Once a sleepy town nestled between the beautiful Rif Mountains in Morocco’s north, Chefchaoeun has grown in recent years to be one of the most well-known and highly fantasised-about destinations in the region. There’s a rich and vibrant history to be discovered in the narrow, winding streets or by climbing the ancient kasbah above the main square, a decidedly slower-paced friendliness among locals than you’ll find in Marrakech or Fes, and a sense of authenticity that has been all but lost in other parts of the country— but it is actually the colour palate of the town that brings in its many visitors. Infinite shades of blue cover every wall, fountain, and intricately decorated door in Morocco’s aptly nicknamed Blue City, and it is this brilliant rainbow of blue hues that first made me take notice of a town I’d long forgotten.
The summer I was 15, mum and I hosted a Moroccan exchange student from Chefchaouen. I’d begged to visit her in high school, likely with visions of magic carpets and genie lamps in my head, but it wasn’t until 8 years later that I found myself at the local bus station, waiting to reunite with the old friend who had first ignited my interest in this now Insta-famous destination. With a wonderful local guide and more hospitality from her equally gorgeous family than I’d ever experienced before, I discovered this magical city through her eyes and fell totally in love with its charms, both painted and otherwise. Amazingly, though, there is little written about what to see in Chefchaouen and where to find the views that you see plastered all over social media— if not for my local friend, I feel I would have missed quite a bit of what makes this place so special. So here are the most instagram-worthy, can’t-be-missed views and photo spots in Chefchaouen to inspire your own love story with Morocco’s Blue City.
Bouzaafar, the Spanish Mosque
For the best views over the Chefchaouen’s sea of blue and white houses, follow the wide dirt trail out of the medina’s east gate, cross the bustling Ras el-Maa river where locals are doing their weekly laundry, and continue up into the hills for about 30 minutes to reach the tiny white-washed Spanish Mosque. If you’re struggling to find the path, just make your way to the river and follow it upwards until you see an obvious trail crossing and leading up the hill; there seems to be quite a few locals who use the road as an entrance into town, as well as locals and tourists alike who ascend to the Mosque to admire the view, so it won’t be difficult to spot if you’re in the right vicinity. The walk up the hill is leisurely and fairly quick, but offers unparalleled views of the city from the first few steps and is sure to be a highlight of any visit.
Outa el Hammam & Kasbah
Right in the main square, Plaza Uta el-Hammam, there’s a large terracotta-coloured fortress that also affords great views of the city, though from a closer vantage point than the Spanish Mosque. For 10Dh (payable at a little booth right in front of the entry), you can enter the Kasbah, its gardens, and the Kasbah museum. Climb to the top of one of the towers and peer out through carved windows over the city square and the nearby mosque for amazing photos.
While exploring the Kasbah’s towers and admiring the city from above, take a stroll through the fortress’ beautiful, palm-filled gardens and pop into the Kasbah museum to learn a bit more about Chefchaouen’s rich history. The entire structure is built like an Arabian palace, so even though the plaques inside are limited to Arabic, French, and Spanish, it certainly doesn’t detract from the ambiance.
Although admittedly a bit quiet during our visit in the early morning, this vibrant square appearing out of Chefchaouen’s maze of tiny streets is worth hanging around, whether it’s for shopping at the many market stalls, eating in one of the terrace restaurants, or just taking photos of cute (and thankfully well-fed) kitties. In fact, that’s one of the things we noticed immediately in arriving: the healthy cats! While you will heartbreakingly see emaciated, near-death kitties (and actually dead cats far more often than anyone should ever have to) in other parts of Morocco, the cats here must be looked after by the locals, and they can be seen playing or lounging about the square in large numbers.
Hotel Atlas Chaouen
Drive a few short minutes from the centre of Chefchaouen (or take a very inexpensive taxi ride from one of the many cabs around the city― fares are incredibly reasonable and the driver will know exactly where to take you) and swoon over more sweeping views from the balcony and outdoor pool of Hotel Atlas, which looks out over the city from the north and also offers an excellent view of the nearby Rif Mountains. They didn’t appear to have any issue with us walking through the hotel and out onto the balcony for photos, despite the fact that we weren’t guests, but it’s probably a good idea to ask at the desk.
Plaza Uta el-Hammam
Chefchaouen’s main square is a buzzing marketplace of cafes, terrace restaurants, and stalls overflowing with paintings of the Blue City, colourful scarves, patterned pants, perfumes, a rainbow of dyes, and honestly a million other things. It’s impossible to miss this square, as so many of the narrow blue streets converge here, and there’s an unmistakable hum of noise as tourists and locals chatter in outdoor seating and browse through the shops. If you’ve been anywhere else in Morocco previously, you’ll notice immediately the laid back vibe of the vendors here, who are keen to barter but are markedly less aggressive and bothersome than those in the souks of Marrakech or even in Fes. It’s a welcome change not to be hollered at and pressured into looking at things, but to just enjoy a leisurely walk through the market!
Pick a door, any door..
Undoubtedly, some of the best photos you’ll take are of the famous blue doors, which are in no short supply around the city and come in seemingly endless varieties. Chefchaouen actually gifted a blue door to Issaquah, their sister city and my home town, and it’s displayed next to the city council building downtown. Despite drawing a lot of attention in our otherwise rather ordinary suburb, I don’t think many people realise the significance of the door, but even if that’s the case, no one can argue its beauty! Of course, it’s all the more special to me now to be seeing blue doors everywhere I look, and I can’t resist posing in front of several (hundred). Just walking down the winding roads of the medina, strolling along the main streets, or wandering through the city squares will have you rubbernecking all over the place as you spot beautiful door after beautiful door.
Honestly, you’ll have a fantastic time in Chefchaouen even if the only thing you do is just wander around the medina streets in no particular direction and take photos on the beautiful blue stairs. I’m thoroughly convinced that it’s impossible to take a bad picture here― every inch of the city is more than a little bit magical― and it’s equally impossible not to fall in love with the endless sea of blue.
According to my local friend, Jewish refugees settled in the city hundreds of years ago and painted many of their homes blue, a significant colour in their religion. Sadly, many of these Jewish families were the victims of discrimination, easily identified by their vibrant blue homes, and so the Moroccans painted all the city’s buildings blue so that it was impossible to distinguish between new and original residents, Jew or Muslim. It’s a beautiful story of acceptance, and it only makes me love this city more.
Morocco is somewhere every traveller ought to visit for the amazingly spiced food, friendly locals, rich culture, and varied landscape, and Chefchaouen should be at the top of your itinerary for an experience that is at once staggeringly unique and traditionally Moroccan. If these photos haven’t convinced you, I don’t know what will.