Morocco between beauty and roughness
Fez’s overlooked neighbor
Meknès is not as often visited as its glamorous neighbor Fez. We really can’t understand why. To us, Meknès was a fascinating city to see because it allowed for more authentic impressions of Morocco.
It’s not as busy or big as its famous neighbor Meknes, but that only adds to its charm. Meknès offers its visitors plenty of things to do, and we hope to inspire you to visit this gem!
After visiting the blue medina of Chefchaouen, we were off for a more authentic experience. Contrary to our ride to Chechaouen, we quickly realized we were the only two tourists on board. It didn’t take long until it became the center of attention and flirt attempts, which we found pretty entertaining. It was already dark when we arrived in Meknès. Upon entering the Riad, we realized those language barriers would challenge us in the following days. While we understand some French, there seemed to be no way our brains could formulate a response in French! For the first time in a long time, we could not communicate!
The medina of Meknes
Inspired by King Louie of France and Versailles, Moulay Ismail aimed to build a majestic royal city in Meknes, Morocco. Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that the architecture is impressive.
Bab el-Mansour is possibly Morocco’s most famous gate. It easily steals the spotlight of Fez’s picturesque blue gate.
Right in front of it, you’ll find the heart of medina Place el-Hedim. It is said to rival Marrakech’s Djeema al Fna, which we can’t entirely agree to. But, surrounded by restaurants, it’s a place to sit down and let Meknès and its vibe sink in. It was there that we witnessed a certain roughness about Meknès. The serpent charms and restaurant servers put on the brightest smile as soon as one of the few tourists passed, but their faces quickly felt as soon as they realized they were going to be unsuccessful. The Place fills with life in the late afternoon and early evening. Food vendors sell local delicacies such as snails, while others sell clothing.
Place Lalla Aouda
On the other side of Bab el-Mansour, south of Place el-Hedim, you’ll find Place Lalla Aouda. The former parading Place of Moulay Ismail’s famous black guards. Moulay Ismail’s elite unit consisted of 16 000 enslaved people brought in from Sub-Saharan Africa. To ensure their loyalty and dedication, he provided them with women.
On Place Lalla Aouda, you’ll find Habs Kara. A former underground prison with the capacity of 40000 prisoners. The Sultan imprisoned thousands of Christians in this dark underground labyrinth which reached three levels deep.
Medersa Bou Inania
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Méknes, we recommend visiting the Medersa Bou Inania. This former Islamic school is one of the best-preserved in Morocco, and it’s a great place to get a feel for what life was like in this city centuries ago.
Follow the traces of Moulay Ismail
Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail
The next stop on our list of things to do in Méknes is the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail. Thisbeautiful building was erected in honor of Morocco’s second Sultan, and it houses his tomb and the tombs of his two sons. The mausoleum is open to the public, and it’s worth a visit.
Take a horse carriage
Moulay Ismail adored horses, and it seems like he passed his passion on to the city. We found plenty of horse carriages waiting in front of Place el-Hedim. Extravagantly decorated, the carriage reminded us a bit of Cindarella’s. And there it was again. The beauty and roughness of Meknes were perfectly blending. While the wagons appear to be almost sugar-coated, the horses are not. On second glance, you see many poorly-treated and dangerously handled horses. The bridal was often tied to the legs. The bound horses broke our hearts and finding a well-treated horse took quite some time. The ride is pretty unimpressive as you can’t pass any narrow alleys by horse. We were almost a little disappointed once we stopped and were told we had arrived at the barns
Royal corn chambers in Méknes
The royal corn chambers in Méknes are indeed a sight to behold. High arches form the former granary, and the whole structure is equipped with a sophisticated ventilation system. The corn chambers held provisions for Ismail’s precious horses, and you must pass through the dark, cool barrel-like halls to visit the horse barns. It’s a fantastic place and one of the things to see when you’re in Méknes.
Agdal Basin in Meknes
The Agdal Basin is one of Meknes’s most famous historical landmarks. The basin was built in the 12th century and served as a reservoir for the city’s water supply. It was also used as a swimming pool for the royal family. In the 18th century, the basin was converted into a public bathhouse. Today, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Meknes. Back in the day, the basin was filled by aqueducts. It also served the pleasure of the Sultan. Today, visitors can enjoy the beautiful architecture and relax by the refreshing waters of the basin. Ismail’s water reservoir, Agdal Basin, lies right behind the corn chambers. Back in the day, the basin was filled by aqueducts. It also served the pleasure of the Sultan
Shop at colorful Souks
Whereas you might be a little overwhelmed by navigating alleys while escaping persuasive salespeople in Fez, Meknès offered a much more relaxed shopping experience. You’ll find several
lively souks and plazas amongst quiet passages as you wander from the Berber through the Jew and Arabic quarters. The vegetable market is bustling and offers a glimpse into daily life!
Get ready to travel Morocco
Transportation to and from Meknes:
Meknes has two bus terminals CTM bus station, west of Ville Novelle, and Gare Routière, right outside the medina. However, CTM is a bit more pricey.
CTM Bus connections:
Meknes – Fez: 45 mins (25 Dhs)
Meknes – Casablanca 3,5 hrs ( 85 Dhs)
Meknes – Rabat 2 hrs ( 55 Dhs)
From Gare Routière:
Please note that the buses are not as reliable as CTM.
Meknes – Tangier 5.5 hrs (65Dhrs) via Chefchouen: 4,5 hrs (45Dhs) You’ll find other daily connections to Rabat, Casablanca, and Marrakech.
Note: The red city bus (number 15) to Moulay Idriss ( 7dhs) leaves right outside Bab El Mansour. Taxi Not too far from Gare Routière, you’ll find the regular taxi rank. When traveling together, a taxi might be the cheaper option for going to Fez ( 45 mins, 25 Dhs), Ifrane (1hr, 30 Dhs), or Azrou (1hr, 30 Dhs)
Places to stay in Meknes:
As anywhere in Morocco, the places to visit are typical Moroccan Riads or Dars. However, we have listed some fantastic, responsible places to stay in our downloadable Meknes travel guide.
Best time to visit Meknes:
Meknes is a year-round destination. It’s most pleasant during spring and fall when it’s neither too hot nor too chilly.
We felt very safe in Meknes. As female travelers, we always felt respected and welcomed.
Moulay Ismail did adore horses, and he loved women even more. With his three wives and about 500 concubines, he fathered about 888 children, according to the Guinness Book of world records!
Bring your Lifestraw Pro! Tap water in Morocco is safe for human consumption, according to Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani. The PM made the statement in February 2018 after officials uncovered issues with the public water delivery system. Despite the government’s assurances, however, distrust in tap water is growing. One problem is that the government has been slow to react and often lacks transparency in its communication. In addition, several reports have highlighted elevated levels of nitrates as an issue in Morocco.
Biggest challenge for the responsible traveler
Shopping: Low-quality Chinese products and goods produced under questionable working environments are sold everywhere. When shopping in Morocco, be conscious and check out our shopping guide!
Water: Avoid plastic pollution and bring your own Lifestrwa Pro! Your water will stay cool, too!
Animals: There are many animals on display and horse carriages with very poorly treated horses parked with their heads tied to their legs. Please do not support cruel animal treatment! Instead, make a point of looking at the horses and telling the people that you are looking for a well-treated
Packing List Morocco
When packing for a trip to Morocco, it’s important to keep the country’s culture and climate in mind as the weather can vary greatly, depending on the time of year and the region you’re visiting. Check out our packing list so you arrive well prepared!
Places to visit in Morocco
Live the dream of 1001 nights!
Marrakesh mesmerized me from the second we left the cab. Surrounded by “guides” eager to lead us to our Riad. Never would we have found our Riad ourselves, even though the taxi left us only about 300 m from the entrance. The unimposing door was hiding the beautifully decorated and colorful Riad. We were confronted with the incredible detail of Moroccan style. We stood there with our mouths open. Deeply impressed and taken aback by so many impressions, so much beauty.
Are you traveling to Morocco and wondering what you should bring? Check out our packing list! No worries, we have tested and extended it with the things we wish we would have brought!
Fez has been lovely. We had a great time roaming the medina’s maze. But Chefauchouen has been calling us. Many travelers have enthused by the charm of the blue city. Of course, we were eager to discover the blue town for ourselves.
Fez’s old city, the medina consists of more than 9400 alleys. Some of them more extensive, some of them so narrow you almost didn’t recognise it them as a path. Moroccans are proud of their traditions and heritage. As you roam through the streets, you’ll be able to watch artisans apply century old traditions. Fez, one of the four royal cities of Morocco was home to respected Imans, artists and scholars is a proud, confident city. It felt cosmopolitan and yet quaint at the same time.