The Best Things to Do in Tangier, Morocco

The Best Things to Do in Tangier, Morocco

You know about Morocco, but do you know about Tangier? Rich in history, this important port guards the Strait of Gibraltar and is Europe’s gateway to Africa. For historical reasons, Tangier has a seedy reputation but this is no longer justified. These days, Tangier is a thriving and interesting city, with a multicultural identity and a relaxed lifestyle. I went to Tangier as a child and only have vague memories of it. However, on my recent trip, I had great pleasure in rediscovering this beautiful place and I have a list of the best things to do in Tangier, Morocco.

Visiting the punic tombs is one of the things to do in Tangier

A Little History

Morocco has been influenced by both French and Spanish occupation. The French established a Protectorate in 1912 and in 1923, Tangier was declared an International Zone. Semi-independent and administered by the Sultan of Morocco, Tangier attracted a wild crowd during those years: socialites, artists, speculators, sexual deviants and various eccentrics. Expats made half of the population and Tangier was also rumoured to be a safe haven for spies…

This earned Tangier a reputation as a cultural hub but a pretty wild place. Morocco became an independent country in 1956 and Tangier’s special status ceased. Years of sanctioned neglect followed, public funding was cut and the cultural scene and its expats moved on. Indeed, it was a long decline for Tangier, tourists turned away and criminals remained.

Admiring the view over the marina in Tangier Morocco

However, since 1999, Tangier has seen an influx of investments: a new marina, a TGV train line to Casablanca are being built and a major industrial complex called “Tanger-Med” is just 40 km on the Mediterranean coast. Today, Tangier is a popular destination for day trips from Spain and is a good entry point to Morocco. I thoroughly recommend spending several days in Tangier in order to soak up the atmosphere, a subtle mix of Mediterranean and North African vibes.

Explore the Medina

With its protective walls, the Medina can feel a little claustrophobic if you’re not used to it but you will soon discover charming little squares enjoying the shelter of a large tree. I found the Tangier medina really pleasant, less cluttered and clean, with freshly painted white and blue walls. Activity doesn’t start until late morning, so if you get there early, you get to enjoy the quiet streets. A great way to visit the medina is to enter through Bab Kasbah and to walk your way down to the Petit Socco. You’ll probably get a little lost but nothing too serious… There are some quirky shops and galleries on the way. Having said that, the shopping is not as spectacular in Tangier as it is in Marrakech, and you still need to haggle.

Discovering quirky galleries is a unique thing to do in Tangier

On our first night in Tangier, we had a simple dinner at the Salon Bleu, a roof terrace overlooking the medina walls and the harbour. The sea breeze was so enjoyable and I loved being by the seashore again.

Taking time out at the Salon Bleu is one of the first things to do in Tangier

People Watch at the Petit Socco

The Petit Socco, or “Souq ad-Dakhil” used to be one of Tangier’s most notorious crossroads, where drug deals and prostitution took place. Now, there are cafes and restaurants and it’s a great place for people watching. During our stay in Tangier, we enjoyed several meals on the terrace of Le Bistro du Petit Socco. This charming little square reminds me very much of town squares in Southern France, like Nice for example. It’s also probably the most touristy Tangier gets so there are few scammers about. In my opinion, the Petit Socco is where the pulsating heart of Tangier is. It showcases very well the mix of local and expat life and is a great place to taste the unique atmosphere of the town.

People watching at the Petit Socco remains one of my favourite things to do in Tangier

Visit the American Legation

The American Legation is a three-storey building in the medina, now a museum. Interestingly, Morocco was the first country to recognise the barely established United States in 1777. It was also the first piece of American real estate overseas.

Be a Celebrity at the Hotel Nord-Pinus

Located in the street descending from Bab Kasbah to Bab Bhar, the Hotel Nord-Pinus is a hotel and restaurant, in a beautiful Portuguese-style mansion. If you are wanting to retreat from the medina for a few hours, the Nord-Pinus is the ideal place for a rooftop cocktail overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar or a fine meal. The service may be a little slow but the food is really delicious. The Nord-Pinus welcomed the Rolling Stones and the Beatles in their day.

Dining in style at the Nord-Pinus seemed like a great thing to do in Tangier

Have an Espresso at El Morocco Cafe

At Bab Kasbah, El Morocco Cafe is sheltered under a large tree and offers Nespresso coffee. I’m not a coffee person but this is the place to get a proper espresso. Later in the evening, the Morocco Club next door is the place to get your groove on. As Tangier was my gateway into Morocco on this trip, I noticed they were serving mint tea with sugar on the side. This is a nice new development, as mint tea can be too sweet…

Relaxing for a coffee or a tea in a thing to do in the medina in Tangier

Take the Sun at the Hotel Continental

This beautiful hotel has a prime location overlooking the harbour and is synonymous with Paul Bowles, as some scenes of the Sheltering Sky were filmed.

If you run out of things to do in Tangier, you can always trace the steps of famous writers

Be Cool at Café Hafa

Established in 1921, Cafe Hafa was a major hangout for painters and beat poets such as Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams and William S. Burroughs. It is a great place to watch the sunset on Spain, sipping a mint tea. Today, Café Hafa welcomes the youth of Tangier, sitting at mosaic tables and chatting away. And of course, the blue is reminiscent of Chefchaouen, the Blue Pearl.

For things to do in Tangier, the Cafe Hafa is one of the best

Walk the Grand Socco

The Grand Socco is a large sloping plaza with a central fountain and palm trees. To get there, you need to take a 10 mins walk up the Rue Siaghine from the Petit Socco. The square is also called Place du 9 Avril 1947 and is just outside the medina walls. There is a fresh produce market on the way where you can buy olives to enjoy as a snack. Again, the Grand Socco is a good place for people watching and the Cinema Rif is a lovely art deco building, testimony to Tangier’s thriving cultural scene. In my opinion, the Grand Socco isn’t as interesting as the Petit Socco. Sure, it also makes for good people watching but I find it has a little less character.

The Grand Socco is something to do outside of the medina in Tangier

Have a Cocktail at the Hotel El-Minzah

Why would you want to visit a hotel unless you’re staying in it? If it’s a mythical hotel where everyone that was someone stayed in Tangier’s seedy heyday, then it’s worth it. Here, Hollywood celebrities mixed with Winston Churchill and you can walk in their footsteps. Count the celebrity portraits in the Andalucian courtyard or sip a cocktail in the Caid’s Bar. And if you are in need of relaxation, there is also a wellness centre next to the hotel.

Celebrity spotting at the Hotel El-Minzah is the classy thing to do in Tangier

Stop by the Terrasse des Paresseux

Literally, this name means “terrace of the lazy”. Located in the modern city, or “ville nouvelle”, this is a great place to admire the view over the harbour and the medina walls.

You won't run out of things to do in Tangier, especially when it comes to beautiful views

Drive to Cap Spartel

Cap Spartel is 14 km west of Tangier and is worth a day trip, although it doesn’t warrant a full day. The road meanders along the dramatic coast and past some nice beaches. You can also do a camel ride if that’s your thing. The Cap Spartel is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the northernmost post of Africa but it’s still the northwestern extremity of Africa’s Atlantic Coast. The lighthouse is closed to the public and there is a restaurant, but we didn’t get to try it. We had our own car to drive to Cap Spartel because driving in Morocco is easier than it seems and there are some really beautiful roads. However, I’m sure local taxis can take you there.

The lighthouse at Cap Spartel is an extra thing to do in Tangier if you have time

Explore the Caves of Hercules

The Caves of Hercules are a grotto quarried for millstones, and also known as the Roman God’s sleeping quarters before he embarked on his eleventh labour (getting golden apples from the Hesperides gardens). It’s quite touristy but the grotto’s much-photographed opening onto the Atlantic ocean is reminiscent of a map of Africa and it’s worth a selfie… And of course, because this is Tangier, the place was used as a brothel in past times…

If you have enough time, visiting the Hercules Caves is a great thing to do in Tangier

I recommend a leisurely drive back along the dramatic coast, the sun glistening on the ocean…

You can add those millstone shapes to the list of things to do in Tangier

The Gateway to Africa

Tangier is a great place to start your journey through Morocco. Indeed, I’m really pleased we started our journey there. Most people go through Marrakech first as it is the most obvious tourist destination. However, if you have been travelling through southern Europe, you will appreciate the European connection of Tangier. Entering Morocco through Tangier is a bit like easing yourself into the country… Tangier is also a great starting point to start exploring the North of Morocco. After a few days in this great city, we hired a car and drove to Tetouan and Chefchaouen. Tangier should definitely be a reason to visit Morocco… I loved my time in Tangier, I found it easy going and quieter than other places such as Marrakech or Fès. Interestingly, a lot of people speak Spanish rather than French, which was a new challenge for me. Considering Spain still has some enclaves and islands in Morocco, this is not so surprising.

Is Morocco on your travel bucket list? If so, there are a few things you should know before travelling there.

Have I missed anything in my list of the best things to do in Tangier, Morocco? Please tell me in the comments below!

If you need more Morocco inspiration, please check out my Pinterest board.

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12 Comments

  1. Deborah Regen

    February 23, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    Wonderful descriptions and photos. Morocco is one of those places that I dream about visiting. Good to see that investments have improved the city of Tangier for the locals and for the new visitors. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Delphine

      February 24, 2018 at 8:38 pm

      Hi Deborah, thank you for dropping by. Morocco is indeed dreamy and there is plenty to see, I hope you get there someday. Tangier looks really good now, the medina has been cleaned up and painted, and the modern city has this southern European feel. There is still a reasonably strong expat community and I felt quite safe there.

  2. Lisa

    February 24, 2018 at 11:32 am

    Morocco is high on my list for 2018. I will probably have 3 weeks so I’ll definitely swing by this place – it looks great!

    1. Delphine

      February 24, 2018 at 8:34 pm

      Hi Lisa, three weeks is a good amount of time in Morocco. You will have time to see plenty of things and really experience this great country. Tangier is a great starting point for visiting the north of the country, and the TGV (fast train) is soon to be completed and is only two hours to Casablanca. Enjoy your travels and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!

  3. Charlotte

    February 24, 2018 at 11:49 am

    I have been planning a trip to Morocco for a while now and have been wondering wether or not Tangier is worth a visit. After reading this I am convinced it is 🙂 And by the way, your photos are beautiful!

    1. Delphine

      February 24, 2018 at 8:28 pm

      Hi Charlotte, I absolutely recommend Tangier, it was a highlight of my trip. I love its proximity to the Mediterranean and it’s a great starting to explore the north of Morocco. Towns such as Chefchaouen and Tetouan are really interesting and the north coast is stunning. I will be writing more about my travels in that region, so stay tuned!

  4. Marwan Sting

    June 3, 2018 at 8:31 pm

    Hi 😀
    Morocco is my country, & the beautiful Tangier is my city♥ welcome all .. we welcome guests!!!!

    1. Delphine

      June 4, 2018 at 10:43 am

      Hi Marwan, Tangier is a great gateway to Morocco, especially coming from Spain or Portugal. It has a relaxed European vibe and some great historical landmarks. Hopefully I’ll be back there someday!

  5. Emma Moreno

    September 12, 2018 at 4:44 am

    Very interesting comments and great photos. I am from Mexico and I plan to go to Tangier 3 or 4 days, after being in Lisbon and continuing to Athens. I am very much excited about this trip. I am traveling alone and my sons are a little bit worried but I am happy about the idea of knowing new places. Thank you for your advices and I will tell you how did it go…

    1. Delphine

      September 12, 2018 at 7:36 pm

      Hi Emma, thank you for visiting LesterLost, I am very pleased that you are travelling to Morocco. You will love Tangier, it’s a great entry point into North Africa. If you have time, I highly recommend you also visit Chefchaouen if you have time, an overnight trip is enough. I found Tangier to be quite safe and people were friendly. It’s not as touristy as other places in Morocco so there is less pressure on tourists. All the best for this great trip!

  6. Sarah

    November 7, 2018 at 12:22 am

    Thanks so much for this Post. My husband and I are waiting in Tangier for 2 months and this was the picture-perfect post to get me going. Thanks again.

    1. Delphine

      November 7, 2018 at 7:02 am

      Hi Sarah, thank you for your message. I’m very pleased my post is helping with your time in Tangier, you have plenty of time to enjoy it! I hope you get a chance to visit the area around Tangier too!

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