Asilah Morocco Travel Guide
When you think of traveling to Morocco, you probably think of cities like Marrakech, Tangier, and Fes. While these cities are gorgeous and exciting, there are some other (smaller) cities you should consider for a more laid-back Moroccan experience. Chefchaoeun is one of my favorite cities in Morocco (check out my guide to Chefchaouen) because I loved exploring its iconic blue streets in the old city. Another underrated Moroccan city you should visit is Asilah, located on Morocco’s northwestern coast, just south of Tangier. There are a few interesting things to do in Asilah, and you absolutely have to check out the Asilah medina! Getting to Asilah from Tangier only takes 45 minutes by car, making this small town a great day trip from the larger, northern Moroccan city.
All About Asilah
Asilah has a rich, storied past, dating back to 1500 BC, when Phoenicians occupied this area of Morocco. Throughout its history, Asilah was ruled by different dynasties before being captured by the Portuguese, and later, the Spanish. The city was reclaimed by Morocco in the 1600s, and it was briefly part of Spanish Morocco for about 50 years in the early 1900s. This complex history has left its mark on this port city, and you can see the influence of the Spanish and Portuguese occupations of Asilah in the city today (especially in Asilah medina). Many people in Asilah even speak Spanish, Portuguese, or French in addition to Arabic, making this city a fascinating melting pot of cultural traditions, cuisines, and languages. Although Asilah still has an operating port, its main industry today is tourism. The weather in Asilah can get pretty hot in the summer (up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in August!) like the rest of the country, but the breeze off the ocean keeps the city a bit cooler than cities more inland.
Lonely Planet calls Asilah an “easy introduction to Morocco,” and I have to agree. Compared to the bustling souks of Marrakesh and Tangier, Asilah is relatively calm and relaxing while still authentically Moroccan. Every local I spoke to was nice and spoke decent English or Spanish (the main two languages I used to communicate in Morocco). Even when I was haggling with shop owners over the price of goods (which is a standard practice at most markets in Morocco), I didn’t feel intimidated or uncomfortable like I did in other cities. I also thought the Asilah medina was very safe, and I didn’t feel the need to look over my should every minute to protect my purse from pickpockets! In fact, the city was very quiet when I went on a Saturday morning and afternoon, so I felt like I could wander through the medina or along the beach with ease. Asilah is a great city for first timers in Morocco because you get the sense of Moroccan culture, architecture, and food without much of the stress you might experience in the bigger cities.
Things to Do in Asilah Morocco
Unlike other major Moroccan cities, there isn’t a long list of things to do in Asilah. When I visited, I just wandered through the Asilah medina, admired the beach, and enjoyed some traditional foods and drinks. I sat outside and enjoyed a mint tea in the medina when I first arrived in Asilah, while watching some children play soccer in the square. After that, I wandered through the old quarter and checked out some of the murals that are painted in the medina. The Asilah medina is truly the best part of this city, and it has been preserved beautifully throughout the years. I recommend taking tour of the medina if you can, so you can get a better idea of the ancient history of Asilah! Along the edge of the medina, you can see some of the ramparts left from the Portuguese occupation of Asilah, still standing after centuries.
The art and culture scene in Asilah has gradually gained attention over the past few years, primarily due to The Cultural Moussem of Asilah, a summer art festival that occurs every June/July. In the past, the festival has featured performances by Flamenco dancers from Spain and Moroccan and Senegalese music groups, as well as workshops from international artists. One of the most exciting parts of this festival is the annual creation of the murals in the Asilah medina, when artists use the walls of the city as their canvases! Every year, the lineup changes, but you can expect an exciting international group of artists from lots of different backgrounds! You can find more information about The Cultural Moussem of Asilah festival (and other events) on the official Visit Morocco website.
Compared to the souks, or markets, in bigger Moroccan cities, Asilah’s is quite small. However, it’s still a lovely place to stroll, chat with locals, pick up some art, buy leather and ceramic goods, or find a snack. As I said before, the calmer atmosphere in this souk makes bargaining with salesmen a lot less stressful! I even went into shops alone (without my friends) and felt totally comfortable.
Asilah Morocco is a beautiful destination that is perfect for travelers visiting Morocco for the first time! The city’s ancient history (dating back thousands of years) and its Spanish and Portuguese influences make this city culturally and historically unique. Asilah’s beautiful coastal location paired with its art-filed medina make it the perfect day trip or weekend trip while exploring Morocco.