Steeped in history and providing a more intimate travel experience than Morocco’s more famous Imperial Cities, the capital city of Rabat is a lesser-traveled destination with much to offer visitors who elect to explore it. Are you travelling to Rabat? Looking for what to do in Rabat? You are in the right place.
Like Casablanca, Rabat is a coastal city, perched on the western shores of northern Africa, hugging the vast Atlantic Ocean. Rabat’s small size contributes to its walkability, a bonus for many travelers who enjoy exploring on foot and believe the journey is just as magical as the destination.
As the country’s capital, there are many things to see in Rabat, and the city benefits from numerous modern features, including a high-quality public transportation system that quickly and easily connects the city to other nearby destinations, including Fes and Casablanca.
Across the Bou Regreg River, the even more compact city of Salé is home to the small but efficient international airport servicing the region, making it easy to quickly travel onwards to destinations throughout Morocco and Europe.
Although Salé is technically a separate city, it shares much with Rabat and is sometimes considered a suburb of the capital. It makes for an excellent day trip or even a cozy home base while exploring Rabat.
Read also: Where to stay in Rabat
What to do in Rabat? 20 Best things to see and do in Rabat
Rabat exudes a friendly and intimate charm that visitors won’t find in other areas of Morocco.
The open-minded capital is home to beautiful gardens, royal palaces, and well-preserved historic sites, but some of the most enjoyable experiences come from getting lost in the winding streets that provide an escape from the international crowds that flock to Marrakech and Fes.
Whether exploring the ancient Medina or catching waves along the coast, crowds are not only comparatively diminutive, they are also made up of more locals than tourists. This is even truer when exploring Salé and the Agdal-Ryad neighborhoods where working-class Moroccans tend to live and congregate.
Diverse attractions, unique festivals, and friendly locals contribute to the experience, and travelers from all walks of life will find there is so much to do and see in Rabat.
1. Visit the Grand Hassan Tower & Mausoleum of Mohammed V
During the 12th century, the Moroccan ruler Yacub al-Mansur made the ambitious decision to construct the largest mosque in the world.
Unfortunately, al-Mansour died before the completion of the project, halting construction for centuries; however, the surviving minaret, now known as the Hassan Tower, had already become one of the most impressive in the world.
In 2012, UNESCO recognized the importance of the structure, and in an effort to preserve the sprawling complex and intricate architectural achievement, they declared the complex a protected World Heritage site.
Today, visitors can explore the ruins that stretch all the way to the tomb of Mohammed V and his sons. When deciding what to do in Rabat, this site is often at the top of travelers’ lists.
Visitors, including non-Muslim visitors, are welcome to tour the interior of the tomb; however, guests are reminded to be quiet and respectful, as the mausoleum is the resting place of the former King and is guarded by the Moroccan Royal Guard.
The Hassan Tower is located at the northeast corner of the Quartier Hassan near the Jardin Tour Hassan. At the far end of the site, bordering Avenue Tour Hassan, visitors will find the ornate mausoleum.
2. Get Pampered with a Traditional Hammam
A day of pampering is always a good idea on holiday, even if it’s only for an hour or two. Several luxurious spas, primarily in high-end hotels, are available for a day of relaxation, and most, if not all, offer traditional steam baths known as hammams.
During the treatment, attendants use hot water in a steamy room to bathe and exfoliate guests, leaving skin silky smooth. Other traditional spa treatments including facials and massages can also be added for a full day of pampering.
Many riads also offer hammam treatments, massages, and facials for a fraction of the cost of the larger luxury hotels.
3. Wander the Ancient Kasbah des Oudaias
While the city of Chefchaouen is renowned for its stunning blue buildings, the lesser-explored Kasbah des Oudaias in Rabat is also adorned with the same brilliant cobalt hues on houses and portions of walls throughout the old part of the city.
Built upon a cliff overlooking both the Atlantic Ocean and the Bou Regreg River, the Kasbah des Oudaias is the original site of the city of Rabat.
Exploring the city by foot requires entering through the massive ornate gates that mark the city’s entrance, and it is the only way to experience the small wonders that dot the streets, including gorgeous hand-painted doors and pottery set out on display.
Today, the area is primarily residential, but several stalls sell handcrafted wooden souvenirs. Throughout the narrow streets, Gnawa musicians play their instruments, adding to the enchanting atmosphere that hangs heavy within the walls.
The Kasbah des Oudaias is like a small city within a city, and within the walls, visitors will find some of the most interesting things to do in Rabat.
It is easy to make a whole day out of the Kasbah and the surrounding attractions, including the Andalusian Gardens, the National Craft Museum (also called the Oudaias Craft Museum,) and neighboring Rabat Beach.
4. Wander the Narrow Streets of Rabat’s Old Medina
For many visitors to Morocco, the old Medina is one of the most popular things to see in Rabat. The narrow, winding streets paired with the tightly cramped market stalls filled with handmade crafts and exotic foods are the images most people associate with the country.
The souks in Rabat’s Medina are often less crowded and more organized than in other Moroccan cities; while it may not exude quite the same frenetic, claustrophobic feel that some visitors have come to associate with the Moroccan souks, it makes up for it in charm and ease of navigation.
Haggling with shop owners is often less aggressive than in Morocco’s three other Imperial Cities, and many of the people strolling the aisles are locals, giving the experience a more personalized feel.
Rabati rugs are also a specialty in this Medina. With a style that is more reminiscent of Turkish rugs than of typical Moroccan or Berber rugs, these stunning handcrafted items make for unique souvenirs.
The old Medina is situated in the old city center, just inland of the Bou Regreg River. Because Rabat is a smaller city, many visitors will find it possible to walk from their accommodations to the old Medina.
The souks provide the perfect opportunity to purchase souvenirs, so visitors might want to plan their visit to the old Medina near the end of the trip when they can satisfy all of their shopping needs.
5. Sip Mint Tea in the Peaceful Andalusian Gardens
Nestled at the entrance of the Kasbah des Oudaias, the Andalusian Gardens offer a tranquil retreat from the surrounding bustle of the city. During Morocco’s colonial period, the French designed and laid out the picturesque grounds with fruit trees, flowers, and exotic flora.
Inside the walled garden, visitors will find a small cafe that offers mint tea and light snacks with beautiful views of the sea. The vast areas of shade created by the mature trees make this a perfect place to cool off on a hot day while still enjoying the outdoors.
Located just outside of the Medina in the old part of the city, it is a delightful stop while visiting other nearby attractions.
6. Explore Ancient Berber Art at Oudaias Craft Museum
Within the Kasbah des Oudaias, visitors can learn more about the ancient arts and crafts of Morocco at the Oudaias Craft Museum.
The traditional Berber carpets, crafted from wool and camel hair, are some of the most popular exhibits, but the museum is also home to jewelry, pottery, musical instruments, and even traditional Moroccan garments.
The well-preserved building housing the museum was built by Moulay Ismail in the 17th century. Exploring the museum is a must for art aficionados, and it makes for a wonderful activity when the weather prohibits outdoor exploration.
7. Learn to Surf at Rabat Beach & Oudayas Surf Club
Much like Casablanca, one of the most popular things to do in Rabat is surf, and Rabat Beach in the northwestern corner of the city provides visitors with ample opportunities to do so.
The red-tinted sand is accented by views of the walled Kasbah des Oudaias perched on a cliff, overlooking the water.
The scene makes for excellent photographs even when the beach is crowded with people. During the summer, the cool Atlantic water is a welcome retreat from the hot sun, while off-season offers a more peaceful walk along the coast.
Adventurous visitors wondering what to do in Rabat should stop by the Oudayas Surf Club, located between Rabat Beach and the Rabat Lighthouse. As one of the original surf clubs in Morocco, one of its founding members was King Mohammed VI.
Travelers can stop by the clubhouse and cafe for incredible ocean views, or try their hand at a surf lesson.
8. Photograph the Rabat Lighthouse and Atlantic Ocean
There are a number of things to do in Rabat that involve the ocean, but perhaps one of the most relaxing is to visit the picturesque Rabat Lighthouse.
Located a short distance down the coastline from Rabat Beach, the 79-foot tall beacon was built in 1920 to warn ships of the jagged coast off the shores of Rabat.
Travelers can walk along the coastline with few other visitors and take in the panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean. The lighthouse is particularly stunning as the sun sets, and it is located only a short walk from several restaurants near Rabat Beach.
9. Explore the Ancient Chellah
On the outskirts of Rabat, visitors will find the Chellah, an ancient medieval city situated on the banks of the Bou Regreg River. Throughout history, the site has been inhabited by numerous peoples, starting with the Phoenicians who used it as a trading emporium.
Later, the nearby land was adopted by the Romans as Sala Colonia, a Christian city that was central to the empire during the 2nd century.
Over the centuries, Berbers, Arabs, and Byzantine all used the site for different purposes, including as a royal burial ground by the Berber Almohads and a necropolis by the Marinids.
Today, the area has been redesigned as a garden for visitors to explore the ancient ruins left by various civilizations throughout the centuries. Although many of the structures were damaged by an earthquake in Lisbon in 1755, visiting the Chellah is still one of the most popular things to do in Rabat.
The Chellah is also used as a music venue for the Jazz au Chellah festival and the Mawazine Music Festival. The annual festivals celebrate traditional and jazz music in a unique outdoor setting.
Travelers who are lucky enough to visit during this time will have an unforgettable experience dancing to the melodies among ancient ruins.
10. Take in a Show at One of Rabat’s Theaters
As Rabat expands its reputation as the cultural hub of Morocco, the country’s leaders are working to develop more opportunities to support the arts. The newest addition to the performing arts scene is the Grand Theatre de Rabat, an architectural wonder designed by Zaha Hadid.
The building’s design is nearly as impressive as the undertaking itself, and with 1,822 seats in the main multi-purpose room, the Grand Theatre will be able to accommodate large numbers of guests for all different types of performances.
Upon completion, the theater will also host several shops, cafes, and a restaurant with views of the Bou Regreg River. Visitors wondering what to do in Rabat during the evenings will be able to plan for dinner and a show with panoramic views at this grand development.
Until the Grand Theatre’s official opening, visitors can still catch live performances at the Mohammed V National Theater in the Quartier Hassan.
Located near the Nouzhat Hassan Garden and 7th Art Cafe, the intimate theater features a variety of performances, including ballets, symphonies, and more, and it is located close enough to restaurants and other attractions to plan a full itinerary around a performance.
11. Cross the Bou Regreg River to Salé by Boat
Near the Kasbah des Oudaias, visitors will find numerous colorful rowboats lining the shores where the Bou Regreg River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Many of the boats’ owners offer to ferry locals and visitors across the river to neighboring Salé for just a few dirhams.
The journey across the river is a peaceful one, and the photo opportunities are incredible given the brilliantly colored boats that dot the water. At sunset, the ride is particularly beautiful, and couples looking for romantic things to do in Rabat will want to reserve time for this activity.
12. Enjoy Dinner and Drinks on a Vintage Boat
Docked at the Kasbah des Oudaias, visitors will find Le Dhow, a vintage wooden boat with pirate sails that dates back to the 17th century. Diners will be surprised to find an elegant dining room inside the old ship, as well as comfortable lounging couches on the upper decks.
The menu combines French and Moroccan cuisine, and visitors can choose to enjoy the full tasting menu or simply stop by for drinks; either way, the unique experience is one of the top things to do in Rabat.
13. Visit a Royal Residence at the Royal Palace of Rabat
Located between the Quartier des Orangers and Agdal-Ryad neighborhoods, the Royal Palace of Rabat is the palatial residence of Morocco’s Royal Family. Also called the Dar al-Makhzen, the palace is heavily guarded, particularly near the enormous and ornately decorated door leading into the palace grounds.
While visitors are not permitted inside of the palace, the beautiful gate provides an excellent photo opportunity. Guests can also hire a guide or join a city tour to learn more about the history and politics of Morocco.
14. Go Wild at the Rabat Zoo
Opened in 1973, the Rabat Zoo houses a small but diverse collection of animals who inhabit five specific regions of Africa: the Atlas Mountains, the desert, the savanna, the wetlands, and the tropical forest.
In addition to these five bio-zones, the museum is also home to a collection of animal bones and other paleontological artifacts as well as a reptile exhibit.
The museum is dedicated to educating visitors about the surrounding environment as a means of preserving it for the future. It is one of the top things to see in Rabat for travelers with children, and an on-site restaurant makes it easy to spend the entire day exploring.
15. Visit the Slave Prison of Pirates of Salé
Salé was once the home of a prominent band of pirates, the Salé Rovers, and among these miscreants was the famed Dutch pirate Jan Janzsoon.
For many visitors, though, the Salé Rovers may best be recognized as the pirates who took a fictional Robinson Crusoe captive in the famous novel by Daniel Defoe.
The pirates formed a republic in the city and were known to sell prisoners as slaves throughout northern Africa. Today, travelers can visit the restored prison and experience the last remnants of the pirates’ violent legacy.
16. Go Off the Beaten Path in Salé’s Medina
The Medina of Salé is a small gem of a destination for visitors who wish to experience everyday life in Morocco. The city is primarily populated by locals, and the Medina is their local city center where they shop and go about daily life.
Crowds of tourists are never an issue, and visitors will feel as though they’ve discovered a hidden treasure. For 10 dirhams, guests can visit the small Medersa — the school where young Moroccan boys learn the Quran.
Climbing the narrow stairs rewards visitors with a panoramic view of Rabat, Salé, and the Atlantic. The view alone is worth the visit, although finding the site can be a challenging journey in and of itself.
17. Mohammed VI Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art
Striving to achieve an international level of cultural prominence, the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art is one of the top attractions to see in Rabat.
The creation of this museum stands as a commitment to the development of Morocco’s artistic community, honoring its past while encouraging creativity in future generations.
Visitors will find an impressive display of Moroccan visual artists from the 20th century all the way up to the present day featured in the permanent collection, while the museum also hosts a rotating collection of traveling exhibitions.
Located in the Quartier des Orangers, the museum can easily be paired with dinner and a show at the National Theater.
18. Stroll the Promenade at the Bou Regreg Marina
Situated on the bank of the Bou Regreg River facing Rabat, the Bouregreg Marina is a shining example of the country’s rapid development and offers visitors a glimpse into the area’s future.
Operating since 2008, the marina can accommodate up to 240 boats and offers visitors stunning views of some of Rabat’s most prominent historic features including the Chellah and Hassan Tower.
As the marina grows, the development will host restaurants, entertainment venues, and recreational areas in addition to a hotel and residential fronts. A visit to the marina offers visitors an experience in stark contrast to the ancient parts of the city, and guests can dine and shop while savoring picturesque views of Rabat across the river.
19. View the Third-Largest Mosque in Morocco
Originally constructed between 1028 and 1029, the Great Mosque of Salé is an impressive structure in the center of the city. Destroyed and rebuilt many times throughout history, the ornate structure is one of the most popular monuments in the city.
The main door leading to the mosque provides a stunning backdrop for photographs, and the minaret is one of the most beautiful in the world. Although non-Muslims are not permitted inside of the mosque, visitors, particularly history buffs, will find the visit worthwhile.
20. Watch Blacksmiths and Potters Craft Handmade Souvenirs at the Souk El Oulja
Moroccan craftsmen are famed for their beautiful handicrafts, and that is especially true in Salé. The Souk El Oulja is a must-visit for travelers who want to purchase local souvenirs and watch the crafters as they work.
Blacksmiths and potters dot the complex, and visitors are welcome to watch as they work. While travelers can purchase everything from jewelry and handbags to mosaic tables, the pottery and metalwork are particularly exquisite.
While some crafters welcome photographs, visitors should be aware of signs prohibiting photography on site.