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If you’ve never visited Morocco before then Tangier is the perfect introduction to what can be an overwhelming country to visit. It lacks the frenetic pace of Marrakech so you won’t leave feeling as though you need another holiday to recover but, at the same time, it’s different enough from mainland Europe that you know you’re definitely on another continent.
Tangier is only a short ferry ride from Spain with a choice of leaving from Tarifa or Algeciras. It’s worth noting that ferries from Tarifa go to Tangier Ville while those from Algeciras go to Tanger-Med. Choose wisely as Tanger-Med is around 40 km from the city centre, so that bargain fare from Algeciras might not be such great value after all if you find yourself having to get a bus or taxi to Tangier itself.
We left from Tarifa and, less than an hour later, were disembarking ready for a short walk to the medina and the riad we’d booked for the weekend.
I’d been told many horror stories of arriving in Tangier to be met by locals keen to offer their services as guides, to take their taxi, or use their choice of hotel. In reality there were two or three who spoke to us as we came out of the port but a polite ‘non merci’ was generally sufficient to send them to someone else. We found that also worked when wandering around the narrow lanes of the medina and kasbah. There was the odd shopkeeper trying to give us the hard sell, and one or two others offering to be our guide, but nothing compared to the relentlessness that we’ve experienced previously in Marrakech.
There are museums galore in Tangier including the Kasbah Museum, American Legation and Museum of Moroccan Arts but, as we were only here for a short time (and wanted to use one of our days to travel further afield to Chefchaouen, Morocco’s blue city – watch this space for a blog), we decided to spend our time exploring the city and leave these for next time.
The Medina and Kasbah
We were given a map at our riad but, to be honest, it’s easiest to just wander as each street and alleyway seems to offer something new. Stores selling silverware, leather and traditional Moroccan clothing coexist side by side with currency exchanges and souvenir shops. There was a lot of encouragement to go in the shops and check out the wares but the hassle I’d expected was actually quite minimal. Mind you, after dark as we were heading back to our riad we did get a few offers of hashish (“very good stuff” by all accounts) but politely declined. As we had a few days here we were more than happy to just take our time and see what we found. If you’re on a day trip though, and want to make the most of your time in Tangier, then a guided tour is probably a good idea.
On the edge of the medina, dividing the old and new areas of Tangier, is the Grand Socco (big souk) or, to give it its official name, Place du 9 Avril 1947 – home to the iconic Cinema Rif. With Mendoubia Gardens as its focal point it’s a lively spot day and night.
From here we visited the market. On a Monday morning it was buzzing with activity – huge displays of olives, herbs and spices, fruit and veg, as well as a thriving fish market. If you’re a meat eater a wander round the market will either leave you salivating or contemplating becoming a vegetarian. There were men plucking and decapitating chickens, entrails of who knows what animal hanging from huge hooks, not to mention the piles of sheep’s heads. Fascinating, but not for the faint-hearted!
The kasbah is an uphill walk from the Grand Socco and again, is a jumble of narrow alleyways. There are wall plaques which act as a guide between points of interest but, again, it’s a small area so probably not easy to get lost. We did encounter a few more people offering to be our guide up here but nothing that was too full-on. There was also a random goat just wandering around inside the city walls!
Avenue Mohammed VI
To the east the promenade stretches towards the new town past the marina and long stretches of beach. To the west, Avenue Mohammed VI becomes Route de la Plage Merkala and is a lovely walk beneath the cliffs. Passing the fishing port, the road hugs the coastline before turning inland at Merkala beach.
I thought the wide promenade would be the perfect route for my daily run and I was half right, I just got my timings wrong! I’m not a morning runner by any stretch of the imagination so pulled on my trainers and went out for an early evening run. That’s the time that the locals head out for their daily walk. The promenade was heaving with families – walking, cycling but, perhaps not surprisingly, not running!
Where we stayed
We stayed in Dar Jameel (6 Rue Mohamed Bergach), a beautiful riad on the edge of the medina and an easy walk from the ferry port. The building is ornately decorated, with lots of nooks and crannies for sitting and chilling out away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There’s also a roof terrace which has spectacular views of the old town and the modern port area and promenade.
I wasn’t disappointed with the breakfast either – there was a good selection of pastries, breads, spreads and dips (honey, peanut butter, oils, yogurt etc), olives, cheese and fruit plus freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee and mint tea. Yum!
Where we ate and drank
It’s sacrilege to come to Morocco and not have a tagine of some sort. I had this one at Le Bistrot de Petit Socco on Rue de la Marine in the medina. The restaurant sits on a corner plot overlooking the Petit Socco (little souk) and, while it doesn’t look anything special from the outside, our spot on the roof terrace was perfect for people watching. While I tucked into my tagine Mark had the mixed fish platter and I must admit I did feel slightly envious!!
We were recommended to try Restaurant Ahlen on Rue des Postes, again in the medina tucked away down a little side street. The fish soup starter was absolutely delicious and we followed it with (another) fried fish platter plus sardines. I’d heard a lot about the ginger tea they serve here so we had a glass each. A nice touch was the mint tea and Moroccan pastries on the house at the end of our meal.
Café Hafa is legendary in Tangier so we couldn’t not pay it a visit. It’s just outside the kasbah near the Phoenician tombs. Since opening in 1921 it’s hosted William S Burroughs, Tennessee Williams, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones who’ve all dropped in for a mint tea and, possibly, something stronger! Terraces drop down the cliff face and a seat at one of the mosaic tables gives fantastic views across the Bay of Tangier to Spain.
I think, however, our best find of the trip was the ‘hole in the wall’ bread shop just a short walk from our riad. No name above the door but the flatbreads were delicious, cheap and super filling. Spread with honey and rolled up they were perfect for a daytime snack and the place was always busy with both locals and tourists.
If you fancy a Moroccan adventure of your own, here are some handy hints on getting there and getting around.
We took the FRS Fast Ferry from Tarifa which cost €136 return for both of us. It’s only a short journey but there’s a café and duty-free shop on board plus plenty of comfortable seating. When we checked in at Tarifa we were given boarding passes and immigration forms to fill out (for both journeys). Once on board there’s a passport control desk where we took our forms and had our passports stamped. On arrival in Tangier it was a quick and easy clearance of customs and passport control. The same can’t be said for our return to Tarifa – passport control on the Spanish side was slightly chaotic and it took a lot longer to clear.
Tangier is easily accessible on foot and, in fact, in some parts (the medina for example) it’s the only way to get about.
There are petit taxi drivers on just about every street corner but, on the off chance that you don’t spot one (or get touted for business) head to the Grand Socco. For longer distances, a grand taxi is ideal. These are more luxurious than the petit taxis and generally very reasonably priced. We used a grand taxi for our trip to Chefchaouen which cost us 900 dirham for the day (it was booked through our hotel). They seat up to six people so, obviously, the more passengers the cheaper the cost but, for a full day trip for two of us it was still a good price.
Have you been to Tangier? I’d love to hear your thoughts and any recommendations for my next trip.