CASABLANCA TRAVEL GUIDE
Casablanca Travel Guide
Casablanca (Spanish for “White House” and generally abbreviated by locals as “Casa”) has long stood in the western imagination as a hub of romance. Most travelers associate Casablanca with tales of the Marrakesh Express and, of course, the film, Casablanca. Of course, the reality of this fast-paced Moroccan city is quite different.
It would be impossible for Casablanca to live up to the romantic, perhaps adventurous, connotations we associate it. However, the truth is that the city is pretty grubby, with endless traffic and a uniform layer of grime that makes this more of a gray city, than a city sparkling white. It could use a good scrubbing, that’s for sure. But if you can scratch beneath this cruddy exterior, Casablanca offers up some of the best, most international dining in all of Morocco as well as a feel for what modern Morocco is to the people living and working here. As the country’s foremost business hub, the vibe is decidedly more urban, with people constantly chatting on their cellphones, with men in their sharp Armani suits and women executives flaunting their Louis Vuitton bags, hurrying off to a power lunch or important rendezvous.
Most travelers arrive to Morocco at Mohamed V International Airport (CMN), about an hour away from Casablanca’s city center, depending on traffic. Traffic, of course, is a problem in Casablanca, but you can avoid a lot of the traffic on the using the train and new eco-friendly tram! The tram connects with the train for the airport at the Casa Voyageurs and Gare Oasis stations and makes stops around the city, including Place Nations Unis (next to the entrance for the old medina and the Art Deco downtown of Casa) as well as Aïn Diab Plage if you’re heading to the beach. In a pinch, you can always flag down one of the numerous red petit taxis, though it’s best to have the name and the street address of your destination written down. Many of the most popular destinations (such as the Hassan II Mosque or the Morocco Mall) are well understood.
Casablanca Travel Guide & Map
Here is a map of Casablanca, focused on the medina, for online use:
Notes from the History of Casablanca
The earliest known settlement in what is now known as Casablanca was known as Anfa and dated back to pre-Roman times in Morocco. Though no ruins have been discovered, Anfa was mentioned on several parchments. After the Romans were pushed from Morocco, the Barghawata, a power local tribe, took control until the Almoravid empire of the 11th century. Anfa reminded part of Morocco through subsequent dynasties before regaining independence in the 15th century, where it became a safe harbor for pirates and slave traders, which drew the ire of Portugal who leveled the city in 1468, took over, rebuilt their own city and dubbed it: Casa Branca (Portuguese for “White House,” where modern-day Casablanca takes its name).
After an earthquake destroyed much of the city in 1755, it was rebuilt by the Sultan Mohamed Ben Abdellah and dubbed it Dar al-Bayda (Arabic for “White House,” a name still used among Arabophones today) but remained quite small. It wasn’t until French colonialists arrived in 1906 that the city really began to grow. Under the French, the city took shape as an Art Deco haven with wide, planned boulevards and even a French-built Moroccan medina (today’s Quartier Habous).
Casablanca has morphed into a modern financial and industrial hub. Today, nearly 4 million inhabitants from all over the world call Casablanca “home.” What Casablanca lacks in architectural history, it makes up for in modern conveniences: restaurants, shopping and nightlife. Though, to be sure, there are a few must-see sights in and around Casablanca.
Casablanca Travel Guide: What to See
Hassan II Mosque — There are very few mosques in Morocco that non-Muslims are allowed to enter. The Hassan II Mosque is one of them (the other is Tim Mil Mosque south of Ouirgane). Located along the Atlantic, about a half an hour walk from the Casa Port train station (or a 15-20 dirham petit taxi ride), the Hassan II Mosque rises 210 meters (about 700 feet) into the air. It is the largest and one of the most ornate mosques in the world. Much of the surface of the mosque is covered in ornate, traditional Moroccan tile work (zellij), woodcarving, and stucco work. Of particular note is the vast, decorative prayer hall.
To visit the Hassan II Mosque, you must be dressed appropriately. Men should wear pants and shirts, no shorts or tank tops. Women must cover their heads, arms and legs.
Tours are available all days, except for Fridays and religious holidays. Tickets are 120 dirhams (60 dirhams for students with IDs) and can be purchased at the mosque. Currently, tours are conducted in French, Spanish, English, German and Fus’ha (standard Arabic). Tour Hours: Saturday – Thursday, 9:00am, 10:00am, 11:00am and 2:00pm, subject to change according to prayer times.
The Jewish Museum (Musée du Judaïsme Marocain) — Located in the suburb of Oasis, the Musuem of Moroccan Judiasm this museum is one of only two Jewish museums in the Muslim world (the other being in Istanbul) and the only Jewish museum in the Arab world. This recently renovated museum of history and ethnography features artifacts –including Torah scrolls, Chanukah lamps, photographs, carpets and kaftans – that trace Morocco’s Jewish history. It’s a smaller museum, though it has some real treasures. Most people manage to tour the museum and grounds in about an hour. Getting to the museum can be a bit tricky. It’s about a 20-25 dirham taxi ride from Hassan II mosque, though if you arriving by train, it is better to take the train to the “Oasis” stop and then take a petit taxi from the train station for about six dirhams or so.
Guided Visit: We can help clients arrange a guided visit in English with the curator, Ms. Zhor Rehinel (not available on Saturday or Sunday). 81 rue chasseur Jules Gros. Open Monday – Friday, from 10am – 5pm; Sunday 11am – 3pm. Phone: +212 (0)5 22 99 49 40.
Casablanca Jewish Synagogue – Beth El — This is the main Synagogue in Casablanca known as Beth El (sometimes referred to as Bet El, particularly in Marrakesh where another in Synagogue is known as Beth El). This was once the main synagogue of more than 30 that where sprinkled throughout Casablanca. Of note is the beautiful Marc Chagall-inspired stained glass. Sunlight pours in, tinted in multicolors from this stained glass, and shimmers off an enormous central crystal chandelier, creating a rainbow-like effect across the entire synagogue. There are ancient Hebrew scrolls on display and gilded quotes from the Torah inscribed on the walls. 67 rue Jaber ben Hayane. Open every day from 8am to 5:30pm; service daily at 7:30pm. Open all day on Saturday. No guides available, though you can enter with your personal guide. +212 (0)5 22 26 71 92.
Casablanca Travel Guide: What to Do
When you begin looking for things to do in Casablanca, you may feel like the city has less to offer than other Moroccan destinations, but to a little digging and let Casablanca surprise you!
Art Deco Tour — One of the riches historical aspects of Casablanca is the Art Deco architecture left by French colonialists throughout downtown Casablanca. Many of these buildings are in various states of disrepair. However, an absolute must-see for Art Deco enthusiasts is the Cinema Rialto on rue Mohammed Qorri. This particular neighborhood is rich with examples of Art Deco and is worth an afternoon stroll. Not far from from Cinema Rialto is the Catholic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart (though it ceased functioning as a church with Moroccan independence in 1956). The best way to insure a knowledgeable, entertaining exploration of the Art Deco architecture in Casablanca is by including a visit to the main sights.
Luxury Spa — Need a little pampering? With the high-powered, high-stress business clientele scurrying around the city, it’s no wonder that Casablanca has some of the most high-end luxury spas in the country. Consider booking a half-day spa treatment at O-Spa in the Kenzi Hotel, get rubbed down with argan oil and enjoy a relaxing Shiatsu massage.
Head to the Mall — Located just a few kilometers south of The Hassan II Mosque, along the coastline of the Atlantic, rests the largest shopping center in Africa: The Morocco Mall. This mall is an elaborate take on the American-style mall with a mix of some local color. The mall sports largely upscale shops, such as Fendi, Dolce and Gabbana and Louis Vuitton, as well as some French shopping standards like H&M, Zara, Virgin Records, FNAC, and Galleries Lafayette, though there is a small “souk” on the upper level full of traditional Moroccan goods and meant to reflect the traditions of Moroccan shopping. There is also an IMAX 3D movie theater showing the latest blockbusters in English on Thursdays. You can also go ice-skating followed with an après-ski at Starbucks! Most visitors will be better off exploring other parts of Morocco, but for those here on business, needing a quick change of clothes or maybe wanting a western-style break after traveling through the rest of the country, this mall may be the ticket. Mall Hours: Sunday – Thursday, from 10:00am – 9:00pm; Friday and Saturday, from 10:00am – 11:00pm
Be a Beach Bum — Just a few minutes by taxi south of the Hassan II Mosque is Ain Diab and la Corniche, popular beachfront spots for those looking for a bit of sun and sand. Casablanca’s proximity to the Atlantic and southern latitude are a near-guarantee for beach weather year-round. The locals flock to the beaches cool off in the waters and play a little soccer (football) on the beaches. For quieter beaches, it’s necessary to go a bit further south. The restaurants along this beachfront are generally sub-par and over-priced, but if you need a water or a quick bite to eat – beggars can’t be choosers!
Escape from Casa — There are several day trips from Casablanca that you can take, including the nearby cities of Rabat and El-Jadida.
Casablanca Travel Guide: Where to Eat
Au Four au Bois — Right in the heart of downtown Casablanca is this delicious, traditional Italian trattoria. It is a welcome reprieve for those needing a break from traditional Moroccan cuisine and just wanting a good old fashioned wood-fired pizza.
20 Jean Jaures, +212 (0)5 22 22 17 18, reservations recommended. If you don’t want to leave your hotel, consider ordering delivery! +212 (0)5 22 48 56 56 for delivery.
Rick’s Cafe — Built to bring the famous Rick’s Cafe from the movie, Casablanca, to life, the real Rick’s Cafe that abuts the old medina walls of the actual Casablanca, is something of an anomaly. It seems like a tourist trap, but it channels the vibe of the film so well. There’s great food, wonderful cocktails and soothing piano music setting the score to a romantic night out. It’s often one of the best dinners out people have in Morocco! 248 Bd. Sour Jdid, +212 (0)5 22 27 42 07 or +212 (0)5 22 27 42 08, reservations highly recommended. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Lunch: 12:00pm – 3:00pm, Dinner: 6:30pm – 1:00am. Remember that there is a dress code.
Rick’s also has a souvenir shop in the front of the restaurant. Many visitors to Casablanca can’t resist leaving without a tee-shirt or coffee mug.
La Bavaroise — Located in the heart of Casablanca behind the old central market, La Bavaroise is a hip, yet cozy, high-end gastronomic restaurant. The food is consistently top-notch. French brasserie-inspired and decidedly not what one might expect to find in Morocco. The great classics of French cuisine, such as beef tar-tar, can be paired with a fantastic selection of wines from one of the most extensive wine caves in all of Morocco. Wines are primarily French, with a small selection of Moroccan wines. For those looking for a five-star meal, this is the place to go. 133 Avenue Allal Ben Abdellah, 212 (0)5 22 31 17 60, reservations highly recommended. Open Monday – Saturday for Lunch and Dinner (except for Saturday, dinner only).
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