My Top 10 Favorite Things to Do and Visit in Tangier
Located on the Strait of Gibraltar where Africa meets Europe, Tangier is the perfect location for a day trip from Spain. There are different ferry lines that connect Spain and Morocco in less than one hour. We took a ferry from Tarifa, the most Southern point of Spain and stayed several days in Tangier.
Tangier has a rich history and is one of North Africa’s most ancient places that is over 2000 years old. It was ruled by Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs and Portuguese. Even today it is still a melting pot with a blend of different cultures, countries and influences like North Africa, Spain, Portugal and France.
Tangier has the most interesting history and beautiful sights like the medina, Kasbah, bazaars and souks. The sounds from the muezzin and smells from the market made us feel like walking in an old Middle Eastern folk story.
Many parts of old Tangier, the Medina and the surrounding areas are very accessible by walking. We walked directly from the port along the old city walls to our hotel in the middle of the old city. There are several entrances and stairs leading into the Medina.
The two official languages of Morocco are Modern Standard Arabic and Berber, but Moroccan Arabic is what’s most commonly spoken on the street. Most locals and people we met, spoke English perfectly.
There are many great things to do in Tangier and in Morocco. Here are our top 10 favorite things and places to visit in Tangier:
Get Lost in the Medina
Getting lost in the Medina is an absolute must when visiting Tangier and it will happen when you step inside! The Medina, which is the old walled city, feels like stepping back in time. It is labyrinth of small streets and alleyways, miles of tiny, narrow, endless paths. Some streets only have colorful buildings on both sides, some have tunnels and other streets are filled with vendors. People sell ceramics, rugs, trinkets and more. There is everything from spices, metals and tanned leather to textiles, traditional clothing, silks and more.
Walking through these magical winding streets, felt like being in a fairytale and we could have spent hours just walking and looking and experiencing it all. We let the boys lead the way and it was very exciting for them to find new corners and to decide which direction to go. I really like to involve our kids in planning our travels and to decide what they want to see. It makes it much more interesting for them, makes them feel important and connects everybody. (A little tip on the side that works so well everytime. Each member of the family picks something that they like – for example in Puerto Rico my son wanted to go to the children museum while I wanted to do a horse carriage ride. We did both. Rather than complain about the carriage ride, he accepted and respected that it was my pick.) It just makes a much happier travel environment to involve the kids.
Other than lots of little streets, we also found many street cats. Around every other corner were little cats. Many of the cats were injured or dirty and it was rather heartbreaking for me. My kids found them very cute and tried to convince us to take some home with us. (we did not)
Visit a Traditional Souk or Carpet Store in the Medina
While inside the Medina, go and visit one of the souvenir stores. Morocco’s crafts are beautiful and carefully made; experience for yourself the centuries of traditional artisan techniques in the chiseled wood, stained glassware, and each knot on the hand-pulled rugs. The stores are charmingly clustered with lanterns, ceramics, carpets, textiles and so much more. Many of the stores have different rooms and levels specializing in carpets or clothing or something else. It almost feels like a museum and we spent over an hour in one of our favorite stores. The owners were very gracious and let us take pictures, served sweet peppermint tea and showed us carpet over carpet. They were extremely friendly. We ended up buying most of our things right at that store and were able to haggle with the prices. I wanted to buy the souvenirs anyways, so I was happy to buy it from them.
There are so many things to buy. Its possible to fill up an entire suitcase. Souvenirs worth buying are Argan Oil for the hair, saffron and some other spices and mixtures like Ras El Hanout, a tagine cooking pot, the famous blue and white ceramics, lanterns and of course a magical carpet. My son bought himself a traditional dress. He did not wear it very often since then, but was very happy about this treasure and still keeps it in his room. Seeing him being passionate about this clothing is one of many fond memories I have. We also bought a small leather camel for my daughter which looking back is such a great little souvenir standing on a shelf in her room.
Some street vendors have a more aggressive approach and really try to push selling their things. Just make it clear that you are not interested and after a couple more tries the vendor moves on.
Visit the Grand Socco Market
The Grand Socco Market is a pleasure for they eyes and for the nose. Vendors sell all sorts of loose dried spices, nuts, fruits, olives, herbs, breads and much more. The smells are incredible fragrant and Vendors attract customers by offering samples of their wares. Again it is such a special atmosphere and a must see when in Tangier.
Drink the Sweet Mint Tea
The most popular drink in Morocco is a sweet mint tea that is actually green tea with fresh mint inside. It is often called Moroccan mint tea because of how enmeshed it is in the local culture. The hot green tea brewed with spearmint and lots of sugar is served year-round and at all times of the day. We had so many tea ceremonies in Tangier and it quickly became the favorite drink of the family. It also was Luca’s favorite thing about Morocco.
In my opinion, the best way to enjoy the mint tea is on top of a roof terrace together with a cookie and a view, but it tasted just as great and sweet anywhere else. Moroccans are famous for their hospitality, and it is Moroccan etiquette to offer tea to any visitors that might stop by. It is served in beautiful tea pots and we love everything about it.
After tasting the mint tea, it was very interesting for us to sea the vendors selling the fresh mint on the side of the street.
Eat Moroccan Food in a Traditional Restaurant
I was hesitant before eating traditional Moroccan cuisine for the first time, because I don’t like too much spice in my food. I was really surprised how good it was, tasting intriguing flavor combinations with a subtle hint of different spices in just the right way. Everybody probably heard of couscous. I had eaten it before in the United States, but the couscous in Morocco tasted so much better. It’s no wonder, because it is a North African staple that’s been eaten by the indigenous Berbers for thousands of years. Couscous is served topped with slow-cooked beef, lamb, or chicken, spices and vegetables and is called Tagine. It is the unofficial national dish of Morocco and it’s served in the earthen clay pot called a tajine.
We tried several other dishes including a delicious soup (which I forgot the name) and a traditional Moroccan sweet chicken pie and loved it all. I am so happy we tried several dishes and I really recommend to go to a small traditional restaurant and do the same.
Try on Traditional Clothes
I highly recommend to try on traditional Moroccan clothes. Many stores will be happy to help and let the customers try on several outfits. Again, everybody was really friendly to us and I was impressed by the hospitality. We were served mint tea, tried on several beautiful dresses and hats while getting a cultural lesson about the garments.
The traditional dress for men and women is called djellaba and is a long, loose, hooded garment with full sleeves. It signifies purity, virtue, good fortune, and honorable moral qualities.
Olivia, our youngest daughter did not want to participate to try on clothes and watched us instead. I loved how the clothes looked and felt and immersed us in Moroccan culture.
Visit the Palace/ Kabash Museum
This museum was once known as “Dar el Makhzen,” which translates roughly to “The Sultan’s Palace,” and was the residence of Portuguese governors between 1471 and 1661. The museum contains many exhibits and artifacts showing the history from prehistoric time to the 19th century. The entrance fee is 20 dirhams per adult and 10 dirhams for kids and is open from 10am-6pm every day except Tuesdays.
While the information is only in Arabic and French, the architecture is still very fascinating. I loved the different mosaic tiles on the walls and floors as well as the gorgeous courtyard. There are several small rooms around the courtyard with different exhibitions.
It also has a magnificent Andalusian garden with lots of great picture opportunities.
Visit the Main Square
This large open plaza in Tangier that is also called the Grand Socco is the most central point for anyone visiting. It has a big fountain in the middle and is a great place to take a break. There are several cafes nearby but we just had a seat on one of the benches and watched people go about their daily lives.
It also connects the old part of the town with the new city and has several gates (with a street map and your location) that lead to the Medina and the Nouvelle City.
Listen to the Muezzin
The Muezzin is the official who proclaims the call to the daily prayer five times a day, at dawn, noon, midafternoon, sunset, and nightfall. .The muezzin is the servant of the mosque and is chosen for his good character.
Historically, a muezzin would have recited the call to prayer atop the minaret in order to be heard by those around the mosque. Now, mosques often have speakers on the minaret and the muezzin will use a microphone, or a recording is played, allowing the call to prayer to be heard at great distances without climbing the minaret.
Visit the Hercules Cave, Cape Spartel and the Beaches
Located about 14 kilometers west of the city of Tangier, Morocco, lies the famous Cave of Hercules, which is a fascinating archaeological cave and the most North Western point of mainland Africa. The cave is free to enter and to explore on your own, but there were also guided tours available. The cave system is open daily, year-round. July and August are the peak season and have the most visitors, including at the nearby beaches.
I wrote a blog post about our the Hercules Cave and Cape Spartel. For details, check out the post here:
Cape Spartel is a promontory in Morocco about 1,000 feet above sea level at the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar, about 15 min drive West of Tangier. It is where the Mediterranean sea meets the Atlantic Ocean! The Spartel lighthouse that was built in the 1860s by an international coalition (including the USA, France, Spain, and Morocco) in order to mark the entrance of the Strait of Gibraltar.