Northern Africa holds a special place in travel enthusiasts’ hearts as a unique holiday destination. Foreigners choose Northern Africa as a travel destination due to the warm tropical climate, geographical proximity, wild beaches, lush forests, endless deserts, and fascinating flora. Many people travel to Morocco during holidays thanks to easy access and amazing tourist attractions.
Morocco has much to offer, with a good balance between dynamic landscapes, colorful architecture, and vibrant cities. From staying in a Riad to sleeping in the Sahara Desert, no trip to Morocco is complete without exploring at least one of its many medinas.
If you are still in doubt, please read on, hopefully, you might want to jump on that plane after discovering these beautiful scenes and views in Morocco.
First, let’s get to know the meaning of Medina…
What Is A Medina In Morocco?
In Morocco, a medina refers to a city’s old town or historical center. Seven of Morocco’s medinas are included on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and are fascinating places to visit.
King Mohamed VI recently inaugurated Bayt Dakira, a restored building highlighting Jewish heritage, in the Essaouira medina.
The magic of Marrakech never ceases to enchant, while wandering through the narrow alleyways of Fez feels like a journey back in time. Understandably, a stay in a riad within the walls of these centuries-old cities is on the must-do list of most travelers visiting Morocco.
In the old cities, travelers find themselves in the heart of the action – cavernous carpet shops where hours are whiled away sipping mint tea to find the perfect rug.
Spice shops lined with perfumes, hand-written signs describing potions for the adventurous, and perfectly displayed spices. And, of course, workshops passed down from generation to generation where artisans still produce handmade crafts.
What To See In A Medina In Morocco?
Historical monuments, including koranic schools, palaces, and mosques, attest to the cities’ long history. While getting caught up in sightseeing is easy, Morocco’s medinas are often a sight.
Grab a spot in a cafe and watch the world go by. Step into an unassuming restaurant flooded with locals and order the preferred dish.
Wander down the little alleyways to seek out smaller and lesser-known museums, and you may find yourself rewarded – typically in the form of meeting a friendly local – who will share their passion for the subject matter.
In Morocco’s medinas, mosques and zaouia (religious schools) shrines are closed to non-Muslims. Expect a slower pace on Fridays, the holy day, until at least late afternoon, when business tends to resume throughout Morocco’s medinas.
To experience the Friday ambiance, listen to the midday prayers while sitting on a rooftop terrace. Keep in mind the medinas are the more traditional neighborhoods within each city. As such, alcohol can be difficult to find in restaurants, and bottle shops are non-existent.
Negotiating is part of daily life in Morocco, souks and international shoppers are no exception. Be prepared to negotiate from about 40% of the starting price until finally agreeing upon a price that’s both fair for the buyer and the seller. Remember, walking away from a negotiation is okay, and shoppers shouldn’t feel pressured to buy.
The medinas of Fez and Marrakech are renowned for their historic riads – Marrakech on the trendy, contemporary side and Fez with its high ceilings, decades-old intricate Zellig, and stucco work. When deciding on a riad, particularly in the medina of Marrakech, check which restaurants, historical monuments, and other riads are nearby.
While Moroccans are amiable and hospitable people, be aware that faux guides do roam. In Marrakesh, men on bicycles claiming to work at nearby hotels are common. These false guides often lead visitors to local spice or carpet shops, where they feel obligated to buy.
It’s best to avoid this type of assistance and instead seek the services of a state-approved guide who can also provide insight into the historical sites.
Tips & Safety Concerns For New Travelers Visiting The Medina?
The medinas in Morocco are nearly impossible to navigate with a guide or some previous knowledge of the area. Here are some important safety concerns and tips if you are visiting the medinas of Morocco:
1. Hire a guide
Although it may sound like the most obvious option, finding a guide can only be challenging with proper contact and cultural understanding.
First, only pick up a guide after arriving at the medina. Grifters wander and wait for deep-pocketed tourists to seek their guidance and expertise.
Although most people in the medina that approach you are harmless, the trade negatively impacts tourism as many tourists feel uncomfortable with the invasive approach of unofficial tour guides.
Most hotels have a list of preferred tour guides certified by the Ministry of Tourism. A quick Google search can also connect you with local tour guides across the kingdom.
The rates can be as affordable as $100 per hour depending on the guide and city, and can often accommodate up to 10 people.
2. Have a plan
For those that wish to avoid hiring an official guide, having a plan is essential for your trip to any medina. Smaller medinas will be much more straightforward and require less planning.
However, having a plan and a budget for purchases will save you money in the long run.
All medinas are chock-full of beautiful Moroccan crafts and delicious street foods. However, there are often varying prices depending on the salesperson and customer.
Unless you intend to make many purchases throughout the day, one good strategy is only taking a specific amount of cash with you into the medina.
3. Note The Nearest Gate
Surrounded by an old fortress wall, the entrance to the medina is through one of the twelve gates. If you do not want to use a guide, it’s a good idea to write down the name of the gate you started at so that you can find your way back when you get lost.
If you are having problems finding your way, we recommend asking shopkeepers, as they will not ask you for money. Alternatively, one of the local children will point the way for a dirham or two.
4. Haggling in the medina
Unless the price is specifically marked, the first price is never final. Knowing Arabic or French is optional to haggle, as body language says it all.
Customers are expected to haggle, so it is not impolite or culturally insensitive. If you observe Moroccan consumers haggling, you will see numerous seemingly heated arguments. Do not fret, as this is a common exchange and shows that the customer is an expert haggler.
Another good technique for those who do not wish to banter with the salesperson is to walk away. Most merchants ultimately want to sell their beautiful products, so after a little back-and-forth on pricing, simply walk away, and you are guaranteed to hear the right price.
Keep in mind that there are many shops in the medina and each sells something more captivating than the last. If you are trying to agree with a merchant on a price, keep walking, and perhaps you will find the same item for a better price.
The Future Of The Medina
UNESCO is handling the future of Medinas in Morocco, and they are working in partnership with the World Bank and the Italian government to try to keep the medina as a working structure, keeping the medieval craft traditions alive – it is the survival of these trades that contributes to the survival of the medina itself.
In recent years, there has been a considerable surge in tourism, especially in Fez and Marrakech, which has kick-started not only the buying and renovation of decaying riads into guesthouses and boutique hotels but the general gentrification of the medina as a whole.
There are increasing numbers of ex-pats choosing to live in the medina, too, and their work rescuing some of the city’s most historic houses is vital in helping preserve these historic ancient towns.
Top 18 Best Medinas To Visit In Morocco (Explained)
Encompassed by high walls, the Moroccan medinas area unit full of little alleyways, marketplaces, and historical sites. Every medina aimed to stay out of offensive armies, which is why all four imperial cities of Morocco boast their own.
Each of the Moroccan Medinas has its own distinctive story which will make you lose yourself. Here are the best medinas to visit in Morocco:
1. Medina Of Marrakech
Under the French Protectorate (1912-1956), a new city of Gueliz was developed near the Marrakesh medina to lure travelers seeking an exotic destination. For more than 100 years, Marrakesh has continued to attract travelers to the new city and the medina.
Marrakesh’s old city is gentrifying to the point of becoming unrecognizable to anyone who has traveled here in the last ten years.
Riads with modern conveniences and contemporary designs have become boutique guesthouses, while rooftop terrace restaurants provide views from above and a magical setting as the call to prayer sounds throughout the medina.
More and more trendy designers are opening air-conditioned shops, replacing old shop fronts that traditionally displayed wares on the street.
Despite the changes, Marrakesh’s medina remains steeped in history, having passed under both Almoravid and Saadian rule – and becoming the country’s capital at one point.
2. Medina Of Fes
Once a small Amazigh village, the city of Fes grew centuries ago as Muslim residents of Andalusia fled persecution, finding refuge in this city divided by the River Fes.
Established in the eighth century, Fes is home to the world’s oldest university (the University of Al-Qarawiyyin, founded in 859 and still operating today). It is considered the cultural and spiritual capital of Morocco.
While the much-anticipated Al-Qarawiyyin Library within the university complex opened very briefly following a restoration led by local architect Aziza Chaouni, it is now open only on request. Other must-see historical sites in Fes include Medersa Bou Inania, El Attarine Medersa, the Glaoui Palace, and Batha Museum.
However, it is the local artisans that make Fes truly unique. Master artisans create beautiful pottery and turn hand-cut tiles into unique Zellig patterns (a craft that takes several years to master) based on geometric designs for tabletops, fountains, and wall mounts.
In Fes medina’s metalsmith district, it’s common to find artisans hammering brass kitchen materials and carving the finest details in copper trays.
Go beyond the architecture and the artisans to explore another important element of Moroccan culture in the medina of Fes – food. Fes is a more conservative city than modern Marrakesh, so alcohol is harder to find in restaurants and guest houses.
3. Medina Of Casablanca
Given the size and population of Casablanca today, it’s hard to imagine that before 1912, this little medina, formerly known as Anfa, was all that existed.
Only after the French arrived did the development of the city center and its port begin, and the residents of Anfa were relocated to the newly created medina of Habous.
Today, Casablanca’s medina retains a vibe that differs from other old towns in Morocco.
Beyond the walls of this small medina, art deco homes built during the Protectorate era line the downtown core, while post-colonial modernist architecture is found just streets away.
4. Medina Of Essaouira
Famous for its thuya (cedar) wood, argan oil, Jewish heritage (Essaouira’s medina was once home to more than 30 synagogues), and Gnaoua music, the Essaouira medina is a hive of activity, with private lives tucked away behind sturdy blue doors.
Once known as the Port of Timbuktu (due to the number of African goods that ended up here), the city has a rich trade history and was included on the UNESCO World Heritage list as an example of an 18th-century fortified old town.
The city holds multiple water sports competitions and music festivals thanks to its weather and free spirit ambiance. The Medina represents European military architecture with its four gates and old walls.
Besides the astonishing architecture, the medina is known for its numerous artisans, argan oil, and spice shops. You’ll love strolling along the narrow streets and admiring the beauty of the local wooden art in the numerous art galleries and museums.
5. Medina of Meknes
Meknes is one of the four Imperial cities of Morocco, located in northern central Morocco and close to Fes. Although the most famous city of Fes may overshadow it, it is one of the most important cities in Morocco, with a rich history, culture, and fascinating architecture.
As in most northern African Arabic cities, the so-called Medina is the city’s historic center. Built inside strong fortifications, it is not as crowded or complex as the medina of Fes, however, it is not less beautiful, and it is worth exploring.
The mausoleum of Moulay Ismail (who made the city Morocco’s hub at the end of the 17th century) is one of the city’s main attractions, as well as the Museum of Moroccan Art and Bab Mansour (the largest and most stunning of the city’s gates) are other Meknes sights not to be missed.
6. Medina Of Tetouan
Tétouan was particularly important in the Islamic period, from the 8th century onwards, since it served as the main point of contact between Morocco and Andalusia.
After the Reconquest, the town was rebuilt by Andalusian refugees expelled by the Spanish. This is well illustrated by its art and architecture, which reveal clear Andalusian influence.
Although one of the smallest Moroccan medinas, Tétouan is unquestionably the most complete and has been largely untouched by subsequent outside influences.
This old medina also offers its visitors amazing artifacts and an archaeological museum, which protect the city’s most precious treasures.
7. Medina Of Rabat
Rabat is the capital of Morocco. Its ancient walled city was founded in the seventeenth century by the Andalusian refugees expelled from Spain Durant the reign of King Philip III.
You’ll enjoy strolling along the wide streets of the medina, known for its covered market, florists and shops offer a variety of products (clothes, rugs, spices…)
The Souiqa quarter is the most crowded street in the medina of Rabat, but at the end of that quarter, you’ll find Souk Sebat, a trendy leather market where you’ll find a lot of shops selling slippers, bags, and leather jackets.
8. The Blue Medina Of Chefchaouen
The blue medina of Chefchaouen, with its narrow alleyways and characteristic views bathed in the blue hues of painted walls, is certainly one of the most photographed in Morocco.
Built-in a rustic Berber-Andalusian style, it was founded at the end of the 15th century, and a stroll through its historic center, perched at the foot of the Rif mountains, gives you one of Morocco’s most timeless atmospheres.
Wandering in the winding streets of Chefchaouen’s medina will make you think you are on a Greek island. Get lost in the beautiful fifty shades of blue alleys and the breathtaking architecture of this amazing place.
9. Medina in Tangier
Within the walls of the Portuguese fortress, built in the fifteenth century, you enter the marvelous old town or medina of Tangier.
The medina, the top attraction of Tangier, is a labyrinth of commercial and residential alleyways. It’s contained by the walls of a 15th-century Portuguese fortress, although most buildings are relatively new for a Moroccan medina.
The place is full of travelers’ treasures and offers glimpses of traditional living. Sadly, local touts can be more of a bother here than nearly anywhere else in Morocco.
The main square, which used to be the heart of Tangier, is called Zoco Chico, it is vivid and animated and is perfect for handcraft shopping. Walking around, you’ll find souks (Traditional marketplaces) full of herbalists, tanners, and food and spice sellers.
10. Medina Of Taza
The city of Taza lies at the saddle between the Atlas and the Rif mountains in the north of Morocco. The medina (from the Arabic word Madinah, meaning “city”) is the historical part that dates back to the pre-Islamic era and represents an urban and architectural palimpsest illustrating the succession of several Islamic dynasties.
Due to its strategic location at the crossroads between the east and the west, Taza played a key role in the geopolitical transformations of the Moroccan kingdom until the start of the French protectorate. After independence, this city’s epic ended, and many monuments in the medina were partially or entirely lost.
Today, walking through the narrow streets of the medina of Taza resembles walking over a shrouded history and passing hundreds of stories hidden behind the faded walls and the ever-closed doors.
However, suppose the buildings have lost their ability to depict the place’s local culture and spirit. In that case, the words written about the city a few centuries ago are still alive and still able to convey a true image of its glorious past.
The medina also called “Upper Taza”, is located at the top of a hill in the southwest of the city. It is a compact urban fabric surrounded by a 3-kilometer-long rampart with several gates ensuring a direct connection with its periphery, such as cemeteries and agricultural fields.
Given the rugged topography, the medina is connected to the modern city by a 250-meter-long stairway bordering the defensive walls in a slightly sloping manner in harmony with the natural and the built environments.
11. Medina of Salé
The Medina of Salé or Salé old town is the medina quarter and the oldest walled part of the city of Salé in Morocco. It has been considered a national cultural heritage since October 1914 and is one of Morocco’s oldest medinas.
The medina is surrounded by a nearly 4.3 km long wall containing several gates, most of which have remained and are still of use today.
The oldest parts of the wall date back to the Almoravid dynasty (1054-1164), while the newest ones are from the Alaouite era. Some of the notable gates and bastions of the medina of Salé are:
- Bab Bouhaja – Demolished in 1969
- Bab Chaafa
- Bab Cordoba
- Bab Dar Sanaa
- Bab Ferd
- Bab Jdid
- Bab Lamrissa – Built between 1270 and 1280, with 9 meters in width and 9.6 meters in height. It is the biggest city gate in Salé and Morocco.
- Bab Lekhmis – Also called Bab Fès
- Bab Maalqa
- Bab Sebta – Referring to the city of Ceuta, as it points towards the north.
- Borj Bab Sebta – Built in 1738
- Borj Addoumoue (Bastion of tears) – Also called the old Skalla – Built in 1261 to protect the city from invasions coming from the Atlantic Ocean
- Borj Rokni – Also called the new Skalla – Built in 1853
- Borj Mellah
The medina of Salé hosts several historical buildings and monuments built at different times. These include:
- The Great Mosque of Salé – The third largest mosque in Morocco, built between 1028 and 1029.
- The Marinid Medrasa – Built in 1341
- Maristane of Salé
- Sidi Benacher Mauseleum
- Sidi Abdellah Benhassoun Mauseleum
12. Medina of Taroudant
Taroudant is a city in the Sous Valley in southwestern Morocco. It is situated east of Agadir on the road to Ouarzazate, the Sahara Desert, and south of Marrakesh. The town is known as the “Grandmother of Marrakech” because it looks smaller with its surrounding ramparts.
In the 16th century, the Saadi dynasty briefly used Taroudant as a capital before moving its royal seat to Marrakesh. Today, the city has the feel of a small fortified market town on a caravan route.
Today, the town is a notable market town where you can get local crafts, including jewelry and carpets.
The town walls are nearly 6 kilometers long, set with bastions, and punctuated by nine gates still in use. Outside the wall is a small tannery mainly in the business of travel equipment for camel ridings, such as goat skin, camel hide sandals, leather bags, and belts.
Medina of Taroudant is the oldest part of the city of Taroudant, and it is surrounded by nearly 8 km long walls with more than 100 crenels.
13. Medina in Azilal
Have you ever visited a new place and felt ‘wow’? For many visitors, it happens at Azilal.
Azilal is a provincial capital in the center of Atlas Mountain, and it’s a short drive of 2.5 hours from Marrakech. Little known to the tourists, Azilal is a city of charming sceneries and adventure. It offers many natural sites, trekking itineraries, traditional architecture, and a precious heritage of handicrafts.
The medina is famous for its bright rugs, shimmering with vibrantly colorful and intricate Amazigh motifs, on a white or cream-colored base. These one-of-a-kind Azilal rugs are single-knotted and handwoven from virgin sheep cool and cotton.
14. Medina in El-Jadida-Mazagan
El Jadida, considered a stylish and beautiful town, retains the lanes and ramparts of an old Portuguese Medina, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was known as Mazagan under the Portuguese, who held it from 1506 until 1769.
Today, El Jadida’s Medina is the most European-looking in Morocco: a quiet, walled, and bastioned seaside village with a handful of churches. It was founded by the Portuguese in 1513 and retained by them until 1769, and it is still popularly known as the Cité Portugaise.
According to UNESCO, the cistern housed within the stone walls of the ancient Portuguese fort and the Manueline church of the assumption are the most important buildings in the city.
However, visitors from around the world find El Jadida medina to be a progressive city with all the amenities like fishing materials such as Hook, line, and sinker, fishing rods, fishing reels, fishing bait, bite indicators, spears, nets, traps and many more.
15. Medina in Safi
Safi is a Moroccan city situated in the western part of the country on the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean, around 150 km northwest of the tourism capital of Morocco, Marrakesh, and 230 km southwest of Morocco’s largest city, Casablanca.
It is the administrative center of the Doukkala-Abda Region, visited by tourists from around the country, mainly for its beaches and traditional Moroccan market in the city’s medina.
Fishing is the backbone of Safi’s economy, dominated by the sardine fishing industry like most cities in Morocco, Safi is also famous for its Medina, or old town, which is mainly noted for its traditional Moroccan market.
The market is well known for local specialties like handicraft products, clothes, and jewels.
16. Medina in Ouarzazate-Zagora-Tinghir
Ouarzazate is the capital city of the Ouarzazate Province in the southern-central part of the northwestern African country Morocco. It falls under the Souss-Massa-Drâa region, located around 1,160 meters above sea level, between 30°55′ N latitude and 6°55′ W longitude.
Ouarzazate is located towards the south of the High Atlas Mountains, around 200 km southeast of Marrakech and 430 km north-northwest of Casablanca, the largest city of Morocco.
Ouarzazate is one of Morocco’s top holiday destinations and is also situated close to the village called Ait Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ouarzazate is also renowned as the shooting location for many Hollywood movies, including The Mummy and Gladiator.
If you want to see and learn more about the everyday life of Moroccan people, then you must go to the medina in Ouarzazate. It is where you can get all the sensations of different sounds and smells. It is the typical local market selling various food and house items.
Do not expect to find shops there, and there are no any. People usually put their goods on the carpet and sell them like that. You can find some nice local handcraft to get a good souvenir or a gift back home.
17. Medina in Oujda – Saidia
If you are in Morocco or planning to go there on your next vacation, you should visit Oujda. This place has an air of freedom and openness due to its history.
Oujda is popular because university students fought for their beliefs and did not allow others to step on them. It is very close to Algeria, and different conquerors have ruled it during the last few centuries.
Aside from the place’s historical significance, you can also visit some interesting tourist destinations that will make your trip to Oujda worthwhile.
For one, you can visit the old and new Medinas, which have their attractions.
18. Medina in Agadir
Agadir Medina (La Médina d’Agadir) is a fascinating reconstruction of a typical Moroccan Berber village. It was built using traditional building techniques and local materials.
If you feel like buying something traditional and high in quality, visit some craft workshops (wood, iron, mosaics, clay, leather, textiles, and perfumes), where you can even watch the owners at work and see exhibitions of artistic pieces.
As well as amazing shops and galleries, you’ll find museums, local cafés where you can taste delicious Moroccan pastries and mint tea, and a restaurant where every detail is meticulously taken care of.
Strolling through the small squares and alleyways always brings surprises, seductive aromas and perfumes, and photogenic spots, among other things. Among the best things to buy in Agadir’s medina, in addition to handicrafts, are argan oil, spices, and Berber jewelry.
Although Morocco’s medinas may appear intimidating, they are worth exploring.
Whether you travel with a guide or simply wish to get lost in the medina, you will be in good hands as Moroccans are extremely accommodating and ultimately want you to enjoy all of the beauty and appeal their country offers.
That’s it for this article, I hope you enjoyed reading it. If Yes, don’t forget to spread the word by sharing it. Otherwise, stay awesome (:
How many medinas are in Morocco?
There are Seven of Morocco’s medinas are included on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
Where is the famous medina in Morocco?
Marrakech medina thanks to its labyrinthine souks, traditional traders’ markets, modern conveniences, and contemporary designs.