It is nice to be back in Morocco, specially since we’ve only been to Marrakesh 3 years ago and that city is probably the exception to the rest of the country, quite annoying in the sense of the hundreds of people trying to sell you anything or trying to make you go to their shop or restaurant. On and on and on! What a relieve to be honest not to experience such a hassle in Casablanca, nor the rest of the cities we would visit in this trip.
Although Casablanca is one of the cities with the “less sights” compared to most of the other large and medium size cities in Morocco, it is still a nice city very worth to visit. We’ve heard before from people and friends saying there is only the Great Mosque and nothing else, but as usual in these cases we prefer to rather trust more our experience and intuition and see for ourselves and boom!, we were right. It is in fact a modern city with many things to do and see. Already it is nice just to walk the wide avenues and admire the pretty French colonial buildings everywhere, most of which are in immaculate state of preservation with hundreds more being restored. A very clean and elegant city, nothing to compare with the rather messy and stuck in time Marrakesh of our previous experience.
The location of the city also makes a difference. Right by the Atlantic coast, although it does have in fact a very Mediterranean flair, even though this is the other coast! But the white colour of the buildings, the nice Corniche promenade by the coast and beach, and the very long daylight are all a great bonuses.
If this is your first time in Morocco, it is highly likely you will change your mind of what you might have possibly though it would be. Thoughts like under developed or poor are something I’ve come across, and are totally a misunderstanding. The truth is a rich country in every sense, very well developed, with great infrastructures, specially transportation. A lot has been going on during the past 3 years since we’ve visited the country. Countless kilometers of new motorways, brand new trains, high-speed rail tracks, new airports and an ever growing tourism industry benefiting from this peaceful country that has so much to offer the visitor. Casablanca will in any case be very nostalgic specially if you remember some sketched from the movie “Casablanca”. So…Play it again Sam; or should I rather say in this instance; come back again visitor.
For more information about Casablanca check the Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Morocco’s currency is the Dirham. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Casablanca
- Parc de la Ligue Arabe It is a perfect starting point for the sightseeing route, as from here all the sights follow a good order towards the north and west. This is the largest park in the city, beautifully landscaped and very well cared. The best way to reach it is by getting the tam to Place Mohammed V.
-Former Cathedral Sacré-Coeur At the northern side of the park you can see the former Catholic Cathedral, built by the French during colonial times. The best view of it is that from the park.
- Place Mohammed V Just north of the Parc de la Ligue Arabe and few blocks from the Place des Nations Unies. It is the most impressive square in the city with many grand buildings and palaces surround the space. In a clockwise direction you can see:
-First Instance Tribunal One of the most beautiful buildings in the city, highlight of the square at the east side.
-Embassy of France The next corner after the Tribunal, house in a beautiful palace.
-City Hall The next monumental building, characterised by its tall clock tower.
-Monumental Fountain Right in the middle of the newly revamped square.
-City Council and General Treasury Both symmetrical buildings at each side of the fountain.
-Grand Theatre of Casablanca Unfortunately under construction still as of April 2016, it will become when finished the new reference in architecture and the performing arts.
-Central Post Office One street north from the square itself. Built in 1918.
-Bank Al Maghrib Across the road from the Post Office building.
- Place des Nations Unies The main square in Casablanca, limit to both the new town and the old town, with the Medina and its walls at one of the side, and the main avenues of the new city passing through it. Neuralgic transit centre with buses and trams connecting everywhere.
-Medina Clock One of the iconic symbols of the old city, incorporated at one of the bastions of the walls.
-Medina Walls Surrounding the entire perimeter of the old Medina, this is one of the usual architectural featuring you can see on any Moroccan city.
-Medina Gate The main entrance to the Medina at the southern side, next to the Clock tower.
- Old Medina Recently revamped and with works still going on restoring its old building. Although not as spectacular as those of Marrakesh, Fez, Tangier or Rabat, it is a nice starting point in the city, right in between the other notable sights. Once inside you will fins yourself in a labyrinthine network of narrow streets easy to get lost. Head towards the opposite side to the north and you will reach the King Hassan II Mosque.
- King Hassan II Mosque The sight and icon number one of Casablanca. It is the 3rd largest in the world, and the one with the tallest minaret in the world. Located by the edge of the Atlantic Ocean along the promenade. It is opened to tourists but take note on the times: Saturday to Thursday only, 9am, 10am, 11am and 2pm, with an entrance fee of 120 Dirhams. At the front of it there is a grand square with symmetrical buildings, making the entire complex an imposing great architectural work.
- Corniche Is the main promenade by the Atlantic Ocean with many hotels, restaurants and bars lining it.
-Shrine of Sidi Abderrahman Built on a rock offshore farther down the Corniche, and accessible only when low tide. As it is quite far south, the best way to reach this place is taking the tram to the last stop Casa Terminus Ain Diab. You will see it from the promenade and have great views of it.
-Aïn Diab Beach Also by the last stop of the tram line, Casa Terminus Ain Diab, is the main beach of Casablanca. Of course nothing to compare to a Mediterranean beach but still good to catch the sun, since the waters are very cold and with frequent currents.
Mohammed V International Airport is the largest and busiest in the country, yet probably not the main entry gateway to the city since tourists are often coming from different places as Rabat the capital, or Marrakesh, one of the most visited cities in Morocco. Flying to Casablanca does not come cheap either, while flying to Rabat or Marrakesh can be just a fraction of the price instead because there are more low cost carriers serving that routes. We found a great deal with Iberia from London to Casablanca via Madrid, and on the return a direct flight from Rabat to London with Ryanair. In between all the cities we visited in this trip we moved by train.
From the airport you can get a train to Casa Voyageurs Station, and interchange there for a tram or bus towards your final destination. The train is 40 Dirhams, while the tram is 7 and buses 4, on a prepaid re-chargeable card that can be bough at the tram stop’s automated machines. Easy to understand and multi-language enabled.
Coming from elsewhere in Morocco is very comfortable by train or buses. The infrastructures are very well developed, both rail and road, with new trains and new buses serving the main cities frequently. It is less than 1 hour ride to Rabat with trains every half an hour, 3 to 5 hours to Tangier, 2 to Marrakesh and direct connections to Meknes and Fez in 2 hours to name some of the major tourist destinations.
Within the city, the public transport consists of trams and buses, being the trams the easier option to move around through majority of the sights in the city. However, the main tourist points are walking distance from each other and that’s the best way to get through them. Mind the traffic can be terrible hence probably you are faster walking than taking a bus, while the trams are running on specially designated side of the road so are not impacted by road traffic.
As we did not stay overnight in Casablanca I cannot be of any help recommending any hotel here. In the other hand, Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco, and you have absolutely every world hotel chain and many local ones; from top of the range to more modest there is everything. Bearing high season months, then it is almost guaranteed you can find a good deal at a great hotel.
We made our first base in Rabat as it was the most convenient for our planned tour. Being the capital city of Morocco, and of such importance for both tourism and industry, banking and business, the choice of hotels and places to stay is extremely good. Once again, from the top luxurious to more modest and everything in between; and countless beautiful riads around the Medina, all in all very easy to get a good deal. As usual, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred hotel search engine websites such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Hotel Belere in Rabat, meters away from the main train station hence perfectly located at walking distance to all of the sights, and great for us since we came by train from Casablanca and departed to Fez also by train hence no public transport needed. It was a nice hotel, marketed as a 4*, although it looked more like a good 3*. Nice large and quiet rooms (very important) with an extremely very comfortable bed. The staff was friendly and professional at all times and received us with a warm welcome. The breakfast, however, was plain and simple, and the waiters did not care too much in replenishing what was being finished and running low. Very recommended for someone like us on a busy tour that will only need a place to sleep without requiring any other facility.