Tangier is a city apart in Morocco. Often considered the gateway to Morocco due to its strategic position just across the Strait of Gibraltar, this city of nearly one million was founded 2500 years ago and has a vivid history that mixes Roman, Moorish, Berber, Spanish, Ottoman, and Portuguese cultures into one unique melting pot. Between its ancient medina and Kasbah, forested parks, museums, history of writers and artists, and beaches, the city features something for everyone. So come along with us and let us guide you to 15 things to do in and around Tangier.
1) The Tangier American Legation
While it may seem a bit odd on our list, hear us out. Morocco was one of the first countries to recognize the United States as an independent entity, and this beautiful five-story mansion pays tribute to that legacy. It is the only American historic landmark abroad, and has an impressive collection of art and historical pieces along with the Paul Bowles Wing, a section dedicated to the writer and composer who spends much of his life in the city.
2) Get lost in the Medina
What visit to an ancient North African city would be complete without wandering through the meandering alleys of the old medina? The medina was the oldest part of many Arab cities, usually walled or enclosed by gates with a castle or Kasbah protecting its denizens. Tangier’s is no different and you can spend all day popping into antique shops, watching old men play backgammon, or sitting for a mint tea with a plate of tasty tagine.
3) Take advantage of the coast
Tangier is perfectly situated on the tip of Africa and you’ll have no problem finding many boat captains (with all manner of seaworthy vessels) to take you out for a bird’s-eye, err, fish’s-eye view of the city from the Atlantic Ocean. You can also sail through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean with Europe on your left and Africa on your right, one of the few places in the world where two continents meet at a definitive point!
4) Cap Spartel, the tip of Africa
Cap Spartel is the true northwest point of Africa, however. Located a few kilometers from the heart of the city, this is where the Atlantic and Mediterranean meet. Set within lush vegetation, this small spit of land has a beautiful historic lighthouse and is absolutely magical for sunsets. Bring a picnic basket, a drink, some good company and watch the sun sink into the Atlantic.
5) St. Andrew’s Church
St. Andrew’s Church is a local monument that shouldn’t be missed. Completed over a century ago in 1905, the interior Anglican church was interestingly constructed in the Moorish style with no depictions of any holy scenes, much like a mosque. You can also find a niche that indicates the direction of Mecca, quotes from the Quran, and the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic! Visit the interesting graveyard on the premises and women from the Rif Mountains who sell their produce along the wall of the church.
6) Visit the charming seaside town of Asilah
A mere 45 minutes away, Asilah makes for an excellent day trip to escape the big city feel of Tangier. With a history that dates back to the Roman Empire, Asilah has Portuguese fortifications that enclose the old town, and has also been under control of the Spanish and Moors. Plenty of restaurants and cafes line the shore, all serving fresh seafood — making it another ideal spot for picture-perfect sunsets.
7) People watch over a mint tea
As important as the city itself are its people. A time-honored tradition in Tangier is pulling up a chair, lighting up a smoke (at your discretion of course), ordering a mint tea or coffee, and just taking it all in. Much has changed since the Beatniks flocked here to write in the mid-20th century, but some scenes never change. With plenty of neighborhoods and vistas to choose from, post up at the plaza of Terrasse des Paresseux or on a rooftop in the Kasbah and you won’t be disappointed!
8) Peer out through Hercules Cave
Set about 10 miles (15 km) from the city, Hercules Cave and the surrounding area make for a great half day excursion. With ancient archaeological fingerprints, legend has it that the final resting place of the great hero Hercules was in Tangier, in a cave. You’ll have to let us know if you find him here.
9) Soak up the surf and sand at Tangier Beach
What good is visiting a coastal city without visiting the beach? Well, excellent views, great weather, fresh seafood…okay, forget we said it, but the city beach is yet another great way to spend the day. Play soccer (football) with locals, read a book, or brave the somewhat chilly waters. And there’s always those legendary sunsets!
10) Get back to nature at Parc Perdicaris
On the western fringes of the city is the beautiful and lush Parc Perdicaris, also known as Parc Rmillate. The green forest and wooded area is a short 10-15 minute jaunt from the town center and you’ll find trails perfect for hikes or jogs, a few small restaurants, and you can even take a camel for a ride. As with most places in the vicinity, great views of the sea can be had as well.
11) Mnar Park
For a non-traditional but very fun way to spend the day, why not head to Mnar Park, an aquatic family-friendly center? The aqua park is the largest in the region and features expansive pools, slides, rides, and other attractions that are geared towards young people, but great for all ages. Upscale accommodation, horseback riding, and quad biking are available for a more ‘adult’ experience.
12) Visit the EU, in Africa
While Morocco may be the only country in Africa that is not a member of the African Union, parts of it are actually in the European Union. Or rather, parts of the EU are in Morocco. The Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are both set on the Mediterranean Coast and are both colonial leftovers. Ceuta is within an hour’s ride from Tangier and features some nice shops, restaurants, and a few old churches and fortifications. While not particularly stunning, how cool is it to visit Europe while still in Africa!?
13) Spend the day in Larache and Lixus
Larache is another seaside town in the vicinity of Tangier that is worth a day trip. The ancient site of Lixus features a temple, theater, acropolis, and baths. There is an accompanying Archaeological Museum located in the Chateau de la Cigogne featuring finds from the nearby site. The town itself also has a Mediterranean feel with plenty of cafes and nice areas along the water for walking.
14) Explore the ancient Kasbah
The crown jewel of Tangier is the ancient 17th century Kasbah. Located in the northern part of the medina, the palace was built by the sultan four hundred years ago and subsequent rulers added additional parts. Incredible marble courtyards and carved wooden ceilings show the rich artistic traditions of Morocco while the Café Detroit (also located here) became the hang out spot for visiting artists, writers, and beatniks of the 1960s.
15) And don’t forget the Dar el Makhzen Museum
While the Kasbah is impressive enough, make sure you visit the accompanying Dar el Makhzen, or Kasbah Museum. With an amazing number of items from Morocco’s rich past, you’ll find Moorish pieces as well as exhibits featuring items from the Roman sites of Lixus and Volubilis further afield. The Fes Room has beautiful silks and ancient illustrated manuscripts, while other rooms feature Morocco’s painting, ceramic, and carving traditions.
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This article was originally published on January 27, 2015.