After living in Rabat for one month, these four experiences rise to the top.
For one glorious month over one memorable summer, Rabat was my home. I was volunteering at a local primary school during the day and soaking up the Moroccan culture every moment I had free.
Rabat is Morocco’s capital city, and while it doesn’t offer dazzling views like the Sahara desert or iconic markets like Marrakesh, it does have its own little charms.
It’s located right on the water, so you can play in the ocean whenever you so choose. It has an ancient Kasbah fortress, filled with winding streets of white and pale blue buildings that lead to sweeping views of the Atlantic.
And, like most Moroccan cities, Rabat has its own busy medina marketplace filled with locals instead of tourists, and more essentials than souvenirs.
While it’s not on the tourist path as often as, say, Fes, Rabat is quite possibly the best place to experience the true, “raw” Morocco, because it’s a no-frills, real-life city.
The Rabat Medina is not necessarily a tourist destination, but don’t let that fool you – it’s still beyond busy every day. This is where many locals get their groceries and goods to stock up for the week, and therefore it’s a great place to soak up the Rabat culture.
Like any Moroccan marketplace, Rabat’s medina sells it all: clothing, spices, beauty products, home decor, pottery, produce … and the list goes on and on.
If you do find yourself in the Rabat Medina, make sure you’re ready to barter. It’s the way of life in Morocco, and you can get particularly great deals in Rabat given its low frequency of tourists. (Side note — do as I say, not as I do because I’m notoriously bad at bartering. I mean, just miserable.)
Kasbah of the Udayas
No Rabat trip is complete without a visit to the Kasbah of the Udayas. This fortress is built high above the city, with views over the ocean and an adjacent Andalusian Garden. The Kasbah is filled with white-washed and pale blue streets and an elaborate gateway. It’s close to the Rabat medina, which makes it an easy stop for those enjoying the Rabat city center. It took us no more than an hour to visit.
Plage de Rabat
The Plage de Rabat — the city’s most popular beach — is filled daily with surfers, paddle boarders, sunbathers and the like. The beach is located in one of the most historic sections of Rabat, which offers an almost humorous contrast as the city’s ancient, dusty brick Kasbah overlooks the Plage de Rabat’s rainbow-colored umbrellas and Hawaiian-print beach towels.
Given its rough, choppy water, the Plage de Rabat is particularly great for surfing. There’s a rental shop right on the beach where you can arrange inexpensive lessons from local surfers who know the Plage’s waves inside and out.
El Harhoura Beach
Just 20 minutes south of Rabat, is another beach that’s almost entirely different from the Plage de Rabat. The El Harhoura Beach is primarily lined with volcanic rock, making it great for photographs and exploring … not so great for catching rays. But, given my sunburn after weeks on end of laying out on the equator with SPF 0, it was time to experience a beach the skin-friendly way: at sunset.
El Harhoura Beach has notoriously strong waves, and the forceful crash of those waves against volcanic rocks makes for stunning, dramatic sunset shots. If you’re staying in downtown Rabat, taxi is your best way to get out here.
Running at the Hilton Park
While not necessarily a tourist hot spot, the Hilton Park was my go-to running spot while living in Rabat. It’s a guarded park nestled among many of the global embassies based in Rabat and is protected by armed guards at the entrance gates. You’ll see people of all walks of life in here getting their fitness on, be it women running in hijabs, men practicing yoga, or me – the little American school teacher trying to fit in a run before class.
If you want a real, authentic, literally bare bones Moroccan adventure, then you must go to a local Hammam. Known in the U.S. as bath houses, the Moroccan Hammam is a steam house similar to a Turkish bath, where men and women come for a good scrub down.
For the Moroccans, the Hammam is more than a bath: It’s a fun social ritual in which conversation is paired with loofahs, and gossip is shared in between rinses.
If unfamiliar with the ritual, the first Hammam trip can be a bit intimidating, so here’s a brief rundown of what to expect — other than absolutely glowing skin, which I promise you’ll leave with.
Upon arrival, you rent a locker, rinsing bucket, exfoliating soap and, if you’d like the real deal, an employee to scrub you. After stripping down in the changing room, you move on to the steam and soak room, where you’ll first apply your black exfoliating soap and let it sink into your pores for 10 or so minutes (or whatever you feel comfortable with), then rinse it off. This part is all you — no Hammam scrubbing lady yet. But don’t worry: that will change soon.
Once you’re soap free, your Hammam scrubber will arrive, and she’ll take control from there. She’ll turn you on your stomach, back, side, and will get between your legs, arms, and every nook and cranny with her scrubber.
I won’t lie, it’s incredibly awkward at first, but just like those lovely trips to the gynecologist, you get over it quickly (and unlike the gyno, this is all business – no small talk).
In addition to awkwardness, be prepared for unexpectedly rough scrubbing. They’re not gentle at the Hammam, but they’re effective. Once you hit the changing room and walk out under the Moroccan sun, you’ll feel like an entirely new person with dewy, glowing skin and a hilarious story to tell (if you’re as awkward as me) when you get back home.
Rabat Music Festival
Every year, the king puts on an annual music fest highlighting the “world rhythms” that takes place throughout the city of Rabat. This festival coincided with our first week in Rabat, so we attended the Sting performance free of charge. It was an incredible way to jump right into the culture, and is something I’d recommend any visitors check out!
Know before you go:
This one goes out to the ladies in the audience.
As the capital city, Rabat is a little more relaxed on dress code. When I was living there, we dressed with shoulders and knees covered, but for quick trips to the supermarket or runs through the park, we wore shorts and tank tops and got away with it.
If you’re visiting any of the historical sights in Rabat, I’d cover yourself knees to elbows. If you’re visiting the beach, you’re fine in a modest swimsuit (everyone else is wearing one!). It’s really all about your comfort level, so if you’re worried about getting stared at, cover up. If you’d rather be comfortable while running, wear a tank top.
As long as you’re respectful of historical sights and not dressed like it’s dollar beer night, you should be just fine in Rabat.