Morocco is one of the wonderful countries that any world traveler should visit at least once, with its rich history and culture, renowned heritage sites, diverse landscapes, and, of course, the colorful markets of its old medinas.
“Medina” in Arabic means city or town, and Morocco’s medinas are some of the most interesting sites in the country. They are many tourists’ favorite places to explore culture, traditions, lifestyle, and history while enjoying the colorful open-air bazaars, or souks.
Using the term “medina” in English generally refers to ancient walled cities. Morocco’s medinas were built centuries ago in order to hold off invading armies. Ancient yet solid, towering walls surround them, and they feature narrow streets and small alleyways. Medinas are the place to visit for a souk shopping experience, where Moroccan artisans work and sell their various handicrafts such as pottery, leather clothes and furniture, zellige tilework, Amazigh (Berber) carpets, metalwork, and much more.
The fascinating medinas are situated at the heart of almost every Moroccan city and where you will be able to visit authentic riads (courtyard houses), palaces, mosques, old schools, and monuments.
As you map out your trip to Morocco, it is important to set aside time to explore the country’s medinas. These are the five best medinas in Morocco that you must visit.
Founded in the 11th century, Marrakech, also called the red city, is one of Morocco’s most famous imperial cities. Locals and tourists alike know Marrakech for its blend of tradition and modernity. This is particularly visible with its bustling ancient medina and the neighboring modern city of Gueliz.
In the heart of perhaps the busiest medina in Morocco, you will be able to visit the famous Jemaa El-Fna mosque and square. During the day you will find performers, snake charmers, and henna tattoo artists. Jemaa El-Fna also includes merchants, food stalls, and shops that sell handicrafts, traditional clothes, spices, and pottery. It features a row of juice carts that offer fresh concoctions of your favorite fruits to quench your thirst.
At night, Jemaa El-Fna becomes almost a completely different site. The square turns into a vast open-air restaurant composed of food stalls that offer traditional foods such as tajine, harira, and grilled meat, all under mystical lights.
Beyond Jemaa El-Fna square is Marrakech’s maze-like souk where you will find a shop for almost everything. It is also a great place to purchase traditional Moroccan souvenirs, such as lanterns, traditional clothes, metalwork, woodwork, and fine leather goods. You can watch artisans with excellent craftsmanship as they carry out their work.
Other tourist hotspots in the Marrakech medina include the iconic Koutoubia Mosque, the El-Badi Palace, and a blend of traditional and upscale hammams. Terrace restaurants feature views of the medina and the Atlas mountains. You will also find traditional riads in the medina, some with modern twists and contemporary designs.
Founded in the ninth century, Fez is an imperial city and a former capital of Morocco. Fez is built around the old medina, where visitors go to explore a whole different world. The ancient walled city with 1,000 winding streets takes you back to a Morocco of centuries ago.
The Fez medina, the oldest and largest medina in Morocco and the world, is one you must absolutely visit. Also known as Fes el Bali, 150,000 people call this UNESCO World Heritage Site home. It is also home to the oldest still-functioning university in the world, Al Qarawiyyin University, founded by Fatima Al-Fihri.
Walking past Bab Boujeloud of Bab el Bali through Talaa Kebira, the main street of the medina, you are instantly faced with Morocco’s culture, heritage, history, traditions, and art all in one large medina.
Fez’s medina is home to the famous tanneries where leather is cleaned, tanned, dyed, and sold to artisans in the medina that create beautiful leatherwork, from clothes to furniture. Just like in Marrakech, there are also many other talented artisans that make pottery, zellige tilework, and metalwork in the metalsmith district where artisans hammer brass and carve beautiful patterns to make furniture or decor.
Strolling through the car-free medieval narrow corridors, you will also find other important landmarks such as Madersa (Old Islamic school) Bou Inania and Medersa el-Attarine, the Glaoui Palace, and Batha Museum, all with stunning Islamic architecture.
Chefchaouen is a city in Morocco that just can’t be missed. Located in the Rif Mountain, Chefchaouen is a chill city with a laid back atmosphere, far from the bustling and busy cities of Marrakech and Fez.
The northern city is also called the “blue city,” with its blue-painted houses and alleyways adding to the peaceful atmosphere and making you feel like you are walking in a calm Greek town. In Chefchaouen you can enjoy the unique culture, the weather, and the beautiful landscape of the mountain and lush valley below.
Despite being a touristic town, Chefchaouen or Chaouen for far less busy than Marrakech. Yet underneath that majestic small-town feel are many hidden places throughout the blue corridors that you will get to explore. These include mosques, hammams, a small waterfall, and several artisan shops that sell handicrafts such as pottery, hats, traditional clothes, woodwork, and artisanal soaps made in the city.
In Morocco’s Blue Pearl, you can go on a hike in the mountains, visit boutique shops, or just stroll through the beautiful medina. Try out the famous traditional dishes of the Rif Mountains, including Bissara soup with olive oil, freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs with olive oil and cheese, harcha, and various types of pastries.
Located on the Atlantic Coast is the beautiful touristic city of Essaouira. For ages, the city has been an important attraction to art and music lovers, windsurfers, and now the global fans of the famous TV series “Game Of Thrones” that was filmed in the streets and beach of Essaouira, showcasing Morocco’s 18th-century European and Islamic architecture.
The medina of Essaouira is another UNESCO World Heritage site in Morocco well worth a visit.
The windy city has a lively yet relaxed medina with a history of trade. Essaouira is also home to many squawking seagulls that give the city its unique appearance and atmosphere.
Unlike Marrakech or Fez, Essaouira’s souk is less intense and more relaxed. Merchants will engage in friendly conversations that are not necessarily about their wares, letting you browse through their shop without much pressure or hassle. There are many shops that offer a variety of traditional clothes, decor, music instruments, carpets, woodwork, leatherwear, and argan oil.
Essaouira is famous for its Gnaoua music. Strolling through the medina, you are bound to see Gnaoua performers chanting and playing instruments, creating a fun and festive ambiance in the city. The city also hosts two important annual festivals, the Gnoaoua and World Music Festival and the Andalusian Festival.
Other important attractions in Essaouira’s medina are Place Moulay Hassan, Derb Messaouda where the abandoned buildings of the Portuguese church and the former embassy remain. There is also Skala, where Games of Thrones was filmed, a place that has a breathtaking ocean view as well as the Mellah (Jewish district) and the Bayt Dakira museum of Jewish-Moroccan history.
Founded in the 11th century by Sultan Moulay Ismail, Meknes is another imperial city in Morocco and also a former capital that is often overlooked by tourists. However, it is such a majestic city in Morocco that carries a rich history and culture in its medina, monuments, and ruins that warrant a visit.
The historic city has a stunning medina that is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with its faded orange and yellow walls and the beautiful 17th-century European and Islamic architecture of multiple ancient historical palaces and tombs.
The first thing you will notice entering Meknes’ medina is the fascinating, internationally-renowned entrance called Bab El-Mansour. It was completed by Moulay Ismail’s son in 1732. In the heart of the medina, there is El-hedim square, where everyone likes to hang out in coffee shops and listen to local musicians performing, or watch the monkey and snake handlers.
Inside the medina, you’ll find artisans in small stores selling different handicrafts. Other important must-visit monuments and attractions in Meknes are the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, the Bou Inania Madrasa, and the central courtyard.
Exploring the medinas during your visit to Morocco is important to discover more about the country’s rich history, culture, and heritage. Above are some of the best medinas in Morocco that you can’t miss, with colorful alleyways, unique shops, and historical landmarks and monuments.