The ultimate guide to Casablanca, Morocco (2023)

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Frequently written off as a business hub or merely a gateway to the rest of the country, Casablanca feels like Morocco’s forgotten tourist city. People flood to Marrakesh for the souks, Fes for the Medina, Agadir for the surf – but many ignore the nation’s largest city.

Yet Casablanca has its own market, medina, surf and more – not to mention the best international food scene in Morocco, high-rise cocktail bars and mesmerising architecture both old and new. And of course, of all the gin joints in all the world... it has to be Rick’s Cafe.

What to do

Explore Africa’s second largest mosque

Built partly on reclaimed land over the ocean (“Because God’s throne was on water”) the Hassan II Mosque dominates Casablanca’s waterfront. It took six years and 12,000 workers to build, and the scale catches you as you stand dwarfed by one of the immense doors, staring up at the 210m tall minaret (tower). There’s space outside for 80,000 worshippers and, inside, under a retractable roof, room for 25,000 more. It was usurped as Africa’s largest in 2019 by the Djamaa El Djazair in Algiers. A visit costs 130 dirhams (£11) for non-Muslims, including a guided tour – catch them daily at 9am, 10am, 11am (except Friday), 2pm and 3pm.


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Wander the markets and souks

Whether it’s the Central Market, the souks of Quartier Habous or the stalls of the Old Medina, Casablanca is crammed with places to either pick up a bargain or pay massively over the odds – depending upon your confidence and resolve. Drool at glistening pastries, eye up fresh oysters to be shucked and eaten on the go, or consider fitting your spare room as a mini Aladdin’s cave. Once you’ve seen something you like, do your best to pretend you’re not in the least bit interested and enjoy the thrill of a haggle.

We’ll always have Rick’s Cafe

If you love the film, there’s no better experience in Casablanca than drinking a gin cocktail at Rick’s Cafe, the bar inspired by the movie. Sip yours at the roulette table (“Have you tried 22 tonight?”), you’ll find them in one of the side lounges, or listen to a jazz quartet play As Time Goes By downstairs. Open 12-3pm and 6.30pm-1am daily.

Catch some waves

Zip up a wetsuit, grab a board and hit the beginner-friendly breakers of the Atlantic at one of Casablanca Surf Coaching’s small group half-day sessions, on the flat sand beach to the south of the Corniche.Lessons cost from €25 (£21) for a two-hour session.

Where to stay

Location is everything for the Hotel Casablanca le Lido – it’s in the heart of the Corniche, with views of the Atlantic, and a short walk from numerous high-end restaurants and bars. If seeing the ocean isn’t enough, the onsite spa features thalassotherapy treatments using seawater, seaweed and algae. Doubles from £136, room only.

Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Cleopatra and Ibn Battuta lend their names to some of the colourful, fun and imaginative suites at the affordable Art Palace Suites and Spa. Each of its 25 unique bedrooms is inspired by a celebrity or international icon, with a spa pool in the basement and a tiled Moroccan hammam for a scrub-down. Doubles from £104, room only.

Even more colourful is the Boutique Hotel Gauthier just a couple of blocks from the palm-trimmed Arab League Park. Standard rooms are smart and functional, but the lounges, bar and Le Patio restaurant more than make up for that, with slick, sharp design and look-at-me tones. Doubles from £62, B&B.

Where to eat

Organic Kitchen feels like a hip Melbourne brunch bar dropped slap bang into the middle of Casablanca. Spacious and bright, with a focus on Moroccan produce and healthy eating, it’s open 10am-10.30pm daily (except for Sunday when it closes early at 5pm).

Our ToursByLocals guide took us to Restaurant Cafe Zayna on a quiet street, close to the edge of the Habous for steaming tagines and endless side plates and dishes (44 Rue Ibnou Khaldoun, +212 522 542 596). Friendly staff will enthusiastically show you pictures of Tom Cruise’s visit while he was here filming the fifth Mission: Impossible movie. Open 9am-10.30pm daily.

On the fringes of the old Medina, Dar Dada is near-hidden behind extravagant potted plants – but if you can battle your way past the foliage you’ll find an immaculate dining area in the courtyard of a converted riad. Moroccan cuisine with Middle Eastern influence, and a good selection of local wines. Open 12-3.30pm and 7pm-1am Monday to Saturday.

The Corniche is crammed with spots for catching a sunset dinner and, at its northern end, sitting above the rocks by El Hank lighthouse, Le Cabestan is one of the oldest and best. Get there early to snag a spot on the open-air deck for the best views. Stay for a quick drink and tapas, or settle in for longer and hit any of the winners from the seafood selection. Open 12pm-1am daily.

Where to drink

Enjoy the highest cocktail you’ll get in Morocco at Sky28, the rooftop bar of the Kenzi Tower Hotel, with unrivalled views of the city’s white houses (and offices and shops and hotels). There are classic and contemporary mixes of live jazz to sip to – and, as the night evolves, DJ sets. Open 3pm-1am daily.

Grab a juice or smoothie-to-go from Marina Juice, and sit out in the urban park of the Promenade Maritime. Watch joggers burning calories and kids letting loose on the playground as you get your own energy boost from one of the dozens of juice and smoothie options on the menu. The “Teacher”, loaded with mango, pomegranate and strawberry, is a favourite. Open 7am-11pm daily.

Where to shop

The narrow lanes and whitewashed archways of the Quartier Habous, Casablanca’s “new medina”, is the place to go for mirrors, carpets, ceramics, lamps, fabrics, ornate daggers and antique rifles (travelling with a large checked bag is advised). It’s not so big you’ll get horribly lost – but slowly wandering the lanes, taking a punt on which way to turn, and backtracking out of dead-ends is half the fun. The other half is haggling. Find your way to the olive market and you’ll end the day happy.

If a flash shopping centre with a vast circular aquarium tank inside it is more your thing, then Morocco Mall is the place for you. There are shops, too – more than 150, including luxury brands in the exclusive Miraj space on the first floor. Throw in more than 50 places to eat and drink, an Imax cinema, adventure park and ice rink, and you should find enough to do to pass the time. Open 10am-9pm daily (late opening to 10pm Friday and Saturday).

Architectural highlight

On the western flank of Mohammed V Square – looking like a giant, futuristic white set of Bluetooth speakers – is the Grand Theatre of Casablanca. Although completed in 2020, it’s yet to open after Covid delayed its inauguration. Designed by French architect Christian de Portzamparc, the Grand Theatre makes good on its name; its 1,800-seat multi-purpose main theatre makes it the largest in Africa. Like the Sydney Opera House, the Grand Theatre has divided opinion amongst residents of the city, many feeling its appearance has negatively altered the facade of the city’s most popular square – but it’s undeniably a striking, landmark building.

Nuts and bolts

What currency do they use?

Moroccan Dirham. Some businesses quote prices in Euros.

What language do they speak?

Arabic and French. English is widely spoken in tourist areas.

How much should I tip?

10 per cent in restaurants.

What’s the time difference?

One hour behind GMT.

How should I get around?

Two tram lines cut through the city, linking up many of the main points of interest. Single fares are 60 dirham (50p). Otherwise, red, metered Petite Taxis can easily – and cheaply – take you to the further reaches.

What’s the best view?

Hassan II Mosque at night from the seafront path to the west of the great building, watching its golden lights reflecting across the bay.

Insider tip?

Download the Casa Break app and use its geolocator to dive into Casablanca’s growing street art scene, tracking down the ever-increasing number of cultural and topical murals painted on the city’s buildings.

Getting there

Trying to fly less?

Morocco can be reached by train and boat from the UK in two days. Take the Eurostar from London to Paris then the TGV to Barcelona. The following day, take the high-speed train to Algeciras (connecting in Madrid) and the ferry to Tangier. Trains connect Tangier to most major destinations within Morocco.


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Fine with flying?

The nearest airport is Casablanca (CMN) – Royal Air Maroc operates flights from the UK. Or Fes Airport is a three-hour drive.

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