Close enough to Spain that the Andalucian coastline is visible on a clear day, the Moroccan city of Tangier is the perfect place for a day trip while holidaying on the Costa del Sol.
But what’s the best way to see Tangier if you’re short on time but hungry for adventure? Here at TOMA & COE, we’ve got years of Tangier tours under our belts. We’re dedicated to ensuring our guests experience the true magic of this remarkable city- however brief their visit.
Read on while we share our top tips for making the most of Tangier!
Why Visit Tangier?
Loud, colourful and abounding in gritty glamour, Tangier has long intrigued the intrepid traveller. Once the hiding place of spies, smugglers, and beat poets, there’s no denying that this port city wields a particular allure, especially for those tired of the sanitised streets and Starbucks of the more conventional European destinations.
During its time as an international zone in 1912 – squabbled over by France, Spain and Britain – Tangier was widely regarded as a hedonist’s playground. Its bustling port and ever-shifting population also meant it was the perfect place to slip between the cracks and keep a low profile while indulging in unsavoury habits.
However, the times they are a changin’. Ever since King Mohamed VI took the throne in 1999, Tangier’s reputation has been undergoing a steady clean up. After channelling considerable funds into a modernising makeover, the city now boasts a stylish new port area and a range of swanky upmarket hotels, which are succeeding in enticing a new type of discerning visitor.
Tangier’s property market is also attracting its fair share of attention. The city now counts a number of illustrious figures among its new residents – including designers, artists and writers.
British designer and hotelier, Jasper Conran, purchased Yves Saint Laurent’s former clifftop home, Villa Mabrouka, earlier this year.
Conran – who already owns a successful hotel in Marrakesh – is keeping tight-lipped about his plans for the property. However, rumour has it that he intends to turn the sumptuous villa into a stylish boutique hotel, sure to boost Tangier’s already burgeoning reputation even further.
If you’re dying for a glimpse inside the luxurious properties of the rich and famous, check out the new book, Inside Tangier by Nicolò Castellini Baldissera, which grants the reader exclusive access to some of the city’s most impressive homes.
If you fancy seeing these amazing abodes for yourself, TOMA & COE’s new overnight Tangier tour includes a visit to a privately owned townhouse (featured in the book) with a tour of its lavish interior provided by the owner. Sound good? Get in touch today to find out more!
What to See and Do in Tangier
Enclosed within the walls of a 15th-century Portuguese fortress is Tangier’s historical quarter – known as the Medina. The entrance to this old walled city is marked by the distinctive Bab Fass stone arch – which grants access to the Kasbah, the highest area of the old town.
The tangle of narrow streets that make up the Medina contain a busy marketplace – or souk. This plethora of stalls and shops sell everything from fresh fish and fragrant spices to finely woven fabrics and handmade pottery, so there’s sure to be something that takes your fancy.
Haggling is all part of the fun in a city like Tangier, but keep your wits about you when taking out your wallets – tourists can sometimes prove an easy mark to the more wily sellers. This is where being shown around by a local-in-the-know can come in handy.
Enlisting the services of a local guide can not only grant you access to top local shopping spots but can also prevent you from parting with unreasonable amounts of cash for whatever trinket you’ve got your eye on.
2.) Café de Paris
Tangier has seduced a range of artistic power players over the years, amongst them iconic beat writers such as William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac and the famous American playwright Tennesse Williams.
There are many locations in the city where traces of this literary legacy still linger. One such place is the famous Gran Cafe de Paris, previously the haunt of Bowles, Burroughs and their fellow beat contemporaries – who could often be found here wreathed in cigarette smoke and sipping on coffee while indulging in high-minded chat. Situated on a bustling corner, opposite the French Embassy, this café is a great place to people-watch while you nibble on a pastry and enjoy a cup of Tangier’s famous mint tea.
3.) Café Hafa
Located in the heart of the residential area Merchan, Cafe Hafa is considered somewhat of an institution in Tangier. Much loved by locals and visitors alike, the quirky café is an ideal spot to while away an afternoon playing cards or catching up with friends.
Spread across a series of ledges carved into the cliff face with the glittering Mediterranean Sea licking at the rocks below, Café Hafa has been doing a roaring trade since its opening in 1921. Its laid-back yet buzzing vibe provides the perfect atmosphere in which to enjoy a hearty bowl of bissara – a traditional Moroccan soup made of split peas and fava beans topped with lashings of olive oil and cumin.
4.) Jewish Synagogue and Cemetery
Judaism has played an important part in Tangier’s cultural heritage, with Jewish settlers originally migrating to the city after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem.
Today, it’s home to a range of Jewish historical sites which can be visited during a day trip. One of the most striking of these is the Moshe Nahon synagogue, located a stone’s throw from the city’s bustling medina. Accessible via an unremarkable door leading off Rue Synagogue, the synagogue is a lavish structure with arched ceilings, intricate wall carvings and gracefully dropping lamps. Having gradually fallen into a state of disrepair following its construction in 1870, the synagogue was eventually restored to its former glory in 1994. Today it is believed to be one of the most beautiful of its kind in Morocco.
Tangier also houses Chaar Rafael – one of the last surviving examples of Jewish Heritage still on offer in present-day Morocco. This privately-owned Jewish Villa was originally converted to a synagogue in 1954 after the death of its owner, Raphaël Bendriahm.
Also well worth a visit is the Jewish graveyard – otherwise known as “the old cemetery ”- which contains over 1000 graves dating back to the 16th century. The graveyard is scattered with crumbling tombstones, which visitors can wander amongst while studying the faded Hebrew scripture still visible on the stones.
*It’s worth remembering that Friday is Holy Day in Tangier, meaning the majority of the attractions listed above will be closed to the public. With this in mind, it’s best to plan your trip on another day to avoid missing out!
Where to Eat in Tangier
1.) Pesca del Día
If you’re a fan of fresh fish then this unpretentious local restaurant is the place for you. With a menu compiled almost entirely of fish and seafood sourced from the surrounding markets, Pesca del Día provides a variety of simple dishes which let the star ingredients speak for themselves. Service is quick and friendly and the surroundings are low key and spotlessly clean.
2.) El Morocco Club
This elegant restaurant, located high in the old town, is a popular spot for an intimate dinner or some early evening cocktails. Its menu combines international cooking with more local Moroccan cuisine, with dishes on offer ranging from a rack of lamb flavoured with black Italian truffles to seafood couscous.
It’s not the cheapest place to eat in the city, but the low lighting and cosy atmosphere make for a pleasant dining experience. If you’re planning on making your trip to Tangier an overnight one, there’s also a piano bar and a downstairs chill area and DJ for some late-night entertainment.
3.) El Chiringuito
Located in the newly converted port area and boasting fantastic views of the surrounding harbour, this classy modern restaurant is considered the place to be in Tangier at the moment. Its sparse, stylish dining room overlooks the ocean and its elegant menu pays homage to its proximity to the sea, with a range of fresh fish and seafood on offer. Named after the Spanish word for “beach bar”, El Chiringuito is a great spot to spend an afternoon sipping cocktails while watching the sun set over the ocean.
4.) El Dorado
For visitors looking for an authentic taste of Tangier, a visit to El Dorado is a must. Although it may not be much to look at inside, the restaurant prides itself on serving fish cooked to perfection and is always filled with locals- a good sign for anyone hoping to experience the real Morocco. Service is efficient and friendly and the prices are reasonable. Be sure to ask for the swordfish- it’s not always listed on the menu but is widely regarded as one of the restaurant’s best dishes.
You can find out more about where to eat in Tangier in the TOMA & COE Tangier guide.
How to get to Tangier
Tangier is easily accessible from the coast of Spain, with daily ferries running at regular intervals from the port of Tarifa in Cadiz. Travellers can either opt to leave their cars in Spain or take them over on the boat for an additional fee.
Passengers can add a touch of luxury to their travels by purchasing the Premium Service- which grants them access to a private lounge and drinks service. Premium Service costs an additional €8 and is only available on FRS ferries.