20 best things to do in Tangier
20 best things to do in Tangier, Morocco: Since 2010, change has swept through this libertine city on the Strait of Gibraltar at a breathtaking pace.
Heavy investment has taken the container port out of the city, the impenetrable Medina looks safer, the beaches are cleaner and the Corniche bay was regenerated in 2018. There has never been a better time to immerse yourself in Tangier and reconnect with the city of Delacroix, Matisse and Paul Bowles, and where William S. Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch.
You can try to understand the Medina, sip mint tea in a noisy café, stroll along the Corniche and fight your way to the 17th century Kasbah and its magnificent archaeology museum.
Outside the city, you can enjoy the Blue Flag beaches and travel to Cap Spartel and Cap Malabata to see Gibraltar and Tarifa across the strait.
20 best things to do in Tangier: The labyrinth of the White City’s Medina sprawls across the hillside of the Kasbah in the north, allowing glimpses of the Bay of Tangier through its gorge-like alleyways.
Market stalls in the Medina are full of leather goods, carpets, spices, fruit, vegetables, fish and handmade copper and brass jewelry.
It is in this old town, once off-limits to tourists, that you will also feel the change of climate in Tangier.
Vendors and young restaurant agents tend to be enthusiastic without becoming pushy, and you’ll always have plenty of tourists for company in the alleyways leading to the Kasbah.
The days of the International Zone are remembered in Petit Socco, with its cosmopolitan architecture on the café terraces.
Recommended tour: Tangier Highlights 6-Hour Private Tour
Dar el Makhzen (Kasbah)
Towering over the northern alleys of the Medina is the palace commissioned by Ismail Ibn Sharif (1672-1727) after he reconquered Tangier after two centuries of English occupation.
Dar el Makhzen, built on the ruins of the English “Upper Castle”, was the residence of the Sultans of Morocco when they stayed in Tangier.
Sultan Abd al-Hafid (1875-1937), along with an entourage of 168 people, became a permanent resident here after being forced to abdicate in 1912 when the Treaty of Fez made Yusef of Morocco sultan under the French protectorate.
The palace is praised as one of Morocco’s finest man-made landmarks and is centered on two courtyards with exquisite arcades, graced with intricate arabesques, carved cedar, fountains and marble columns, some carved by the Romans.
Dar el-Makhzen houses the Museum of Moroccan Art and Antiquities, also known as the Kasbah Museum.
Included in: Tour to discover the city’s highlights
20 best things to do in Tangier: The palace is a fitting place to explore hundreds of years of craftsmanship in Morocco up until the end of Tangier’s English period in 1684. You’ll discover bronzes and mosaics from the Roman cities of Volubilis, Cotta and Lixus.
There are also ancient pieces from close to home, including finds such as urns, lead sarcophagi and a reconstructed tomb, all from a Phoenician necropolis on the ocean side of the Kasbah hill.
Elsewhere, there are ceramics and coins from the Almohad and Merinid dynasties, silks from Fez, manuscripts, carpets and weapons with inlaid decoration, while you can enter the ancient throne room with a sublime coffered ceiling made of artesonado.
From the Portuguese period, there is an impressive Manueline window of the nearby coastal town of Ksar es Seghir.
Caves of Hercules
This cave, partly natural and partly artificial, is full of legends and situated on a promontory between two epic Atlantic beaches.
The story goes that Hercules stayed here while preparing for his 11th birth.
The goal of this was to pilfer the golden apples from the Hesperides’ Garden.
Some ancient Greek writers placed the garden a little further down the Atlantic coast, in the ancient city of Lixus.
On his way to the cave, Hercules had to fight Atlas Mountain and, instead of crossing it, he destroyed it, thus creating the Strait of Gibraltar.
There is a less far-fetched human history to the cave system, which dates back to the Neolithic period: it is believed that the spectacular seaside opening of the cave was cut by the Phoenicians and bears a remarkable resemblance to the African continent.
It is also not difficult to discern the many grooves in the walls left by the Berbers who extracted millstones from the walls over many centuries.
Included in: Full-day tour of Tangier, Asilah and Cape Spartel
At the southern end of the Medina is the first property acquired abroad by the United States.
The American Legation was founded in this Moorish-style stucco building in 1821 and is on the US National Register of Historic Places.
The property, which houses a cultural center, library and museum focused on Arab studies, symbolizes the Moroccan-American Friendship Treaty of 1786, which is still upheld today.
The building lost its diplomatic role after the capital moved to Rabat with independence in 1956, and is rented from the US government by a non-profit organization set up in the 1970s to safeguard this historic building.
In the museum’s elegant galleries, there are well-selected exhibits that narrate the relationship between the United States and Morocco, sprinkled with interesting documents, photographs, maps, paintings and correspondence.
One letter, written by a diplomat, describes receiving lions as a gift and wonders what to do with them.
20 best things to do in Tangier: Above the coast, from the Caves of Hercules, lies the overgrown promontory that marks the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar.
Protected by the reserve, Cap Spartel rises more than 300 meters above the ocean.
The cape’s waters were the scene of battles in the American War of Independence and during the Spanish Civil War, and it was named after an archipelago believed to have been submerged around 9,400 BC.
Spartel remains as a sandbank with its highest point 56 meters below the surface.
The lighthouse that crowns the promontory dates from 1864 and was the first to be built in Morocco in modern times.
Included in: Full-day tour of Tangier, Asilah and Cape Spartel
Source: Pierre-Yves Babelon / shutterstockAchakar Beach
Between the Caves of Hercules and Cap Spartel is a glorious public beach that has been awarded consecutive Blue Flags in recent years for hygiene, water quality, facilities and lifeguard provision.
But the main attraction is the sheer natural wonder of this long, wide beach, facing west and backed by sloping gravel cliffs for stunning sunset views.
This is the open Atlantic, so the surf will be too strong for children, but the waves break quite far out, and there is a large shallow area where the little ones can paddle safely with supervision.
As with most Moroccan tourist beaches, camel rides are offered at Achakar Beach.
20 best things to do in Tangier: Another place where the investment of the last decade is unmistakable is the promenade of the bay.
This curves around the entire Bay of Tangier, from Merkala Beach in the west to Cap Malabata in the east.
The section that most people associate with the Corniche runs between the new tourist port and Villa Harris, encompassing two beaches at Plage Municipale and Plage Malabata to the east.
Screened by several restaurants and cafés, this promenade dates back to the 19th century but was transformed in the 2000s, with smooth paving, geometric lawns, clusters of palm trees and benches.
The views are impressive, from the stretches of clear sand to Cape Malabata on the other side of the bay and the outline of Tarifa on the other side of the Strait.
Parc Perdicaris (Parc Rmilat)
On the road to Cap Spartel, you’ll pass along the southern edge of this blessed coastal forest, on the western edge of the city.
Parc Perdicaris totals almost 70 hectares and owes its name to the Greek consul and playboy Ion Perdicaris (1840-1925), whose estate stood on this land.
When Perdicaris was kidnapped in 1904, it sparked an international crisis, and it is believed that Theodore Roosevelt’s response to the “Perdicaris Affair” helped him win the election that year.
Perdicaris planted the park’s exotic eucalyptus trees alongside native palms, oaks, laurels, pines, acacias and walnut trees in the 1880s for the health of his wife, who suffered from tuberculosis.
There is detailed information about the park’s abundant flora, and you can picnic on the steep slopes, looking out over the ocean.
Since 2019, Perdicaris’ romantic hilltop villa is being restored after decades of decline.
20 best things to do in Tangier: Spanning the Medina and the Ville Nouvelle is Tangier’s old central market, which has since been renovated into a transportation hub.
Where once there were storytellers, musicians and snake charmers, there is a landscaped space with palm trees and small lawns, all converging on a large central fountain.
The name Grand Socco sums up Tangier’s history, being a Spanish corruption of “souk“. The borders are lined with cafés where you can witness life at the point where new and old Tangier meet.
And although large-scale trade has ended, there are still plenty of stalls in the Grand Socco, selling fruit, arts and handmade crafts.
To the west are the Jardins de la Mendoubia, the scene of a landmark event in Moroccan history, which we’ll talk about next.
At one point, the Petit Socco in the Medina was one of Morocco’s most important markets, attracting people from all over the region to its food and clothing stalls.
The buildings on the square’s façades have a mixture of North African and European styles, which shows the character of this place during its heyday at the beginning of the 20th century.
At that time bankers and diplomats had their offices in Petit Socco, and the wealth of the time was reflected in its casinos, hotels and cafés.
During the days of the International Zone, there were German, English and French post offices in this square.
The glamor of the time had disappeared by the 1950s, but echoes remain in the noisy cafés (Tinjis, Central, Tanger and Al Manara) and the stucco façades and wrought iron balconies
Tangier Highlights Six Hour Private Tour
20 best things to do in Tangier: Even the most well-traveled visitors can feel overwhelmed by Tangier and will need to turn to a trusted professional guide.
This tour sums up all the essentials in just half a day, combining everything with a resident’s perspective.
You’ll get your bearings at Cap Malabata and then travel to the Caves of Hercules, before delving into the Kasbah and the thrilling alleys of the Medina.
The tour can be done in English, Spanish, French or Italian and includes pick-up from the airport or hotels in Tangier.
Book online: Tangier Highlights Six-Hour Private Tour
Hugged by the Corniche, the most convenient place to feel the sand between your feet in Tangier is the municipal beach, a large half-moon bounded to the west by the port.
As with urban beaches all over the world, the quality of the water can prevent snorkeling and it may be some time before the Plage Municipale is awarded the Blue Flag.
But with the recent development of the Corniche, the sand is now well maintained and a pleasant place to enjoy the sun and sea breeze.
Camel rides are also available here, and these animals look healthy and well cared for.
Grand Mosque of Tangier
20 best things to do in Tangier: For non-Muslims, this is a sight to see as you stroll along the Grand Socco on a tour of the Medina, taking a photo of the impressive entrance and minaret on the way.
The Grand Mosque is the largest in the city, built in 1685 on the foundations of a demolished Portuguese church, which had previously been a Roman temple.
The mosque took on its current appearance in 1815 under Sultan Moulay Sliman, and Sultan Mohammed V worshipped here to make an important speech in Tangier in 1947.
20 best things to do in Tangier: At the southern end of the Medina, a few streets away from the Jardins de la Mendoubia, there is a museum in the deconsecrated Lorin synagogue from the colonial era.
The Fondation Lorin documents social, political, cultural and sporting life in Tangier since the 1930s, with displays of photographs, posters, newspaper cuttings and well-presented plans.
The main focus is on the era of the International Zone, between 1924 and 1956. The museum also holds regular exhibitions of contemporary art.
Gran Teatro Cervantes
20 best things to do in Tangier: A decaying Spanish artifact, the 1,400-capacity Gran Teatro Cervantes was built in 1913 and, in its day, was one of the most important stages in North Africa.
Some of Europe’s leading artists, such as the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, trod these boards at the beginning of the 20th century.
It’s fair to say that the now-empty theater, a short walk south of the American Legation, has seen better days, as you’ll see from its crumbling Art Nouveau façade.
But in 2019 the property was officially handed over by Spain to the Moroccan government, which has pledged to restore and reopen the venue as a theater and cultural center.
Tomb of Ibn Battuta
One of Tangier’s most famous sons is the Arab world’s answer to Marco Polo, a 14th-century explorer who embarked on a 29-year adventure to almost the entire Islamic world, in addition to China, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia.
Like anywhere in the Medina, his tomb can be a challenge to find and is located in the small Rue Ibn Batouta, a few minutes southwest of the Kasbah.
Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll find a plaque and information board detailing Ibn Battuta’s life in French, English and Arabic.
The Bab El Assa gate has a number you can call.
Eventually, a muezzin will appear and take you to the sarcophagus, wrapped in a green cloth with verses from the Koran.
20 best things to do in Tangier: At the western end of the Grand Socco, you can enter some open space in the city’s commercial courtyard (Tribunal de Commerce). This property was created for Mendoub, a representative of the sultan, during Tangier’s time as an International Zone.
Mendoub’s pavilions were also used as the headquarters of the German consulate during its 1941 occupation. At the main entrance, you will be greeted by a large arch carved in Arabic script, behind which are palm trees, lawns and flower beds.
The park has 30 bronze cannons dating back to the 17th century and some of the oldest trees in the city, including a majestic fig tree believed to date back 850 years.
It was in this park, in April 1947, that Sultan Mohammed V made a historic speech calling for Morocco’s independence.
St. Andrew’s Church
In 1880, Sultan Hassan I granted a strip of land to the British community of Tangier to build an Anglican church.
The current Moorish-style church was consecrated in 1905 after the initial building was too small for the congregation.
Pay a visit for the peculiar sight of a church tower designed as a minaret, the horseshoe arches of the interior and the Lord’s Prayer written in Arabic script behind the altar.
More fascinating are the historical figures commemorated in the church or buried in the cemetery next to it.
Inside is a plaque of Emily Keene (1849-1944), who married the Sharif of Ouzzane in 1873 and is responsible for introducing the cholera vaccine to Morocco.
Among the travelers, writers and soldiers in the cemetery, there is a plot for an almost legendary bar owner known only as Dean and which is inscribed “Died February 1963. Lost to all.”
20 best things to do in Tangier: If you don’t mind going further afield for the perfect beach, you can venture east along the rocky coast towards Ceuta.
Around a promontory known as Point Cires in the Container Port of Tangier Med is the Blue Flag Dalia Beach, considered one of the best beaches in Morocco.
A complete contrast to Achakar beach, Dalia is on the Mediterranean side of the feature, set back from the coast in front of a basin of rocky hills covered in pine trees.
The water in this small bay has a fascinating light blue hue.
There is a small white fishing village on the west side, and blue wooden boats have been dragged up on the sand.