Like many port cities, Tangier is a melting pot of cultures, lifestyles and faiths. The combination of Spanish, British and North African influences – and the fact that for 33 years it was governed simultaneously by several foreign states – has attracted artists, adventurers and academics alike.
The white city buzzes with intrigue as traditional Morocco collides with colonial-era neighbourhoods, new business districts and young, liberal Moroccans. Here are seven unique things you can do on a trip to Tangier.
1. American Legation Museum
America’s only National Historic Landmark abroad has an interesting history: Morocco was the first country to recognise American independence in 1777. It may be difficult to imagine the United States as a fledgling nation now, but in the 18th century the country was desperate for allies in its Revolutionary War with Great Britain. The Moorish-style mansion is located near the (appropriately named) Bab Merican and houses paintings, gifts and furnishings collected since it became a diplomatic post in 1821. The research library has drawn academics from around the globe to consult antique maps, foreign travel accounts and photographs that offer insights into Tangier’s past.
LOCATION 8 Rue D’Amerique
2. See the confluence of the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean
Two large bodies of water meet but do not mix – what does it mean? It may sound like a riddle, but the answer is a matter of simple science: the Mediterranean is saltier and heavier, so the difference in colour and roughness of the water become visible here at the Strait of Gibraltar. An impeccable view can be found from the kasbah, where the ruins of the old fortress walls offer a slice of history alongside the views of Spain, the new port and this wonder of nature.
LOCATION Old Kasbah
3. Catch a film at the Cinéma Rif
Tangier has quite the cinematic flair – not only has it been the filming location for Hollywood blockbusters like Inception and The Bourne Ultimatum – the city also hosts several film festivals, including the Tangier International Film Festival. Cinéma Rif’s red and white façade calls attention to the 1957 art deco design. Inside, you’ll find a colourful café and a modern theatre that shows Moroccan, French, Spanish and American films year-round. Sit down with coffee and pastry outside before the film; you’ll have the best seat in the house for watching the people passing through Grand Socco on their way to the labyrinthine medina.
LOCATION Grand Socco
4. Take in the view at Café Hafa
There’s a reason people have been drawn to this cliffside café since its opening in 1921. The death-defying terrace gives way to an awe-inspiring view of Andalusia and the Bay of Tangier. If you feel inspired while visiting Café Hafa, you’re not the only one – the flower-lined patio, mosaic tile tables and authentic Moroccan mint tea have been charming the likes of Tennessee Williams, Mick Jagger and the Beatles for decades. Take a seat and raise a glass to the beauty.
LOCATION Marshan neighbourhood
5. Take a trip to Parc Perdicaris
The name Ion Perdicaris may not be familiar to most of us now, but in the late 19th century, the Greek-American bon vivant was a well-known character. After settling down from his playboy ways, he built a residence for his wife in the Rmilat Forest and filled its 165 acres with hundreds of indigenous and exotic plant species. The botanical gardens reflect Morocco itself. Alongside oaks and ferns native to the Rif Mountains, you’ll find Portuguese laurels, tropical palm trees and Persian walnut trees.
LOCATION Rmilat Forest
6. Explore the Librairie des Colonnes
In a city renowned for inspiring literary luminaries, a bookstore is more than just a bookstore. Since its opening in 1949, frequent visits from literary greats like Truman Capote, Jane and Paul Bowles, William S. Burroughs, and Tahar Ben Jelloun have turned the Librairie des Colonnes into a landmark attraction. The multilingual bookshop stocks tomes in Arabic, English, Spanish, French and more. For a peek into the period when Western writers roamed the streets of Tangier, grab a copy of In Tangier by Mohamed Choukri, a Moroccan author who befriended Paul Bowles, Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams in the 1960s.
LOCATION 54 Boulevard Pasteur
7. Build your strength with Hercules
The mythical caverns known as Les Grottes d’Hercule are said to be be where the Greek god rested after completing the 11th of the twelve labours designed to guarantee his immortality. There are two grottoes – one is natural and the other created by Berbers who used the walls to make millstone. At the entrance you’ll find traditional musicians and local artisans eager to sell their wares. Most will direct you towards the cave’s sea opening, which looks curiously like a silhouette of the continent, helping you realise you are truly at the gateway to Africa.
LOCATION Cape Spartel