Like many port cities, Tangier is a melting pot of cultures, lifestyles and beliefs. The influence of Spain, Britain and North Africa, and the fact that for 33 years it was ruled by several foreign countries simultaneously, attracted artists, adventurers and scholars.
This white city is full of mysterious energy as traditional Morocco collides with colonial neighborhoods, new business districts and young, free Moroccans. Here are seven unique things you can do on a trip to Tangier.
1. American Legion Museum
America’s only national historical landmark abroad has an interesting history; in 1777, Morocco was the first country to recognize American independence. It may be hard now to imagine the United States as a fledgling nation, but in the 18th century, this country was desperate for allies in the Revolutionary War with England. Located near (appropriately named) Babemerian, this Moorish-style mansion houses a collection of paintings, gifts and furniture collected since it became a diplomatic institution in 1821. The research library attracts scholars from all over the world who come to view antique maps, foreign travel accounts and photographs to learn about Tangier’s past.
2. See the meeting point of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
Two large bodies of water meet but don’t mix – what does that mean? This may sound like a riddle, but the answer is simple: the Mediterranean is more salty and the sea is heavier, so the difference in color and roughness of the water becomes clear here in the Strait of Gibraltar. There are impeccable views from Casbah, where the ruins of the old fortress walls become part of history against the views of Spain, the new port and this natural wonder.
3. To see a film at the Cinéma Rif.
Tangier has quite a cinematic element to it, not only being home to Hollywood blockbusters such as Inception and The Bourne Ultimatum, but also hosting several film festivals, including the Tangier International Film Festival.Cinéma Rif’s red and white facade draws attention to the 1957 Art Deco design. Inside, you’ll find a colorful café and a modern theater that shows Moroccan, French, Spanish and American films year-round. You can sit outside with a cup of coffee and a pastry before watching a movie; here you’ll have the best seats to watch the people passing by the Grand Socco on their way to the maze-like atrium.
4. View from Café Haffa
There’s a reason people have been drawn to this cliffside cafe since it opened in 1921. From the terrace here, you have a great view of Andalusia and Tangier Bay. If you feel inspired while visiting Café Hafa, you’re not the only source of inspiration here, with its flower-lined patio, mosaic tile tables and authentic Moroccan mint tea that has attracted the likes of Tennessee Williams, Mick Jagger and The Beatles for decades. Take a seat and raise a glass to the view.
5. Take a trip to Parc Perdicaris
The name Jan Perdicris may not be familiar to most of us by now, but in the late 19th century, the Greek-American “bon vivant” was a well-known figure. After precipitating the life of a playboy, he built a home for his wife in the Rmilat forest and planted hundreds of native and exotic plants on 165 acres of land. This botanical garden reflects the character of Morocco itself. Next to the oaks and ferns of the Rif Mountains, you’ll find Portuguese laurel, tropical palm trees and Persian walnut trees.
6. Exploring the Librairie des Colonnes
In a city known for inspiring literary celebrities, a bookstore is more than just a bookstore. Since its opening in 1949, frequent visits by literary luminaries such as Truman Capote, Jane and Paul Powers, William S. Burroughs and Tahar Benjamin have made the Librairie des Colonnes a landmark attraction. This multilingual bookstore has books in Arabic, English, Spanish, French and more. If you want a glimpse into the era when Western writers roamed the streets of Tangier, pick up a copy of In Tangier by Mohamed Choukri, a Moroccan writer who befriended Paul Bowles, Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams in the 1960s.
7. Build your strength with Hercules
The mythical cave known as Les Grottes d’Hercule is said to be where the Greek gods rested after completing the eleventh of the twelve labors to guarantee their immortality. There are two grottoes here, one naturally formed and the other made of stone walls by the Berbers. At the entrance, you’ll find traditional musicians and local artisans eager to sell their wares. Most people will direct you towards the cave’s mouth, which looks so much like a silhouette of the African continent that it makes you realize that you really are at the gateway to Africa.