The cafés of “Le Petit Socco” are buzzing as I enjoy my last glass of mint tea. I don’t want to leave Tangier, the city grabbed me from the moment I arrived! Is it its international past with its history of spies and brothels? Is it the friendliness of its inhabitants or the cosiness of my hostel? I don’t know, but the fact is: there are plenty of things to do in Tangier and the city has totally won me over!
Best things to do in Tangier
1. Exploring the medina
A labyrinth of narrow streets, intertwined with a few squares: the medina of Tangier displays a similar layout to other medinas in Morocco. The “Petit Socco” is its main square, surrounded by cafés and a few hotels. It used to be the heart of the city and the backstreets were home to the city’s brothels, back in the 1930’s when Tangier was an international city with its own laws and administration. It was a city known for its “forbidden pleasures”. Things have gone a lot quieter today. Nowadays the Petit Socco is the perfect spot to sit around with a cup of tea, reading the newspaper and catch up on the local gossip.
The Rue es Siaghin is the main street of the medina, off which you can find the majority of the souks. The souks truly come alive late afternoon when street vendors seduce the local women with their fresh fruit and vegetable stalls. It’s a great place to wander around and get lost.
2. Soaking up the city at Le Grand Socco
From the medina, you’ll eventually find your way back to Tangier’s main square: “Le Grand Socco”. The square used to be the main market square- there is still a market held on the corner- but is nowadays a perfect spot for people watching, soaking up the city life or taking a rest. The official name by the way is Place du 9 avril 1947, named after the date on which Sultan Mohammed V visited the city. Nobody seems to be using that name anymore, the only place you might still find it is on an old map.
In the centre of the Grand Socco is a large fountain with plenty of benches, and the southern side is home to the charming art-deco Cinéma Rif.
Cinéma Rif is one of those old-fashioned movie theatres, where movie times are still handwritten on a chalkboard. A lot more charming than the huge popcorn-chains we are used to! Movies are in Arabic or French.
Unfortunately the Grand Socco also attracts a fair amount of hustlers, offering to guide the gullible tourist through the medina and up to the nearby Kasbah. Check out these tips on how to avoid Moroccan scams!
3. Roaming around the Kasbah
The kasbah was the place where the local ruler lived and a defense when a city was under attack. It provided a high vantage point and usually consisted of high walls, sometimes without windows. The kasbah of Tangier is walled off from the medina and was once the city’s palace and administrative district. Unfortunately the Brits destroyed the medieval fortifications, including the castle.
Nowadays it’s an area of horseshoe-shaped babs (gates), a few squares and empty little streets. Make sure to check out the Seqaya Bab El Assa fountain, one of the largest and most beautiful mountains of the medina, featuring exquisite mosaic tiling. The Dar El Makhzen, once the sultan’s residence, is now home to the interesting Museum of Antiquities, a good place to learn about the city’s history!
Beware of the hustlers trying to guide you around the area. You really don’t need them, the area is small enough to discover it by yourself. Since the Kasbah is the highest point of the city, all you need to do is go downhill to eventually end up at Le Grand Socco.
4. Sip mint tea at Café Hafa
When leaving the kasbah, head west for about 10 minutes to “Café Hafa”. The most famous café of Tangier is a ramshackle affair with steep terraces and plastic chairs, overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s a simple and basic affair, but a great place for a relaxing mint tea! A few months earlier, when I was visiting Tarifa, the surf city of southern Spain, I looked across the Strait towards Morocco. This time I’m doing the exact opposite. The circle is complete!
The café opened in 1921 and its views have inspired numerous writers. Famous visitors include the likes of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
5. Sample the patisseries
Tangier has a wealth of attractive cafés and excellent patisseries. A lot of them can be found between the medina and the Kasbah. My favourite Moroccan pastry is called “cornes de gazelle”. Stuffed with almonds and cinnamon and wrapped in a soft pastry, this crumbly biscuit should be moist with a subtle aftertaste of orange blossom water.
Another one you have to try are the “chebakya” . It’s as fried pastry, covered in honey and rose water with sesame seeds sprinkled on top.
Ask for “un assortiment” to taste a selection.
6. Relax at the beach
I visited Tangier in February, unfortunately a little bit too chilly to lie on the beach. During summer however this is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. I was content with a brisk walk along the 3km promenade, perfect for a daytime stroll.
Have you been to this beautiful Moroccan city?
What were according to you the best things to do in Tangier?