Tile art at Volubilis - day trips from CasablancaSay the name “Casablanca,” and, for most people, it will conjure to mind all the romance and swagger of the 1942 classic movie. Hollywood may know glamor, but the allure of Morocco’s largest city is not fixed in its history. Instead, it is the epicenter of Morocco’s 21st century economy. The Casablanca (see our Casablanca city guide on our Morocco blog and travel guide) of today isn’t the sleepy expat town of film fame (which was actually shot entirely on a studio lot in Los Angeles), and travelers should expect the bustle one would associate with North Africa’s largest port and an industrialized city of 3 million people.

It is home to two international airports, so many travelers will find that Casablanca is their first taste of Morocco. Explore the can’t-miss sites of the city, such as the impressive Hassan II mosque and the art deco architecture of New Town, and then consider visiting some other nearby attractions that make for an easy day trip from Casablanca. The Roman ruins of Volubilis, the medieval Portugese fort at El Jadida and the capital city of Rabat are all within an easy train ride, and the cities of Marrakesh, Fez and Tangiers are accessible within a day’s travel from Casablanca. Even if your time in Morocco is limited to only a few days, Casablanca makes an excellent modern hub for day trippers looking to whet their appetite for traditional Moroccan culture.

One-hundred kilometers to the southwest of Casablanca—about an hour and a half by train—is the coastal town of El Jadida. Formally known under Portuguese occupation as Mazagan, it is a relaxing antidote to the urbanity of Casablanca. It is most renowned for its beaches and the historic Portuguese fortifications, which date back to 1514 and are the oldest in Europe. After spending a morning wandering this UNESCO World Heritage Site and an afternoon strolling along the picturesque bay, indulge in some of El Jadida’s excellent seafood. Try the shad, a delicately-flavored local fish specialty.

Rabat has been the political capital of Morocco since 1956, and though it is as cosmopolitan as Casablanca, there is a noticeable difference in pace from its larger neighbor. The city has a long and varied history, from Romans to pirates to French invasion. Its archaeological museum is the largest in Morocco, and the collection of artifacts dates back to Paleolithic times. Another notable difference from many of Morocco’s other large cities is the atmosphere of the souk. More organized and easier to navigate, it is a good introduction to Morocco’s wares and bargaining practices.

If El Jadida’s medieval architecture and Rabat’s prehistoric treasures haven’t satiated your appetite for history, continue further north up the coast from Rabat to Volubilis. Called Oualili in Arabic and Berber, this is a testament to the Roman influence in Morocco’s heritage. While most of the artifacts are housed at the museum in Rabat, it is not hard to conjure up images of the ancient daily life in this once bustling port city, which offers a unique perspective on the transformations Morocco’s port cities have undergone through the centuries.

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Written by Erin Tolman.

Photo by _Pixelmaniac_