Tangier for first timers

By Colin Baird, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Tangier.

Overall rating:4.5 out of 5 (based on 4 votes)
Recommended for:
Short Break, Mid-range

Hire a local guide to help you navigate the medina, sleep in a converted riad, enjoy Tangier cooking at its finest and sample the mint tea in legendary cafés

For a first-time visitor to the city, Tangier can appear daunting, particularly as most travel guides mention a seedy reputation and stories of scams and hustling. Read on to discover that this is not always the case and it can be welcoming and exciting.

Tangier is famous for being the origin of the name tangerine, as this is where the first tangerines were shipped from to Europe. In the 1940s and 1950s the city was a meeting place for secret agents and a hangout for millionaires. Tangier inspired several famous writers including Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams and William S. Burroughs. Nowadays there is lots of modernisation underway; including a new airport and port, but the classic view of white-washed buildings tumbling down the hillsides is untouched.

Getting there

I took a sleeping compartment on the famed Marrakech Express; the overnight train between these two cities. Tangier station is a bit of a surprise with its neo-Moorish style; a symbol of a modern, confident Morocco.

My taxi driver abandoned me in the car while he wandered off to hunt down more customers. I sat wondering if this was typical Tangier taxi driver behaviour. Minutes later, and with a French couple deposited in the back, we sped off and I instinctively grabbed my seat belt. The driver laughed “not working.” I would just have to somehow enjoy the way that he tackled the corners as if on a formula one track.

Where to stay

My hotel, La Tangerina, is located at the top of the medina (old city) within the Kasbah (fort). Travellers’ tales of getting hopelessly lost inside medinas abound, so it was worrying that my native taxi driver had to stop twice to ask for directions. A man said that he would walk me to the hotel. I took up the offer but worried he would hassle me for money. In fact, he subjected me to nothing more than pleasant small talk.

Entering La Tangerina I found myself in a world of calm and relaxation. Chopin was playing on the radio and I was shown to the breakfast room. Freshly squeezed orange juice, strong coffee and freshly baked croissants awaited. Five minutes into enjoying this I was pleasantly surprised by the arrival of a crêpe that the kitchen had been preparing since I had sat down. I loved that the plates had the hotel’s name on them, but each in a unique writing style and colour.

Hotel La Tangerina is a converted riad, the former townhouses belonging to the richest families. It has ten rooms, arranged on three floors around a central courtyard, each with its own character. My room, number 4 (950 dirhams), is a beauty with twin beds on a mezzanine level and a small sitting room and bathroom with large walk-in shower downstairs. The rooms have antique radios which are centrally tuned from the reception; classical in the morning, pop in the afternoon and jazz in the evening. It is a really nice touch.

My evening meal (Dh200) here was one of the best I had in Morocco. A starter of harira; tomato and lentil soup seasoned with ginger, pepper, and cinnamon. A salad course consisted of a bowl of mixed salad, marinated aubergines and crunchy green beans. The main course of chicken tagine had melt in the mouth meat, chunky olives and a tomato sauce fragrant with ginger, garlic, cumin and cinnamon.

The rooftop terrace, unsurprisingly, has adjective-inducing views over the medina and Strait of Gibraltar. Make sure that one of your companions is a camera, particularly at sunset.

Local guide

I hired a guide because I felt it was the most efficient way to see the city in one day and to keep away the hustlers and conmen that I had read so much about. Said Nacer (Dh315 for city tour, www.d-destination.com) is a wonderful ambassador for Morocco. It was like spending a day with a good friend as he was happy to talk about any subject. I saw so much with Said that it is impossible to describe everything here, so I am going to pick out my favourites:

Food market
I pounced on the stalls selling dates. Once you have tasted fresh dates in North Africa you will never be able to accept what is on offer at your supermarket ever again. In these markets there are at least a dozen varieties with different prices according to quality and taste. Morocco actually has to import dates from Tunisia as it cannot produce enough to satisfy the population.

American Legation (8 Rue America, www.legation.org)
Morocco was the first country to recognise the newly independent United States of America and here in Tangier is the first ever American property outside of the US. You can walk through the rooms that are a nice slice of colonial America and view the fine art collection. A room dedicated to Beat Generation writer Paul Bowels is on the ground floor.

Coffee break and lunch
We took café noir and chatted in Café Central (Petit Socco) the hands down winner when it comes to people watching spots in the medina.

I took lunch in one of Said’s favourite restaurants, Andalus (7 Rue de Commerce) a few steps away. This is the kind of place that only a local would know about. You have to walk through the tiny, rudimentary kitchen to reach the tables of which there are only six. The decor is non-existent, but the food is freshly cooked to order and very, very tasty. Mullet with chips and peas seasoned with cumin was simply delicious (Dh60).

Hotel Continental (36 Rue Dar el-Bariud)
Hotel Continental is an example of faded grandeur. Churchill, Degas and Kerouac once stayed here. The bedrooms (from Dh400) are mostly threadbare, but the decoration in the public rooms is drop-dead North African gorgeous. Colourful and patterned tiles and intricate stucco work kept me amused with my camera for ages. There is a little café where you can take your mint tea in a cute sun room or on the terrace looking out to sea.

Departure and café hopping

I spent the following morning on my own. First stop was Café de Paris (Place de France), once a meeting place for spies, literati, painters and nationalists. See if you can find where Julia Stiles sat in the Bourne Ultimatum.

Next up was Pâtisserie Española (97 Rue de la Liberté) the best place in Tangier for cakes and pastries.

I took the ferry to Spain and to get to the port from La Tangerina I had to walk through the medina. Despite having a backpack, carrying a carpet and taking quite a few wrong turns I didn’t get hassled. One shop keeper chased after me with a glass of mint tea insisting that I had hours before the ferry left and should spend this in his shop, but that was just a bit of fun. My conclusion is that Tangier largely fails to live up to the negative image of danger and annoyance.

How to get there

Overnight train from Marrakech: Dh350 for a bed in a four-berth compartment.

Ferry from Spain: Dh300-450 to Algeciras.

Flights: direct from London, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona.

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More information on Tangier for first timers:

Colin Baird
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
Average: 4.5 (4 votes)
Total views:
First uploaded:
9 February 2010
Last updated:
5 years 25 weeks 21 hours 8 min 36 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Short Break
Budget level:
Free tags / Keywords:
riad, medina, city break, café-hopping

Colin recommends


Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Hotel Continental
2. Hotel La Tangerina

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Community comments (10)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Thank you Colin I love this guide! I have friends who stayed in Marrakech recently and did indeed find the hastle on the streets too much for them but you've helped to restore my faith- I so would love to stay in a riadh but a hotel where Jack Kerouac stayed! Don't know how I would choose. This has really cheered up a drab grey morning for me and I have to say thanks to Simonseeks too for making this possible.

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Thank you for the lovely review Johanna. It is so nice to receive such positive feedback and I appreciate you taking the time to let me know how much you enjoyed the guide. I do hope that you are able to visit Tangier.

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Colin, really enjoyed this. Tangier has never occurred to me before, but now I've watched the hotel video, I think I'll have to go!

Some great food tips too.

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Thank you Murray. Something that I didn't have space to write about the hotel was how nice the staff were. In particular, Farida, the owner. She was lovely and easy going, making me feel very welcome. She was full of tips and ideas of what to see and do

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Colin, really enjoyed this. Tangier has never occurred to me before, but now I've watched the hotel video, I think I'll have to go!

Some great food tips too.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

As the saying goes 'It does what it says on the tin.' A great guide for first timers. We've thought about north Africa for a long time, but don't like too much hassle. I looked up La Tangerina on Trip Adviser, and it gets full marks. The guide chap would be just our cup of (mint) tea, as well. Thanks for the recommendation. One small point! How am I going to write it up after that?!!! Myra.

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Thank you Myra! Yes, do go to North Africa. You will have a wondeful time. I would say that in terms of hassle I had less bother in Tangier than I did in Marrakech although the guidebook perspective is generally the opposite. Also consider Tunisia and Libya is simply fantastic. Tourism hasn't reached Libya so when you visit markets in Tripoli nobody bother you- you actually have to approach the shopkeepers if you want to buy. They are happy to let you browse.

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I always enjoy reading your guides, Colin – thank you for your latest offering. This is full of personal anecdotes and your detailed description of Hotel La Tangerina really sold the riad to me. One minor point...please can you check your picture captions as a few are missing and some aren’t capitalised. Thanks.

What do other readers think of this guide? Has it tempted you to visit Tangier? As always, rate this guide and leave a comment to have your say. Thanks.

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Thank you Cathy. I have made the changes to the picture captions now.

Great. Thank you Colin.