Despite being Morocco's capital, Rabat is more low-key than traveller hotspots like Marrakesh and Fez – and that's where its beauty lies. Sitting beside the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Bou Regreg river, it has a scenic setting that vies for attention with the Islamic and French-colonial architecture in its urban areas. It also has a growing surf scene, up-and-coming neighbourhoods and plenty of manicured gardens to spend time in.
Stay in a Rabat hostel and soak up the city's history by staying in a typical riad (a traditional house) with intricately carved arched doorways and an internal courtyard to relax in, or in the jewellers' quarter at an ornate palatial-style home decorated in bright mosaics. For something even more unusual, there's a surf hostel close to the beach with a rooftop terrace. There are Rabat hostels that will give you a free breakfast; you can also choose accommodation with rooms that have hot tubs!
As with most Moroccan cities, the Medina's where the action is for travellers. Rabat's walled old town is on the compact side and relatively relaxed. Here, you can roam around the small, colourful alleyways seeking out artisan leather shops and Berber carpet boutiques. Agdal, the heart of the city, is more modern in style, with restaurants and bars on its palm-tree-lined boulevards ranging from fine-dining restaurants to Irish pubs. Take a rowing boat over to Salé, a small city across the water, for its timeless souks and fish market.
Things to do in Rabat include visiting the royal Kasbah of the Udayas, a Berber fort encircled by pristine gardens with crashing waves in the background. Also worth checking out is the 12th-century Hassan Tower, a red sandstone minaret meant to be connected to a mosque that was never completed. Stroll next door to the Mausoleum of Mohammed V to see the opulent Alaouite architecture topped with a tiled green roof. Over in Agdal, you can soak up the sun in the 17-hectare Jardin d’Essais Botanique gardens.
Rabat Airport is just 5km from the city centre and there's a shuttle bus to bring you in. When in town, the small blue taxis are convenient and inexpensive; drivers usually use the meters, so there's no need to haggle after flagging one down. For Salé, head to Bab Chellah, one of the old Medina gates, and jump in a shared taxi if you'd rather not take the boat.