Welcome to Chefchaouen, the blue city of Morocco. It’s famous for all the houses and shops painted different shades of blue. A magical place to get lost in!
The sun beats down mercilessly, setting every color around me ablaze – and since everything is blue, I feel like I’m walking in a mythical sky kingdom.
But this is no myth, it’s Chefchaouen. Located in Northern Morocco, the city’s signature color is a variety of calming shades of blue that lower your blood pressure in seconds.
Known as Morocco’s “blue pearl” or “blue city”, the buildings in Chefchaouen are painted using a talc or chalk-based paint that looks so beguiling.
Exploring a labyrinth of narrow blue alleyways smelling of spice, incense, flowers, and fresh oranges — was one of the highlights of my journey to Morocco. Plus it’s a photographer’s dream!
Here are our tips and suggestions for fun things to do in Chefchaouen!
Why Is Chefchaouen Blue?
Some will tell you that it’s a symbol of Jewish solidarity. In the 1930s, a sizeable population of Jewish refugees arrived in Chefchaouen, fleeing Nazi persecution and the growing threat of war.
The blue is meant to represent peace, safety and the power of heaven. In this version of the story, blue walls rapidly spread outward from the city’s Jewish quarter, until the entire city was aglow.
Kalam farigh! others would say (that’s Arabic for “nonsense”).
They’ll say the tradition of painting walls blue is Jewish, certainly, but goes back to the time of the city’s founding, in the 15th Century, when it was built around a fortress used to defend inhabitants against Portuguese invaders.
At this time, local Moroccans lived alongside Jews and Moriscos (former Muslims who had converted to Christianity) for a century or more.
Exploring The Blue City
The narrow streets of Chefchaouen (or Chaouen, as the locals call it) make no attempt to soften the impact of the hillside the city is built on. In some cases, stone steps march straight up the slope, giving your legs a good workout.
But when the streets open into public squares, look above the city, towards the nearby Riff mountains.
The mountains above the city give the appearance of two horns – and it’s believed that this is where the name Chefchaouen comes from (literally meaning “watch the horns” in a local dialect).
But the rest of the time, keep looking around you. This is a jaw-droppingly beautiful city! It transports you into a different world.
Get Lost In The Streets
This is why most travelers seek out Chefchaouen, to wander aimlessly through the narrow streets & alleys, painted in an endless array of blue — turquoise, powder blue, celeste, robin’s-egg, indigo, cyan, periwinkle.
Go shopping for colorful blankets or lamps in the souks hidden throughout the medina. Marvel at the variety of beautiful doorways and detailed tile work that decorate each residence.
Sit down at a street cafe, order a steaming glass of mint tea, and watch locals dressed in djellaba robes go about their daily life. Soak it all in — the whole Moroccan experience.
Go Cat Spotting
If you’re a cat person like me, you’re going to love Chefchaouen. It’s a cat city for sure — a bit like Istanbul. Locals feed them, however they generally live outside in the street as strays.
You’ll find cats in alleys, cats on the stairs, and cats in the souks. Cats will be roaming through restaurants and on terraces. They’re hiding in trees and bushes, and stretched out on sidewalks.
If you want to get a cat’s attention in Morocco, try hissing. It’s a great way to get them to pose for photos! Meow.