Tangier has always evoked the image of a restless, romantic bohemian hideaway for some of the world’s greatest artists. Writer Paul Bowles made his home here while the Rolling Stones were known to frequent hidden tea houses in the depths of the city’s Kasbah. More practically, Tangier is Morocco’s second-most important industrial city after the capital Casablanca. This city itself is rapidly modernising but Tangier remains an intriguing, slightly untamed, destination for visitors.
Getting there and away
Given its proximity to Europe, Tangier is easily accessible by both air and sea. Tangier-Ibn Batouta Airport (TNG) is an international airport located about 12km from the city, which is served by several major airlines including Royal Air Maroc, Ryanair and easyJet. The airport is served by a dedicated taxi stand: Grand Taxis are available 24 hours a day and prices are fixed by the Moroccan government. There are also plenty of ferry options connecting Morocco with Spain, Gibraltar, Italy and France with crossings available to Tarifa, Algeciras and Barcelona (Spain); Gibraltar; Genoa and Livorno (Italy), and Sete (France).
Morocco has a great road network so getting around the country by car is easy enough, and the usual major international car hire services are available from the airport. Tangier itself is relatively compact and can be negotiated on foot but if you find yourself needing a taxi, petit taxis are common and easy to find but fare should be negotiated first if it is an unmetered vehicle. There are two main thoroughfares in the city, Boulevard Mohamed V and Boulevard Mohamed VI, which runs along the beachfront. The Medina, a confusing network of alleyways in the ‘old town’, is pedestrianised.
Where to stay
For an authentically Moroccan experience, try the Hotel Nord-Pinus-Tanger, a beautiful guesthouse located in the highest point of the Kasbah on the edge of the Mediterranean that pays great attention to its architecture and styling. La Tangerina also offers a gorgeous hideaway from the city bustle in the Kasbah, while the Hotel Mövenpick is a reliably upmarket choice. It is the perfect location for business or leisure: it’s just five minutes from the city centre and is beautifully appointed, overlooking the Bay of Tangier.
No trip to Tangier is complete without a trip to Café Hafa, where you can sip mint tea (served since 1921!) and overlook the dramatic view of the Straits of Gibraltar. For dinner options, the ElMinzah Hotel has two great (although pricey) restaurants; El Erz Restaurant, which serves delectable European and international cuisine, and El Korsan, which offers the best in Moroccan fare. Hidden away in the Kasbah, the El Morocco Club has a stylish restaurant upstairs, a piano bar downstairs, and a café under the trees outside during the day. It also has many fascinating photos on the walls.
Although it has calmed down since the heydays of the 1950s, Tangier is a port town, and a Mediterranean one at that – meaning that there are many inhabitants and visitors looking for a good time in the cool hours after dark. There are plenty of places to find a drink, although some can be downright sleazy so choose carefully. The older hotel bars are a good choice but popular bars and clubs include Casa Pepe and Morocco Palace, which are frequented by both locals and visitors. Another hotspot – right on the beach – is Sable D’or Bar on Boulevard Mohammed VI.
In the city
Tangier’s most famous bookshop, the Librairie des Colonnes, was once the haunt of Bowles and William Burroughs and boasts not only a fabulous collection but stunning architecture. The Cinema Rif is a great place to see the latest Moroccan and international films and, not far from there, the Mendoubia Gardens are a tranquil place to take a scenic stroll. The Medina cannot be missed, although try avoid the opportunistic guides, and the Kasbah, the city’s old fortifications, hide many architectural gems and museums, including the American Legation Museum.
Shopping is clearly a main attraction in Tangier; the city is crowded with stalls and bazaars, and it is unthinkable to come to Tangier and not try your hand at bargaining in the souks (markets). Granted, this takes a bit of courage but haggling is welcomed and expected. While many of the souks are tourist traps, quality goods can be found away from the main drag, including leather and carpets. For less a frenetic experience, Boulevard Mohamed V has a wide range of clothing shops, pharmacies and great cafes.
Out of the city
Just 14km outside Tangier, the Grottes d’Hercules (caves of Hercules) is a popular destination. Of the cave’s two openings, the sea-side opening is said to have been fashioned into the shape of Africa by the Phoenicians. The caves are part man-made and part natural and legend has it that Hercules rested here after his twelve labours. Entrance costs 10 dirhams. A kilometre from the cave is the Plage Achkar, a pleasant beach for swimming that will add to your day trip. Alternatively, take a half-day or full-day boat trip from the port of Tangier or visit the lighthouse at scenic Cape Spartel, just 9km from Tangier.
History and culture
Tangier is cosmopolitan in the truest sense of the word; not many cities have as varied a history. The city has long been a home and refuge for many civilisations; it was a Berber town, a Phoenician trading centre in the fifth century, part of the Roman Empire, and eventually came under Arab rule. The Middle Ages saw it pass between various European rules, until it was declared an international zone in 1923, and in 1956 it joined with the rest of Morocco in independence. Tangier’s romantically clandestine nature has attracted the likes of Burroughs and Delacroix, but active efforts are now being made to modernise the city.
Health and safety
Tangier is modern in its acceptance of tourists and female attire, and women can travel fairly safely alone. However, Morocco is a Muslim country and due respect should be shown in behaviour and attire, especially when visiting places of worship. As with any tourist hotspot, the Medina is a hotbed of unofficial, potentially aggressive, guides looking to make some money but a firm no upfront is usually enough to discourage unwanted attention. In terms of health, there are no required vaccinations but the heat can be potent so wear light-coloured clothing and drink plenty of bottled water.