Few port cities in the world have quite the allure of Tangier, with its magical literary past, historic tangle of streets in the Kasbah and its stunning Grand Mosquée. This gateway to Africa, barely an hour’s boat ride away from Europe, never ceases to mesmerise the many people who visit each year. Here’s our guide for the top things to see and do in Morocco’s best-loved harbour town.
Burgeoning tourism has meant much-needed funding for clean cities, sites and beaches around Morocco. The sands lining Tangier have benefited particularly well, shaded golden against the sparkling blue sea, and present a great escape from the busy city. It’s close to the bustling port – Tangier is a major African hub for maritime traffic from Europe – so you shouldn’t expect Maldivian levels of tranquillity. But the lively action, from braying camels to groups of young people parading, is what makes being by the sea such a special experience in Tangier.
You’d never guess that the Petit Socco used to be the haunt of drug dealers and prostitutes. Today, it’s now an innocuous pedestrian square – a place you plonk yourself to drink mint tea or orange juice outside one of the popular, buzzing cafes and watch the world go by. If you want to act local, order a procession of fresh mint teas over the course of an hour or so. Unlike the teabag version, in Morocco the drink is made simply with boiling water, a handful of fresh mint leaves and a touch of sugar. The result is thirst-quenching and utterly delicious.
This lawned main junction, spiked with tall palms, is where new Tangiers flows into the old city. A mosque is on one side and a cinema on the other, with the wide road terminating in narrow cobbled streets. At this crossroads between the ages you can browse traditional market stalls to stock up on nuts, fresh fruit and even a flowing kaftan or two. The central fountain is surrounded by benches, and you can join the Tangier locals who converge here, shooting the breeze and relaxing in the balmy early-evening air.
While you’re in the Grand Socco, make a quick detour to this cinema, which screens mainstream and independent films. With its art deco-style good looks and origins in the late 1930s, this is an authentic Tangier experience. The cinema happily embraces its mixed cultural roots and, like Tangier, is a crossroad of cultures – showing films in French and Arabic.
Book-lovers of every stripe adore the Librairie des Colonnes, a Tangier institution that dates back to 1949. It evolved into a stomping ground loved by of some of the 20th century’s greatest writers, including Paul Bowles, Samuel Beckett, Truman Capote, Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams. The time-warped exterior of the building is charming, while the inside is lined with shelves upon shelves of books – some in English – making for a fascinating place to while away a rainy-day hour or two.