellah, Medina Bazzar.
There are many things to do here, as with most Moroccan cities it is enough just to wander around and adventure where something takes your fancy.
In the Kasbah (Oudaia) there is an amazing cafe that looks over the sea, where you can drink mint tea and eat sugary treats. The staff are super friendly and you can stay as long as you like soaking up the atmosphere!
There is also a large and tranquil park next to the Hotel Hilton, where people run and play football etc. You can also use the pool at the Hilton for a charge. The park is a 10-15Dirham taxi ride (10 minutes) from la gare central.
Although the medina here is not as extensive as that of Fez or Marrakech there are still some bargains to be had. You will find the normal array of baboshka shoes, baggy pants, ornate mirrors and plates etc!
Interestingly all the Moroccans can be found in the section of the market that sells imported western style clothing from Asia and all the tourists can be found in the ‘traditional’ section. The lovely woolen paunchos are well worth a look and the carpet shops near the end of the medina are also very nice.
If you find yourself in Agdal, try the brochettes at ‘Sucre et Sale’. There are also some classically named restos around here such as Happy Chicken.
In the centre there are often cheapo food stalls around the medina, serving yummy fish and salad sandwiches, I tried one yesterday and didn’t get sick so give them a go! There are also lots of stalls selling pancakes and pain au chocolat etc.
Many bars and pubs.
Like many other Moroccan towns, Rabat is rich in history. One after another, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Almohads, Merinids and Andalusian pirates occupied this city located on the Bou Regreg estuary. The Kingdom’s capital, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, has plenty to offer visitors and its many monuments bear witness to its authenticity. Rabat, in all its royal finery, is a proud name on the roll of Morocco’s imperial cities. Tourists and locals alike stand on the plateau where once semaphore messages passed from ship to land; spellbound by the magnificent landscape and the stately waltz of seafaring craft through the mouth of the river and off into the wide blue beyond.
Attractions in Rabat
The Royal Palace
Known as Dar El-Makhzen, the edifice dates back to 1864 when it was built on the ruins of the former Royal Palace constructed by Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah, at the end of the 18th century. It stands at one end of an immense walled Mechouar and comprises a modern palace, a large Mosque (Ahl-Fas) and a racetrack, as well as miscellaneous official buildings including the Government Headquarters, the Prime Minister’s Offices and the Supreme Court. This is the main residence of His Majesty the King and his entourage of some 2000 persons.
Built in the 12th century by the Almohads and restored in the 18th century, this great ochre-hued gateway consists of several arched rooms and a multitude of twisting passageways. Located on the southside of the city, the gate leads to the Chellah Necropolis and is also the point of convergence for the many side streets traversing the embassy district from the Hassan Tower esplanade.
An ancient minaret, known as the Hassan Tower, is all that remains of Sultan Yacoub El-Mansour’s project to build the second greatest mosque in the Islamic world, after the Semarra Mosque in Iraq. Work started in 1196 but, after the sultan’s death in 1199, was never completed. According to the original plans, the minaret was to have risen to a height of 80 metres, but the Hassan Tower, which overlooks the ruins of some two hundred columns, is just 44 metres high.
Mohammed V Mausoleum
Built between 1961 and 1969, the Mausoleum commemorates King Mohamed V who brought about Morocco’s Independence. A stairway leads to the Koubba (dome) housing his sarcophagus where his remains were transferred to the funerary chamber on 30 October 1971. Round the clock, theologians take turns at reciting the Koran. Two other tombs lie in the corners of the chamber: that of the late King, His Majesty Hassan II, who was buried there in July 1999; and that of his brother, HRH, Prince Moulay Abdellah (buried in 1983).
The Oudayas Kasbah
The fortified Oudayas district derives its name from the settlement in Rabat of a contingent from the Oudayas tribe (a people of Arabian origin who settled in Morocco in the 13th century). It is encircled by a 2.5-metre thick, 10-metre high rough stone wall with a walkway for patrol guards and a red ochre freestone gateway which seems to have been rather more for decoration than for defence in spite of the many twists and turns of its design. It contains one of Rabat’s oldest mosques as well as a museum, which once served as a residence for the Sultan, Moulay Ismael during his stays in the city, and a very beautiful Andalusian garden – a true haven of peace and serenity.
Rue des Consuls
In terms of architecture, the street, with its old dwellings concealed in blind alleys and behind imposing wooden gates, is the most interesting in the Medina. From a commercial point of view, the street, lined with carpet shops, merchants of leather-goods and of fabric merchants, tailors and bazaars is the busiest. At the far end of the alley stands the edifice of the first post office in Rabat, now used as a tax-collection office.
The Necropolis of Chellah was built in the 12th century by the Almohads, and then restored in the 18th century after having been destroyed in an earthquake in 1755. It stands on the historical site of Sala, outside the city walls, about 2 km from the centre of Rabat. Many centuries ago, Sala Colonia was a thriving Roman city directly accessible by river. It was however, abandoned in the 9th century and lay in ruins throughout the 10th. It was not until the 14th century that the site was transformed into a vast cemetery by the Merinids.
“The Gate of Winds” – is set in the western wall of the city and is the most beautiful feature of the Almohad fortifications. With its arabesques framed with inscriptions in Kufi lettering, and its fine proportions and embellishments, it is reminiscent of the gate to the Kasbah of the Oudayas. When it was built in the 12th century, the gateway formed part of the city’s defences; today, it houses an art gallery.
The Es-Sounna Mosque built in the 18th Century by Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah has been restored on many occasions over the years. It is in the neo-Moorish style forbidden to architects in the days of Marshal Lyautey and faces the Royal Palace in the new town. The whole building underwent thorough renovation during the reign of His late Majesty, King Hassan II.
The capital’s covered market, situated along Avenue Hassan II, near the famous Andalusian wall, is rich in colour and represents the most bustling part of the town. You will be completely astounded by the diversity and variety of the choices proposed by the shopkeepers and the vast array of foodstuffs coming from neighbouring towns in Zemmour and Zaire.
The surroundings of Rabat
Facing Rabat, on the other bank of the river, the surprising white Medina of Salé (Sala Al Jadida) displays a real treasure-trove of arts and crafts. In the Rabat-Salé Gardens, planted with species from all over the world, you can wander around the maze of paths which are intersected with suspended bridges and footbridges in what constitutes one of the most exotic settings. Linked to Rabat by means of a bridge, Salé has retained the characteristic attributes of small Islamic towns: towers on the seashore, shaded souks, sunny squares and calm streets, while the new town is a small, but first-rate, business centre. From Salé you can enjoy a fairy-tale view of Rabat and the Kasbah des Oudayas.
The gateway’s name means “gate to the small port” and it was built to give access to the naval arsenal constructed by the Merinid Sultan, Yacoub El-Mansour. A canal linking Salé to the river Bou Regreg passed through its portals and led to a small interior port, now silted up, created by the Merinids in 1260 to offer ships the safety of the ramparts.
The Big Mosque of Salé
Originally built in the 12th century, the mosque was transformed and partly restored by Sultan Abou El-Hassan in the 14th century. Through its side doors, which open onto the surrounding streets, you can see a prayer room with colonnades and a profusion of carpets covering the floor. Opposite the mosque is the Zaouia of Sidi Ahmed El-Tijani featuring a gate decorated with mosaics and a frieze of stalactite arcature.
The Salé Medersa
Built in 1333 by Sultan Abû El-Hassan, the Medersa provided lodgings for students of the Koran, small in size though it is, it is exquisitely balanced in its proportions. From its readily accessible roof, Salé appears as a sea of white terraces punctuated by the minarets of its mosques. Among the inscriptions carved on its façade is one that celebrates the skills of its architects: “Mine is the form of a mighty palace and I shine forth like the pearls of a bridal necklace.”
Sidi Abdellah Ben Hassoun Marabout
The patron saint of the city of Salé rests in a 19th century building in the lower Medina. Every year, during the festival of Ashurâh (celebrated on the 10th day of the New Muslim Year) boatmen, dressed in their best, visit the marabout to decorate it with brightly coloured candles sculpted with a thousand motifs. This tradition goes back to the time of the Barbary Coast, when the pirates of Salé made offerings to their patron saint, prior to embarking on a long sea journey, to secure his protection.
Situated on the mouth of the river Sebou, about thirty kilometres from the city of Rabat, this seaside-resort is mostly visited by locals to the area. Surfing enthusiasts flock to this beach with its long stretches of seemingly endless waves and their every culinary wish is catered for by the multitude of restaurants lining the coast road leading to the port.
The Mâamora Forest
This vast forest consists of plantations of eucalyptus, pine trees and acacia and nearly 55 000 hectares of forestland with virtually nothing but cork oak. It represents an important source of food for the cattle of the region and houses a multitude of species of migratory and non-migratory birds, most of which have become very rare.
Sidi Bourhaba Lake
At some 27 kilometers from the city of Rabat stretches the lake of Sidi Bourhaba, between a line of woody hills and a dune cordon. The site constitutes an important natural biological reserve where more than 200 species of migrating birds may be watched resting before continuing their way from Europe to Sub-Saharan Africa. These migrating birds consist essentially of black kites, marsh owls, and teals.
The Dar Essalam Royal Golf Course
Situated a few kilometres from Rabat, the 45-hole course is the dream of all lovers of golf the world over. The Royal Moroccan Golf Federation and the famous Hassan II Trophy which takes place there every year have turned it into a golf course of international renown.
The Rabat Zoo
Thanks to its open plan design, and to the care taken to provide each animal with as natural a habitat as possible, the park, located 6 km from Rabat, is one of the most remarkable of its kind to be found in Africa. A great variety of animals are on view there, including many of the larger mammals and many species of birds, as well as a complete range of Moroccan fauna, including the famed Atlas Lion.
The small charming village of Bouznika is situated on the coast halfway between Casablanca and Rabat, at the edge of a seemingly endless forest of cork oaks. It is composed of a splendid beach, virtually constituting a natural pool, mainly surrounded by second homes, a number of seaside complexes and a wonderful golf course. It is monitored and protected throughout the year and is undoubtedly the most beautiful and best-maintained place.