For those that haven’t yet traveled there, the name Casablanca may conjure up romantic images inspired by the 1942 movie starring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. However, Morocco’s largest city has moved on to become a progressive and contemporary commercial center. Although perhaps less atmospheric than the Imperial Cities of Marrakesh, Fez, Meknes, and Rabat, Casablanca is nevertheless a worthwhile destination for those that want to experience modern Morocco. Here you’ll find French colonial and contemporary Islamic architecture interspersed with multinational restaurants and a more vibrant nightlife scene than the country’s more traditional cities, all within a stone’s throw of the Atlantic Ocean.
Join a Guided Tour of Hassan II Mosque
Commissioned by King Hassan II and completed in 1993, the Hassan II Mosque is easily Casablanca’s most recognizable landmark. It is the largest functioning mosque in Africa, with the ability to accommodate 105,000 worshippers; while its 60-story minaret is the second highest in the world. The mosque’s scenic setting on a promontory overlooking the Atlantic Ocean complements its architectural beauty. Inside, the work of 10,000 artists and master craftsmen from all over Morocco translates as a treasure trove of intricate woodwork, sculpted and painted stucco moldings, zellij mosaics, and marble carvings. Unlike many Moroccan mosques, this one welcomes respectfully dressed non-Muslims for guided tours that last approximately one hour. It is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.
Wander the Winding Alleys of the Old Medina
Located in between downtown Casablanca and the Hassan II Mosque, the Old Medina offers a different experience to the medieval walled cities of Marrakesh and Fez. Instead of centuries-old souks selling exotic souvenirs, Casablanca’s medina dates back to the 1800s and hosts shops selling everyday goods for resident Casablancans. Nevertheless, a stroll through its winding alleyways is a good way to immerse yourself in the city’s most authentic and traditionally Moroccan side. Discover whitewashed buildings that blend Islamic and European architectural influences, and local cafés where you can smoke shisha and unwind over a cup of rich Arabic coffee. On the northern edge of the medina the remains of La Sqala, the city’s 18th-century fortifications, still stand guard over the port.
Pay Homage to "Casablanca" at Rick’s Café
Situated against the walls of the Old Medina, Rick’s Café is a loving recreation of the iconic (but fictional) gin joint from the movie "Casablanca." For fans of the film, the restaurant’s Art Deco interior is a thing of wonder, complete with a black-and-white marble floor and graceful arcades surrounding the central courtyard. There’s even an authentic 1930s Pleyel piano, and an in-house pianist who accepts endless requests to play "As Time Goes By." In a separate lounge area, you can watch the film on a large screen while sipping on vintage cocktails. The menu features Moroccan and European favorites, which past guests claim are delicious enough to justify the restaurant’s considerable hype. Book well in advance and be sure to dress smartly.
Shop for Souvenirs in the Quartier Habous
Also known as the New Medina, the Quartier Habous was built by the French in the 1930s to provide accommodation for Casablanca’s rapidly expanding population. It was also intended to represent the successful integration of Moroccan tradition and contemporary European culture, with its picturesque cobbled streets and Islamic-Andalusian architectural flourishes. These include ornate arches, arcades, and monumental gateways. The New Medina has its own sanitized version of an authentic Moroccan souk, with souvenir shops selling quality Berber jewelry, beaded slippers, Moorish lamps, and sacks of spices. You’ll pay higher prices than you would in the historic souks of other Moroccan cities, but you won’t be overly hassled by enthusiastic vendors. Walk to the northern edge of the quarter for a glimpse of Casablanca’s Royal Palace.
Browse the Contemporary Stores of Morocco Mall
Morocco Mall is the embodiment of modern Casablanca, offering three sprawling levels and 350 stores selling everything from luxury international beauty and fashion brands to the latest technology and home decor. If you’re in need of a souvenir for friends and family back home, head to the traditional souk area instead. In between shopping sprees, make your way to the global food court. A two-story aquarium enchants children and adults alike while the IMAX 3D cinema and an indoor theme park complete with an ice rink and climbing wall make Morocco Mall a top destination for entertainment as well. Outside, an impressive fountain with 282 individual jets of water hosts sound and light shows every half hour. The mall is open from 10 a.m. daily.
Admire the City’s Architectural Landmarks
Despite the fact that Casablanca is often overlooked as a place of architectural beauty, it does have some pretty special structures that are more than worthy of a photo or two. Begin your architectural tour in the city’s main gathering spot, Place Mohammed V. Here you can see the juxtaposition of old and new that defines Casablanca, in the form of the Moorish-style Courts of Justice and the Wilaya with its grand clock tower versus the almost futuristic white outline of the brand new Grand Théâtre de Casablanca. Elsewhere, the Makhama du Pacha is a 1930s reproduction of a traditional Moorish building resplendent with fine stucco, zellij tiles, and ornate cedar work. For European architecture, visit the pure white cathedral known as L’Eglise du Sacré-Coeur.
Take a Stroll Along the Corniche
La Corniche is an oceanfront boardwalk that stretches for nearly 2 miles along the edge of Casablanca’s Ain Diab suburb. A place to see and be seen, the promenade is imbued with a vacation atmosphere; especially in summer, when locals and tourists gather to stroll, jog, or meet friends along the beachfront. The walkway is lined with shops and restaurants, as well as a few nightclubs that come alive after dark. If you want to spend the day poolside, pay entry into one of the Corniche’s exclusive beach clubs. There’s also a public beach for picnics and paddling, and although the surf in Casablanca can’t rival that of Essaouira or Taghazout, the waves are great for beginners. Head to Anfa Surf School for lessons and equipment rentals.
Discover Fascinating Specialty Museums
The city also has some interesting museums, ideal for the visitor that wants to deepen their understanding of Moroccan history and culture. The first must-visit is Musée Abderrahman Slaoui, which houses the private collection of the late Moroccan humanist for whom it is named. Slaoui’s passion was the artistic traditions of Morocco, and his curiosities include everything from ornate Berber kohl flasks to Orientalist posters and fine Moroccan jewelry. Located close to Place Mohammed V, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday. Also of interest is the Museum of Moroccan Judaism, the only one of its kind in the Arab-speaking world. Here you can learn about national Jewish history and life in the synagogues, every day except Saturday.
Sample Culinary Traditions From Around the World
Casablanca’s big city status is reflected in the variety of cuisines it offers. For quality Moroccan favorites like tagine and pastilla, make a reservation at Le Cuisto Traditionnel, where fabulous Moorish decor acts as the perfect backdrop for mouthwatering meals. French food is everywhere in Casablanca, a relic of the country’s colonial past. Restaurant La Bavaroise is one of the best, with an extensive menu of French and Moroccan wines. NKOA bags the top spot on TripAdvisor for its inventive take on gourmet African and Latin fusion cuisine; while Iloli is your go-to for Japanese sushi and Wagyu beef. Wherever your taste buds take you, most restaurant menus are in French; so unless you speak the lingo, be prepared to take a gamble with your selection.
Explore Casablanca’s Varied Nightlife
Nightlife is not usually a concept associated with Morocco; and yet in Casablanca, there are plenty of places to socialize after sundown. If you want to dance, try VIP Club in Ain Diab for DJ sets that last until after midnight; or Armstrong Casablanca for live gigs. Maison B is part glamorous bistro, part nightclub, with international DJ appearances and themed nights five nights a week (from Tuesday to Saturday). And if your idea of the perfect night out is a drink with a view, choose Sky28. Located at the top of luxury Kenzi Tower Hotel (one of the tallest buildings in North Africa), it offers craft cocktails, decadent tapas and live music against an urban panorama. Sky28 is open from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily.
Get Cultural With a Gallery or Theater Visit
If it’s culture you’re craving, you’ll find plenty of it in Casablanca if you know where to look. For art lovers, Villa des Arts de Casablanca is a contemporary gallery set in a beautiful Art Deco villa dating back to the 1930s. Its exhibitions highlight the work of artists from across Morocco, giving you the chance to discover both up-and-coming and established national talent. Another Art Deco landmark, the Cinéma Rialto, cemented its reputation in the first half of the 20th century as a location for international film premiers and famous entertainers like Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker. Today it continues to host independent films and popular concerts. When it opens, the cutting edge Grand Théâtre de Casablanca will be the biggest theater in Africa.
Stay at the Luxurious Hôtel Le Doge
Casablanca has its fair share of luxury hotel brands, including Four Seasons and Sofitel. However, if you want to stay somewhere a little more unique but no less glamorous, try the renowned Relais & Chateaux property Hôtel Le Doge. Ranked amongst the city’s best hotels and located in the heart of the Art Deco district, it is a 1930s gem decorated in impeccable period style. Expect marble staircases carpeted in red velvet, statement vases, and ornate Art Deco light fittings in addition to flawless service from every staff member. The hotel’s restaurant, Le Jasmine, serves sumptuous Moroccan fare while the spa spoils with authentic North African hammam experiences and massages. Private airport transfers are available and families with children are welcome.