In this article, our guest author Anna Rice gives us some great reasons to visit Casablanca in Morocco, which is often passed by as visitors head on to Marrakech and Fes, yet you can find great food, sightseeing and street-life to keep you entertained for a few days.
Casablanca is often overlooked as a travel destination, since most tourists coming to Morocco make a beeline for the more exotic parts of the country: Marrakech, Fes, Chefchaouen, the Sahara, or the Atlas Mountains. But Casablanca is the place many visitors land first – including those arriving on the only direct flight from New York. Instead of writing off Casablanca and immediately hopping on a train or connecting flight, it’s worth it to spend at least a day or two in Morocco’s industrial capital.
This is something I learned after visiting the city twice. I’d read the same guides as everyone else, saying Casablanca wasn’t worth much time. But I had a reason to stick around: my sister lives there! She’s been teaching in the city for the past two years, which is plenty of time to uncover Casblanca’s best spots. This was fortunate for me, as I had an expert tour guide. So before rushing off to Marrakech, here are 5 reasons I think you should stay in Casablanca for more than a couple hours:
Casablanca has a very cosmopolitan dining and nightlife scene
Marrakech is certainly the destination of choice for the fashionable set visiting Morocco. But Casablanca has enough new (and more affordable) trendy restaurants to be a culinary destination of its own. The hot spot of the moment is Blend, a burger restaurant where you will probably have a hard time getting a table during prime dining hours. After indulging in one of their gourmet burgers, hit up La Bodega, a Spanish-style tapas bar where expats gather for drinks in a loud but fun atmosphere.
Looking for something a little more refined? Make a reservation at upscale, waterfront establishment Le Cabestan and ask for a table by the water. Prepare to shell out American prices for ocean views, beautiful patrons and top-notch food. For weekend brunch, visit La Sqala, which serves fresh squeezed juices and traditional Moroccan breakfast foods in a beautiful outdoor setting within the walls of an old fortress.
Mosque Hassan II
Most Westerners have never been inside a mosque, but Mosque Hassan II offers the rare opportunity to take a tour. Sitting on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, its one of Morocco’s top architectural wonders. It was commissioned by King Hassan II, took seven years to build, and can fit up to 25,000 worshipers. Tours are offered in several languages at set times daily, except on Fridays. Visitors to Mosque Hassan II should dress conservatively and respectfully (make sure your arms, shoulders, neckline and knees are covered) and bring a pair of socks, as you’ll be required to remove your shoes for part of the tour.
Art Deco Architecture
Bustling downtown Casablanca will leave you feeling like you stepped into a time machine. French architects who embraced the Art Deco movement of the early 20th century practically took over Casablanca, and there are plenty of historic buildings to see. Some of them are unfortunately in crumbling disrepair while others are well maintained. Overall, this neighborhood is an authentic slice of Morocco’s history as a French colony.
The best place to take in the sights is Boulevard Mohammed V, where you can stroll alongside Casablanca’s brand new tram. The street eventually leads to Place des Nations Unies, a large and busy square surrounded by shops, restaurants and offices. Other notable sites to see examples of Moroccan/French architecture in Casablanca include the Grande Poste, the clock tower of the Wilaya (government building), the Banque d’Etat and the Sacre Coeur Cathedral, which is no longer a functioning church.
Markets in Casablanca
While there are definitely more historical and attractive medinas in Marakech and Fes, the Casablanca medina is worth checking out simply because there are few other tourists there. It’s a rare peek into the daily life of the city’s Moroccan residents. Don’t spend too much time shopping here – most of the souvenirs are imported from other parts of the country and therefore more expensive. The entrance to the medina is located off of Place des Nations Unies.
A better shopping destination to visit (even if you aren’t shopping) is Marche Central. This buzzing street market was originally designed for Europeans but today it caters to both expats and Moroccans. If you like seafood, you can select a freshly caught fish and then take it around the corner to a grill to have it cooked to perfection. The market also sells fruits, vegetables and other food items, making it a great spot to stop before a picnic on the beach. Just don’t forget to haggle for the best price!
Growing Art Scene
Cheap rent makes Casablanca an ideal place for artists to live, and a plethora of abandoned buildings provides a canvas. One can’t-miss is Les Anciens Abbatoirs, a former slaughterhouse that still has meat hooks hanging and blood stains on the floor. A collective of cultural associations and artists, La Fabrique Culturelle, has taken it over recently and turned it into a gallery space and performance venue.
Another popular up-and-coming space is La Galerie 38, which supports local Moroccan artists as well as international names. La Galerie 38 is connected to Le Studio des Arts Vivants, a large studio that is at the center of Morocco’s contemporary art scene. Students of all ages can take lessons in music, art, dance and theatre with teachers from all over the world. The best representation of the increasingly modern Moroccan art scene is Galerie L’Atelier 21, which offers pieces from both emerging and established local designers.
Anna Rice is the writer behind The Weekend Jetsetter, a travel blog written for those want to see the world – without quitting their day job. A publicist by day, Rice spends her weekends, holidays and vacation days globetrotting in 2-5 day chunks. You can read more of her Morocco tips on her site, or follow her on Instagram
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