The first thing I have to tell you about Tangier is that it is wonderful. It is charming and mysterious. The architecture is beautiful, the food is rich, and the people are kind. Also, the exchange rate is pretty great if you are American. For $81 per night, we stayed in a gorgeous riad in the penthouse suite, complete with a breakfast feast. All of our meals and activities were very low-priced, and our entry to the Hercules caves was the equivalent of only 50 cents!
The next thing you need to know before you go to Tangier is that you will probably get lost at some point, but that is okay. You can pay someone to walk or drive you where you want to go because it’s nearly impossible to find your way around when you don’t speak or read Arabic and the maps are not too helpful. It was a little unnerving at first to follow an Arabic-speaking man through winding streets and hope he is taking you where you asked him to, but you just have to go with it. That’s just how it works in Tangier. And honestly, I think it was a great lesson for me to put aside any expectations or stereotypes and trust the people we met. The Moroccans we met were all very kind and helpful people.
Now, for the nitty-gritty!
Alex’s and my Tangier itinerary:
Night 1: Take ferry from Gibraltar to Tangier Med, cab from Tangier Med to medina, arrive at our riad, have dinner in Tangier, early bedtime
Day 1: Moroccan breakfast feast, visit Kasbah and Anglican Church, walk through the medina to the Grand Socco and souk, eat a sandwich lunch in the Grand Socco near the fountain, take a taxi to Cap Spartel and the Hercules caves, ride camels
Night 2: Drink mint tea at Cafe Hafa, dinner and drinks at our riad
Day 2: Moroccan breakfast feast, taxi to Tangier airport
Eat: Unfortunately, I don’t have names of the places we ate. My best advice would be to ask the concierge at your hotel or riad to take you somewhere with traditional Moroccan cuisine. That is what we did the first night for dinner and it turned out splendidly. Our night porter walked with us through the winding old medina streets and led us to a traditional Moroccan restaurant. There was no menu and no price, so we just decided to go with it. The owner brought us several courses, including a Moroccan soup (with lentils and chickpeas, I think it was harira), a delicious flaky chicken pastilla (pastry), couscous, tagine with chicken and vegetables, and fruit and mint tea for dessert. It’s hard to pick a favorite dish because everything we ate was so delicious, but I would probably say the tagine was my favorite. It was so moist and tender and filled with healthy vegetables and chickpeas. All of the food had very warm, comforting flavors like cinnamon and nutmeg. The dessert was a huge plate of fruit (each!!) with grapes, bananas, oranges, and more. We were so full from the rest of the meal, but we did our best to eat a good portion of the fruit so as not to be rude or wasteful.
We had sandwiches for lunch one day in the Grand Socco. It was a little difficult to order because we don’t read or speak Arabic, so we used a lot of pointing and guessing. The only other main language spoken in Morocco is French, which neither Alex nor I speak. I was surprised more Moroccans didn’t speak Spanish, considering the proximity to Spain.
We ordered dinner to go from a restaurant we walked by on Rue dar el-Baroud the second night. It involved meat skewers and bread with sauce for dipping. We took it back to the riad to eat on the rooftop because it had amazing views of the whole city.
For breakfast, you could easily pick up something at a market or coffee shop, but our riad served a delicious feast of various Moroccan breads with jam and butter, yogurt, cantaloupe, eggs, olives, fresh squeezed OJ, delicious Moroccan coffee and mint tea. I don’t know if this is the usual amount of food Moroccans eat, but if so, it’s a wonder they aren’t fat!
Drink: Moroccans don’t really drink alcohol as it is a Muslim country. You can find bars, but going to one immediately targets you as a tourist. You can, however, purchase beer at the market, so we shared some beers with friends at our riad one night.
In place of alcohol, Moroccans like to drink “Moroccan whiskey,” or mint tea. It is quite delicious, but very sweet. I was quite surprised to see people drinking several in one sitting, as if it was beer! I don’t think I could handle more than a couple of glasses. Another fun fact is that you can buy mint by the bag for about 25 cents. It’s amazing how much more expensive it is in the states! The most famous place to drink mint tea, and an absolute must if you visit Tangier, is Cafe Hafa. Cafe Hafa opened in 1921 and has seen famous guests such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and William Burroughs. We grabbed a table overlooking the Bay of Tangier and relaxed with our mint teas. Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy, but on a clear day, you can see Spain!
Do: First and foremost, you will want to just wander around and explore. We spent a significant portion of our visit just walking around the medina and soaking in Tangier’s culture. As Alex says, “See things and smell things you have never imagined, immerse your self in the souk (market). Take it all in.” I completely agree with him. In the souk, you’ll see spice markets and fish markets. You can buy traditional pointed Moroccan slippers, or brass or ceramic goods.
Here’s a short list of some sights to see while you are in Tangier:
- Kasbah: The former Sultan’s palace is a beautiful building that houses a great collection of artifacts from Phoenician to modern times, but also for the building and garden. It’s inexpensive, but unfortunately the explanation signs are in Arabic and French. I kind of pieced things together based on Spanish, but maybe download an app!
I had to sneak those pictures or I obviously would have more!
- Anglican Church of St. Andrew: Very interesting to find in a city filled with Mosques. It is designed as a mixture of several styles and religions.
- American Legation: We actually couldn’t find this, but I think it would be really cool to visit because it’s the only historic American landmark abroad.
- Cap Spartel: A lighthouse at the most Northwest point of Africa. You can’t go inside, but it’s a nice stop on the way to the Hercules caves. It’s also a bit of a tourist trap, with several stands with people selling souvenirs.
- Grottes d’ Hercules (caves of Hercules): Legend has it Hercules used to rest here. The caves are beautiful and great works of nature. The cave opening also is in the shape of the continent of Africa.
- Camel ride: Your taxi driver can take you on the way to the Hercules caves. Very touristy, but very fun!! Just make sure to agree to a price beforehand.
Stay: We stayed at a riad called Dar Jameel. It was gorgeous and had incredible service. I highly recommend it. It is a little hard to find, but not harder than anything else in the medina and fortunately, it is kind of on the outside of the medina near a large hotel (Hotel Continental), so once we found it the first time, it was fairly easy to locate. When we arrived we were greeted by a friendly porter with mint tea that we sipped while he checked us in. He led us up three flights of stairs to the beautiful penthouse suite with a large bathroom.
The riad also has several gorgeous sitting areas to relax, eat (the amazing) breakfast, listen to music, or read. There is a rooftop deck and observation room with 360 degree windows looking out over Tangier and across the Mediterranean to Spain. The observation room has a stereo system with music, books, and magazines, so it was a nice place to relax. I think Dar Jameel would be a great place to stay anytime, but especially if you have an extended visit.
Finally, the workers are so sweet and thoughtful and really aim to please. They can set you up with taxi drivers that speak your language and can drive you anywhere you want to go on a tour. My only complaint would be that the water wasn’t always hot so we had to take a cold shower or two.
Travel: We ferried into Tangier and flew out of Tangier. Both were fairly easy and painless experiences so I would recommend either. The ferry from Gibraltar to Tangier is 46 euros per person and takes about an hour and a half with food and drinks available for purchase.
Three things to note regarding the ferry:
- The Gibraltar-Tangier ferry only runs once a week, on Fridays. The travel Gods blessed us and that schedule just happened to work with our itinerary! Otherwise, we would have had to fly.
- The ferry isn’t exactly timely, and Moroccans don’t seem to be too worried about making announcements about updates. Basically, the ferry arrives when it arrives.
- The only ferry that goes directly into Tangier is from Tarifa. The other ferries (from Gibraltar and Algeciras) arrive in Tangier Med, which is quite a ways outside of the medina (city center/old town). If you arrive into Tangier Med, you’ll have to board a free bus after you leave the ferry. The bus will take you to the main bus station where you can either wait for the next free bus or take a taxi into Tangier. This was the most overwhelming part of our travel. The whole taxi situation is very confusing, no one speaks English, and these guys shuffle you around and add strangers to your taxi. It probably didn’t help that it was very dark and we were in a new country where we didn’t speak the language, but I honestly felt a little scared. The feeling was probably unnecessary, but in any case, I would probably wait for the free bus.
A quick note on the flight: Again, Moroccans don’t seem to be too worried about making announcements about updates. Our flight was delayed a few hours and no one ever bothered to notify the passengers. On the bright side, the airport is very small, security is quick and short, and there is a small duty-free shop in the “terminal.” I picked up a few Longchamps for a much better price than I’ve ever seen them!
- Drink mint tea at Cafe Hafa, Ave Hadi Mohammed Tazi
- Stay at Dar Jameel, No. 6, Rue Mohammed Bergach, Medina, Tangier; Tel.: 00 (212) 5 39 33 46 80, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Visit Kasbah, Cap Spartel, and Hercules caves
- Ride a camel
- Get lost in the medina and souk
Don’t forget: Ladies, Morocco is a Muslim country and it is important to respect the culture. You should wear long pants, long sleeves, and avoid showing your cleavage or midriff. It’s not necessary to wear a head scarf as a tourist, but just know that most other women are wearing them. It was fairly hot and humid when we were there, so I would bring clothes in light materials so you don’t get too hot.
Also, credit cards aren’t accepted very frequently, so make sure you bring cash (dirham is the currency) with you!