Though not as atmospheric as other Moroccan cities, Casablanca is the best representation of the modern nation. This is where money is being made, where young Moroccans come to seek their fortunes and where business and the creative industries prosper.
The city's handsome Moorish buildings, which meld French-colonial design and traditional Moroccan style, are best admired in the downtown area. Visitors who spend time there, in the Quartier Habous and in the beachside suburb of Ain Diab, are sure to get into the local swing of things and realize that this old pirate lair is looking towards the future, embracing the European-flavored urban sophistication that has underpinned life here for the past century.
The number of construction projects currently under way here is simply extraordinary – major redevelopments include those at Place Mohammed V and the Parc de la Ligue Arabe, and new public buildings include the Grand Théâtre de Casablanca.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Casablanca.
This opulent mosque, built at enormous expense, is set on an outcrop jutting over the ocean with a 210m-tall minaret that's a city landmark. It's a showcase of the finest Moroccan artisanship: hand-carved stone and wood, intricate marble flooring and inlay, gilded cedar ceilings and exquisite zellige (geometric mosaic tilework) abound. It's one of two Moroccan mosques open to non-Muslims; multilanguage guided tours are conducted outside prayer times for modestly clad visitors. There’s also a small museum showcasing the craftwork involved.
The only Jewish museum in the Arabic-speaking world, this institution is set in an attractive garden villa that once functioned as a Jewish orphanage. It traces the 2000-year history of Jews in Morocco, focusing on Casablanca's Jewish community (most of the country's Jews live here). The thoughtfully curated and well-labelled collection includes ornate clothing, traditional tools and ritual objects. Photographs usually feature in the temporary exhibition space, and there's a reconstructed 1930s synagogue from Larache in an adjoining room.
Though lacking the medieval magic that characterises many Moroccan medinas, Casablanca’s compact 19th-century example is still worth a wander. You're unlikely to find treasures in its everyday shops (hardware stores, pharmacies and shops selling cheap clothing and shoes predominate), but its whitewashed crooked lanes, occasional tree-shaded square and buzzy local cafes make it a popular route for those walking between downtown Casablanca and the Hassan II Mosque.
Built in the 1930s, the Quartier Habous, or Nouvelle Medina (New Medina), was built by the French to solve a housing crisis as the population outgrew the old medina, and is a picturesque mix of Moroccan and European architectural styles. Stop off for a sweet treat at the legendary, family-owned Pâtisserie Bennis then shop-til-you-drop at the tourist-centric souqs, where you can buy everything from slippers to shaggy rugs, spices to olives.
Dating from 1930, this blindingly white, Roman Catholic church sits on the edge of Parc de la Ligue Arabe. An extraordinary architectural mix of art deco, Moorish and neo-Gothic styles, it has twin towers that resemble minarets, external buttresses and decorative aperture-style windows. The church was deconsecrated in 1956 and has undergone a lengthy restoration. At the time of research it was set to reopen as a cultural centre.
This privately owned house-turned-museum showcases Abderrahman Slaoui’s outstanding collection of Moroccan decorative arts, from Orientalist travel posters to ornate Amazigh (Berber) jewellery encrusted with semiprecious stones, inlaid furniture (including pieces designed by Marrakesh-based Louis Majorelle), to exquisite perfume flasks. Take a sightseeing break with a mint tea at the terrace cafe.
This perpetually busy square is surrounded by striking public buildings, such as the Wilaya and its clock tower and the Courts of Justice, resplendent with Moorish details, on one side, and the ubercontemporary Grand Théâtre de Casablanca on the other. The fountain is such a popular meeting spot that, when it had to be demolished to make way for the theatre, it was rebuilt on the other side of the square.
One of the city’s major urban regeneration projects has turned the stretch of seafront promenade from the Hassan II Mosque to the El Hank lighthouse in to a sweeping public space, with gardens, cafes and endless ocean views. The perfect spot for a sunset stroll.
Set in a beautiful art deco villa dating from 1934, this small gallery is operated by the nonprofit Fondation ONA. It stages interesting temporary exhibitions by contemporary Moroccan artists, and works to promote art and culture to schoolchildren and students.