Casablanca (Arabic: الدار البيضاء, Dar al-Bayda) may be the cosmopolitan, industrial and economic heart of Morocco, and its largest city, but it is one of the less endearing of the country's sights. With a small, unassuming medina and a traffic-congested 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 and architecture (mostly colonial times buildings), however, are worth at least a day of your Moroccan itinerary.
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 Branca, 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. Young men flirt brazenly with scantily-clad women, designer labels are the norm in the chic, beachfront neighbourhood of 'Ain Diab and many young Moroccans speak to each other exclusively in French.
But not everyone is living the Casablancan dream. Tens of thousands of rural Moroccans who fled the drought-ravaged interior to find work in the city are struggling under high unemployment rates and expensive housing. The poverty, prevalent in slums on the city's outskirts, has led to high rates of crime, drug use, prostitution and the rise of Islamism.
Casablanca is a mixed bag of Moroccan extremes.
Mohammed V Int'l Airport (IATA: CMN) is the busiest gateway to the country and is well-connected to Europe. Royal Air Maroc flies to New York JFK,Canada, many cities in Europe, and has connecting flights to African countries such as Nigeria, Central African Republic, Senegal, and others.
To get from the Airport into Casablanca or vice versa, take the train to/from Casa Voyageurs station which is on the outskirts of town and then a fairly long walk or petit taxi (circa 10DH) into the centre. A single ticket from Mohamed V Airport (on the railway company [http://www.oncf.ma/ ONCF's site: AEROPORT Med V) to Casa Voyageurs will be 40 dirhams. Maps are available at the Train Chief's office. It is approximately 40 kilometers away and the trains run hourly, travel time is slightly more than half an hour. Casa Voyageurs is the 3rd stop from the airport. For information about getting from this station to the centre, please read the "by train" section.
Buses to the center leave regularly (~4 Dh).
There is also Casablanca Airport Car Service +(212) 676-768-189.
The most convenient way to reach major Moroccan cities is by train. Trains are divided into first and second-class compartments; the first-class ones generally cost an extra 50%, but have more room and guarantee a seat. Boarding second-class compartments during peak hours may mean that you have to stand until a seat opens up.
The downtown station Casa Port only has a couple of trains, while all others pass through Casa Voyageurs station. , which serves trains to Meknes/Fes/Oujda, Marrakech or Tangier with stops in between. The trains are comfortable, the stations easy to navigate, and boards display the time of departure/arrival. Be sure to check the schedule for express trains; for instance, the train that leaves Casablanca at 7:05AM daily takes 3 hours to reach Fes, as opposed to the normal 5 hour journey. Trains for Rabat leave half-hourly.
To get from Casa Voyageurs to the city center, the easiest way is to take the tram. You can either buy a ticket at one of the vending machines (which mostly only accept coins, partly also some bank cards of unknown sort). Some shops also sell tickets (for example, you may find one little shop in the building just behind the tram station (just continue some 30 m
When you exit the Casa Voyageurs station main building, the tram stop is straigt ahead (not more than 100 m away). You need to take line 1 in the direction at the right hand side, which heads to "aïn diab plage terminus"/"facultés terminus" (the train splits at some point after the city center), the stations "Marché Central", "Place Nations Unies" and "Place Mohammed V" (in the order you will reach them) serve the city center.
CTM coaches (intercity buses) and various private lines run services to most notable Moroccan towns as well as a number of European cities. These run from the Gare Routière on Rue Léon l'Africain in downtown Casablanca.
The main Gare Routière (Ouled Ziane) is in the outskirts of the city and serves the same (and more) destinations as CTM. The fares are slightly cheaper and busses tend to leave more frequently, however their quality might be lower and some do take longer for the trip (always ask if they take the highway (autoroute) if available on your route). A taxi from downtown/Casa Voyageurs should cost you no more than (12 Dh/8 Dh), although you may have a hard time getting this fare (especially from downtown). Bus number ten used to go there, but seems to leave from another place now, as a tramway is under construction. There is a grand taxi rank about 200m south of Place des Nations Unies running there for 6 Dh per person.
The minimum driving age in Casablanca is 21. Always carry your driver's license and passport while driving. Avoid driving if possible—car rental prices are high as is the accident rate. If you are leaving Casablanca by car, make sure to fill up in the city. Gas/petrol stations becomes scarce outside Casablanca.
A government department puts out an exhaustive map of Casablanca in book form called Carte Guide de Casablanca that you can find in bookstores or online; in all likelihood, though, it isn't necessary. Other than that, Casablanca is like any other European city: the streets (mostly) have signs, and passersby are extremely helpful in French or Arabic and, more rarely, Spanish or English. The Medina can be hard to navigate, but it's so small that no matter how blindly you wander into it, you're never more than ten minutes from an exit.
Casablanca is one of the two Moroccan cities with a tram. The first line opened in late 2012. Service runs from 5:30 through 22:30 with frequent trains (during the day, the interval seems to be shorter than 10 minutes). Beware that most vending machines only take coins. One journey is MAD 6 with a rechargeable card, MAD 7 otherwise. Please note that a fee of MAD 1 will be added for the card when you buy a ticket. Tram stops are announced in Arabic and French. Further information including the network ("réseau") and schedule ("horaires") is available in French and Arabic on the Casa Tramway website.
Many bus companies run through the city, the bus routes are the same for a given number, although the route remains completely unclear (Google maps has some bus stops for Casa though). Going by bus is the cheapest way to get around (4 Dh) but some companies such as Hana Bus have vehicles in a disastrous state. It could be worth taking the chance given the cost-saving and experience of what many locals experience, but watch out for pickpockets.
All taxis red in color, drivers know how to get to every single place in every single guide book, even if you tell them just "the restaurant on Blvd. Hassan II." You should avoid the white Mercedes Grand Taxis when traveling around, they are much more expensive and less safe. Be sure to check the meter is running to avoid being overcharged at the end of the trip. Don't be surprised if the taxi stops to pick someone else up. The minimum fare is 7 MAD.
- King Hassan II Mosque, Blvd Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah. The largest mosque in Morocco and the seventh largest in the world, with the tallest minaret in the world. It opened in 1993, after 7 years construction. 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. Tours Sa-Th 9AM, 10AM, 11AM and 2PM
- Old Medina (north 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 be worth a visit, but it is nothing compared to the glories of Fes or Marrakesh.
- The Corniche. A neighborhood on the ocean, west of the Hassan II Mosque. Decades ago it was a thriving resort area - hotels line the ocean side of the Boulevard de la Corniche, and nightclubs line the other side. Most look like they've seen better days. 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.
- Shrine of Sidi Abderrahman. Built on a rock off shore, well past The Corniche, and 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 taking a cab to less remote areas.
- Mahkama du Pacha. M-Sa 8:00-12:00 & 14:00-18:00. 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 - it is worth it. To get there take bus 81 on Boulevard de Paris.
- Central Post Office. Come here to send your postcards in style! Built in 1918, the façade is composed of both round and rectangular shapes. Once you approach you will get a good view of the excellent mosaics.
- Rêve de mon œil. This art gallery exhibits a bizarre collection of modern welded sculptures by artists from all over Morocco.
- Octagon Square. This is one of the best places to see modern Morocco. Businessmen come out in droves at lunchtime to have their food in the sunshine on this modern city square. Great chances to take beautiful scenery shots too.
- Villa des Arts, 30, Boulevard Brahim Roudani, Casablanca (located slightly southwest of Parc de la Ligue Arabe on Bvd Brahim Roudani), ☎ +212-(0)522 29 50 87, fax: +212-(0)522 27 86 07. Tue-Sun 9:30-19:00 (except public holidays). Run by the charity ONA, it is a place for the Moroccan art scene. currently free of charge.
Art galleries (commercial - they live of earnings they make by selling art, you can usually enter for free):
- Galérie d'art l'Atelier 21, 21, rue Abou Mahassine Arrouyani (ex rue Boissy-d'anglas), Casablanca 20100 Maroc, ☎ +212-(0)5220.127.116.11, fax: +212-(0)518.104.22.168, e-mail: email@example.com.
- galerie shart, 12, rue El Jihani, Casablanca, ☎ +212 (0)5 22 39 49 80, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Loft Art Gallery, 13, rue El Kaïssi, Casablanca, ☎ +212 (0)5 22 94 47 65. Mon-Fri 9:30-12:30, 14:30-19:30, Sat 09:30-12:30.
- Galérie Nadar, 5, Rue Al Manaziz,, Casablanca, ☎ +212 (0)5 22 23 69 00, e-mail: email@example.com.
Hammam (Turkish Baths)
- Solidarite Feminine, 4, rue Ahmed Chowki, Palmier, ☎ +212 22-99-23-94.
- Casablanca is one of the least interesting places to shop in all of Morocco. 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, but it's all for the tourists. Much better to wait until you're in Fes and can bargain with someone who sells things to Moroccans and tourists alike.
- That said, the Maarif neighborhood (near the twin center, around Boulevard al Massira al Khadra) 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.
- Morocco Mall (lat=33.5759). is a huge mall inclduing a variety of shops and a cinema (supposedly it's north Africa's second largest shopping centre). It is located at the very southwest of the city (further down from Ain Diab/Anfa).
- 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.
- People interested in art find a decent amount of art galleries (the renowned galleries can be found in the "See" section).
Restaurants in Morocco are like restaurants in Spain - they 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.
- La Cigale, Blvd Brahim Roudani just south of the Rampwan de L'unite Africaine. This bar is an unassuming spot close to the Park of the Arab League, with a restaurant in front that serves only the most basic food (sausage or kefta sandwiches, salads, and the like.) The bar in the back is more crowded and has live music most nights. Beer is served with a plate of olives or popcorn, and it's one of the few Moroccan-style bars where women can drink in peace. Wine and liquor are available, but only when eating in the restaurant. A few phrases in Arabic to Aisha, the barkeeper, will win her heart and ensure a constant supply of olives.
- Benis Patisserie, Quartier Habous. This place is famed for having some of the best pastries in Morocco. Try one of their famous hornes des gazelles. You should also try the bastilla (one of the most luxurious and prestigious dish in the Morocco's gastronomy, and Benny's is undoubtedly the best one. Choose the pigeon or farm chicken version. You must book it in advance (+212 5 22 30 30 25).
- La Corrida, 59 Rue el Araar, ☎ +212 22 27 81 55. From the outside, it's easy to miss this restaurant, but look for the little sign ringed in blinking lights. It has a nice outdoor courtyard, but the inside is the main attraction. It's decorated like with memorabilia from Spanish bull fighting tournaments and has a dark, candle-lit vibe that's perfect for dates. The sangria is tasty, as is the Tapas menu (which changes daily). Seafood is the specialty, and the steamed mussels should not be missed.
- Taverne du Dauphin, 115 Blvd Felix Houphouet, ☎ +212 22 22 12 00. A little seafood place within walking distance of the old medina, the port, and the Park of the Arabic League, this place can get crowded at meal times. An excellent selection of seafood and one of the widest beer selections in all of Morocco (though that's only 5 or 6 different brews) makes this a very popular lunch spot. The fish is fresh from the fishermen at the port, and the shellfish (oysters, mussels and so on) are delicious. When paying, however, keep an eye on the waiters: they'll "help you count the money," which can turn into an elaborate shell game where they'll slip some of the cash into their own pocket.
- Le Kobe D'Or, 9 Rue Abou Salt El Andaloussi (just off of Brahim Roudani), ☎ +212 22 98 07 25. An Asian restaurant that is hard to miss, as it has an enormous red neon sign. The inside is nicely decorated in dark red, with lots of mirrors and Asian details. The food is ho-hum; the soups are great but the chicken tends to be overcooked. Still, a nice place for a quick snack close to the Maarif, a good shopping area.
- La Sqala, Blvd. Des Almohades, ☎ +212 22 26 09 60. Built in the remains of an old fortress, this place is worth as much as a cultural attraction as it is a restaurant. On the outskirts of the old medina, it has cannons, walls, defensive positions, and portcullises as well as a nice, clean eating environment. The atmosphere tends to be a little on the touristy side, but the food is a good modern look at traditional Moroccan foods. Some dishes are vegetarian and vegan. They also have the obligatory Moroccan pastries and teas if you're just in the mood for a snack. Great photo opportunity.
- Al Mounia, 95 Rue Prince Moulay Abdullah, ☎ +212 22 22 26 69. This restaurant has an excellent courtyard with a hundred year-old tree. The main drawback is that since this restaurant is listed in most guidebooks, it fills up with tourists at an early hour. The cooking is mostly traditional Moroccan foods, with some of the best couscous in the country. There is also an extensive wine list.
- La Cocina, 55, Rue Mustapha el Manfalouti, Gauthier, a 20m de Zerktouni, ☎ +212 522 463369. The real Spanish taste in Casablanca. Located in the center of Casablanca, this restaurant offers a variety of Spanish dishes, very good rice and paellas dishes and a great selection of authentic Spanish tapas and local and imports wines and beers. Open from noon until midnight without interruption, its nice decor and friendly service make it a must in Casablanca.
- Rick's Cafe, 248 Rue Sour Jdid, ☎ +212 22 27 42 07, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This restaurant claims to have recreated the eponymous cafe from the movie Casablanca. Excellent location, within a 20 minute walk of the Hassan II Mosque and in the walls of the Old Medina bordering the ocean. The food is excellent, though expensive. Eat at one of the tables on the second floor for an excellent view of the seats below and the niveau-Moroccan decorations or eat on the ground floor to be nearer the piano player who plays, of course, As Time Goes By every night. Excellent selection of wine and liquor and, for Morocco, a thorough beer selection (5 different brands). The waitstaff, in tuxedos and Fezes, are superb. dinner for 2 ca 800 DH..
- YoSushi, 12 Rue Mohammed Abdou, ☎ +212 22 98 11 90. Sushi is catching on in a big way in Morocco. This little place, on a side street near the prefectural police headquarters, is one of the best. New, clean, and trendy, you're unlikely to find anyone in it before 10PM. They serve all the sushi classics- Nigiri, Sashimi, Hosomaki, Maki, Futomakis, and assorted other fish items. Though tasty, it can get expensive if your aim is to fill yourself up. Not very many options for vegan diners.
- La Table du Rétro, 22 Rue Abou Al Mahassine Arrayani, ☎ +212 05 22 94 05 55, e-mail: email@example.com. French cuisine MAD 350 menu.
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. Pubs will cost around 100 dirhams per head, it will be half if visited in the happy hours from 7PM-11PM. Pubs to visit Tiger House, La Notte.
- Kasbar, 7 Rue Najib Mahfoud, Gauthier (On a street between Blvd Anfa and Blvd Souktani.), ☎ +212 22 20 47 47. A dark and atmospheric place to grab a drink or dinner. Any kind of attire will fly, but if you want to dress up, a night at Kasbar is your chance.
- La Bodega, Rue Mohammed 5 (Near the old downtown and Medina). A Spanish tapas bar, quite original. There can be a wait to get into the basement bar; but once you get inside, you're rewarded with bartenders who eat fire. It's pretty expensive, though, and only frequented by tourists.
- Atlas Airport Hotel, Close to the airport (There is normally a bus waiting outside the airport building), ☎ +212 522536200. A modern hotel very close to the airport. This is the default accommodation for passengers with missed connections etc, so the price will most likely be covered by the airline. Food is basic but adequate. Wireless internet is available in a few places in the building, but you have to search for the signal - try the ground floor near the gift shop.
- Hotel Terminus, Ave Bahmad, Place de la Gare, Casa-Voyageurs (150 meters to West from the train station). Located directly across from the Casa Voyageurs train station, this hostel is not a cheap option for travelers watching their cash. The price is very high for what it is. 250 DH for a 2 bed room with a sink. There are communal toilets on each floor and a shower behind the reception desk. Stay here only if you don't have another choice because all things in the hotel are very old and very dirty I could not sleep at all. ~180 Dh.
- Hotel Central, 20 Place Ahmad el Bidaoui (Located in the Medina). Located in the Old Medina, this simple hotel is a good budget option. The owners are friendly and have been known to give complimentary cups of mint tea to weary travelers. Keep your wits about you as the Medina isn't the safest area at night. 150-350 MAD.
- Ajiad Casablanca, Angle Rue Kamal Mohamed et Rue Fakir Med. This central hotel has 24 hour reception, free parking and air-conditioned rooms. 415 MAD.
- Hotel Guynemer, 2, Rue Beloul Mohamed (ex. Pegoud), 20 000 Casablanca, ☎ +212-(0)522-27.57.64, fax: +212-(0)522-47.39.99, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. In a time-honored building, most rooms classical style, but at time of writing thay had four rooms refurbished to modern style; WiFi in all rooms. starting at 380 for a signle room, breakfast included.
- Ibis moussafir Casablanca, Avenue Bahmad, Place de la Gare, Casa-Voyageurs (Next to Casa-Voyageurs train station.), ☎ +212 22 40 19 84. Check-in: 12PM, check-out: 11AM. Excellent location right next to Casa-Voyageurs train station. Excellent garden in the back, perfect for playing with kids.
- Hyatt Regency Casablanca, Place des Nations Unies (In the commercial district.), ☎ +212 22 43 1234, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 12PM, check-out: 15PM. You can choose rooms with views of Hassan II Mosque. Has a pool and several good restaurants. Live entertainment in the evenings.
- Novotel Casablanca City Center, Angle Zaid Ouhmad, Rue Sidi Belyout, ☎ +212 522466500, e-mail: H6572@accor.com. A four star hotel with over 200 rooms, this is a great spot for conferences and people looking for a bit of luxury. Expansive buffet breakfast, although a touch pricey. Located near the Old Medina and Hussan II Mosque and across the street from Gare Port. 950 MAD.
- Sheraton Casablanca Hotel & Towers, 100 Avenue Des F A R, ☎ +212 522 43 9494. This modern hotel houses 6 bars and restaurants and the popular nightclub, Caesar's. There's also an outdoor pool and a fitness center. 1,800 MAD.
Casablanca is served by all of the mobile companies that can be found elsewhere in Morocco. Wana, Meditel, and Maroc Telecom 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.
- Internet cafes : Internet access is available in cyber cafes around the city. Service is usually around €1 per hour.
- Wifi : You'll find wifi access in many hotels and in some places such as America Café or La Brioche Dorée, usually those labelled a bit "trendy"
- Mobile Internet : Phone companies offer mobile internet services that plug into the USB port of your computer (currently, there are no mac-compatible devices.) These services can be had without signing a contract, and are recharged in the same manner as a telephone.
Almost all of the things to see in Casablanca are in the north of the city; very few maps even show the southern end of this sprawling metropolis. Common sense will alleviate 99% of problems; try to look as little like a tourist as possible, do not flash large quantities of cash, and so on. Faux Guides are much less of a problem here than in the rest of Morocco and are limited mainly to the area around the Old Medina. It is inadvisable to walk alone in Casablanca at night. Women, as in all Moroccan cities, should dress modestly to avoid harassment (which almost always consists of lewd comments, but nothing physical.)
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.
- United States, 8 Blvd Moulay Youssef, ☎ +212 22 26 71 51, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Th 8:30AM-9:30AM and 1:30PM-3PM.
- United Kingdom, Villa Les Sallurges, 36 rue de la Loire – Polo, e-mail: email@example.com.
- France, 1, rue du Prince Moulay Abdallah.
The majority of travellers leaving Morocco from Casablanca will leave from the Mohammed V airport (accessible by train.) Leaving Casablanca for other Moroccan cities is likely to be by rail: the main train station is Casa Voyageur (as opposed to Casa Port, which is a special side stop not served by many trains.) Grand taxis are the best way to exit the city for smaller outlying villages. There are no boat or ferry services available in Casablanca.