Tangier has long been romanticized by artists, Beat poets, and writers who have arrived at its busy shores seeking adventure, and it's been a gateway to Morocco and Africa for many travelers. Cruise ships often dock at the city on their way from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and travelers in Europe find it easy to take a short flight or a quick ferry from Spain to the port of Tangier.
Although most visitors to Tangier come for a day, there are some lovely boutique hotels to stay at. And since it takes some time to figure out the rhythm of the city and learn how to avoid the hustling, you'll appreciate Tangier a lot more by spending a few days there.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Tangier is fall (September to November) or spring (March to May), when the weather is ideal and the holiday crowds aren't around. Summer can be unbearably hot, although the ocean breeze helps to keep it cooler than other cities in Morocco.
- Language: The two official languages of Morocco are Modern Standard Arabic and Berber, but Moroccan Arabic is what's most commonly spoken on the street. In Tangier, street signs are often in Arabic and French. Locals, especially those working in tourism, can often switch seamlessly between Arabic, French, Spanish, and English.
- Currency: The local currency is the Moroccan dirham, and one dirham is subdivided into 100 centimes. Visa and Mastercard are accepted by a growing number of businesses, but it's a good idea to carry local currency as well, especially for shopping in the market.
- Getting Around: Many parts of Tangier that are visited by tourists are accessible by walking, but petit taxis are also available for getting around faster.
- Travel Tip: While hospitable and friendly folk abound in Tangier, be careful when you're in a touristy area and you're offered something for "free," because it is rarely free. Whether it's a guided tour, help buying ferry tickets, or directions to your hotel, expect to be asked for payment at the end. Remember that your faux guides are simply people trying to make a living to support their families. While ripping off gullible tourists may not seem like the most honest way to make money, don't take it personally.
Things to Do
Tangier doesn't have quite the offbeat charm it did in the 1940s and 1950s, when you could rub shoulders with the likes of Truman Capote, Paul Bowles, and Tennessee Williams. But if you give it some time and ignore the tourist tours, it will grow on you. Tangier is an interesting, cosmopolitan mix of African and European influences. As with many cities in Morocco, there's an old town (Medina) and a new town (Ville Nouvelle).
- The Medina: Tangier's Medina (Old Walled City) is a lively place and feels like stepping back in time. Its labyrinth of alleyways is where you'll find the souks, the marketplace of stalls selling spices, tanned leather, food items, metals, and more. Tourist trinkets are plentiful here and if this is your only stop in Morocco, buy away. But if you plan to continue traveling in Morocco, you'll find better deals elsewhere.
- The American Legation: Morocco was the first nation to recognize American independence, and the U.S. established a diplomatic mission in Tangier in 1821. Now a museum, the American Legation is located in the southwest corner of the Medina and worth a look. The museum houses some fascinating art including a room dedicated to Paul Bowles and works by Eugene Delacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, and James McBey.
- Place de France: This plaza is the gateway to the Ville Nouvelle, or New City. Adjacent to the Medina, the Ville Nouvelle has modern restaurants and even some Western chains. For a bite to eat or some tea while enjoying the view of the sea, try Terrasse des Paresseux next to Place de France.
- The Kasbah: The Kasbah is located high on a hill in Tangier with some good views of the ocean. The old Sultan's palace (built in the 17th century) lies within the Kasbah's walls. It is known as Dar El Makhzen and is now a museum that houses fine examples of Moroccan art.
- Grand Socco: This large square at the main entrance of the Medina is a busy transport hub and a good place to watch the chaos of traffic, carts, and people go about their daily routines while sitting in the plaza and enjoying a cup of tea.
- Beaches: Tangier does have some beautiful beaches, but the ones closest to town are rather dirty. If you want beach time in Tangier, consider taking a taxi about 25 minutes to Achakkar Beach, which is home to some incredible rock formations called the Hercules Caves.
What to Eat and Drink
The two dishes you'll most commonly see on restaurant menus—especially around the Medina—are tagine and couscous. You've probably heard of couscous even if you've never tried it, but it's a North African staple that's been eaten by the indigenous Berbers for thousands of years. The fluffy grain is served topped with stewed vegetables or meats and always hits the spot. Tagine is the unofficial national dish of Morocco and it's served in the earthen clay pot called a tajine. It's made of slow-cooked beef, lamb, or chicken with hearty vegetables, local spices, and dates for a touch of sweetness.
After you've tried the two most popular dishes, venture out for other Morrocan specialties. Bastilla harks back to when Morocco and Spain were both ruled by the Moors, and it's a savory meat pie that's traditionally made with pigeon (although chicken is the more common choice today). If you're an eggplant fan or just eggplant curious, zaalouk is a rich eggplant tomato sauce used as a savory dip.
Although Morocco is a Muslim country, alcohol is allowed and you'll find plenty of bars that cater to tourists around the waterfront and the Ville Nouvelle. But the most ubiquitous drink is mint tea, often called Moroccan mint tea because of how enmeshed it is in the local culture. The hot green tea brewed with spearmint and lots of sugar is served year-round and at all times of the day.
Where to Stay
Tangier has a wide range of accommodations, from affordable youth hostels to five-star hotels, but if you want an authentic Moroccan experience, look for a local riad. Riads are traditional homes with an interior patio garden and oftentimes have a rooftop terrace, as well. The hustle of the street and walking through the Medina can overwhelm the senses, so retreating to your peaceful riad is usually a welcome respite.
Wherever you choose to stay, it's recommended to pick your accommodations before arriving. When you arrive you will be approached by hotel touts who make a commission by bringing you their hotel. Even if you've already reserved a room somewhere, they may tell you the area is dangerous or the hotel is actually full, even going as far as to arrange a fake phone call with your lodging.
Don't believe the hype. Make a reservation with a hotel before you arrive, especially if you're arriving in the evening. Have the phone number and address written down, and plan out how you're you're going to get there before arriving in Tangier. If you take a taxi and your taxi driver pretends not to know the location of your hotel, take another taxi. Most upscale hotels can also arrange a driver for you, which takes away some of the stress.
It may be stressful when you arrive, but once you get to your lodging and can drop off your luggage, the rest of your time in Tangier will be much more relaxed.
Many visitors make a stop in Tangier while visiting Spain. The easiest—and most likely the cheapest—way to get to Tangier is to go by plane. Flights to Tangier leave from most almost all of the major Spanish airports, including low-cost airlines to keep prices down.
If you're already in southern Spain, Tangier is just a 30-minute boat ride away and serves as the gateway to the rest of Morocco. However, you first have to get to one of the small Spanish port towns of Algeciras or Tarifa near Gibraltar, which aren't easy to reach if you don't have your own vehicle. The nearest big cities are Seville and Malaga, both of which also have international airports and direct flights to Tangier. If you want to save time and money, a plane is your best option. But if you want a bit of adventure, then nothing beats boating across the Strait of Gibraltar.
If you're coming from another city in Morocco such as Fes or Marrakech, there are easy train connections from both cities. The Tangier train station (Tanger Ville) is about 2.5 miles southeast of the ferry port. The main long-distance bus station, CTM, is right outside the ferry port terminal. The buses in Morocco are comfortable and everyone gets a seat.
Culture and Customs
The customs in Morocco are likely different from what you live at home, and part of respecting the local culture involves doing some research before going. It's a Muslim country so plan to dress more conservatively, especially if you're a woman. Covering your hair isn't necessary unless you're entering a mosque, and it's not uncommon to see local women with their hair out on the street. However, women should cover their legs and their upper arms, while men only need to wear pants when entering a mosque.
Public displays of affection are frowned upon in general and can actually be unsafe for LGBTQ+ travelers. Save the smooches for when you're in your hotel to avoid any unwanted attention.
Money Saving Tips
- Tangier is infamous among visitors for its persistent touts, or hustlers. Walking through the city and especially in the Medina, you'll be pressured—sometimes relentlessly—to purchase whatever good or service is being sold. To avoid buying things you don't really want, just make clear that you're not interested and move on.
- When you find something you actually do want to purchase in the Medina, you have to haggle down the price. Start with a ridiculously low number and work up from there. If the price still seems too high, be prepared to walk away and you'll likely be called back with a better deal.
- There are two types of taxis in Tangier: local petit taxis and longer-distance grand taxis. For getting around the city, petit taxis are always less expensive and are easy to spot by their signature light-blue color with a horizontal yellow line.