There are many reasons to visit Casablanca. Many come for religious reasons, others for the beaches, and of course, some feel the romantic pull of the movie Casablanca, and want to see the town for themselves (even though the film was actually shot in the U.S.).
Located in western Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean, Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco and is considered its economic and business center. The city is a mix of modern cosmopolitan buildings and old historic downtown.
Why We Visited Casablanca
A friend of mine was born in Casablanca. She had never returned to her birthplace, and when a group of us were discussing a European cruise, she mentioned her desire to visit. As we planned the trip, we looked at cruises that had ports of call in Casablanca. We were excited to see another country and continent.
Planning Our Trip to Casablanca
I was aware Casablanca was not a town where you wanted to wander around alone from the research I had done. Experts recommended safety in small groups and taking cruise-approved tours.
Our group of seven all had different ideas of how to spend our time in Casablanca. Three of us signed up for one of the tours that would take us to see the highlights of Casablanca, and the other four chose to visit the medina and wander around the town on their own as a small group.
Our Time In Casablanca
Our tour gave us a panoramic ride through the streets and squares of Casablanca with stops at the most famous and popular tourist destinations. Our first stop was the Mosque of Hassan II, then a drive through the Medina for a glimpse of routine life in the city, Habous Quarters as a shopping stop, and our final stop was a tour of the Place Mohamed V to view the governmental buildings.
Mosque Of Hassan II
Our excursion's highlight was a visit to the magnificent Mosque of Hassan II, the second largest mosque in the Islamic world after Mecca. It is the main tourist attraction in the city.
The mosque dominates the shoreline cityscape. An immense building, the prayer hall accommodates up to 25,000 people, and another 80,000 can gather in the courtyard (it has a retractable roof). It is the only mosque in the city that non-Muslims are permitted to visit.
The mosque interior is intricately decorated with the exquisite work of over 10,000 master artisans from Morocco. A treasure trove of artistry and craftsmanship, you can view cedar carpentry, stucco moldings, and zellij tile work. Touring the building alone is worth a visit to Casablanca.
The Old Medina in Casablanca consists of various alleyways that seem like a maze full of Moroccan tradespeople selling meats, seafood, vegetables, baked goods, candles, fabrics, spices, and everyday goods.
You can immerse yourself in the city's authentic traditional Moroccan culture with whitewashed buildings and, in some places, what resemble rundown shacks beside art deco-style facades for a taste of authentic residential life.
A calmer, newer, and cleaner alternative to the Old Medina is the Quartier Habous or New Medina. It is a planned district built in the style of a traditional Medina. We wandered along the cobbled streets to shop for traditional Moroccan crafts that included quality Berber jewelry, beaded slippers, Moorish lamps, and sacks of spices during our stop.
I enjoyed photographing the fruits, flowers, and things in the market.
Place Mohamed V
Home to many important official buildings, Place Mohamad V is the central plaza of Casablanca, and the square has beautiful gardens and a central fountain. All of the buildings showcase a neo-Moorish style.
What I Liked And Disliked
I felt very safe during our entire well-organized tour. We were transported from place to place by bus, and there were times I looked out at the congested traffic and thanked my lucky stars I was not driving.
The Mosque of Hassan II is gorgeous. It is beautiful inside and out. The grounds and building are impeccably groomed. Everything inside is polished and shined.
I didn’t enjoy shopping in the stores. You could tell the people working were paid according to their sales. They followed you wherever you went and tried to sell you everything you glanced at.
I wanted to ride a camel while I was in Africa, and I did not get that opportunity, so that was disappointing, but it gives me something to look forward to on our next visit.
The beauty and quality of some of the goods in the New Medina were amazing. Beautiful rugs, tablecloths, other artistic cloth products, and the spices were delightful.
The quality and variety of the fresh fruit sold at open markets were impressive. I loved seeing the colorful fresh flowers in the markets.
I Was Shocked
I sort of expected a glamorous town after all the movie hype (even though the movie was filmed in the States). But aside from the Mosque and a few government buildings, it was not glamorous or flashy.
The traffic in the old city was horrid. Cars two inches from the next one, cutting in and out of traffic jams. Our tour guide said, “People shouldn’t buy cars in Morocco, and if they do they should make sure they have three things: good tires, good brakes, and good luck!” As I looked out the bus window, I thought it was so true.
In the Old Medina, I was surprised by boxes sitting along the street in front of shops. Both unpacked delivery boxes and trash boxes blocked the view of many of the businesses.
And the electrical wiring from house to house, business to business, was another surprising feature. Let's just say their wiring would never, ever pass code here in the U.S.
Another very shocking detail was the number of homes that had satellite dishes on their roofs. Almost everywhere you looked, there was a dish. Some of the houses were old and rundown but had a modern Satellite dish on their roofs.
What I Would Do Differently On My Next Visit
If I visit Casablanca again, I would love to tour the city at night. The different lights and colors would be spectacular.
If I return during the day, I would venture a bit inland to Marrakech. It is about a three-hour drive from the port of Casablanca and supposedly full of activity.
Consider traveling in spring or fall to avoid inflated prices and large crowds. We visited in October, and the weather was delightful.
Non-Muslim visitors to Morocco should remember to dress conservatively with their knees and shoulders covered. (You will not be permitted into the mosque if they are not.)
If you visit because you enjoyed the movie Casablanca, visit Rick’s Cafe in the Old Medina. It is a recreation of the gin joint from the movie. For more Moroccan inspiration, consider