Located on the Atlantic coast, Rabat is the political and administrative capital of Morocco, one of the most visited cities in Morocco and the second-biggest city in the Moroccan kingdom. An imperial city listed in 2013 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was founded in the 12th century by the great Almohad Sultan “Abd al Moumen”. The ribat (a religious and military camp with a citadel and huge ramparts) was nothing less than the starting point for Arab incursions into Spain: from then on, the Muslims settled in Andalusia and gave the city its golden age, giving it a leading commercial and artisanal role. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, it was only to a small town of 25,000 inhabitants that Marshal Lyautey entrusted the status of the political and administrative capital of the French protectorate.
Benefiting from an oceanic climate, the place is at the antipodes of what one can imagine when one thinks of the cities of the Maghreb: the thermometer rarely exceeds 25° C during the summer, which makes it an ideal city to visit for Europeans who are not used to stifling temperatures. But Rabat is also a striking contrast: that of an urban and trendy metropolis with an impressive list of monuments, cultural and heritage sites that it will be very pleasant to contemplate and to visit.
Are you wondering what you can do in Rabat during your stay? Here’s the answer below with our 8 must-see places in Rabat so you don’t miss out on some of the most essential places to visit!
1. The Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed-V
Hassan Tower or Tour Hassan is definitely one of the most famous places in Rabat. The tower is built with red stones in the style characteristic of Moroccan palaces and religious buildings. Inside, there are no stairs typical of minarets but ramps allowing the muezzin before to reach the top on horseback for the call to prayer.
Near the minaret, one can discover the remains of the unfinished mosque with its ruined walls and nearly 200 columns that were supposed to support the roof of the building. These columns were almost all destroyed in the 1755 earthquake.
Sultan Yacoub El Mansour of the Moroccan Almohad dynasty planned to build the largest mosque in the Muslim world, after the one in Samara, Iraq. But the work was abandoned after the Sultan’s death in 1199. The minaret was supposed to be more than 60 m high but is therefore 44.3 m high.
There, you can also take the time to visit the Mausoleum of Mohammed-V. It is a royal tomb located on the esplanade of the Hassan Tower. The mausoleum houses the tombs of King Mohammed V – former Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Youssef – and his sons, Prince Moulay Abdallah and King Hassan II.
2. The Kasbah of the Udayas
The Kasbah of the Oudayas is a former fortified military camp, built in the 12th century, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the first palaces built by the Alaouites, the Moroccan royal dynasty, still reigning today.
After entering the kasbah through one of the massive gates that act as the grandiose guardians of the place, you will be captivated by the small bluish alleys with whitewashed walls, the astonishing silence contrasting with the frenzy of the modern city center and the quietness reigning in the place. Many guides will help you understand this place steeped in history: if you do not know what to do in Rabat, do not hesitate, go to the kasbah.
Also, for your information, there is a scene in one of the Mission Impossible movies filmed at the Kasbah of the Oudayas, and in other places in Morocco.
3. The souk of Rabat
This souk is located on the street named “rue des Consuls” and leads to the Kasbah des Oudayas; although it is not as majestic as the one in Marrakech or in the medina of Essaouira, it still serves as an appreciable stopover when you come to visit Rabat! It stretches over more than a kilometer and, an important detail that will seduce the dizziest: the absence of winding alleys will prevent them from getting lost as in Marrakech, for example, where dozens of tourists struggle to find their way!
4. Rabat Zoo
This zoological garden, also known as “Temara Zoo”, is a popular place not to be missed when visiting Rabat: it holds the largest number of Atlas lions in captivity and forms an artificial biotope home to more than 130 animal species native to the Atlas Mountains, the typical North African desert and the savannah. An interesting place visit especially with the entire family!
5. The Museum of History and Civilizations
Formerly known as the “Archaeological Museum”, the Museum of History and Civilizations is a witness to the rich history of Morocco from Prehistory to the Islamic period, and displays ancient objects from excavations, as well as extremely detailed descriptions of the ancestral way of life of the tribes of the Maghreb. For a derisory sum, you will be able to admire the tools of prehistoric men, statuettes from the Neolithic period, such as Roman deities, or ceramics, vestiges of the dawn of the Muslim period; the bronze busts of Juba II and the great Caton, the famous statue of the crowned ephebe, or the dog of Volubilis.
6. St. Peter’s Cathedral
Built-in 1930 in the Hassan district, on the Golan Heights Square, St Peter’s Cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Rabat. Morocco has always seen the different religions of the Book cohabit in peace, and it is therefore quite natural that Christian and Jewish religious buildings found their place within it. What is more astonishing is to visit Rabat and come across a cathedral built in the purest art deco style: its very particular geometrical shape and its immaculate whiteness are reminiscent of snow crystals! The interior is really surprising and it is possible to visit.
7. The “Jardin d’Essais Botaniques”
Created on the initiative of Marshal Lyautey in 1914, the Jardin d’Essais Botaniques aimed to highlight more than 250 fruit trees and ornamental plants from various regions of the world.
Today, this ecological micro-system in the heart of the city is home to an impressive collection of cacti and it is fun to come across many birds that have come to take shelter in the trees lining the shady paths of the park! Although it is never very hot in this Moroccan city, thanks to the presence of the ocean nearby, it is nevertheless pleasant to enjoy a walk in all serenity in the lush green alleys of the park; a must for those who are still looking for what to do in Rabat.
8. The necropolis of Chellah
Located on the site of the ancient Roman city of Sala Colonia, 2 km southeast of the city center, the necropolis of Chellah is considered by all travelers who come to visit Rabat as a place full of mystery and … one of the most romantic places in the country.
It offers a splendid view of the Bouregeg River, and although some of the tombs inside the site now serve as landmarks for storks and other birds, the remains of this necropolis are anything but gloomy! Many locals come here at sunset, wandering through the ruins of this ancient city. A must for travelers… and lovers, looking for what to do in Rabat.