Tangier, Morocco – An Insider’s Guide
Tangier can be a bit overwhelming for the first-time visitor to Morocco and, to be honest, even for some hardened travelers. Tangier is a true port town with all of the international, cross cultural mixing and dirty underbelly that entails. It is quickly becoming a business hub in Morocco, much like Casablanca, but unlike Casablanca, there are still a lot of historical and cultural monuments preserved in and around Tangier.
Tangier can be roughly divided into three distinct sections: the old medina, the kasbah and the new city.
The old city, or “medina,” of Tangier was one of the first to fall under the influence of Europeans. One of the real treats of Tangier is strolling through the medina and noticing the differences between the Andalusian, Moorish, colonial and Moroccan architecture packed together. Unlike the medinas of Fez or Marrakech, tourists typically receive a lot less hassle in the Tangier medina. Though the Tangier medina has been the backdrop for movies such as Inception and The Bourne Ultimatum in recent years and has become more popular, it remains less overwhelming than other popular medinas in Morocco.
The medina is divided into five separate quarters (though it might be difficult to tell) all around a main square by the name of Zoco Chico. Getting around is made easier if you have a guide prearranged with us (and enjoy this little plug), which is common on the tours to Morocco we at Journey Beyond Travel help travelers put together. This square used to be the “heart” of Tangier and, for generations, passersby have met for business or stopped to do a little people watching here. Generally, most people enter the medina by the new fountain through Bab el-Fahs or Bab Fendaq Zraa (they are right next to each other) and continue down Rue as-Siaghin (about a five-minute walk) until they reach Zoco Chico.
From Zoco Chico, many merchants can be found along Rue des Almohades (though most Tangerines—people from Tangier—still call it “Rue des Chretiens”) selling Berber carpets, mosaic tables, ceramics and various antiques.
Things to do in the medina:
Relax in the Zoco Chico.
There are two cafés at this main square of the Tangier medina, Café Tingis and Café Central. Both have ample outdoor seating and friendly service. Relax with a tea or a coffee and do what people have been doing for generations: people watch.
Get lost in the medina.
If you ever truly get lost, keep in mind that “uphill” is the direction to follow for most of the main exits, or “babs,” of the medina. If you ask anyone for the direction of “Zoco Chico” or “Bab el-Fahs,” they will generally point you in the right direction.
Check out the American Legation Museum.
Close to the aptly named “Bab Merican,” this is the only national monument outside of the United States. The museum in closed on the weekends, but open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. Entrance is free, though a donation is recommended at the end of your visit. There is a large library specializing in North Africa, many paintings from Americans, Europeans and Moroccans, and several small models recreating some historic battles.
Visit the International Contemporary Art Museum.
Curated by Carmina Macein, the former manager for Pablo Picasso, this small but impressive museum hosts many modern and contemporary paintings and sculptures. Some highlights include works by Picasso, Salvador Dali, Miro, Pablo Serrano and Andy Warhol. Visits should be booked in advance. Call (212) 05.39.93.57.74.
Looming over the medina is the kasbah, the ancient fortifications that were once in charge of the city’s defenses. Today, many of the historic buildings and palaces of the kasbah have been bought by Europeans and turned into private homes or converted into hotels, restaurants and museums.
Most visitors will approach the kasbah through Bab Haha, perhaps the most comically named door in all of Morocco, and enter on Place du Mechouar (often referred to as Place de la Kasbah). Here, especially in the morning, there are many touts who will offer to give you a guided tour. This is unnecessary. The kasbah is small and, to the left of Bab Haha, there is a small map highlighting the walk one can do around the kasbah.
Things to do in the kasbah:
Visit the Kasbah Museum.
This museum, located just off Place du Mechouar, houses various relics from the Stone Age through the turn of the 20th century, displaying the rich history of Tangier. Here, you can see evidence of the many peoples who have inhabited or ruled this region. Not to be missed is a beautiful mosaic taken from the Roman city of Volubilis and a nice stroll through the Sultan’s Gardens. Entrance is 10 dirhams. Open 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. every day except Tuesday.
Hang out with the Brothers of Detroit.
Just outside the Kasbah Museum is a little café by the name of “Fils de Detroit.” This is the home of a few older Arab-Andalusian musicians. Tea is inexpensive. The atmosphere when they are playing their lutes and drums is unbeatable.
Tangier cafés and restaurants:
Café Hafa: Located outside of the kasbah, close to the necropolis and the Phoenician tombs, Café Hafa is a must stop for literary types. William Buroughs, Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams and many others have stopped by Café Hafa for a mint tea to enjoy a bit of kif and look out over the Mediterranean to Spain. At night, there is often music. Open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m.-11:00 p.m. On weekends, it stays open until 2:00 a.m.
Grand Café de Paris: Located off the Place de France, this rather characterless café, like Café Hafa, has a rich literary history and, even now, is considered somewhat of a “hotspot” for local writers.
Café Colon: (See this YouTube Snippet) Located just outside of the medina and adjacent to the Grand Socco (or Zoco) on Rue de la Kasbah, across from the movie theater Cinema Alcazar, this café may be best known for its fifteen minutes of fame in Bernado Bertolucci’s adaptation of The Sheltering Sky. This café has remained largely unchanged in the past forty years. Like most cafés in Morocco, the clientele is largely male, but it’s a nice place to recharge after a few hours in the medina.
La Fabrique: For those looking to treat themselves to some romantic fine dining in Tangier, this is the place to go. Entrees are varied, traditional French gastronomic cuisine, though options for vegetarians are limited. The atmosphere is unbeatable and the multilingual wait staff are friendly. Like most restaurants in Morocco, there isn’t a separate non-smoking section. If cigarette smoke bothers you and it’s a busy night, request a seat on the edge of the mezzanine. Reservations are strongly suggested. English is fine. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. Lunch from 12:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m. Dinner from 8:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. Closed on Sundays. Address: Residence Salima I – 7 Rue d’Angleterre – Phone: (212) 05.39.37.40.57.
Anna & Paolo: A cozy, family-owned restaurant with largely Mediterranean-Italian fusion options located in the newer part of Tangier. Like many restaurants, the seafood selection abounds with fresh catches from the day and well done pizzas. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. Lunch from 12:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m. Dinner from 7:30 p.m.-11:00 p.m. Closed on Fridays. Reservations recommended. Address: 77 Rue Prince Héritier. Phone: (212) 05.39.94.4.6.17.
Saveur de Poisson: Close to the El Minzah hotel down Rue de la Liberté off the Grand Socco on the stairs leading to the medina, one of the most outstanding elements of this restaurant is that everything seems to be made in-house, even the wooden cutlery and clay plates. This restaurant boasts some of the best traditional Mediterranean-Moroccan food in the region. All dishes use a sort of seafood and lots of local herbs and spices are added. Open Saturday through Thursday for lunch and dinner. Lunch from 12:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m. Dinner from 7:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. Closed on Fridays. Reservations strongly recommended. Address: 2 Escalier Waller. Phone: (212) 05.39.33.63.26.
Tangier by night:
If you are able, take the time to experience Tangier at night. Though it is a port town, it is also a Mediterranean town. Most people sleep through the morning, take siestas and live for the nightlife. In some respects, Tangier can be more Spanish than some cities in Spain.
Things to do:
Cinema Rif: If you are interested in the latest films produced in Morocco, North Africa and the rest of the world, Cinema Rif is the place to be. This non-profit outfit, located in the Grand Socco just outside of the medina, is easy to find and is in a great neighborhood in which to take a night stroll. All show times are available on its website. Some films have English subtitles, though you should inquire prior to purchasing tickets at the ticket booth.
Stroll down Boulevard Pasteur and Mohammed V: These two streets converge into one long promenade stretching all the way from Place de France to Place Brahim Aroudani, where you can turn left and walk one block to the beach and the Bay of Tangier. Stop by La Gelateria for an Italian-style ice cream before continuing the walk down the beachfront.
Take a walk down Avenue d’Espagne and Mohammed VI: If you happen to be in the medina, you could exit through the Bab Merican and walk down to the fishing port. From the Grand Socco, follow Rue Salah Eddin Ayoubi for one block and take a left onto Rue du Portugal to the fishing port. From the old fishing port, there is a long beach boardwalk full of clubs, cafés, gelaterias and restaurants.
Dangers: Like most cities, Tangier is safe enough in the day, but at night, travelers should be wary. Lots of illegal immigrants are trying to cross into Spain and Europe, drug dealing occurs and people are known to rob at knife point. So, like most cities, there are dangers in the city but almost all the dangers of Tangier at night can be easily avoided by traveling in groups of three or more. Most thieves are looking for lone travelers or couples, especially in the medina.
Cap Spartel and the Cave of Hercules
Located about fifteen minutes outside of Tangier on the Atlantic Coast are Cap Spartel and the legendary cave of Hercules. Those familiar with Greek mythology might recall the 12 Labors of Hercules. In fact, not far from Tangier, there is another location rumored to be the basis for Hercules’ Eleventh Labor: the apples of Hesperides (or “the golden apple”). It was after he completed his labors that it is thought Hercules rested in this cave at Cap Spartel.
To get to Cap Spartel without a car, it’s best to go to the Grand Socco. You can hire a taxi there for 50-60 dirhams for roundtrip fare. Most drivers will happily wait for an hour or so while you explore the cave and the area around. The drive is quite pretty. You meander through a palatial neighborhood and the Perdicaris Forest. Often, women and children will be selling pine nuts. These are generally delicious and always inexpensive.
However, as beautiful as Cap Spartel is, it is also a bit of a tourist trap for Moroccans and non-Moroccans alike. Avoid anyone trying to be a “guide” as this cave is fairly simple to navigate. Entrance to the cave is 5 dirhams. There are some unremarkable shops to ignore at beginning of the path leading down, but if you look up, you can see where locals have carved out round stones from the cave walls for generations. These stones were used in the milling of grains. Even more impressive is how the cave, in the shape of the continent of Africa, open up and looks out toward the Atlantic.
After enjoying the cave, relax at one of the many beachside cafes. Prices are a bit more expensive than most other cafes (about ten dirhams for a tea), but the view on a nice day is unbeatable.
Tangier has a fine selection of small, independent bookstores, beginning with Librarie des Colonnes. Located just a short walk from the Grand Socco, Librarie des Colonnes carries a large selection of the latest books in Arabic, English, French and Spanish, and you can find authors from around the world holding readings. It usually has books by many of the Beat Generation writers who spent time in Morocco and will most likely have a copy of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch on hand. Check out the shop’s calendar for a list of author readings on their website.
Page et Plume is another good option. There is a slightly more limited selection of English books, but it has a nice variety of books in French and Spanish.
Les Insolites is the newest, hippest bookstore of the bunch. It has many contemporary art showings and readings. Conveniently located just off the Place de Faro (often called “The Terrace of the Lazy”) and Boulevard Pasteur, the owners are usually around and are happy to talk to people traveling through. They will happily recommend a nearby cafe or restaurant as well.
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