A beginner’s guide to…Rabat, Morocco

Morocco's capital is a laidback yet fascinating option for a different slice of the country

Where exactly is it? It’s the capital of Morocco, although you might be forgiven for not necessarily knowing that. The other big cities, from Marrakech to Casablanca and Tangier, all arguably shout louder.

Medina, Rabat. Photo: SE

So what goes on there? Rabat is a low-key but extremely busy metropolis, the roar of mopeds, and thrum of traffic, a constant. As well as the Ville Nouvelle, there’s a large medina, alive with Arabic music, whose broad streets and narrow alleyways make a relatively easy introduction to Moroccan life if you’re a first-time visitor. Cats and kittens roam everywhere, too.

What can I buy? The stalls sell everything from tiny olives and outsize watermelons to trainers and babouches. Others are piled high with mint teapots, socks, jewellery, hats, nuts, dried figs, fruit and veg. There’s not the hassle you might get in Marrakech either, partly because there are very few tourists.

Rabat Medina
Medina, Rabat. Photo: SE

So there’s an authenticity here? Yes, and that’s appealing: explore the compact Kasbah Des Oudayas, with its viewing platform overlooking the beach and ocean – very foggy and mysterious the morning I visited – with Sale opposite (don’t miss a coffee at Cafe Maure, too). There’s also The Hassan tower, Andalusian Gardens and walled Chellah, all sadly closed on my visit, so check online before you fly.

I’m hungry now. Where should I eat? For a charming Moroccan dining room in the Ville Nouvelle (conveniently near Rabat-Ville station) Le Petit Beur (pic below) proved outstanding: kofte brochette were melt-in-the-mouth tender; wine is also served, something that’s not to be taken for granted in Morocco.

Morning mist: Kasbah, Rabat. Photo: SE

And for a memorable dinner? It has to be the historic Le Dhow, a floating restaurant and bar moored on the Oued Bou Regreg (main pic, above). On the night of my visit a DJ was playing as the sun set magnificently over the river, and local swordfish kebabs were washed down with decent white Moroccan wine (always underrated). Great people-watching, with a rowdy young crowd, and the riverfront is magical by night.

Le Petit Beur
Elegant: Le Petit Beur. Photo: SE

Anywhere else? Along the waterfront by the appealing Bou Regreg river is a line of cafes, perfect for brunch or beyond. Apricot is a good option for a strong morning coffee with a view.

Bou Regreg
Bou Regreg at night. Photos: SE

Where can I stay? I loved Riad Dar Dar, an outstanding hideaway tucked away deep in the oldest part of the medina. A little tricky to find, and make sure you tell them your time of arrival (as they initially didn’t answer when I buzzed), but the house itself is nothing short of majestic.

Dar Dar Rabat
The pool terrace at Riad Dar Dar. Photo: SE

As you enter, the courtyard is furnished with mid-century wicker chairs, the vibe an unlikely Moroccan-meet-Scandi aesthetic, while the tiled top terrace boasts stunning tropical plants and even a small pool for an afternoon dip. Simple yet stylish rooms are airy with chic ensuites, and breakfast comprises fresh fruit salad, various breads and pastries, and a slice or delicious apricot tart. A perfect find in an underrated city that yields continual surprises.

For more on Rabat, follow @visitrabat and @rabat_riads

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