On a clear day, hiking along the oceanside walkways that hug Tangier, you’ll notice you can make out the European continent while standing in Africa. Separated by the Strait of Gibraltar and an hour ferry ride, it’s natural to mistakenly think of this city through a European lens. Visiting as a Westerner — especially as one not yet exposed to Arabic culture — you’d be very surprised at how different the city is.
The two most common means of arrival are by plane at the international airport or via a ferry from Spain. Ferries depart from Tarifa port in Spain, running every two hours during the day and costing around €60. Ferries also accommodate cars and motorcycles; however, be aware of a bit of extra paperwork that this will entail. By plane, the airport is about a 20-minute drive from the city, so either come prepared or convert some money into national currency — Moroccan dirhams — to pay for the cab ride, which costs about 100 dirhams (or roughly €10).
Hotel Continental is a great landing place when first arriving in the city, situated right on the edge of the maze that is Old Medina district, where you’ll want to spend a lot of your time. Built in 1870, it’s one of the oldest hotels in Tangier. While you might expect the age and creakiness that comes with such an old building, you’ll struggle to find a more authentic stay in the city. The staff are extremely helpful too.
If you really value your creature comforts, the nearby La Tangerina Hotel offers a bit more upmarket stay while still holding on to that authenticity. Talk to the staff about your interests and they’ll be sure to point you in the right direction. With either pick, be sure to make the Kasbah Museum one of your first stops (it's only a few minutes’ walk).
If you are still acclimatizing to the culture, I find the best cure is to slow things down and simply observe. Head to one of the many chic cafés in the larger courtyards around the Old Medina district. Café Central offers airy street-side seating, as well as Café De Paris, one of the oldest cafés in the city, both accustomed to catering to tourists and locals alike.
The slow, melodic call to prayer rings throughout loudspeakers all around the city, up to six times per day, marks prayer time for the vastly Islamic population. If you’re interested, follow the crowds during the call and take a walk past the many whitewashed Mosque’s dotting the city to witness the fascinating ritual that takes place.
Sometimes referred to as “the door of Africa,” Tangier’s inhabitants fondly welcome the many tourists with open arms and hearts. Come sunset, you’ll often find the streets suddenly deserted as families gather in their homes for dinner, a remarkably communal affair. As I moseyed around a mom-and-pop convenience store during sunset on Avenue Mohammed V, the owners insisted I sit and eat with them and join their family for dinner and refused any kind of payment.
You’ll often find many locals willing and sometimes a little too eager to show you their favorite bar, restaurant, café, rug store, spice store, cab driver, or really any acquaintance of theirs offering a service. While charming, it can be exhausting to be approached constantly and asked what you’re looking for, so bear this in mind as you go about your day. It’s simply part of being a tourist so don’t take it personally. While most are simply only too willing to help you for the cost of your patronage, remember to reserve your trust and take caution not to get pushed into going somewhere or doing something you had no intention of doing in the first place.
Barring the obvious, at grocery stores and petrol stations, haggling is universally accepted in just about all commerce in Morocco. In fact, it’s not just accepted, it’s an art form, having its roots in centuries of bartering and trade. If you’d like to try your hand at it, head to Grand Socco market or the many other bazaars and street-stalls around Old Medina, and practice on smaller, inexpensive trinkets and novelties first before trying for more expensive items like tapestry, rugs, and artwork. Once past the initial awkwardness, it’s quite fun and after a while, gives you a glimpse of an activity humans have taken part in for hundreds of years.
This article originally ran in the May 2021 issue of Dockwalk.