A Weekend in Northern Morocco

Asilah Morocco.jpg
Market in Asilah

Morocco is one of the trendiest travel destinations in the world right now, with thousands of tourists flocking to the country to explore its winding medinas and admire its unique architecture. When I visited Morocco, I fell in love with the beautiful cities and the culture, and now I can’t wait to go back. Morocco’s culture has been shaped by years of European, Arabian, and African influences, and you can find traces of all these impacts today in Moroccan food, language, and architecture.

Northern Morocco is located very close to continental Europe, just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. Because Morocco is located such a short distance from most European countries, it’s fairly accessible, and it’s relatively inexpensive to visit.

I visited Morocco while I was staying in Spain by taking a short ferry from Gibraltar to Tangier. You can easily experience a taste of Moroccan culture by spending a weekend in northern Morocco. Even though most tourists head straight to Marrakesh, I recommend visiting cities like Tangier, Asilah, and Chefchaouen for an introduction to this amazing country.

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Two new friends in Tangier

Tangier is one of the largest cities in Northern Morocco with a diverse, international history. Because this major port city is so close to Europe, the Spanish, French, and Portuguese have occupied it throughout history. These influences have given Tangier a distinct international flair that has attracted expats from Western countries for years. In Tangier, you can visit the hectic souk (the marketplace), hang out on the beach, or tour ancient caves. Tangier is a great home base for a weekend in northern Morocco because it’s just a couple of hours away from Asilah and Chefchaouen, two great day trip destinations.

Chefchaouen, also known as Chaouen, is a must-visit Moroccan city. Chefchaouen is known as the “blue pearl of Morocco” because practically every building in the old town is painted light blue! Even though the city attracts a lot of visitors, Chefchaouen doesn’t feel too touristy. As you walk through the blue alleys of the medina, you’re transported to a different, simpler time and place. The city has a rustic and endearing charm. You’ll forget you’re living in the 21st century as you watch local bakers make Moroccan bread over a fire or see women washing clothes communally in a river. Cats roam freely all over the city, so don’t be surprised to see them sitting in windowsills or wandering through cafes. Grab a traditional Moroccan tajine meal from one of the restaurants in the old city and observe the quiet bustle of the market, halted by the occasional call to prayer.

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Chefchaouen

For more old-world charm in a beautiful, coastal setting, head to Asliah, located just south of Tangier. The old town is set on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by ramparts built by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Walk along the ramparts for beautiful views of the ocean, or stroll on the beach and look up at the historic walled city. I loved wandering through the medina and checking out the local crafts like rugs and ceramics. Moroccan markets are known for their bargaining salespeople, so this is a great place to practice your haggling skills! Don’t speak Arabic? Don’t worry- most locals also speak French, Spanish, or English!

The buildings in the Asilah medina are painted vibrant colors and decorated with murals, repainted every year during a regional arts festival. While in Asilah, I recommend sitting in a café and enjoying a Moroccan mint tea (served piping hot and super sweet with fresh mint leaves) while watching the activities in the square. I didn’t know what to expect when I first visited Morocco, but after spending a weekend exploring the northern region of the country, I’m ready to go back. Each city I visited was captivatingly beautiful and offered its own unique charms.

More Inspiration

Asilah Market Rugs
Market in Asilah
Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen
Asilah Streets.jpg
Streets of Asilah
Asilah Market.jpg
Market in Asilah
Market in Chefchaouen
Market in Chefchaouen
Asilah
Asilah
Cats in Asilah
Three of the (many) cats of Asilah

Article and photos by Elizabeth Rhodes. Find her on TwitterInstagram, and her website. For more on travel, check out her guide to Budapest.