Casablanca, Morocco – An Insider’s Guide
Casablanca (Spanish for “White House” and often abbreviated by locals as “Casa”) has long stood in the western imagination as a hub of romance. Most travelers associate Casablanca with tales of the Marrakesh Express and, of course, the film, Casablanca. Of course, the reality of this Moroccan city is quite different. After an earthquake destroyed much of the city in 1755, it was rebuilt, but remained quite small. It wasn’t until French colonialists arrived in 1906 that the city really began to grow. Now, Casablanca is the financial and industrial hub of Morocco and today, nearly 4 million inhabitants from all over the world call Casablanca “home.”
Most travelers flying into Morocco land at Mohamed V International Airport (code CMN), about an hour away from Casablanca’s city center, depending on traffic. Traffic, of course, is a problem in Casablanca, as in any other metropolitan city, and it will only be worse until the Casa Tramway is finished with construction. Currently, the construction of the tramway has worsened the already bad traffic throughout the city. At all hours, one can spend nearly an hour trying to fight their way through traffic to get from one side of the city to the other.
However, getting around the city is simple enough. The red petit taxis of Casablanca will happily escort you from door to door. It is best to have the name and the street address of your destination written down, though many of the most popular destinations (such as the Hassan II Mosque or the Morocco Mall) are well understood by the local drivers. The taxis in Casablanca, like any other city taxis in Morocco, are required by law to use the meter. If any driver attempts to set a price and you are not comfortable with this, kindly ask them to use the meter. If, for some reason, they refuse, feel free wait for another, more honest, taxi driver.
What Casablanca lacks in history, it makes up for in modern conveniences: restaurants, shopping and nightlife. Though, to be sure, there are a few must-see sights in and around Casablanca.
What to See?
Hassan II Mosque
There are very few mosques in Morocco that non-Muslims are allowed to enter. The Hassan II Mosque is one of them (the other is Tim Mil Mosque south of Ouirgane). Located along the Atlantic, about a half an hour walk from the Casa Port train station (or a 15-20 dirham petit taxi ride), the Hassan II Mosque rises 210 meters (about 700 feet) into the air. It is the largest and one of the most ornate mosques in the maghreb. Much of the surface of the mosque is covered in ornate, traditional Moroccan tile work (zellij), woodcarving, and stucco work.
Of particular note is the vast, decorative prayer hall and the glass floor revealing the Atlantic beating on the rocks below.
To visit the Hassan II Mosque, you must be dressed appropriately. Men should wear pants and shirts, no shorts or tank tops. Women must cover their heads, arms and legs.
Tours are available all days, except for Fridays and religious holidays. Tickets are 120 dirhams (60 dirhams for students with IDs) and can be purchased at the mosque. Currently, tours are conducted in French, Spanish, English, German and Fus’ha (standard Arabic).
Saturday – Thursday, 9:00am, 10:00am, 11:00am and 2:00pm
The Jewish Museum (Musée du Judaïsme Marocain)
Located in the suburb of Oasis, this museum is one of only two Jewish museums in the Muslim world (the other being in Istanbul) and the only Jewish museum in the Arab world. This recently renovated museum of history and ethnography features artifacts –including Torah scrolls, Chanukah lamps, photographs, carpets and kaftans – that trace Morocco’s Jewish history. It’s a smaller museum, though it has some real treasures. Most people manage to tour the museum and grounds in about an hour.
Getting to the museum could be a bit tricky. It’s about a 20-25 dirham taxi ride from Hassan II mosque, though if you arriving by train, it is better to take the train to the “Oasis” stop and then take a petit taxi from the train station for about six dirhams or so.
Address: 81 rue chasseur Jules Gros. Open Monday – Friday, from 10am – 6pm. Phone: 05.22.99.49.40. Entrance: 20dhs (or 30dhs for a guided tour) Website (though it hasn’t been updated since 2008): http://casajewishmuseum.com
The Morocco Mall
Located just a few kilometers south of The Hassan II Mosque, along the coastline of the Atlantic, rests the largest shopping center in Africa: The Morocco Mall. This mall is an elaborate take on the American-style mall with a mix of some local color. The mall sports largely upscale shops, such as Fendi, Dolce and Gabbana and Louis Vuitton, as well as some French shopping standards like H&M, Zara, Virgin Records, FNAC, and Galleries Lafayette, though there is a small “souk” on the upper level full of traditional Moroccan goods and meant to reflect the traditions of Moroccan shopping. Additionally, there is a food court that is open an hour later than closing time, with McDonald’s, Burger King, and other fast food options.
For children, and the childish adult, the mall boasts a three story, 1,000,000 liter aquarium full of tropical fish and even small sharks! Scuba diving lessons are available and, for the less adventurous, there is a glass elevator that can take you to the bottom of the aquarium to view the sea animals.
It’s a mega mall after all! In addition to the above, the Morocco Mall contains an IMAX 3D movie theater showing the latest blockbusters, as well as a kiddie theme park known as Adventureland. You can also go ice-skating followed with an après-ski at Starbucks!
Most visitors will be better off exploring other parts of Morocco, but for those here on business, needing a quick change of clothes or maybe wanting a western-style break after traveling through the rest of the country, this mall may be the ticket.
Sunday – Thursday, from 10:00am – 9:00pm
Friday and Saturday, from 10:00am – 11:00pm
One of the most interesting, rich historical aspects of Casablanca is the Art Deco architecture left by French colonialists through downtown Morocco. Many of these buildings are in various states of disrepair, but an absolute must-see for Art Deco enthusiasts is the Cinema Rialto on rue Mohammed Qorri. This particular neighborhood is rich with examples of Art Deco and is worth an afternoon stroll. Not far from from Cinema Rialto is the Catholic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart (though it ceased functioning as a church with Moroccan independence in 1956). However, the best way to insure a knowledgeable, entertaining exploration of the Art Deco architecture in Casablanca is by including a half-day guided visit on your Morocco tour with us at Journey Beyond Travel.
Just a few minutes by taxi south of the Hassan II Mosque is Ain Diab and la Corniche, popular beachfront spots for those looking for a bit of sun and sand. Casablanca’s proximity to the Atlantic and southern latitude are a near-guarantee for beach weather year-round. The locals flock to the beaches cool off in the waters and play a little football (soccer) on the beaches. For quieter beaches, it’s necessary to go a bit further south, along the coast. The restaurants along this beachfront are all sub-par and over-priced, but if you need a water or a quick bite to eat – beggars can’t be choosers!
Where to Eat in Casablanca?
To search for a particular restaurant, we recommend Best Restaurants in Morocco for the most up to date menus and other information available on the internet. Below are a few of our favorites places to dine.
Restaurant du Port de Peche
Located near the city center, le Port de Peche sports a fresh seafood menu that is generally full of swordfish, calamari, sardines, shrimp or other whatever else is in season. This is a clean, well lit restaurant and one of the favorites of most visitors to Casablanca and residents of Casablanca, alike. Reservations are not taken. It is recommended to arrive before 8pm to avoid a long wait for a table.
Built to bring the famous Rick’s Cafe from the movie, Casablanca, to life, the real Rick’s Cafe that abuts the old medina walls of the real Casablanca, is something of an anomaly. Established in 2004 by the former American Commercial Counselor, Kathy Kriger, Rick’s Cafe is a self-described “tourism theme project” that has nightly piano music and an international menu sporting local fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood. Lunch and dinner served.
Lunch: 12:00pm – 3:00pm
Dinner: 6:30pm – 1:00am
Phone: +212 522 27 42 07 or +212 522 27 42 08
Email: [email protected]
Reservations are highly recommended.
Rick’s also has a souvenir shop in the front of the restaurant. Many visitors to Casablanca can’t resist stopping by for a nice lunch and a tee-shirt.
La Maison Du Gourmet
Located in the heart of Casablanca, La Maison du Gourmet is a small, cozy high-end restaurant. The food is consistently top-notch, though French-inspired and not what one might expect to find in Morocco. The current chef of La Maison du Gourmet trained in Lyon, France with renowned French chef Paul Bocuse. For those looking for a five-star meal, this is the place to go.
Open every day for lunch and dinner (except for Saturday lunch).
Phone: +212 05 22 48 48 46
Reservations are recommended.
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About Our Team: Journey Beyond Travel has a variety of unique itineraries that allow you to experience the real Morocco. Our Eclectic Tour gives you an overview of the country’s highlights in both culture and landscape, while our Imperial Cities Tour takes you to the most inspiring locations including museums, UNESCO sights, and more. We also have various trips to the Sahara Desert of Morocco. Enjoy our website, quality articles, and feel free to join us on Facebook and Twitter.