When we say “city break”, we usually mean spending 2-3 days in a city of our own country or at least on the same continent (in this case, Europe), but what about a city break on another continent? Would it be a good idea? Is it worth it? Is there enough time for visiting?
Well, we’ve tried it! We went on a city break in Morocco and managed to see 2 wonderful cities in 3 days: Tangier and Chefchaouen, located in the north of the country, at a stone’s throw from Spain. I’ll try to sum up our experience there so that by the end of this article you can figure out whether you should add Morocco on your destination list or not.
How to get there
We arrived in Tangier by taking a Ryanair flight from Milan Bergamo. Ryanair operates direct flights to Tangier from Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, so if you live in one of these countries or have good connections for one of them, I would say it’s worth taking a flight to Tangier and see the cultural diversity that awaits you there. Tangier Airport is located about 10 km away from the city. You can choose an accommodation unit that provides airport pick-up service or you can take a taxi from the airport.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Romanian citizens don’t need an entry visa for travelling to Morocco, but the passport must be valid for at least 3 months from the expected date of departure from the territory of the Moroccan state. As for citizens of other countries, make sure you read carefully the regulations for your own country.
Best time to visit
To avoid the summer heat and winter cold, the best time to visit the north of Morocco would be during spring. We went at the end of March and it was perfect: sunny, warm, but at the same time refreshing, with some cold breeze. However, pay attention to the dates of the Ramadan each year, you should better not visit Morocco during Ramadan.
The currency of Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham. Although some hotels and restaurants may accept Euros and US dollars, you should still convert some cash.
What to see in Tangier
Tangier is a mix of North Africa, Spain, Portugal, France and has a charm that will mesmerize you. We could say it is divided into the old town or medina and the new town or the modern district of Tangier. Medina is colourful, vivid, full of street vendors, local markets, packed narrow alleys, tourists and locals altogether, whereas the new town resembles a European city, with office buildings, shopping malls, Italian restaurants etc. There is quite a remarkable difference between the two parts of Tangier. Most people speak Arabic, French, Spanish and a few English words.
“Kasbah” is the citadel of a North African city. In Tangier, it is located north-west of the medina, up a hill. You can wander through the cobbled alleyways and admire the Atlantic Ocean from the hilltop locations of the Kasbah.
The Phoenician tombs are located on a cliff close to Hafa Café. This is a place where the locals go to relax, enjoy the ocean breeze, the city and harbour views. However, it’s a pity that the tombs are usually filled with litter.
The Grand Socco
The Grand Socco is a large open plaza in Tangier, with a mosque to one side and cinema on the other side. It can be quite chaotic in the afternoon and evenings because people go there to relax, to have a walk or a chat with friends or to buy things from the indoor market, where you can find all sorts of fruits, veggies, meat, nuts, herbs, spices etc.
The Grande Mosquée Of Tangier
The Great Mosque of Tangier is located in the medina, it’s outstanding due to its colourful minaret. There is a second beautiful mosque in Tangier – the Port Mosque.
The Beach Promenade
It was night when we arrived on the beach promenade, so, unfortunately, we couldn’t fully enjoy the view. However, we noticed the clean sandy beach and people of all ages taking an evening walk, while being surrounded by both the modern spirit of Tangier and the old charm of the medina.
From Tangier to Chefchaouen
In about one day and a half you can see everything worth seeing in Tangier, so why not move forward to another extraordinary city? We chose to visit Chefchaouen (The Blue City, as I like calling it), a city located about 112 km away from Tangier, well known for its buildings painted in shades of blue. From Tangier’s Gare Routiere, several bus companies are providing the route to Chefchaouen. At a quick search on the Internet, it appears to be only one company, CTM, with only one ride per day (as we initially thought as well), but there are more companies and tickets can be bought on the spot. The bus ride takes about 2 h 45 min.
What to see in Chefchaouen
Seen from far away, Chefchaouen seems a piece of blue sky on the ground. It’s a lovely town surrounded by majestic mountains. The medina is impressive due to the many shades of blue: on the walls, roofs, doors, alleys, fences, blue is everywhere. Allow yourself to get lost in this blue labyrinth, explore, wander through the narrow alleys, buy some handmade souvenirs, admire local paintings, be overwhelmed by different fragrances and aromas, play with a stray cat, get lost in the crowd of locals and tourists and, of course, take some amazing photos.
Plaza Uta el-Hammam
Plaza Uta el-Hammam is the central point of the town, it’s a fusion between Arab and Spanish influences. It is a place suitable for relaxation, for enjoying a snack or a drink or simply for observing the people.
The Grand Mosque
The Grand Mosque is one of the most important buildings in town and is interesting particularly due to its unique octagonal minaret. Only Muslims can enter.
Kasbah Museum, also known as the Ethnographic Museum, lies within the Andalusian Gardens in the centre of the medina. Visitors can enjoy first a walk inside the green oasis, then explore the history of Chefchaouen region inside the museum (but ATTENTION: there are no explanations in English! Only in Arabic/French/Spanish if I remember well).
Both in Tangier and Chefchaouen you can find accommodation for all budgets, from hostels to hotels, riads or Airbnb properties and many of these have a rooftop terrace, which is great for admiring the city views or having breakfast. I recommend spending at least one night in a riad – this is a typical Moroccan building that usually has an indoor courtyard with gardens and fountains and is designed with Moroccan tiles. It would make your experience in Morocco authentic.
Food & Drinks
You should definitely try the Moroccan mint tea (with fresh mint leaves and sugar) and the freshly squeezed orange juice. However, you should avoid ice cubes! Or if you really want ice cubes, you should make sure they are made of bottled water and not tap water. Avoid drinking tap water or even washing your fruits with it. I heard many stories of people having “issues” because of tap water in Morocco. Since Morocco is a Muslim country, you can’t find alcohol everywhere. We didn’t miss alcohol those 3 days, so we didn’t even bother finding a place where we could buy it.
I will not tell you what to eat (Moroccan cuisine is quite rich and tasty, you can surely find something to your liking, be it meat- or seafood-based dishes or veggies), but what you should pay attention to before choosing what to eat. As I wandered through the market, I saw many vendors selling meat or dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and not having a fridge! So the products were right there in the heat (I guess there were about 15-18° C), surrounded by flies. You can check restaurants’ rating on Trip Advisor or choose a restaurant where you can see the fridge (some have the fridge somewhere near the entrance) or avoid dairy products and meat. I wouldn’t recommend street food, not even homemade sweets unless they are cooked right in front of you.
Common sense practices
- Both men and women should dress decently and not revealing (no shorts, mini-skirts, low-cut tops), out of respect for the Muslim religion and the Moroccan conservative style.
- If you purchase alcohol, don’t drink it in public places such as parks, plazas, streets etc.
- If you happen to be outside during the call to prayer, which is 5 times per day, don’t stare at the people who pray silently (for example, some people pray in the square) and don’t disturb them.
If you have more time, you can even take a ferry from Tangier to Tarifa, Spain. If I were in Tangier for the second time, I would surely do this because I would like to better understand the connection between these 2 cities from different continents.
For Europeans, Tangier and Chefchaouen might seem 2 cities from a different world: different culture, religion, cuisine, dress code and others. Compared with other African destinations, Morocco is quite affordable and easy to reach and you don’t even need a 2-week holiday because a city break is enough to get the taste of it. All in all, our experience was worth it a great deal and I would gladly go back to Morocco again.