Tangier has long been romanticized by artists, Beat poets, and writers who have arrived at its busy shores seeking adventure. Tangier is the gateway to Africa for many travelers. Cruise ships often dock there on their way from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and travelers in Europe find it easy to take a quick ferry from Spain to the port of Tangier. (More about getting to Tangier below).
While most visitors to Tangier come for a day, there are some lovely boutique hotels to stay at and once you figure out how to avoid some of the hustle, you'll appreciate Tangier a lot more by spending a few days here.
What to See in Tangier
Tangier doesn't have quite the offbeat charm it did in the 1940's and 1950's 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 touts, it will grow on you. Tangier is an interesting, cosmopolitan mix of African and European influences. It's a port city and port cities are always rough around the edges. Tangier is not very pleasant at night.
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, its alleyways are filled with shops, teahouses, and brothels (it's a port city after all). Tourist trinkets are plentiful here, 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 USA 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 McBeay.
Place de France: The heart of ville nouvelle and the social focal point for the middle classes in Tangier. A good place to sip some tea and enjoy the sea view is the highly recommended Terrasse des Paresseux just east of the Place.
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, is known as Dar El Makhzen and is now a museum that houses fine examples of Moroccan art.
Grand Socco: A 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.
Beaches: the beaches closest to town are rather dirty, as is the water. Find better beaches about 10km west, out of town.
Getting to Tangier and Away
Tangier is just a short ferry ride from Spain and the gateway to the rest of Morocco whether you travel by bus or train.
Getting to Tangier from Spain (and Back)
Morocco lies just a short 9 miles from Spain. High-speed ferries can take just 30 (choppy) minutes to cross.
Algeciras (Spain) to Tangier (Morocco): Algeciras to Tangier is the most popular route to Morocco. High-speed ferries travel almost every hour, year-round and take around 30 minutes to cross. There are also slower ferries that are a little cheaper. A roundtrip ticket for a foot passenger, on a high-speed ferry, costs 37 Euros.
Tarifa (Spain) to Tangier (Morocco): High-Speed ferries leave every two hours from Spain's windsurfing capital, Tarifa and take 35 minutes to get to Tangier. FRS offers good service on this route, a round-trip adult ticket sets you back around 37 Euros.
Barcelona (Spain) to Tangier (Morocco): This is not a popular route, but handy if you want to avoid traveling down to the south of Spain. Grand Navi is the company that operates these ferries. A roundtrip ticket for a single foot passenger in a seat (rather than a berth) costs around 180 Euros. Ferries take 24 hours to get to Morocco and 27 hours on the return trip. There's usually just one ferry scheduled per day.
Ferries from Italy and France to Tangier
You can also catch a ferry to Tangier from Italy (Genoa), Gibraltar and France (Sete).
Getting to and from Tangier by Train
If you are planning to take a train to visit Fes or Marrakech, then arriving in Tangier is your best option for rail connections to these destinations. The Tangier train station (Tanger Ville) is about 4km southeast of the ferry port and bus station. Take a petit taxi, make sure the meter is on, to get to and from the train station. More about: Train travel in Morocco and the night train from Tangier to Marrakech.
Getting to and from Tangier by Bus
The main long-distance bus station, CTM, is right outside the ferry port terminal. You can catch buses to all the major towns and cities in Morocco. The buses are comfortable and everyone gets a seat.
Where to Stay in Tangier
Tangier has a wide range of accommodation and places to stay vary from cheap and sleazy, to excellent Riads (boutique hotels in restored mansions). Tangier is not a relaxed place to visit, so finding a good hotel that offers a little respite from the hustle, will really make your visit more enjoyable. Make sure you book your first night in advance, there are plenty of hustlers in Tangier who will offer to show you to a hotel. Below are some recommended hotels in Tangier that reflect my personal taste for intimate, mid-range hotels:
- La Tangerina: A lovingly restored boutique hotel, with 10 unique rooms. Its location is in the Kasbah, one of the most upmarket sections of Tangier, situated on a hill overlooking the rest of the city. Enjoy meals on the rooftop terrace, with traditional Moroccan cuisine available for dinner. The Tangerina gets the highest ratings on Tripadvisor for all Tangier hotels. Rates start at 45 Euros per night.
- Dar Jameel: If you want to stay in the heart of the medina, Dar Jameel is an excellent choice. This boutique hotel offers 8 unique suites around a central interior courtyard, on 5 levels. Each room is beautifully decorated with traditional Moroccan furniture and crafts. Breakfast is included in the rate. Room rates start at 48 Euros per night.
- Dar Nour: Small, boutique hotel located in the Kasbah, convenient to all the major sights. The rooftop terrace is gorgeous, overlooking the town and the ocean in the distance, this is where you eat breakfast. There are 7 unique rooms to choose from, stylishly decorated with authentic Moroccan tile, carpets. and furniture. Rates start at 63 Euros per night, including breakfast.
- Dar Nilam: Upscale boutique hotel in Tangier offering personalized service, opulent decor, and pick up from the ferry (a nice touch). The hotel has 5 unique rooms, a small garden, and pool. Dinner is traditional Moroccan fare, breakfast is included in the room rate. The hotel is located a mile from the town center and is close to the beach. Rates start at 80 Euros per night.
When to go to Tangier
The best time to visit Tangier is September to November and March to May. The weather is perfect, not too hot, and the tourist season is not yet in full swing. You also have a better chance at finding room at a nice Riad (see above) for a good price.
Getting Around Tangier
The best way to get around Tangier is either on foot or in a petit taxi. Make sure the driver uses the meter correctly. Grand taxis are much more expensive and you have to negotiate the rate in advance. Of course, you can always get a personal guide through your hotel (see above), or book a day tour before you get to Tangier.
Coping with Hustlers - "Touts" in Tangier
Tangier is infamous among visitors for its persistent "touts" (hustlers). A Tout is a person who tries to sell you something (a good or a service) in an importuned manner. The minute you get off your ferry or train, you will meet your first "tout." Follow the advice below and you will have a much better time in Tangier.
Assume Nothing is Free
While hospitable and friendly folk abound in Tangier, be careful when you're in a touristy area and you're offered something for "free". It is rarely free.
Advice on where to buy your train ticket or ferry ticket will be offered by many folks, but just be aware these guys work on commission. You can easily buy your own ticket and fill out your own forms. Be firm and say "no thanks" and look confident. If you really don't know where to go, then be aware you will end up paying a tip for getting help with directions, no matter how many times the offer is given "for free".
A "free" guided tour around the Medina will most likely lead to an uncle's trinket shop or a demand for money at the end of the tour. It may also include shops you are not remotely interested in seeing. A "free" cup of tea might include looking at a lot of carpets.
If you hear the word "free", the price you pay is often not in your control.
But remember 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, it's simply a survival tactic and you shouldn't take it too personally. A firm "no thanks" is the best way to deal with the situation. A little humor also goes a long way.
Hotels Don't Suddenly Appear
This tip is especially useful for the independent travelers. When you arrive in Tangier, either at the bus station, train station or ferry port you will be greeted by many people, inquiring rather loudly, where you want to go to. Many of these folks will earn a commission for taking you to a hotel of their choosing. This doesn't mean that the hotel will necessarily be bad, it just means you may end up in an area you don't want to be in; the price of your room will be higher to cover the commission, or the hotel could indeed be quite nasty.
Hotel touts have figured lots of clever techniques to scare gullible tourists into following them to a hotel they earn commissions from. They may ask you what hotel you have booked and then tell you emphatically that that hotel is full, has moved, or is in a bad area. Some hotel touts will go further and even pretend to call your hotel for you and get a friend on the phone to tell you the hotel is full.
Don't believe the hype. Make a reservation with a hotel before you arrive, especially if you're arriving in the evening. Your guidebook will have phone numbers of all hotels they list, or you can research online before you go. Take a taxi and insist they take you to the hotel of your choosing. If your taxi driver pretends not to know the location of your hotel, take another taxi.
It's better to pay a little more for your first night in Tangier rather than to end up somewhere you don't want to be.
Avoiding Touts (Hustlers) Altogether
If you wish to avoid a lot of unwanted attention, the best thing to do is take a guided tour of Tangier. You will probably still end up in shops you don't really wish to see and you won't go off the beaten track -- but if this is your first time in Africa, it may be more enjoyable.
Guided Tours of Tangier
Most hotels will arrange a tour for you as well as tours to nearby attractions and towns outside of Tangier. There are lots of tour agencies near the ferry ports in Spain and Gibraltar that have scheduled day trips on offer. You will be with a group on these tours and that has some advantages and disadvantages. Regardless, checking out tour itineraries will help you figure out what to see in Tangier.
What to Wear in Tangier
Long pants or long skirts/dresses are recommended. Women will get a lot of unwanted attention by strolling around Tangier in shorts or a short skirt. Wear t-shirts with 3/4 length sleeves.