Tangier Tourism: Sights and Attractions
The main interest in Tangier lies in the city as whole: its beach, the absorbing café life of the locals, the old streets of the Medina and the many city monuments.
Tangier’s beach was the main attraction for its string of famous visitors and the large expatriate community. Today, the town beach remains a great attraction, with miles-long stretch across the coast.
The sands are still diverting and fun, although the pleasures tend to be packaged. There are camel rides, windsurfing and a string of bars and restuarants along the beach.
I suggest you give these club-like bars a go not only for the great food and drink on offer, but also the great history attached. Some of these include: The Windmill , a favourite hanging spot for Joe Orton and The Sun Beach where Tennessee Williams drafted his Cat on a Hot Tin Roof . Some of the most pleasant are Emma’s BBC Bar , serving full English breakfast, and Miami , with its stretch of delightful gardens.
By night, the beach itself can become a dangerous place where muggings are fairly common. If you fancy a night out on the beach, limit your exploration to the bars and restaurants along the beach stretch.
The Grand Socco
The Grand Socco (or Zoco Grande) is the main market square in Tangier. It is the best starting place to rumble around town and absorb the city’s life from its many cafes where locals meet.
The markets in the Grand Socco are long gone since the 1970’s. They have now been moved to Rue d’Angleterre, southwest of the square, and Rue Portugal, towards the port.
The most pleasant of these markets is the Foundouk Market , which is to be found just past El Minzah hotel when going towards Place de France. Everything is on display in the stalls here: from fruit and vegetables to pottery and plain old junk.
The Mendoubia Gardens
Worth visiting are the Mendoubia Gardens flanking the Grand Socco. These luxurious gardens offer a welcome shade from the midday afternoon sun and boast a fascinating banyan tree that’s over 800 years old!
There is also a memorial for the former offices of the Sultan’s Representative – called Mendoub – during the International years in Tangier.
The Mendoubia Gardens are open daily, except on Sundays.
Place de France
Place de France, as the name suggests, is a French-looking square market in the middle of the Ville Nouvelle.
The main attractions are the many cafes, especially in late afternoons, where both locals and expatriates meet.
The most famous café here is Café Paris , a legendary meeting place throughout the years of the International Zone. During World War II, it was a favourite rendezvous of intrigue and deal making for British, American, German, Italian and Japanese agents. Allal Al Fassi, a Moroccan nationalist leader exiled in Tangier, was also a regular.
St Andrews Church
South of the Grand Socco is one of the city’s oldest churches: St Andrews Church. This English church, of the Anglican denomination, was built in the 19th century and is notable for its fusion of traditional Moroccan decoration with English country churchyard.
St Andrews Church is open on weekdays (9:30 – 12:30 & 14:30 – 18:00) and for Sunday morning services (8:30 and 11:00).
Contemporary Art Museum
Just south of the Grand Socco, on Rue d’Angleterre, is the Musée d’Art Contemporain – Contemporary Art Museum of Tangier.
The museum is devoted to contemporary Moroccan artists who showcase ordinary, everyday Moroccan life. Interesting exhibitions are periodically held, where permanent displays showcase the work of well-known Moroccan artists.
The Contemporary Art Museum is open 9:00 – 12:30 & 15:00 – 18:00 from Tuesday to Sunday. Admission is 15dh.
Old American Legation
The Old American Legation is a fascinating building that holds great historical significance. This is the first established American ambassadorial residence, in 1777, between Morocco and the newly independent United States.
A fascinating three-storey palace, it holds an excellent exhibition on Tangier’s strong American ties. There are exhibits of the correspondence between George Washington and Sultan Moulay Ben Abdellah and a room dedicated to the famous writer Paul Bowles. There are also displays of paintings by Moroccan-resident American Artists.
The Old American Legation is open: Monday – Friday (10:00 – 13:00 & 15:00-17:00), free admission. For other times, call the Old American Legation for appointment at: 039 93 53 17 or visit the American Legation website.
Gran Teatro Cervantes
Another of Tangier’s great International landmarks is the old Spanish theatre – Gran Teatro Cervantes.
The building has a remarkable Art Nouveau façade and an impressive glass dome. Sadly, the interior remains quite derelict.
The best approach to Tangier’s Medina is from the Grand Socco. Go through the arch onto Rue de la Kasbah and then turn right and follow Rue des Siaghines. At the end of Rue des Siaghines is the Petit Socco, the Medina’s principal landmark.
Le Petit Socco
Located in the heart of Tangier’s old quarters, the Petit Socco is the Medina’s principal landmark and one of Tangier’s most picturesque sites.
This is an interesting place to have a cup of mint tea in one of the many cafes and ponder on its past and seedy atmosphere. In the heyday of the international zone, the Petit Socco was infamous for prostitution, drug taking and pornographic films. It is not hard to imagine such famous Tangerois as Williams Burroughs or Jack Kerouac dreaming up their fictional characters by just taking a stroll in the Petit Socco!
Beyond the Petit Socco, the Medina proper starts. It is here that you find Tangier’s famous Kasbah, walled off from the Medina at the coast’s highest rise.
The Kasbah consists of walled compounds, colonnades and a great number of luxurious villas built in the 1920s. Around that time, this was the Mediterranean’s most chick residential place, with such famous residents as Richard Hughes and eccentric Woolworth’s heiress Barbara Hutton.
The main attraction in the Kasbah is the Dar Al Makhzen or the Sultanate Palace. This was the palace of Moulay Hafid, the Moroccan Sultan exiled to Tangier by the French in 1912. Today, the palace has been converted into a museum, but retains much of its past glory. It is centred on two interior courtyards, with rich arabesque painted wooded ceilings and marble fountains. Part of the Museum is devoted to crafts and antiquities, including an exceptional ceramics collection from Fes and Meknes.
The Dar Al Makhzen is open daily from 9:00-13:00 & 15:00-18:00. Admission is 10dh.
Café Hafa is situated near a square known as La Marshan, an exclusive residential quarter in Tangier. The café is in a steep hillside and shaded by trees and shrubs.
From the terrace of Café Hafa you can sip tea and enjoy stunning views over the strait of Gibraltar. This is a place not to miss in a late afternoon, just as was the habit of Williams Tennessee, Paul Bowles, and Jack Kerouac.