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Casablanca is always recognized by name for being the setting of the famed film. However, the city often inspires feelings of hesitation, skepticism and a little fear among tourists and Moroccans alike. It has a reputation of being dangerous, stressful, overwhelming in size and confusion. Like most large international cities, it is, of course, some of those things. And yet it is also so much more than that.
Casablanca has been undergoing a change. It moves forward into the future, driven by its citizens, the casawi, who are generally proud of their city and often have an expansive, international worldview. The downtown is in continuous revival, with buildings being renovated, more pedestrian walkways and better lighting at night. There is a very cosmopolitan vibe in this city that is the business and economic capital of Morocco.
At once rough around the edges and full of flash and glamour, Casablanca is a place of extremes in social culture. There is a very wealthy, western-minded, well traveled Moroccan population in this city, concentrated in the Quartier Californie, just a short cab ride away from a large sprawling shanty town/black market souk, Derb Ghallef.
There are people delivering produce or cleaning up garbage from horse drawn flatbed trailers as brand new BMWs, Ferraris and Mercedes cars cruise by, blasting hip hop music in cacophony with the chebbi music coming out of a nearby bright red (signature Casablanca color) petit taxi. It is at once gritty and graceful.
It is definitely worthy of a solid 24-48 hours visit. Choose some sights or some specific activities you want to try before you arrive and let yourself enjoy this interesting city.
Getting to Casablanca and Getting Around Casablanca
The Mohammed V airport is the main point of arrival for international visitors to Casablanca.. From the airport it is possible to take a train, bus, or a taxi into the city. You could also rent a car from the airport though be prepared, driving in Casablanca is no joke.
Need a transfer from the airport to a city hotel? You can book them online – here’s one to consider.
From the airport you can take the train to the city center. However you will need to make a switch. The airport train runs from the airport to the Casa Oasis station. If you are going to the city you will likely need to disembark at Casa Oasis and switch to a different train. There are only two train platforms making it relatively easy but do be aware.
You may also arrive to Casablanca by train, bus or car from other locations in the country. Almost any trip you take from North to South and back by bus or train will have a connection in Casablanca. The main train station in Casablanca is Casa Voyageurs.
Once in the city, without a car, you have a few options for getting around:
Hailing a petit taxi. These are the red four door compact cars riding around the city. They can only take 3 people at a time and if there is room, they will pick up people who are not traveling with you if everyone is going in the same direction. They have meters and you should ask the driver to use them.
There is also a tram – The Casablanca Tramway which takes you through the city center to the coast for a reasonable 6dhs per person. Its clean and efficient and offers enjoyable views of the city.
When you determine where you want to visit and settle yourself into a neighborhood, it is possible to walk and enjoy the city on foot. The Corniche, the Quartier Ma’arif and several other destinations will offer beautiful walking opportunities. However, walking between neighborhoods can be time consuming, physically tiring and confusing so taxis and the tram are recommended.
Things to do in Casablanca
Walk on the corniche at Ain Diab
You’ll feel like a local as this is one popular “casaoui” activity, strolling up and down the corniche, people watching, taking in the smell of the sea, stopping for mint tea, juices, fresh donuts, little bags of popcorn – or stop for a meal at any of the many seafood restaurants located here
The new medina of Casablanca – built by French colonial rulers in 1923. It is a charming maze of souks full of artisanal products, textiles, and cafes. It’s fun to shop here and there are some good photo opportunities as well. Wander off the shopping streets to some of the back streets – you will feel like you’re anywhere but Casablanca!
Being in Habous will also position you perfectly to visit one of the best pastry shops in Casablanca, Patisserie Benis Habous It is one of the oldest in the city, with walls covered in brightly colored zelige (Moroccan tiles) and display cases showing off the full range of traditional sweets made with such delicate flavors as almond paste, crushed pistachios, orange flower water and flakey pastry dough. Moroccans take their sweets seriously so think of this stop as a cultural education.
A large food market in the center of Casablanca, it is rich with a variety of fresh local food. Vibrant fruits and vegetables as well as freshly caught fish, along with all the action of the market make great photos.
Visiting the Marche Central is a bold and intimate view of Morocco, seeing all the food that is locally available, experiencing the French colonial architecture of downtown Casablanca. The contrasts, rich colors and varieties show Casablanca’s history, its natural resources – and original roots as an agricultural center, the Berber city of Anfa.
Shop & Cafe Hop in Ma’arif / Gauthier
These two neighborhoods are framed by the Blvds Anfa, Zarktouni and Roudani, marked by the twin towers shopping center. This is where western fashion and large chain stores and brand name boutiques can be found. There are also cheaper local shops and kiosks selling undergarments, socks, make up, and the like.
Also in these neighborhoods, you find a range of cafes from the simpler, older style places full of men and boys drinking mint tea and black coffee, watching soccer matches on a big screen to more lavish looking gourmet ice cream cafes or funky western cafes with gluten free desserts and almond milk lattes.
In the afternoon you can buy fresh seafood, chicken or sometimes even vegetarian briouats, stuffed and deep fried pastry triangles.
Hassan II Mosque
The tallest minaret in the world, and debated to be somewhere between the 3rd-5th largest mosque in the world, this mosque was built by the late King Hassan II from 1986-1993. It can accommodate over 100,000 worshippers assembled for prayers (25,000 inside and 80,000 in the outdoor courtyard).
The mosque has a retractable ceiling and a glass floor so that the ocean is visible through the floor of the prayer room.
It is possible for non Muslims to enter this Mosque with a guided tour. According to the mosque’s website, the tours are available from 9am-4pm 7 days a week. It’s best to contact the mosque to be sure of the exact tour times.
Taste of Casablanca Food Tour or Cooking Class
Taste of Casablanca offers a variety of food related experiences for visitors to Casablanca. From food tours to cooking classes and even a Moroccan tea experience in a Casablanca riad, you’ll have no shortage of options. We like the evening food tour if you’ll be spending the night.
Villa des Arts
A cultural center and art gallery showing contemporary exhibitions in an Art Deco villa from 1934. The villa is owned by the ONA foundations, promoting culture and creativity in Morocco.
Sacre Coeur Cathedral
This cathedral held religious congregations from 1930 to 1956 – just after the end of French colonial rule. Now it is used for cultural events and art exhibitions. Check it out to see what’s happening. The cathedral is undergoing renovations on and off so you may not be able to visit the interior depending on the status.
American Arts and Cultural Center
Opening in Spring/Summer 2020, this multistory arts complex is set to hold an art gallery, a bookstore, a performance theater and spaces for yoga, classes, workshops and trainings. The American Cultural Association is sponsoring this project.
Visiting with Kids? Be sure to check out our Casablanca for Kids guide!
Tours to Consider
Would you rather join a tour or have a guide you show you around the city? That can be arranged! There are regular guided tours of the Hassan II mosque that you can book in advance. If you want to see more of Casablanca beyond that iconic site consider one of these options.
Where to Eat in Casablanca
This is by far not an exhaustive list of restaurants in Casablanca. I have attempted to share a few different options for where to eat in Casablanca.
Located at the port on the edges of the old medina, La Sqala is a fortified bastion built in the 19th century that now hosts a restaurant popular for its breakfasts and also serving tajines for lunch and dinner. With lots of outdoor seating where diners are surrounded by colorful tiles, greenery and a fountain, there is a relaxing ambiance. It’s a fantastic location to experience Moroccan cuisine. Midpriced menu
For anyone that is looking for fresh food that is organic/bio and also caters to some specialty diets than look no further. Organic Kitchen offers a restaurant, juice bar, take away and barista to meet whatever needs you have. Breakfast and lunch options include starters, salads, sandwiches, tartines and a wide selection of larger plates. Gluten free, vegan and vegetarian options are available and clearly marked.
Hanna & Jenna Maroc
Situated in the Anfa quarter of Casablanca this small restaurant focuses on local products and a flexitarian menu. There is some meat on the menu but the focus is more plant based.
Ricks Café Casablanca
If you’re into the nostalgia and romance of experiencing the bar from Casablanca the movie, it is worth it to go to Rick’s Cafe. It will be a more touristy scene and the food is ok. There is live music. It is not the site of filming the movie and there is no “original” Rick’s Cafe from the movie – none of the movie was filmed in Morocco.
Bondi Coffee Kitchen
Australian owned coffee shop with gourmet gluten free desserts, avocado toast, smoothie bowls and coconut milk lattes. The crowd at this café is international with a funky, urban Casablanca vibe. You will find regular upper middle class Moroccan people hanging out here, working on their remote freelance projects, making art, taking their lunch breaks from their day jobs, etc.
Camel Souk in Derb Sultan
If you have been wanting to try camel meat, and are up for a serious adventure, ask a taxi driver to take you to the camel butcher in the Derb Sultan neighborhood. This is a very local and traditional neighborhood. The streets are full of people. There is a souk selling vegetables and fruits and other foods and clothing…literally everything you can think of.
In the middle of this, there is a circle of butcher stands, all selling camel meat. (You’ll know because there are camel heads hanging in the shop). You can walk up and order your came meat by weight, ground with cilantro, parsley, salt and cumin. Then you take it across the street to a cafe where they serve strong sweet Moroccan tea, grilled onions and tomatoes and grill your camel meat for you.
The Casawi (local term for Casablanca residents) are proud of their fast food. Restaurants of all genres are full of diners at all hours of the day and night. Several years ago, a bunch of American style burger joints started popping up around the city. Blend Burger takes a gourmet approach with unusual creations like a camel burger with gouda cheese and a date chutney.
The menu is at western prices, around $10-$15 for a gourmet burger. But this is really the vibe of the whole place. It’s modern and cosmopolitan. The menu is creative. The prices reflect the intention of the restaurant and it’s good.
In the Habous neighborhood, this is a must visit stop. It began as a patisserie and you’ll still find a wide variety of fantastic cookies and pastries. They also now offer takeaway food from tajine to roast chicken and lots more. If they have bstilla available do yourself a favor and get one – or a dozen. Both the chicken and seafood are fantastic.
Le Gatsby Cafe
This is a new-ish cafe located adjacent from the Hassan II mosque. The inside is large and airy and they have a full food menu (breakfast, lunch and dinner) as well as cafe menu. If you can pop in for their teatime menu for 2.
Night Life in Casablanca
There is a lot of nightlife in Casablanca from upscale and exclusive clubs to dive bars with beaded curtains over the doors and everything in between. Below are two of the most well known locations with good food and interesting entertainment.
A tapas restaurant and bar with live music and salsa dancing. The food here is really good. The music is great. And you can dance. Popular with locals and tourists, La Bodega is a good time.
Le Petit Rocher
Located on the water near the El Hank lighthouse, this is another club with good food, casual atmosphere and live latino music among other genres.
Best Hotels in Casablanca
Casablanca Four Seasons
A fantastic upscale hotel by the sea. It has high class style, spacious rooms, and a luxury spa. The food is outstanding and there are dining areas overlooking the ocean. They also serve afternoon tea for 200 dhs; an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful ambiance without spending the night.
Perfectly located in the heart of Ma’arif, the popular shopping district, the DownTown Hotel is made up of art deco style apartments. It has a cool energy, lots of space and the price is really reasonable (around 800 dhs/night) for the high standard of the hotel’s cleanliness and design.
Hotel and Spa Le Doge
This is one of our very favorite hotels in the city. It’s location is a bit out of the way but taxis are easily accessible. The hotel itself is an art deco throwback that is beautifully appointed with a mixture of Moroccan and French influences. It’s worth a trip to Casablanca to stay here!
Located in the Casablanca City Center, the Movenpick has comfortable, large rooms with modern decor. They also have a rooftop pool and dining area that overlooks the city
ONOMO Hotel Casablanca City Center
In the Racine district this hotel is a comfortable 4 star hotel with a variety of room configurations across their 201 rooms. ONOMO is an African hotel chain with hotels across West Africa bringing together modern technology and affordable business travel amenities. They also strive to highlight African cultures by incorporating visual art from across the continent.
If you can read French, check out the culture section of TelQuel Maroc. You will find insider information on local music festivals (genres as diverse as Jazz, African beats and the Saharawi traditional trance music, Gnaoua. You will also find listings for art galleries and other events.
You may notice some beautiful murals covering the sides of high rise buildings. These are the signs of a budding more intentional street art movement and here is a website where you can read up on the latest paintings and find them around the city.
Coming in Spring/Summer 2020, A New Arts and Culture Center in the Gauthier neighborhood of Casablanca. It is right in the center of the new town, not far from the US Embassy.
A Final Note
The real charm of Casablanca lies in the diversity, the vastness of its size and the surprises available therein. The Moroccan residents in Casa represent all walks of life; from the high society set to people who migrated from the countryside to the city in search of work. There are communities of Indian and Asian as well as European and American expats.
Casablanca has an art scene, a large yoga community, local musicians and djs and actors and filmmakers. As a visitor to the city you will not be able to access all of the city’s subtleties. Yet it is worth a try. Unlike any other city in Morocco, this place will stand out in your memory as a contrast to many of the other places you might see during your stay. Take the time to wander around the neighborhoods you visit. Try some street food, Observe the people and allow yourself to see the unexpected.
Special thanks to Erin Wilson of The Flow Yoga Studio Marrakech and long-time Casablanca lover for helping compile this guide!
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