Tangier Morocco, located at the northern tip of Kingdom; Where Africa and Europe face each other across the strait of Gibraltar, and for more than 2500 years people have inhabited this strategic point on the strait separating Europe from Africa. And just about every race or power that ever had any interests in this corner of the Mediterranean has left its mark.
Tangier is a unique city – hardly truly Moroccan, nor European, nor even African, and the nightlife here, though rough at times is vibrant. Stay a few days and absorb the atmosphere of this mongrel creation poised on the top of Africa.
In the meantime, it became one of the most fashionable Mediterranean resorts, renowned for its high-profile gay scene and popular with freebooters, artists, writers, exiles, and bankers.
Is Tangier Morocco worth visiting?
Conquered, retaken and then liberated Tangier has undergone a mix of different influences; in order to impose its cultural potential but the town nevertheless still retains traces of its incredible history with its cosmopolitan heritage which is very special. Like most cities in the Kingdom, Tangier the White incorporates its medina, the old Arab city which hosts two very pretty markets : The large Socco and the Little Socco (Socco is the Spanish word for Souq). Other famous sites in Tangier include the gardens of Mendoubia, the Mosque of Sidi Bouabid which dominates the Medina with its multi coloured tiles on the minaret, you can also visit the Kasbah square and the big Mechouar where long ago the Pachas gave their audiences.
However, the economic development of northern Morocco, with Tangier at its centre, is now a government priority. In addition, the European Union (EU) is funding huge infrastructure programmes in the region.
What is Tangier known for?
Like all Moroccan cities, Tangier consists of a walled Medina, or old town, as well as a modern quarter built during the Protectorate, called the Ville Nouvelle (New Town). At the centre of the Ville Nouvelle lie the main square of Place de France and the treelined main street, Boulevard Pasteur, lined with busy cafés, crowded restaurants, newsstands and travel agencies.
Tangier is known for rich history, and grand and little socco, Kasbah, old American legation museum, Cap Spartel, Marina bay, Grottes d’hercule, cafe hafa tangier and its stunning beaches…
History of Tangier Morocco
Tangier has always held a rather special position in Moroccan history. The Phoenicians set up a trading post here, and later the Romans founded the town of Tingis, which lent its name to the whole province of Mauretania Tingitana.
Succeeding centuries saw it fall under Vandal, Byzantine, Arab, Moroccan, Spanish and Portuguese rule; for a brief period (1662-84) it belonged to England, as part of the dowry of the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza, the bride of Charles II. Under British rule, extensive fortifications were erected.
After the Protectorate was established in 1912 (see p.21) Tangier was granted special status as an International Zone.
It was governed by a commission of foreign diplomats, and this peculiar arrangement – together with the city’s special privileges as a free port – attracted many European and American expatriates and adventurers. Although Tangier today is as much a part of Morocco as Rabat or Marrakech, it does retain a cosmopolitan flavour quite distinct from the rest of the country.
During the Protectorate northern Morocco was governed by Spain, and Spanish predominates over French as the second language of many inhabitants; you’ll hear buenos días more often than bonjour.
Top 10 things to do in tangier morocco
1- Grand Socco
The Grand Socco was once as full of life as Place Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakesh, with makeshift shops, snake charmers, musicians, storytellers and food stalls filling the night air with cacophonous activity. It’s still a busy place, especially on Thursday and Sunday, when Riffian women wrapped in their gaily striped shawls bring a touch of colour to the proceedings.
2- Medina of Tangier
The Medina is a maze of narrow streets, passages and blind alleys on the hillside above the harbour. As it is not all that large, perhaps the best way to explore it is simply to wander at random. The Rue es-Siaghin (or Silversmiths’ Street) leads from the Grand Socco to the Petit Socco; this was once Tangier’s main gold market (a fair number of jewellery stores remain), located on the northern flank of the mellah (old Jewish quarter) and a pleasant open square lined with several attractive cafés. Take a seat and relax with a glass of mint tea, as you watch the colourful crowds passing by.
The kasbah sits on the highest point of the city, behind stout walls. Coming from the medina, you enter through Bab el-Aassa, the southeastern gate, to find Dar elMakhzen, the former sultan’s palace! Which now houses a worthwhile museum devoted to Moroccan arts containing treasures such as illuminated Korans, fine textiles, delicate wood and metal work, Berber Rugs, jewlery and ceramics. As with many museums in Morocco, the building is as attractive and interesting as the exhibits.
4- St Andrew’s Church
A small English church existed in Tangier Morocco as far back as the 1660s, when England occupied the city for a 20-year period. The present church, St Andrew’s, (Rue d’Angleterre; open 9.30am-12.30pm & 2.30pm-6pm daily) lies to the west of the Grand Socco and was built in 1894 on ground donated by Sultan Moulay al-Hassan. It was consecrated in 1905.
The caretaker, will be pleased to show you around the beautiful building (a copy Matisse’s painting of the church can be seen inside), constructed in Anglo-Moorish style. Don’t miss the lovely carved cedarwood ceiling and the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic around the chancel arch.
5- Tangier Ville Nouvelle
The area around Place de France and Blvd Pasteur, largely unchanged since the ville nouvelle’s heyday in the 1930s, is worth a wander. With its cafés and patisseries, it still retains something of that decade’s glamour.
The aptly named Terrasse des Paresseux (Idlers’ Terrace) just east of Place de France, provides sweeping views of the port and, on a clear day, Gibraltar and Spain. It’s a favourite spot with the locals who come for an evening promenade.
6- Musée de la Foundation Lorin
Housed in a former synagogue, this museum contains an engaging collection of photographs, posters and prints of Tangier from 1890 to 1960. Featured in this remarkable illustration of Tangier’s history are Winston Churchill, King Mohammed V, James McBeay and other local characters from the era, such as Caid McLean, Emily Keene and her husband, the sherif of Quezzane. Photos of these figures are interspersed with street scenes and French newspaper clippings. The foundation also holds exhibitions and classes for disadvantaged children from the area. You can see a display of their work upstairs.
To find the museum, follow signs from Rue as-Siaghin along Rue Touahine.
7- Old American Legation Museum
The legation in the southwest corner of the Medina in Tangier Morocco, is an intriguing relic of the international zone. The five-storey mansion straddling the street started life as a small stone building given to the USA in 1821 by Sultan Moulay Suleyman. Morocco was the first nation to recognise the USA politically, and the diplomatic mission to Morocco was located here from 1821 to 1961.
It now houses a fascinating collection of antique maps, furniture and 17th- to 20thcentury paintings, prints and drawings by various artists who either lived in or passed through Tangier. Works by Eugène Delacroix, Oskar Kokoschka, Mohammed ben Ali R’bati, Yves Saint Laurent and the intimate etchings by the Scottish artist James McBeay are among the highlights.
The legation is also home to an excellent research library (open Thur & Sat; other times by appointment) focusing on the Maghreb.
8- Musée d’Art Contemporain
Housed in the former British consulate, this gallery displays examples of Moroccan art, mainly from the 1980s and early ’90s.
There is work on display by the contemporary Moroccan painters Abdallah Hariri and Farid Belkahia. Chaibia Tallal has an interesting painting of vibrant, bright abstract figures and Fatima Hassan is one of the few female painters represented.
The paintings are unfortunately suffering in the humid atmosphere, but the gallery is certainly worth a visit.
9- Beaches of Tangier
The beaches of Tangier, although not bad, are hardly the best beaches in Morocco. They’re relatively clean, but in some areas raw sewage is pumped into the sea. They are used for football matches at weekends and in the evening. The beach bars strung along the sand have changing cabins (officially compulsory), showers, deck chairs, and food and drink.
The much-reduced European traveler population still frequents certain bars, some of which can be fun in summer. As with many beaches in Morocco, women will feel at ease sunning themselves here and it’s a great place for an evening stroll.
10- Hammams & Public Showers
There are several hammams (traditional bathhouses) in the medina. You could try Douche Andalous (Rue Sebou; admission Dh20; open 9am-11pm), which has both a hammam (women only) and showers, or ask in your hotel for a recommendation.
Public showers located in or near the medina include the new and clean Douche elFath (26 Dar Dbagh; open 7am-9pm), Douche Laayoune (28 Rue Imam Laiti; open 7.30am9pm) and Douche Cléopatra (Rue Salah Eddine el-Ayoubi; open 8am-10pm). These places charge Dh20 for a shower.
Where to stay in Tangier Morocco?
Places to Stay in Tangier – Budget hotels
Apart from the peak summer season (when some places hike their prices by up to 50%), you shouldn’t have trouble finding a room in Tangier. As in many Moroccan cities, you have the choice between the medina and the ville nouvelle. The hotels in the ville nouvelle have the edge on comfort and are a good bet for the new arrival. Those in the medina are generally cheaper.
You’ll find another group of budget hotels outside the port gate on Ave d’Espagne. They’re perfectly fine for a night, but tend to be noisy, and the area is a bit dodgy after dark. For longer stays you’re better picking somewhere more central.
Cheap hotels in Tangier – Medina
There are plenty of cheap hotels in Tangier to choose from here. Most are extremely basic, offering little more than a bed and shared bathroom facilities, although some do have hot water (for a small extra charge). The total lack of showers in some hotels is not a huge problem, as there are various hammams and showers in the area. It’s worth shopping around; standards vary considerably from room to room as well as from place to place.
Address: Pension Mauritania, Pansion Agadir, Pension Becerra, Pension Victoria, Pension Palace…
Cheap hotels in Tangier – Ville Nouvelle
Most of the unrated hotels and pensions along Rue Salah Eddine el-Ayoubi and Ave d’Espagne are little better than the cheapies in the medina of tangier Morocco. However, things get better as you climb away from the waterfront.
Address: Pension le Detroit, Pension Miami, Hotel Valencia, Hotel Magelian, Hotel Atlal…
Places to Stay in Tangier – Mid-range hotels
Mid-range hotels In Medina
While the medina is a bit short on mid-range hotels, one of them is real Star.
Address: Hotel continental, Hotel Mamora…
Mid-range hotels In Tangier Ville Nouvelle
Mid-range hotels in the ville nouvelle are grouped fairly close together overlooking the port.
Address: Hotel Ibn Batouta, Hotel Marco Polo, Hotel el-Djenina, Hotel Biarritz
Places to Stay in Tangier, Morocco – Top End hotels
If you are looking for some top end hotels, you will find full guide in these two helpful articles about Hotels and Riads in Tangier:
Where to eat in tangier morocco?
Restaurants in Tangier
Cosmopolitan Tangier’s restaurants cater to all tastes and all budgets.
Cafe Andalous: is friendly little hole-in-the-wall, sawdust-on-the-floor place in the Medina that serves up excellent cheap meals.
Restaurant Populaire Saveur: an attractive and welcoming little fish restaurant down the steps from Rue de la Liberté, serves excellent set menus. This is well-crafted Moroccan home cooking, and eating here is a real experience. Not to be missed.
Restaurant Romero’s: is a good compromise: not too fancy but with excellent service and food a cut above the norm. There’s plenty of fish and seafood – including a flavourful by luscious desserts.
Cafés, Patisseries & Ice-Cream Parlours in Tangier
Tangier has some excellent cafés. A few are a bit rough around the edges and in general they’re more male dominated than those in Rabat or Casablanca. They’re dedicated to the serious business of coffee drinking and lengthy conversation with barely a thought for small niceties like patisseries.
On the Petit Socco, Café Central was a favourite hang-out for William Burroughs and others. Tingis Café, opposite, makes another good spot to watch the world go by.
Hidden away down a lane behind the stadium is Café Hafa, set in shaded, terraced gardens overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s a simple but delightful place to while away a hot afternoon. Cats snooze among the flower pots. It was a favourite of writers and beatniks, and remains a popular place with locals who come for a quiet smoke.
What to buy in Tangier morocco?
Tangier is not the best place for souvenir hunting. The choice is quite wide, but the quality can be variable and prices are inflated to catch the hordes of unwary day-trippers. As in all Moroccan towns, the best bargains are to be found in the medina – spend some time looking around and be prepared to haggle hard.
Ensemble Artisanal the government-backed arts-and-crafts centre to the west of the city centre, makes a good first stop to get an idea of the range and quality of craft available and the maximum prices to offer. It also provides an opportunity to watch the artisans at work, with no pressure to buy.
Parfumerie Madini, with one outlet in the medina and another in the ville nouvelle, is run by a family who have passed the secrets of their trade – the distillation of essential oils – down through 14 generations. The current owner is said to be capable of reproducing perfectly any scent you care to give him. Or you can sniff your way through the nearly 100 different perfumes and 30 ‘oriental essences’ they produce. It’s worth dropping by just for the olfactory experience.