It’s the gateway between the Mediterranean and North Africa; a city I thought might be a nice, gentle introduction to the sights and sounds (and smells) of Morocco. But Tangier throws you head-first into the experience of Moroccan towns - compacted into a medina with literally hundreds of rabbit-warren streets, the smells of restaurants and street food wafting in amongst the smells of the leather and rug shops, their salesmen trying to lure you into their stalls. It’s a lot, and it hits you all at once.
It’s far from gentle, but my 24 hours spent in Tangier were a delightful window into the Morocco of old, and the city’s history as a hippie centre, a retreat for the world’s rich and famous, and a truly international town.
A couple of ways to arrive in Tangier - there’s an airport about half an hour out of the city, or - if you’re feeling adventurous, you can fly to Malaga, Seville or any other airports on the Costa del Sol and make your way by ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar.
From ferry port Tanger-Med, jump in a taxi to central Tangier; it’ll set you back 300 Moroccan Dirhams (about €28) for the hour journey, but time is of the essence and it’s the fastest way into the centre of town.
Experience your first taste of Moroccan food at Salon Bleue, right on the edge of the Kasbah with a perfect view overlooking the impossibly blue Strait of Gibraltar. Their cous cous and tagines are lovely, and the fresh orange juice is to die for.
Walk your lunch off with a stroll around the Kasbah’s maze of alleyways and streets - once a temporary home to Jim Morrison, Henri Matisse, the Stones, Lennon, McCartney, Kerouac: the literati. Steeped in history from Tangier’s time as a city owned by nine countries at once, it’s beautiful in its own right, with its perfectly painted streets, the mosques coexisting amongst churches and synagogues - it’s like a tiny little walled village.
As you curve your way out of the Kasbah and into the wider Medina, it’s not a bad time to pick up some wares if you’re in the market for a tagine pot, handmade leather bags – or , the 6-foot rug I seem to be currently carting around North Africa.
A tip, though - if you look lost for even a millisecond, local “guides” will pounce on you. “Where are you going? The Medina is the other way! That’s a bad restaurant, my brother owns a much better one, it’s 2 minutes away, I’ll take you!” - in faultless English. Do not stop walking for a second - carry on your way with confidence, a big smile and a “non, merci” in their direction and you should shake them.
With just 24 hours in Tangier, wandering around the historic city, peering into vats of spices at the markets and watching Medina-dwellers go about their lives was plenty to do, but if you’re after a bit more culture the American Legation Museum is a nice afternoon activity.
Morocco was the first country to recognise the United States in 1777, so this museum in a gorgeous five-storey mansion was the first piece of American real estate abroad. It’s got some lovely art, a few interesting old letters and a painting that is often dubbed the “Moroccan Mona Lisa” - go and see for yourself.
There’s nothing more Moroccan than a glass of nectar-sweet mint tea, and nowhere better to try it than at Cafe Hafa - a short walk up the hill from the Medina is rewarded by this steeped terrace cafe which looks out over the port to sea. A watering hole for the Beatles and Stones, so they say, you can while away hours watching the ships come in and out at the port while guzzling tea and reading a book. It’s heavenly.
Dinner. If you can stomach more cous cous and tagines, Restaurant Ahlen is an honest, cheap and friendly home-style restaurant, with an absolutely gorgeous owner who’s always up for a chat, and mint tea and dessert are always “from the house”, as he puts it.
For the fish-loving among us, Le Saveur du Poisson is a tiny restaurant nestled in around the street markets that serves up phenomenally fresh Moroccan seafood dishes from the sea you’ve spent the afternoon staring at.
Just outside the Kasbah, the El Morocco Club (also a restaurant) has a classy downstairs piano bar that’s perfect for a drink or two in a jazzy red lounge adorned with pictures of their famous clientele. The selection of Moroccan wines is extremely tasty, and if you’re still peckish there are bar snacks too.
It’s a sensory overload, this city, and Dar Nour Riad (old Moroccan mansions turned into guest houses) is the perfect place to escape to a crisp, quiet room - smack bang in the middle of the Kasbah but unbelievably peaceful. I wasn’t even woken by the call to prayer from one of the dozen mosques in view, and the staff are beyond lovely.
Dar Nour serves genuinely the best breakfast you will ever have on its rooftop terrace, which gives a 360-degree view of all of Tangier washed down with fresh baguette, croissants, crepes, eggs, Moroccan cakes, strawberries the size of your fist - it’s heavenly.
Before trading the blissful blue-and-white walls of the kasbah for Moroccan motorways en route to our next destination, we popped into the small Kasbah Museum for a last bite of this beautiful city. Although Tangier is a living museum in itself, it’s an interesting deep-dive into the history of the city from prehistoric times to the 19th century. Information is only in Arabic and French, but it’s still a nice place to wander - and has a gorgeous Spanish-style garden out the back.
Flights to Tangier
- Matilda Edwards