Top 10 chilled out* things to do in Tangier, Morocco… (*1 not so peaceful!)

  1. Take the ferry to/from Spain. The ferry from Spain to Morocco runs regulary, every 30 minutes or so, from Tarifa and Algeciras. Crossing the Straits of Gibraltar which is approximately 9miles wide at its narrowest point, the Strait of Gibraltar is the entry point into the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. The waters are home to dolphins, whales, leisure yachts, superyachts and oil tankers.
  2. Visit the beaches next to Cap Spartel. There are two types of Taxi in Tanger, “small taxi” and “grand taxis”. The “big taxis” are usually old Mercedes, they’re really cheap, you can jump in one from the main square, and they took us 12km away to the beaches at Cap Spartel which is also near the Caves of Hercules (closed for works at the time we visited). Be aware that your driver may pull over to allow other people to jump into your taxi and share the ride, two teenage boys shared the single front passenger seat during our trip. It seems perfectly logical, we’re all going in the same general direction. En-route we drove through an area of gorgeous mansions, with 2 metre walls, french names and private, armed security. At the beach, girls wore bikinis (I get asked this a lot). The hot sun and cold waters were a refreshing antidote to the deep, bustling markets of Tangier.

3. Stay in a hostel in the old town, and meet other guests (human & animal).

4. Listen to the call to prayer from the rooftops. When I visited, a thick sea mist blanketed the town on the first night. After a hot, sticky day, everyone in the hostel, guests & staff, sat happily on the roof in the cool mist, the lights from the boats at sea could be seen, someone played guitar, others read, others wrote, someone smoked a sweet cigarette. It was a long evening – otherwordly and peaceful – and then the wailing call to prayer crackled through the town’s tannoys. It was a beautiful, eerie night and my favourite night in the city. In the morning, the mist had gone.

5. Sip Moroccan mint tea at Cafe Hafa. Café Hafa is a cafe is located along the cliff top overlooking the Bay of Tangier. Opened in 1921, the cafe has retained its 1920s style of decor and through the years has been visited by numerous writers and singers, from Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs, to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The cafe is known for its mint tea and has a timeless charm – plastic chairs on a simple terrace overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, towards Spain.

They didn’t appear to serve any food when I visited but a man did walk amongst the tables selling handfuls of lightly salted, mixed nuts… what we didn’t realise is that when he begins to pour the nuts onto a napkin on the table, you must say “stop.” – there’s no assumed portion size… we realised this only when we had quite the little mountain of nuts piling in front of our eyes and the little man seemed very pleased with his sudden luck on finding two apparently ravenous  foreigners. Despite having more nuts than we could possibly eat, it was still very, very cheap. We took a “small taxi” to get us to Cafe Hafa.

6. Saunter around the city – taking in the Casbah, the Petit Socco and the Place du Grand 9 Avril 1947. The “Petit Socco”, the little square, was once one of the greatest souks in all of Morocco and people would flock from miles around to buy food and clothes.” and that’s easy to believe. I found that the old town and markets can be a bit dirty (eg. cats playing with chicken heads on the ground whilst very young children learn to crawl just 30cms away) but the buildings have a faded glory, Arabic and French was being shouted across stalls, locals wore a mix of modern clothing and the traditional robes, the smell of unusual spices floated in the air, beautiful richly coloured fabrics hung in the shade with oiled leather sandals and bags and few tourists. Tangier seems as though it is the older, wiser relative of flashy Marrakech.


7. Visit the upmarket shopping district. The Ancien Medina is filled with shops selling traditional Morrocan goods and it’s  up to you to explore these. Boutique Majid deserves a special mention as it’s a regular haunt of Holywood set designers, Yves Taralon, artistic director of the Hermès home department, Madonna etc but is unpretentiously based in a deep cave-like shop in the old town. If you’re looking for more “upmarket” or modern shops, Tangier has a luxury shopping district. I am loathe to include “shopping malls” in a list of things to do but I include this area just to emphasise the lovely contrast in the town. During a saunter around the city, we happened upon “La Maison Nike Tanger” at 27 Boulevard Pasteur, Tangier – a vast, typical, air conditioned Nike outlet, too expensive for my tastes – ah, a reminder of home. This area was modern, the blocks of flats had foyers with concierges, the people & advertisements spoke less Arabic, more French and English.

8. See a movie at Cinema Rif. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt – much to the delight of a lot of locals when I was wearing it. The cinema foyer is cool, atmospheric, has a cheap and cheerful cafe (try to the mint tea with orange blossom), power points for travellers to covertly charge their Macs, a faux art deco palace showing arabic, french and occasionally american films. A hangout for ex-pats (aka immigrants).

9. Read Paul Bowles, “The Sheltering Sky” or William S Burroughs, “Naked Lunch” and feel the Tangier-inspired rhythm of the Beat Generation.

Paul Bowles has been wonderfully described as the “patron saint of the colony of disaffected poets and dreamers who flocked here in the 1950’s”.

10. Moped ride through the Kasbah.
Heading back to Spain, we asked the boys at the hostel the best way to get to the Port, and counted out our change for a taxi. Instead, the boys jumped on their mopeds and raced us through the claustraphobic Medina, like a James Bond movie, we weaved in and out of stalls, persons and chickens, and got into trouble with the Police when we finally screeched to a stop at the Port. It’s one of my favourite travel memories to date, I only wish that I had managed to record it. Top Tip: Keep a video camera handy for impromptu mad, moped rides!

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