10 of the Best Annual Festivals and Events in Morocco

Portrait of a horse in a traditional bridle for the Fantasia event, Morocco

Sara Alami/Getty Images

Morocco is a year-round destination and as such, deciding when to travel can be difficult. One way to choose is to plan your trip around one of the country's many annual festivals and events. Some celebrate Morocco's rich artistic culture, others are inspired by the agricultural calendar, and still more are religious festivals that provide an authentic insight into the life of everyday Moroccans and their beliefs. In this article, we look at 10 of the country's best annual events, ranging from world-famous endurance challenge Marathon des Sables to cultural festivals in Fez and Marrakesh

This article was updated and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald on February 12 2020. 

01 of 10

Marathon des Sables

Man runs alone through the Sahara Desert, Morocco

edu viero/Getty Images

Often referred to as the Toughest Foot Race on Earth, the legendary Marathon des Sables is a six day multi-stage race through the harsh landscapes of the Sahara Desert. Approximately 1,200 competitors from 30 countries take part every year, with finishers completing a total distance of 250 kilometers/156 miles. Competitors must be self-sufficient, carrying their own food and equipment and sleeping in communal tents set up along the way. 

Where: Sahara Desert
When: Usually in April, check online for confirmed dates. 

02 of 10

Kalaat Mgouna Rose Festival

Worker processing rose petals in Kalaat Mgouna, Morocco

Simon Russel/Getty Images

Morocco's Dades Valley is also known as the Valley of the Roses for its fragrant rose fields. Every May, the harvest is celebrated in the oasis town of Kalaat Mgouna, which is home to a large rose water distillery plant. The three-day festival starts on a Friday, attracts around 20,000 people and includes rose parades and stalls selling all kinds of rose products. Entertainment takes the form of traditional song and dance as well as the celebrated Miss Roses beauty pageant. 

Where: Kalaat Mgouna
When: ​Mid May, check online for confirmed dates.

03 of 10

Fez Festival of World Sacred Music

Musicians on stage at Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco

nathalie_r/Flickr.com/CC BY 2.0

The Fez Festival of World Sacred Music lasts for nine days and comprises a program of stunning open-air concerts. You never know what you might see, from Iranian whirling dervishes to mystics, Sufi chanters, and dancers from all over the world. Venues include the beautiful Jnan Sbil Gardens and Bab al Makina, the parade ground located in front of the Royal Palace. In between concerts, make sure to sample authentic food and drink at the festival's street stalls. 

Where: Fez
When: Usually in June, check online for confirmed dates.

04 of 10

Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival

Singers at Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival, Morocco

Magharebia/Flickr.com/CC BY 2.0

The Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival features musicians from all over the world but is essentially a celebration of gnaoua, a unique genre inspired by the music, dance, and religious rites of the Berber, African, and Arabic people. The festival was first launched in 1997. Visitors are treated to four days of events and concerts held at up to 10 different open-air venues dotted throughout the historic medina of Essaouira, one of Morocco's prettiest coastal cities. 

Where: Essaouira
When: Usually in June, check online for confirmed dates.

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05 of 10

Marrakesh Popular Arts Festival

Fantasia horsemen, Morocco

Panoramic Images/Getty Images 

The Marrakesh Popular Arts Festival attracts entertainers and artists from all over Europe and beyond. As well as musicians and dancers, you can expect to see fortune-tellers, acting troupes, snake charmers, and fire-swallowers. The main events take place in Djemma el Fna and in the ruins of 16th-century El Badi Palace​. Don't miss the Fantasia, an after-dark spectacle held outside the city walls that features hundreds of charging horsemen robed in traditional dress. 

Where: Marrakesh
When: Usually in July, check online for confirmed dates.

06 of 10

Imilchil Marriage Festival

Brides at the Imilchil Marriage Festival

DU BOISBERRANGER Jean/Getty Images  

Every year in early fall, members of Berber communities in the Atlas Mountains gather in the rural town of Imilchil to celebrate the legend of two star-crossed lovers who drowned themselves after their parents forbade their marriage. The Imilchil Marriage Festival allows young men and women to choose their own spouses, and many couples get engaged at the festival (although the marriage takes place later). The event is marked by singing, dancing, and feasting. 

Where: Imilchil
When: Usually in September, check online for confirmed dates.

07 of 10

Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

Andrea Pavan/Getty Images

Ramadan refers to the ninth month in the Muslim calendar, when Muslims must abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs during daylight hours. As a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God and practice self-sacrifice, Ramadan is a sober month in Morocco. However, the end of the fast is marked by the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which lasts for several days. The celebration is prayer and family-oriented and involves plenty of feasting. 

Where: Throughout Morocco  
When: Changes according to the Islamic calendar, check online for confirmed dates.

08 of 10

Erfoud Date Festival

Dates for sale in Morocco

Towfiqu Photography/Getty Images

Held over three days in early October, the Erfoud Date Festival celebrates the harvest of more than a million date palms in the Erfoud region. After the harvest, celebrations include traditional music, dancing, and colorful processions. The crowning of the Date Queen is another highlight, as is the high-octane dromedary race. Come to soak up the festive atmosphere, learn about Berber culture, and savor date-inspired local cuisine. 

Where: Erfoud
When: October, check online for confirmed dates.

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09 of 10

Eid al-Adha

Street scene with Moroccans shopping for Eid ul-Adha

Gavin Quirke/Getty Images

Eid al-Adha is a global Muslim holiday that marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. It commemorates the trials of the Prophet Abraham, who was asked by Allah to sacrifice his only son. In honor of this show of faith, Moroccan Muslims slaughter an animal on Eid al-Adha, usually a sheep or goat. Much of the meat from the sacrifice is donated to others to symbolize the act of giving away something of importance to oneself. 

Where: Throughout Morocco
When: Changes according to the Islamic calendar, check online for confirmed dates.

10 of 10

New Year's Eve and Yennayer

A group of young adults celebrate New Year's Eve

Todor Tsvetkov/Getty Images

Most Moroccans celebrate the Islamic New Year, which changes date in accordance with the lunar Islamic calendar. Berbers celebrate the beginning of the agrarian calendar year, Yennayer, based on the Julian calendar. Nevertheless, Gregorian New Year's Eve is usually marked by festivities in tourist restaurants and hotels. Spending the night under canvas in the desert is also a popular tradition for travelers and a great way to welcome in the new year. 

Where: Throughout Morocco
When: December 31