The door of Africa
The second part of this weekend trip to northern Morocco and after visiting the UNESCO city of Tetouan, we returned to the base where we landed (and from where we would depart the following day back to London), Tangier. Although one of the most modern cities we’ve been in Morocco, nothing to compare with the beautiful historical 4 Imperial Cities of Marrakesh, Rabat, Meknes and Fez, it is still an incredible nice city to visit, especially if this is your base for exploring the nearby famous tourist magnets of Tetouan, Chefchaouen, the beach resorts or one of two of the small Spanish posts in Moroccan’s soil, Ceuta.
While the city heavily relies on tourism in search of beach and sun which is one of the most important figures of its economy, it is way more than just sandy beaches. It does have a rich history through the millennia due to its very desired key location at the tip between the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, and its colonial history goes back to just some dozen of years when both the Spanish and French occupation ended in 1956. While Arabic is the main language, Spanish and French are widely spoken and understood. Signs can still be seen in dual language, mostly for its proximity and relation with Spain.
The old Medina is one of the smallest in Morocco and it is still on the process of restoration and modernisation after many decaying years. It is also pretty much everything the city has to offer in the sense of sights hence why you do not need much time in this city. The beaches, however, if that is what you are looking for, are quite deserted and recently revamped. The Sables D’or Beach is beside the harbour and just few minute’s walk from the southern edge of the Medina.
Along the Sables D’or Beach there is the promenade with many restaurants and bars and majority of the city’s hotels and residences. This promenade is being rebuilt on it entire length and will look awesome when finished! You can clearly see they are spending a fortune in revamping it. It is together with the Medina, the best places to find the best restaurants and places to eat at competitive prices; but as usual, check beforehand a few and avoid getting on those mostly orientated for tourists as you will end up paying double or more for the same you can get elsewhere.
As of May 2016, half of the old Medina is in the process of restoration, and it is looking impressive already! It does impresses me the say way Rabat, Meknes or Fez Medinas impressed me, yet with an added plus, being on the edge of the Atlantic and perched on a hill. Tangier has an enormous potential and the authorities had luckily acknowledged this and the entire city is in a heavy process of restoration, revamping and construction.
For more information about Tangier check 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 Tangier
- Grand Socco Name that receives the main square in the city that divides the Medina with the new town.
-Sidi Bou Abib Mosque Built in 1917, occupies one of the sides of the square.
-Saint Andrew Anglican Church Built in 1894 in a fusion style with clear influence of Moorish architecture even in its bell tower resembling a minaret.
- Medina The old town of Tangier, one of the smallest in Morocco, where majority of the city’s sights are within easy and short walking distance from each other.
-Petit Socco Although very small square, it is the centrepoint inside the Medina. Not far after walking from the Grand Socco heading east.
-Grand Mosque Continuing east and few streets after the Petit Socco is the main mosque in Tangier. Built atop the former Portuguese Cathedral.
-American Legation The very first piece of property acquired abroad by the U.S. government, which was a gift from Sultan Moulay Suliman in 1821. Located at the southeast edge of the Medina.
-Hotel Continental One of the most famous hotels in Tangier, located at a higher point within the Medina offering great views towards the harbour and the Straight of Gibraltar. It lies north of the Great Mosque.
-Fortress Marks the eastern tip of the Medina, with the port area just outside. The walls are still in good level of preservation.
-Kasbah Once upon a time the Sultan’s Palace. Located on the northern edge of the Medina, is one of the sights not to be missed. Built in the 17th century and enlarged by different sultans, is has some of the finest courtyards and carved ceilings in Tangier. The main buildings are now the Kasbah Museum which covers the history of the region and beyond to modern days.
- Cap Spartel and Lighthouse Marks Africa’s northwestern most tip. Outside of Tangier itself, you will need to get a taxi to get there. Worth it only if you are one of those persons who like to say you’ve been at the key geographical points in the world.
Tangier is served by a large international airport in the sense of flights offered to destinations across Europe and within Morocco. It is the most important port city in the north, just across the Straight of Gibraltar, 20 miles from mainland Spain. While the airport is just southwest from the city and quite near, there is no public transport connecting them both bearing grand taxis (shared taxis) with a fixed price of 150 Dirham to the city centre. Unfortunately this is what it is, and you are out of other options. We found a great deal with Iberia from London via Madrid, and on the return via Madrid again on a short stopover.
Coming by ferry from Spain is also one of the most reasonable options, with routes to Algeciras and Tarifa and ferries every 2 hours through the day.
Tangier is the northern end of the trunk railway towards the south, hence taking a train from the main cities of Morocco such as Marrakesh, Rabat, Casablanca or Fez is possible without having to change. Trains are new and very comfortable, with an ongoing increase of high-speed services.
Travelling by bus through Morocco is also a good option, but a much lengthily one. Also depending on how much you are willing to pay, you can travel in good comfort or in a really decaying situation
The city boasts a great selection of hotels, from very large resort to modest family run businesses, and of course the famous riads inside the Medina. Tangier is however, a growing holiday resort that benefits from its sandy beaches, sun and nice weather that starts earlier in the year due to its southern location, therefore depending on the season it’s likely for the prices to go up or getting the nice properties fully booked ahead of time.
For us, still off-season yet pure summer weather, well enough to enjoy the beach (but expect cold water), we managed to find a good deal at one of the larger properties, Hotel El Oumnia Puerto. Located right behind the main promenade, meters away from the beach, was perfect!. While our initial aim was for getting one of the hotels along the promenade overlooking the sea, after reading the many reviews at all, we found that majority of the complaints were addressed to the noise of the bars, discos and restaurants, and the road itself. In the other hand a hotel just a street behind the promenade will save you from this. The walking distance to the old Medina is matter of few minutes, so you are really good located in the middle of everything.
It was very nice, yet ugly from the outside. In any case, do not judge the exterior appearances, what is important is the inside which was nice and to the standards. Very nice and friendly staff, large room with comfortable bed and nice breakfast, which seemed strange to us as we were expecting a breakfast similar to the ones we had 3 weeks ago at the other cities in Morocco we travelled which were very average to even poor. The pool was also large and in good shape and good care. Definitely a nice choice.