11 Incredible Experiences In Beautiful Tangier


Talking about visiting Tangier evokes a sense of intrigue and exoticism. We were not disappointed as motorbikes groaned, cars honked and tantalizing aromas wafted from the kitchens as we walked through the winding streets of this Moroccan port city. A brief idea of ​​being part of a film noir surfaced when we first heard the muezzin’s melodic call to prayer piercing the air of the Medina.

Tangier cemented its reputation as a haven for the underworld and spies during World War II. The film industry enhanced this image by using the city’s medina – an old walled city within – as a destination for James Bond and Jason Bourne to dodge bad guys.

Long after serving as a Phoenician trading post, the Romans ruled Tangier. The Arabs, Portuguese, British, French and Italians also left their mark on Tangier, having taken turns ruling this port city over the centuries.

The mountains of Spain are clearly visible from the city, reaching the clouds within 17 miles of Tangier across the Strait of Gibraltar. Perched along the narrow entrance of the Atlantic into the Mediterranean, Tangier enjoys the most strategic position on the northern tip of Africa.

Tangier is accessible via several airlines and is a short ferry ride from Spain. An efficient rail service connects Fez, Marrakech, Rabat and other cities to Tangier. A recently built network of highways serves travelers from the south.

The Moroccan government has invested heavily in Tangier. International investments are encouraged and the new modern container port, Tanger Med, aspires to be the main port in the Mediterranean by 2025.

Here are some ideas to consider when planning your trip to Tangier.

The American Legation in Tangier
(Photo credit: Kevin McGoff)

1. The American Legation

Morocco’s diplomatic relations with the United States date back to 1786, when the country was among the first countries to recognize the United States. Sultan Moulay Slimane granted the building that housed the American Legation in the United States in 1821. American diplomacy in Morocco and the region took place from this site until after World War II, and it now serves as a museum. The American Legation is the only United States National Historic Landmark outside of the United States.

Inside the legation is the Paul Bowles wing. Artifacts from the life of the author of The sheltered sky and longtime resident of Tangier are on display.

The American Legation is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Cannon at the Lazy Terrace
Cannon at the Lazy Terrace
(Photo credit: Kevin McGoff)

2. The lazy terrace

The lazy terrace offers a breathtaking view of the port of Tangier, the Strait of Gibraltar and the European coast that crosses it. Between the benches adorned with onlookers is a line of cannons pointed towards the sea. Located high up on Boulevard Pasteur, this perch is a few steps from the Gran Café de Paris, just above the souks. It is a popular spot for photographing the hills of Spain not far across the strait.

3. Jewish History: The Moshe Nahon Synagogue

There is archaeological evidence of a Jewish presence in Tangier dating from around 500 BC. J.-C. Moshe Nahon, a prominent citizen of Tangier, built his temple in the medina in the 19e century. After falling into disrepair, the synagogue’s elaborate decorations were restored in the 1990s. It now functions as a museum, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Saturdays.

Pro Tip: The Synagogue is tucked away in an alley on Synagogue Street near the American Legation. Ask your guide to include this site in your visit.

Café Tingis on the Petit Socco, a gathering place for several famous writers
Café Tingis on the Petit Socco, a gathering place for several famous writers
(Glen Berlin / Shutterstock.com)

For centuries, Tangier’s mix of cultures, proximity to the sea and Mediterranean sunshine have attracted artists, writers and expatriates. Beaten 1950s writers Williams S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg found inspiration and an appealing lifestyle in Tangier. Henri Matisse creates canvases in Tangier, in residence at the Grand Hôtel Villa de France.

Before the Beats discovered Tangier, Mark Twain paid them a visit; after the Beats left town, Anthony Bourdain, the Rolling Stones and other rockers came to enjoy the sun and Tangier lifestyle.

The former haunt of spies and scholars, the Café de Paris, remains a staple in Tangier just beyond the medina. You can also grab a coffee where Burroughs, Kerouac and other famous visitors once gathered at Gran Café Central or Café Tingis, both on Place du Petit Socco.

The door of the Caid's Bar at the El-Minzah hotel
The door of the Caid’s Bar at the El-Minzah hotel
(Photo credit: Kevin McGoff)

5. Caid’s Bar at El-Minzah Hotel

Tucked down in the Hotel El Minzah is Caid’s bar. This former meeting place for artists is famous for being the model for Rick’s Bar in the film casablanca.

We found the waiters smartly dressed and piano music accompanying puffs of cigarette smoke swirling through the old bar. There’s an outdoor terrace overlooking the pool if idling through a smoky bar doesn’t look the part.

Photos of movie stars, directors and singers who have passed through the El-Minzah Hotel line the courtyard outside Caid’s.

A souk in Tangier
A souk in Tangier
(Gert-Jan van Vliet / Shutterstock.com)

Compared to the maze of souks in Marrakech, we found our way out of the souks of Tangier with relative ease. The vendors were friendly, some kindly encouraging us to take a look at their wares. Hand-woven rugs, leather goods and handicrafts adorned the narrow shops. Even when we passed without passing, the traders offered us a “choukran– thank you – accentuated by a slight bow and a punch to the heart.

Pro Tip: Visit of the fish market in the souk during the morning. The scene is lively. The counters are overflowing with the catch of the day and the lively locals haggle loudly with the fishmongers.

Beit Hahayim, Jewish cemetery in Tangier
Beit Hahayim
(Photo credit: Kevin McGoff)

7. Beit Hahayim, the Jewish cemetery in Tangier

According to our guide, the oldest tomb in the Jewish cemetery in Tangier, Beit Hahayimdates back to 1367. Situated in a shady grove on the edge of the medina, the headstones of more than 1,000 graves overlook the nearby port.

The cemetery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. but is closed on Sundays.

Kasbah Museum in the medina of Tangier
Kasbah Museum in the medina of Tangier
(Color Hunter / Shutterstock.com)

8. The Kasbah Museum

Housed in the palace of a former sultan at one of the highest points in Tangier is the Kasbah Museum. Artifacts from different periods of Morocco’s unique history are on display. The palace housed the British and Portuguese governors during their respective periods of reign in Tangier. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed on Tuesdays), and the building alone is worth a visit.

Fortified walls of Asilah
Fortified walls of Asilah
(Photo credit: Kevin McGoff)

9. Day trip west of Tangier

Tangier is an ideal base for discovering the countryside along the Atlantic coast. Taxis and tour operators will take you, but it’s easy to rent a car and explore on your own. The roads are in good condition and the directions easy to follow. Moroccans drive on the same side of the road as Americans and continental Europeans.

Asilah

Less than an hour south of Tangier is Asilah. The Portuguese fortified the ancient walls of this coastal town in the 15e century. Painted bright white, the houses of Asilah present a stark contrast to the sky and brilliantly colored shutters on some dwellings.

Pro Tip: If you visit Asilah in August, take advantage of the International Cultural Festival. Music and art, including mural painting on the walls of houses in the medina, are part of the festivities.

Cave of Hercules

To the north along the coast of Asilah is the Cave of Hercules. Legend has it that the mythical giant rested there while he went to fetch the golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides. Shaped like the African continent, the “window” of the cave overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.

The bubbling waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean collide at Cape Spartel. Sailors have been guided through the Strait of Gibraltar by the Cape Lighthouse since the 1860s.

These sites are west of Tangier, all easily visited in a day.

Pro tips: If you choose to rent a car, avoid traffic jams in town by picking up and dropping off the car at Tangier Ibn Battouta Airport, a 20-minute taxi ride from the city center.

The famous "blue city" from Chefchaouene
The famous “blue city” of Chefchaouen
(Olena Znak / Shutterstock.com)

10. Towards the East, towards the Rif

Leave Tangier for a day heading east and you’ll soon be in the Rif Mountains. A little off the beaten path the mountain town of Chefchaouen is an easy 2 hour drive. Known as the blue city, Chefchaouen is unlike any other, with its buildings cast in azure and white. The caretaker gave us a pleasant tour of the interesting garden of the kasbah, or fortress.

Fish Flavor
Fish Flavor
(Photo credit: Kevin McGoff)

11. Separate Dining Rooms

Fish Flavor

The fish is fresh and served in no-frills style on sturdy wooden tables at Fish Flavor. Le Saveur does not take reservations; Queues form at the front door of this a la carte seafood restaurant located on a staircase leading to the medina. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner every day except Friday.

El Morocco Club

Experience Tangier at the time by visiting the intimate, dimly lit piano bar of the Club El Morocco. Drop by for an aperitif before dinner at the El Morocco restaurant upstairs. Traditional Moroccan cuisine is served with a gourmet touch.

Medina of Tangier
Medina of Tangier
(Photo credit: Kevin McGoff)

The soul of Tangier

Although Tangier is evolving, once you are inside the maze of souks and ancient medina walls, the soul of old Tangier remains. Spies may have evolved, but the aromas, noise and charm that have attracted expats and travelers over the centuries still await curious travellers.

Pro Tip: If you are approached and offered services as a guide, politely decline and keep walking. Hire only a licensed guide to lead you through the sights of Tangier.

To learn more about Morocco, see:

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