Guarding the Strait of Gibraltar, Tangier has for centuries been Europes's gateway to Africa. Its blend of cultures and influences is unique in Morocco – for much of its history it wasn't even governed by Morocco.
Tangier has always carried a slightly seedy allure, in part because of its time as a semi-independent international zone that attracted eccentric foreigners, artists and spies. Officially sanctioned neglect later gave it a dismal reputation, and visitors were often quick to flee its sleaze and hustle.
Contemporary Tangier could hardly be more different. Investment has flowed in and the white city gleams with an air of confidence. The corniche bustles, entrepreneurs in the new business district have replaced the hustlers, and a new marina is under construction, along with the new TGV train line to Casablanca. Tangier's cultural life is buzzing in a way it hasn't done since the 1950s.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Tangier.
This recently refurbished museum is housed in the former sultan's palace of Dar El Makhzen. The focus is on the history of the area from prehistoric times to the 19th century. Exhibits are well-presented in French and Arabic only. Work your way anticlockwise around the first courtyard before heading inside to the rest of the displays, followed by a walk in the charming Andalusian garden.
This museum, in an elegant five-storey mansion, is a must-see: Morocco was the first country to recognise the United States by opening its ports to the fledgling nation in 1777, and this was the first piece of American real estate abroad, as well as the only US National Historic Landmark on foreign soil.
St Andrew's Church is one of the more charming oddities of Tangier. Completed in 1894 on land granted by Sultan Hassan, the interior of this Anglican church is decorated in high Fassi style, with the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic over the altar. Behind the altar is a cleft that indicates the direction of Mecca, with carved quotes from the Quran.
The Grand Socco is the romantic entrance to the medina, a large, sloping, palm-ringed plaza with a central fountain that stands before the keyhole gate, Bab Fass. Once a major market, its cobblestone circle is now the end of the line for taxis, the point at which the modern streets narrow into the past.
The medina, the top attraction of Tangier, is a labyrinth of alleyways both commercial and residential. It's contained by the walls of a 15th-century Portuguese fortress, although most buildings are actually relatively new for a Moroccan medina. The place is full of travellers' treasures and offers glimpses of traditional living. Sadly, local touts can be more of a bother here than nearly anywhere else in Morocco.
This was once the most notorious crossroads of Tangier, the site of drug deals and all forms of prostitution. Today the facades are freshly painted, tourists abound, and it’s a wonderful square for people watching over a mint tea.
Tangier once had 17 synagogues and 27,000 Jewish residents. That number has dwindled and the only synagogue open to the public is Nahon – but it's a beauty. Intricate bronze lanterns hang over the main sanctuary and wine-coloured drapes cover the Torah (Hebrew bible) on the bema (stage). Upstairs is an exhibit of ketubah (marriage contracts) from couples who were married here.
This eclectic museum is housed in a former synagogue. Here you will find an open 2-storey room with an engaging collection of B&W photographs of 19th- and 20th-century Tangier on the walls. Meanwhile, a children’s theatre production may be going on in the centre. The museum doubles as a workshop for disadvantaged kids, bringing life to the static display.
The wide city beach is well maintained and a fresh corniche (beachfront road) works well for a seaside stroll, with parks, playgrounds and fancy glass elevators that lead down to the sand. Certainly worth an afternoon, if not a whole day, at the beach.