Why Casablanca makes the perfect Moroccan city break

Ian Packham

Ian Packham

Offering great value for money, a climate we can all get behind and short flight times from Europe, Morocco* has become a popular destination with holidaymakers.

Hassan II Mosque, the second-largest in Africa
Hassan II Mosque, the second-largest in Africa © Octavian - Adobe Stock Image

For those flying in, Casablanca is likely to be the first port of call, since it's the location of Morocco's main international airport. But far too many leave the city on landing, meaning its rich tapestry (or should that be carpet) of attractions remains unexplored. That's despite Casablanca* having Atlantic beaches to rival Essaouira and cultural treasures akin to those in Marrakesh and Fes.

Its spiderweb of grand boulevards and medina (old city) alleyways provide inspiration for a growing arts scene, while a thriving equivalent to après ski takes none of the glory from the majesty of Africa's second-largest mosque.

Morocco's most populous city has been overlooked for far too long. It's time to change that with these superb reasons why Casablanca makes the perfect Moroccan getaway.

Getting to Casablanca: check out the latest offers on itineraries with Marella Cruises* that call at ports in Morocco.

World-famous sights

A prosperous city on the Atlantic shores of North Africa since at least 744 CE if historic records are to be believed, Casablanca's centuries as an important port means many of its most striking attractions lie along its coast.

The city's poster child is undoubtedly the Hassan II Mosque*, even though its history only dates to 1993. Built in a traditional Moorish style under the guidance of Morocco's then-king, Africa's second-largest mosque can accommodate an impressive 105,000 worshippers.

That's 47 times more than attended King Charles III's coronation in Westminster Abbey and 26 times more than can be seated in Washington DC's National Cathedral. Regular guided tours allow visitors of any faith to take in the astonishing artistry within.

Medina marvels

Outdating the Hassan II Mosque by at least two centuries is the port-side medina, which provides the shortest route between the international-grade hotels and colonial-era Art Deco architecture of downtown and the mosque.

The south-facing Bab Marrakesh (Marrakesh Gate) provides the obvious entry point, and it's here you'll find most of the medina's most interesting stores.

Delve further into its never-straight streets and the mix of residential dwellings, public gardens, cafés and port views provide insight into the city's contrast between the everyday and the unforgettable.

The views are particularly good from the Sqala, a bastion built at the same time the medina was reconstructed after a 1755 earthquake.

Classic film buffs will also want to check out Rick's Café, a modern recreation of Casablanca's best-known location, midway along the medina's eastern edge. The grand structures around Place Mohammed V (Mohammed V Square) are another worthy stopping point, so long as you don't have a major aversion to pigeons.

Easy beach escapes

Stand in the buzzy public squares of Casablanca and a beach escape feels a world away. Yet this city of economic prowess can add several well-equipped stretches of urban sand to its litany of attractions.

The nearest, Ain Diab Beach, is just a short tram ride away from the tourist-friendly heart of Casablanca. Stretching for around 2 km, it lies within one of the city's most affluent neighbourhoods, sometimes called 'the Miami of Morocco'.

Sunset from Casablanca’s Atlantic coast
Sunset from Casablanca’s Atlantic coast © RedonePhotographer - Shutterstock

Public areas jostle with private beach clubs, which together cater for the youngest (thanks to waterparks), the adrenaline-seeking (through windsurfing and jet skiing) and those looking for a more tranquil vibe (by way of its classy restaurants).

Facing roughly west, it's also perfect for sunsets, as is Plage Madame Choual, a separate area of beach to Ain Diab's immediate south.

Further north, Ain Sebaa Beach is a favourite with local families and comes alive towards the end of the working day. An attractive place to swim and sunbathe, beach volleyball and football games aren't hard to find either.

A colourful arts scene

Although lacking a single blockbuster museum, Casablanca's art scene has gone from strength to strength over recent years. Artists throughout the city are creating works which both connect with an international audience and are distinctly Moroccan too.

Even if you can't make it during the Casablanca Biennale exhibitions, which take place in the last months of even-numbered years, the city's street art is enough to mark Casablanca out as somewhere which respects and celebrates artists.

Alongside the hurriedly-sprayed scrawlings of local football fans, you'll discover an impressive array of murals by the likes of graffiti artist Machima, who's gone on to create Moroccan-inspired Google Doodles, and Amine Hajila.

Hajila's work features in the Villa Des Arts, one of several galleries alongside L'Atelier 21, Loft, Fondation Alliances and Espace d'art Actua specialising in contemporary art.

Meanwhile the Abderrahman Slaoui Foundation Museum fills in some of the gaps with a collection which includes figurative art by Muhammed Ben Ali Rabati, the 'Father of Moroccan painting.'

Nightlife worth staying up for

Casablanca is probably the best big city in Morocco to let your hair down come evening. The city's café culture lasts long into the night.

However, there are a good number of spots where harder tipples are available perfectly legally beyond a hotel lobby bar, whether you're looking for a restaurant, drinking spot or nightclub. There are even a couple of LGBTQIA+ spaces.

Restaurant on Casablanca’s corniche
Restaurant on Casablanca’s corniche © JM Campo - Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Alongside the usual international favourites, fish and seafood feature heavily on Casablanca's menus. French cuisine is well-represented, but keep an eye out for whole fish marinated in chermoula (cumin, coriander and garlic) spice mix before being grilled over hot coals for a sense of place like no other.

Finish it off with baklava-like pastries such as sesame-dusted chebakia from one of the many French-inspired patisseries around the city.

The chicest bars and clubs tend to be found on the part of Boulevard de la Corniche, the coastal road running from Hassan II Mosque to Ain Diab Beach, to the west of El Hank lighthouse.

The crowd spilling onto the street outside is often the best way of determining where's hot and where's not, alongside the attitude of the door staff; the more dismissive the better. To experience them at their most atmospheric, Saturday should be your night of choice.

Climate in Casablanca

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Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

The above guide shows the climate in Casablanca. Find out more about conditions across the country in our complete guide to the climate in Morocco.

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Ian Packham

Ian Packham

Posted on Friday 22nd March 2024 in: Africa City

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