Today, divided into Old Medina and New Medina, there is so much to do and see in this area of Casablanca, Morocco. Home to everything from historic and monumental buildings to the newest in food and contemporary art, the Medina here continues to grow and define itself as a colorful hub of vibrant shops, intricate architecture, kaleidoscopic markets and enthusiastic bartering. Here is our list of the top things to do and see on your next visit.
Step back in time and stroll through the streets of The Old Medina, the pre-20th-century city that has been essentially frozen in time, a place brimming with history. Remnants of old city walls and forts can still be seen today, and the narrow alleyways have remained the same as they were thousands of years ago. Guided city tours are available, and this part of Medina is still very much alive with life, with locals busy and bustling around each day. Much of this historic center is now a bazaar area, a marketplace offering the most eccentric and unique products. Artisans will hand-make things such as leather goods, oils, linens, shoes and spices, and will even sell ancient antiques which have been passed down by their ancestors. Purchasing operates with a bargaining system, and most vendors offer reasonable prices or are willing to negotiate. Also in The Old Medina are various outdoor cafés and smaller restaurants, so enjoy a coffee or tea whilst watching the locals go about their daily life.
Watch out for: The bazaar is usually extremely crowded, especially on the weekends.
Notably the only department store in Casablanca, Alpha 55 is the store for anything and everything. Alpha 55 customers consider the variety store as the spot where something is always going on. Whether it’s for your personal needs, your family’s needs or even your home’s needs, this store aims stock everything you could possibly want. Seven spacious floors are lined here with a wide range of different products, each with varying brands and set at reasonable prices for customers. With products ranging from cosmetics and luggage to toys and sports, as well as a plethora of clothes and school supplies, Alpha 55 is the one-stop-shop. On the top floor of the complex is a restaurant, open Monday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm and 9pm to 12am.
Watch out for: This department store was founded in 1979, and is still exceptionally popular today
Nicknamed the Casablanca Hajj, the construction of Hassan II Mosque was finished in 1993 and it stands today as the largest mosque in Morocco. It was originally designed by Michel Pinseau and was named by King Hassan II himself. When the project began over 6,000 artistic geniuses were hired to fulfill Pinseau’s dream, with each adding copious amounts of intricate detail to the mosque. Although the mosque is used for prayer and is open to all Muslims at daily prayer times and for special services, the religious center is open to non-Muslims for guided tours, which take place many times a day in different languages. One of the most incredible parts of the mosque, and an area prohibited to non-Muslim visitors, is the section which rises above the sea level of the Atlantic Ocean, complete with a glass floor. Royalty can kneel directly over the sea here to pray.
Watch out for: The beautifully decorated minaret which is set in the center of the mosque. It is the tallest minaret in the world.
Place Mohammed V is often imitated, but never duplicated. Architect Henri Prost ran with his vision and created a monumental plaza in the heart of Medina, impacting and inspiring future architects in many ways. This magnificent square is surrounded by an assortment of public buildings, including the law courts, the governor’s office, the bank al-Maghrib, the post office and the ministry of defense building to name but a few. Within the open area are cobblestone bricks leading to an incredible fountain display in the center. The fountain is an amazing sight during the day, and is lit up on specific evenings for special occasions. Also, Place Mohammed V is an ideal area for a day of shopping.
Built by the French in the 1930s, the Quartier Habous is a miniature village lined with shops and eateries, and even features a mosque. This site combines modern French ideals with the traditional Moroccan style, resulting in a beautiful architecture and design. Many locals see the Quartier Habous as a main tourist attraction as it strays from total Moroccan authenticity in some ways, but no matter what your opinion it is definitely a must-see. Shop owners here are known to be friendly and reasonable and to offer affordable prices. Popular Moroccan classics are sold in shops, such as clothing, slippers, carpets and various handmade trinkets. Book stores and open-air restaurants can also be found here and make for relaxing stops during the day. A few of the buildings serve as famous bakeries and pastry shops of Medina, one in particular being Bennis Habous. This bakery serves up delicious, authentic Moroccan cakes.
Watch out for: Many souvenirs within the shops are imports from Saudi Arabia
Offering a chic and sophisticated dining experience, Le 25 Casablanca is a high-class restaurant which is guaranteed to never disappoint! Located near the park of the Arab League, and open everyday from 12pm to 1am, Le 25 puts the customer first, always. Architect Christophe Pillet designed an avant-garde, Italian-inspired setting, complete with marble imported from Italy, mirrors covering the ceiling and various floor-to-ceiling pillars, as well as clean Italian furniture throughout. The setting gives off a trendy and elegant feel, perfect to match the reputable chef Thierry Vassiére’s sophisticated menu. The quality of the food exceeds the affordable prices!
Watch out for: A lounge with evening bar on the other side of the restaurant, full with wines, beer and a mix of cocktails
Recreating the set of the 1942 classic Casablanca, Rick’s Café is everything film-lovers could imagine. As guests step in the door they travel back in time to the 1940s, right into Rick Blaine’s famous café, complete with décor matching the era and a pianist playing the well-known music from the film. The restaurant extends to several different floors, each with individualized table settings and designs. Televisions throughout the restaurant play the film on loop, whilst timely servers wait on guests with a kind and helpful smile. A variety of Moroccan food and drink is available along with some traditional American dishes for both lunch and dinner. Reservations and a sophisticated dress code are both necessary and expected.
Located within the previously mentioned Quartier Habous is the famous Patisserie Bennis Habous. This is a traditional sweet shop set in an old Moroccan house, different to many of the other more modern buildings in the newer section of Medina. This shop is truly a hidden gem, and although it may be difficult to track down, it is worth the hunt. The most popular treat in this established shop are the sweet and savory cookies, and after waiting in line, each customer is given the opportunity to try a free sample. Another famous treasure is the mini pastilla filled with shredded fish, vermicelli and prawns. Finally, as a gift of gratitude, treats are packaged in small reusable bags and tied with ribbon.
Watch out for: Patisserie Bennis Habous has been praised by the New York Times for its sweet treats
Loft Art Gallery was opened in 2009 by two contemporary art professionals, Meriem and Yasmine Berrada. Their goal is to increase awareness of the importance of modern art in Arab countries, as the history and background of Moroccan art is relatively new. The gallery is funded by the Global Thinkers and Doers for the Arab World Association and supports the biggest names of local art as well as potential up-and-coming artists. With well-known artists such as Farid Belkahia, Kim Bennani and Amina Rezki featured throughout the gallery, this place excellently showcases the creativity, vibrancy and talent of many Arab artists.
Watch out for: The gallery also continues to fund ongoing research work to support the success of local artists
Arguably Casablanca’s most famous ice cream shop, Oliveri is a top-quality joint with affordable prices and a kind-hearted staff. Oliveri has been a family owned business since 1950, and continues to be operated by the same family today. Using the same traditional techniques to make their creamy and mouth-watering flavors, this shop believes in sticking to the traditional ways. The gelato and sorbet varieties here are brilliant and are comparable to the lighter ice-cream of Italy. Although the lines to order may be longer in the evenings, the wait is worth it.
Watch out for: Complimentary water bottles are given to each guest upon ordering.