On a February 2018 Western Mediterranean cruise, our first port of call was Casablanca, Morocco. But the allure of the picturesque capital city of Rabat was strong, so we hopped on an ONCF train to spend a half day in Rabat. For specific instructions on how to take the train from the port of Casablanca to Rabat, see this post.
Rabat is the cleanest city in Morocco and has a decidedly European feel. The entire tourist area is within reach on foot for the physically fit. But since we only had a half day in Rabat, we took the tram from Rabat Ville train station to the vicinity of the Hassan Tower to save some time. Large and small (petit) taxis are also available outside the train station when you arrive.
Hassan Tower and Mausoleum of Mohammed V
Hassan Tower is part of a larger site called the Yacoub al-Mansour Esplanade which also features the Mausoleum of Mohammed V and the remains of an incomplete mosque. The mosque was flattened by an earthquake in 1755 and only the foundation columns remain. Approaching the esplanade is really breathtaking. We were also fortunate to enjoy perfect weather – sunny in the low 70’s – and very small crowds.
Click any photo for larger version.
Made of red sandstone, Hassan Tower was to be the largest minaret in the world. But construction was stopped in 1199 with the death of its benefactor. The present height of 145′ is only about half of the intended height. Interestingly, the tower is ascended by ramps instead of stairs. This was to allow horses to be ridden to the top rather than walking.
Across from the Hassan Tower is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, which you can go inside. The marble floors, intricate wall tile, and gold leaf ceiling are truly stunning!
After leaving the Hassan Tower, we headed over to the medina for an authentic Moroccan lunch. It only takes about 15 minutes to walk from the Hassan Tower to the medina and you can enjoy some great views along the way of the Bou Regreg river and the Kasbah of the Udayas in the distance.
Now would be a good time to mention that I highly recommend downloading a google map of the area to your smartphone before traveling. That way, you can use google maps offline without any cellular or internet service. The offline version doesn’t provide directions for public transit, but it is still very useful for finding your way. Especially inside the confusing medina!
Okay, so back to lunch… When I was researching restaurants in advance, I noticed that many were closed on Sunday, the day we were visiting. I did managed to identify a few potential restaurants with Sunday hours posted. In reality, none were open. Someone we were chatting with mentioned that many restaurants are closed on the weekends, not just Sunday. And especially, they are closed for lunch on weekends.
We wound up settling for some of Rabat’s very abundant fast food. Specifically, tacos. The “tacos” were really more like a burrito that is put into a panini press. There were several choices of protien such as chicken, doner kabab, or shrimp and the whole thing is accompanied by french fries and thousand island dressing inside the taco. Not exactly the tajines with exotic spices that I had in mind, but they were quite filling.
Kasbah of the Udayas
From the northeast corner of the medina, it’s only a short skip to the kasbah. Kasbah of the Udayas is Rabat’s ancient walled neighborhood perched high above where the Bou Regrag River meets the Atlantic Ocean.
When you enter the kasbah, prepare to be aggressively solicited by locals offering tours. Assuming that you don’t want a tour, you need to be really firm about saying no. If you’re even slightly indifferent, these guides will follow you for quite some distance. Just tell them in no uncertain terms that you don’t want a tour, don’t have any money, and wish to be left alone. The kasbah is pretty compact anyway, so you won’t get significantly lost.
By now, we were getting a little self conscious about Norwegian Spirit sailing away without us, so we headed back to Rabat Ville train station. It’s about a 1.2 mile walk from the kasbah to the station, mostly along the attractive main thoroughfare, Avenue Mohammed V.
In summary, we departed the Casa Port (Casablanca) train station at 9:15am and returned about 4:15pm. So subtracting the 2 1/2 hour round-trip transit time, we had about 4 1/2 hours in Rabat. We could have departed our cruise ship as early as 7:00am and caught the 7:40am or 8:15am train which would have given us additional time in Rabat. In retrospect, I do mildly regret not getting an earlier start, but this was a vacation after all.
With that extra time, I would have visited the Chellah Gardens, a site which houses both Roman ruins and a medieval Muslim necropolis, as well as a massive colony of storks. Oh well, there’s always next time!