Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, has become synonymous with the timeless movie featuring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. In fact, the mere mention of “Casablanca” conjures up images of romance in an exotic land, scenes from the 1942 movie Casablanca. But there’s more to Casablanca than just that movie.
In 1515, the Portuguese came, settled, and named it Casa Branca, or white house. After a devastating earthquake in 1755, the Portuguese left. The local sultan rebuilt Casa Branca in the late 18th century, and shortly after, Spanish merchants came and called it Casablanca.
Casablanca became a French-occupied territory in 1907 and an important port for Morocco. Today, Casablanca is still a major port in Morocco. It’s also the most important commercial hub in the country.
Whether you have a day or three days, Casablanca will reward you with some of the world’s finest historic sites, mosques, and boutique shops. The good news is, Casablanca is not as touristy as Marrakech and Fez.
1. Visit Hassan II Mosque
Located partly on reclaimed land, extending out to the ocean is Hassan II Mosque, Morocco’s largest mosque, and the world’s third-largest. The mosque offers four guided tours per day, except Fridays. It is one of the only mosques in Morocco that is open to non-Muslims.
You’ll be enthralled by the geometric mosaic tiles, cedar ceilings, hand-carved stones and wood, and marble flooring. At 690 feet, the minaret at Hassan II Mosque is the tallest in the world. The inside can occupy 25,000 worshippers per time, and 80,000 if you include those outside. Whether you’re inside or outside the mosque, this magnificent mosque won’t disappoint.
2. Stroll and shop at Ancienne Medina (old Medina) and Quartier Habous (new Medina)
Close to Hassan II Mosque, Ancienne Medina is the oldest part of Casablanca, once surrounded by forts and defense walls. You can still find the remnants of the walls and an 18th-century fortress. Stroll along the alleys, learn about the history of the place and check out the spices, linens, antiques, souvenirs, and traditional handcrafted goods. Get a feel of life in Casablanca during the olden days in Ancienne Medina.
Don’t be surprised if you’re offered mint tea by merchants when you visit their stores. If you have time, check out Quartier Habous, the new medina, located close to the Royal Palace of Casablanca. It’s quieter and cleaner than Ancienne Medina. It was started when the French were in Casablanca, mainly in the 20s.
3. Eat and drink at Rick’s Cafe
Rick’s Cafe is a restaurant and bar inspired by the cafe in Casablanca the movie. Remember the scene where Sam (Dooley Wilson) was at the piano singing singing “As Times Goes By”? You can request for the same song when dining at Rick’s Cafe.
There never was a Rick’s Cafe, but this recreation in Casablanca is a dining and drinking hotspot. You must book in advance to get a seat. The dining rooms are on the first and second floors. The tiled stairs near the front door will take you to the second floor and the balcony.
Rick’s Cafe is located in an old stately home, facing the port in Ancienne Medina.
4. Enjoy La Corniche
Facing the Atlantic Ocean, The Corniche or La Corniche stretches from Hassan II Mosque to El-Hank Lighthouse, a 1905 lighthouse built by the French. And further west are the luxurious resorts, restaurants, and exclusive residential buildings.
5. Get pampered at a hammam
Similar to the Turkish bath, going to a hammam is a vital weekend ritual for Moroccans, where friends and family spend hours at the bath, bathing, relaxing, and chatting. For a day of scrubbing, massaging and relaxation, go to Hammam Ziani (Les Bains Ziani) in Casablanca.