Explore Casablanca Morocco
Explore Casablanca, the cosmopolitan, industrial and economic heart of Morocco and its largest city, as well as perhaps one of the less obviously endearing cities in the country. With a small, unassuming medina and a busy ville nouvelle, travellers arriving via Casablanca may be tempted to find the first train out to nearby Rabat. The awe-inspiring Hassan II Mosque and happening nightlife, however, are worth at least a day of your Moroccan itinerary. And if you are the more adventurous, independent sort of traveller who wants to go beyond what is ‘pretty’, this is North African big city life in all its grit and glory, with its cultural diversity (there are immigrants here from many other parts of Africa), and its many neighborhoods of vibrant day- and night-life.
The modern city of Casablanca was founded by Berber fishermen in the 10th Century BC and was subsequently used by the Phoenicians, Romans, and the Merenids as a strategic port called Anfa. The Portuguese destroyed it and rebuilt it under the name Casa Blanca, only to abandon it after an earthquake in 1755. The Moroccan sultan rebuilt the city as Daru l-Badya and it was given its current name of Casablanca by Spanish traders who established trading bases there. The French occupied the city in 1907, establishing it as a protectorate in 1912 and starting construction of the ville nouvelle, however it gained independence with the rest of the country in 1956.
Casablanca is now Morocco‘s largest city with a population of almost 4 million and also boasts the world’s largest artificial port but no ferry service of any kind. Casablanca is also the most liberal and progressive of Morocco‘s cities.
Casablanca has a Mediterranean climate with warm summers, pleasant winters and moderate rainfall.
Mohammed V International Airport is the busiest gateway to the country and is well-connected to Europe.
There is a well maintained toll that runs from Tangier to El Jadida, passing through Casablanca and Rabat.
The minimum driving age in Casablanca is 18. Always carry your driver’s license and passport while driving.
What to see. Best top attractions in Casablanca Morocco
- The King Hassan II Mosque, Boulevard Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah, Tours: Sat-Thu beginning at 9AM, 10AM, 11AM and 2PM. A relatively new mosque, it’s the largest in Morocco and the third largest in the world–also consisting of the tallest minaret in the world. It is one of the two main mosques in Morocco open to non-Muslims. Beautiful interior complete with water features, a roof that opens to the sky, a huge hammam in the basement (not in use), and beautiful tile work. Worth a trip to the city.
- Old Medina, North of of the Place des Nations Unies There is a small, traditional walled town in the north of Casablanca. If you are in town it’s worth a visit, but it’s nothing compared to the glories of Fes or Marrakech.
- The Corniche is a neighborhood on the ocean, west of the Hassan II Mosque. Decades ago, it was a thriving resort area – hotels lining the ocean side of the Boulevard de la Corniche and nightclubs lining the other side. Most look like they’ve seen better days, but it’s almost disorienting how much it resembles the New Jersey Shore. Along the Boulevard de l’Ocean Atlantique are many newer, fancier hotels. The Corniche is also home to many western fast food chains. A new western-style movie theater can also be found here, but the best option is to walk up and down the street, resting at one of the many ocean-view cafes.
- The Shrine of Sidi Abderrahman is built on a rock offshore, well past The Corniche, and is only accessible at low tide. The shrine itself is off-limits to non-Muslims, but visitors are permitted to explore the tiny, Medina-like neighborhood that has sprung up around it. A better bet is to walk to it along the beach and catch a view of the beautiful white walls before catching a cab to less remote areas.
- Mahkama du Pacha. This is a Hispanic-Moorish building comprised of more than 60 ornate rooms with delicately carved wooden ceilings. There are many stuccoes and intricate wrought-iron railings as well as beautifully-tiled floors. While entrance may be free it is not easy to get in. You need to find a guide to accompany you. Ask around – especially if you speak some French – as it is worth the entrance. Open hours: Mon-Sat 8:00-12:00 & 14:00-18:00.
- Central Post Office Come here to send your postcards in style! Built in 1918, the facade of this building is composed of both round and rectangular shapes. Once you approach you will get a good view of the excellent mosaics.
- Aïn Diab Plage, Casa Tramway terminus. Free to enter. Go for great people-watching, join a pick-up soccer game, buy a paddleball set from a mobile vendor, or hire a horse or camel ride. Bring your own picnic or try the sandwiches, ice cream, friend pastries, popcorn, fresh orange juice, french fries, coffee, and tea sold at stands or by passing vendors. Umbrella and two chairs.
- Swimming in Ain Diab or anywhere on Moroccan Atlantic Coast can be hazardous because of rip currents. Water is usually cold even in the summer months, but there are exceptional days when the water is warm and free of rip of currents.
What to do in Casablanca
What to buy
- Next to the beach in the Ain Diab area, there you have the “Morocco Mall”, which is the second largest shopping mall of Africa. All major chains, stores and (exclusive) brands are represented in the mall, as well as an IMAX theatre and many more different activities besides shopping.
- Next to Megarama Cinema and front of kind Abdulaziz mosque, there you have “Anfa Place Mall “. it’s roughly the same as the former.
- Around the old Medina it’s easy to find places selling traditional Moroccan goods, such as tagines, pottery, leather goods, hookahs, and a whole spectrum of geegaws. In Fes or Marrakesh the selection and competition are much greater, and you can probably bargain for a lower price.
- The Maarif neighborhood (near the twin center) has many name-brand European and American fashion chains, such as Zara. Designer glasses, leather shoes, and “genuine” belts, bags, and shirts can be had at bargain prices.
- The Derb Ghalef neighborhood has a huge souq that is not for the faint of heart. A cluster of small shanties, each one is loaded with “genuine” mobile phones, “genuine” watches, and “genuine” “brand name” clothing. The shops are separated by alleys no more than three feet wide, some of which double as drainage ditches. There are numerous fruit smoothie stands in the center, which make a good spot for regrouping and planning your excursion. The stall owners are, of course, kings of negotiating, and without a good handle on Arabic and a strong backbone, you’re likely to pay well over the going rate for anything.
What to eat
Restaurants in Morocco don’t open until around 7pm at the earliest, and most people don’t eat until much later. Be sure to call first and make sure your restaurant of choice is actually open.
What to drink
Nightlife in Casablanca has mixed reviews. Women might feel a bit uncomfortable with the mostly male crowds in many bars and nightclubs. But if you dig a bit, you’ll find some excellent spots to drink, dance and people watch. Certain clubs are flooded with prostitutes at night. It is not advised to bring a girl back to a hotel.
If you want a drink in your hotel room, supermarkets like Acima and Marjane carry a wide variety of liquor and wine, though the beer selection is fairly stunted. The best places to drink are either European-style restaurants, which usually have a decent selection, or hotel bars, which are inevitably safer and more relaxed. Many western-style nightclubs exist in the Maarif and Gironde neighborhoods.
Casablanca is served by all of the mobile companies that can be found elsewhere in Morocco. Inwi, Orange, and Maroc Telecom (IAM) are the most common. Mobile phones can be bought in any of these store’s stands, and most do not run on calling plans. Rather, recharge cards can be bought in corner stores that contain a number to call. When that number is called, the company adds the price of the card to your account’s balance. Alternatively, more than one SIM card can be bought and changed in and out of the phone, if users need more than one phone number.
Casablanca is unlikely to provide North American or European travellers with any headaches. Despite being a major population center and seat of commerce, the majority of the town is less than 50 years old and could easily be mistaken for Los Angeles or Madrid. Food is as European as it gets in Morocco, with pizzas and hamburgers as frequent as tajines and couscous. In some areas, such as the Maarif and Gironde neighborhoods, seeing a man in a djellaba or a donkey pulling a cart of vegetables are rarities. If even the trappings of Moroccan culture such as these are too much for you, any hotel bar or restaurant is going to be just like home for a few hours.
When you want to explore casablanca and what surrounds it, for other Moroccan cities is likely to be by rail: the main train station is Casa Voyageur.