12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Casablanca
Casablanca is the main gateway to Morocco, and many visitors' first taste of the country, as it is home to the primary international airport.
This bustling city is Morocco's business powerhouse and industrial center, with a modern swagger that is unseen in other parts of the country.
Needless to say, compared to the history and heritage of Marrakesh and Fes, it can't compete, and most visitors only pass through or stay one night. Despite the fact that Casablanca's tourist attractions and things to do may be few, you will find some gems if you delve a little deeper.
The modern Hassan II Mosque is one of the city's best places to visit, and a tour of the building is worth an overnight stay in town.
Architecture fans will also want to spend some time in Casablanca's downtown district, which is home to plenty of preserved Mauresque facades.
Discover the best places to visit in the city with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Casablanca.
- 1. Take a Tour inside the Hassan II Mosque
- 2. Admire Downtown Casablanca's Architecture
- 3. Explore Casablanca's Medina
- 4. Enjoy Some Sea Air along the Corniche
- 5. Visit Casablanca's Cathedral du Sacre Coeur
- 6. Shop in the Central Market & Souq Haboos
- 7. Hit the Beach in Mohammedia
- 8. Visit the Museum of Moroccan Judaism
- 9. Day Trip to Azemmour
- 10. Explore El Jadida's UNESCO-Listed Citadel
- 11. Day Trip to Oualidia
- 12. Head Down the Coast to Safi
- History of Casablanca
- Where to Stay in Casablanca for Sightseeing
1. Take a Tour inside the Hassan II Mosque
On the shoreline, just beyond the northern tip of Casablanca's medina (old city), the Hassan II mosque dominates the entire city.
Finished in 1993, it is the second largest mosque in the world, covering two hectares in size with the world's tallest minaret (200 meters high).
The prayer hall can accommodate 25,000 worshippers, while the courtyard (which boasts a retractable roof) can fit another 80,000.
Astonishingly intricate decoration covers every centimeter of surface. The location, right on the tip of the rocky bay above the ocean, is thoroughly dramatic.
Non-Muslims can visit the mosque on free guided tours, which are run by the mosque. The tours begin at the mosque's western entrance several times a day.
If your time in Casablanca is limited, you can take in the major highlights of the city on the private half-day Casablanca City Tour, which includes a tour of the Hassan II Mosque, visits to both Marche Central and Quartier Harbous, and photo stops along the seafront Corniche and in downtown's Place Mohamed V. Pickup and drop-off at central city hotels is included, and transport is in a comfortable air-conditioned car or minibus depending on the size of your group.
Address: Boulevard Sidi Mohammed ben Abdullah, Casablanca
2. Admire Downtown Casablanca's Architecture
Place Mohamed V is the central plaza of Casablanca and is home to many of the city's important official buildings, including the main post office, Palace of Justice, Prefecture, French consulate, and the main Bank of Morocco.
The building facades all sport the neo-Moorish style (known as Mauresque) that French Resident-General Lyautey planned out for the city as he set about modernizing Casablanca in the early 20th century.
The downtown district of Casablanca between Place Mohamed V and Boulevard Mohamed V is brimming with this style of architecture, which blends Art Deco and Art Nouveau with traditional Moroccan design.
In particular, take a stroll down Rue Tahar Sabti and Boulevard Mohamed V to admire some of the best preserved building facades.
Address: Place Mohamed V
3. Explore Casablanca's Medina
Although Casablanca's medina (old city district) doesn't have the same historic atmosphere as the medinas of Fes and Marrakesh, the maze-like tumble of alleyways is still an interesting area to stroll.
The medina here mostly dates from the early 19th century, with the Sqala (the sea-facing defensive wall) the earliest building works here, dating from the era of Portuguese control over this part of the coast in the 18th century.
As the district is a combination of market streets and residential, it's a great place to experience the pulse of Casablanca life.
There are also some interesting koubbas (shrines) dedicated to local Muslim holy men in the medina's southern section.
Address: Avenue des FAR
4. Enjoy Some Sea Air along the Corniche
For sea views and fresh sea breezes close to downtown, head to the Hassan II Mosque and stroll the eastern end of Casablanca's Corniche road from here. You can snap dramatic photographs of the mosque jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean from this vantage point as well.
The Corniche road trails west from here, along Casablanca's shore, all the way to the city's beachfront district of Ain Diab.
Much of Ain Diab's shoreline is now home to luxury hotels and restaurants. The public stretch of beach here isn't particularly clean, so the private beach clubs do a roaring trade, with sun worshipers lapping up the rays and splashing in the club swimming pools.
On sunny weekends, Ain Diab's section of the Corniche is a great spot for people watching, with plenty of local families heading here for picnicking and promenading.
You can get a tram all the way to Ain Diab from central Casablanca.
Address: Boulevard de la Corniche
5. Visit Casablanca's Cathedral du Sacre Coeur
This graceful cathedral was built in the 1930s, and its architecture is a harmonious blend of both European Art Deco architecture and Moroccan style.
The church was left to wither for decades, with its interior falling into serious dilapidation, but it is currently being restored. Unfortunately, this means it can't be visited, but if you are interested in architecture, it's still well worth a walk here to see the grand white facade.
Another church worth visiting in central Casablanca is the modernist-style Notre Dame de Lourdes (on Boulevard Mohamed Zerktouni), built in the 1950s and lit by a vast stained-glass window.
Address: Boulevard Rachid, Casablanca
6. Shop in the Central Market & Souq Haboos
Casablanca's bustling central market (Marche Central), between Rue Allal Ben Abdallah and Boulevard Mohamed V, is a must for tourists who want to throw themselves into the midst of city life.
Right in the city center, the market is where locals come to buy and sell everything from fresh produce to household supplies, but it's mostly known for its seafood and fish stalls.
For visitors, there are stalls selling local spices and spice mixes and other culinary condiments such as argan oil that make great foodie gifts to take back home. A few shops selling local crafts, including baskets and metalware, have also slipped into the mix.
The courtyard is home to plenty of cheap restaurants serving up hearty portions of traditional Moroccan dishes and seafood plates, fresh from the fishmongers next door.
The market itself is built in the distinctive Mauresque architectural style (blending elements of traditional Islamic architecture with European styles).
For a more souvenir-oriented market, head to Souq Haboos in Quartier Haboos, south of central Casablanca. This small district was built during the 1930s and again draws on Mauresque style.
The market here offers plenty of traditional Moroccan handicrafts, from carpets to ceramic tiles.
7. Hit the Beach in Mohammedia
This seaside city, about 28 kilometers north of Casablanca, is fronted by some fine beaches and can be used as a more relaxed alternative to staying in Casablanca. Although home to Morocco's second largest port and related industries, Mohammedia has plenty of laid-back charm.
The petite medina district is a delight to wander through, while the New Town area is attractively laid out, with grand, palm-tree-lined boulevards.
Most visitors, though, are here for the beach. During summer weekends, when half of Casablanca seems to have decamped here for the day, the cafés and restaurants bustle and the sand thrums with activity.
Mohammedia has regular train connections with Casablanca.
8. Visit the Museum of Moroccan Judaism
This villa in Casablanca's tranquil, well-to-do suburb of Oasis, is dedicated to the history of Morocco's Jewish community, which stretches back for 2,000 years. The villa itself has a long connection with the local Jewish community and was used as a Jewish orphanage.
Photographs, traditional costumes, religious objects, and dioramas are exhibited here, tracing the rich heritage of Moroccan Jews, concentrating on Casablanca's Jewish community. The collection is well labeled, with plenty of information explaining the history and cultural significance of the exhibits.
The most interesting exhibit is the synagogue, originally hailing from the town of Larache, which has been transplanted and reconstructed here.
Address: Rue du Chasseur Jules Cros, Oasis
9. Day Trip to Azemmour
When tourist boards started promoting Morocco's Atlantic coastline, they somehow left little Azemmour off the list.
But this village, 88 kilometers south of Casablanca, has a history stretching back to Punic times, and a wonderful handful of sites showcase that long tenure.
The adobe-built ramparts encircling the small medina area are Azemmour's main historic attractions, and they connect to the kasbah (fortress), which dates from the 16th century. This is a great place for aimless strolling. It's also possible to walk atop the ramparts at some points.
Azemmour's beach (a couple of kilometers out of town itself) is also one of the best along the Atlantic coast, and is a well-kept secret. Indeed, half of Azemmour's charm lies in the fact that nobody else seems to stop off here.
10. Explore El Jadida's UNESCO-Listed Citadel
El Jadida, 102 kilometers south of Casablanca, is home to a sea-facing, UNESCO-listed 16th-century fortress (Cite Portugaise), which is well worth stopping off to explore on any journey heading south down the coast.
You can scramble up onto the ramparts for excellent sea views and then wander through the lanes where various sections of the fortress have been preserved.
In the northeastern corner is the fortress prison, which was later converted into El Jadida's synagogue.
Make sure to visit the atmospheric cisterns, in the center of the fortress, which were used as a filming location in the famous Orson Welles' movie Othello.
11. Day Trip to Oualidia
This charming seaside village, about 182 kilometers south of Casablanca, has a chilled-out vibe that's perfect if you're worn out after visiting Morocco's bustling cities. The Saadian-era Kasbah (fortress) is reason enough for a trip here, but for most visitors, Oualidia is all about seafood dining and the sweep of beach that runs along the lagoon.
During summer, Oualidia bustles with day trippers and weekenders from Casablanca taking a break from city life.
Oualidia is a favorite stop for foodie travelers wanting to sample seafood — local restaurants serve it up pulled fresh from the sea that day.
12. Head Down the Coast to Safi
About 237 kilometers south of Casablanca, Safi has been an important port since Roman times, but it was the Almohade rulers who surrounded the city with grand ramparts and made it an intellectual and spiritual center.
The Portuguese occupied the city in 1508 and added to the architecture by building the stately Dar el Bahar Fortress on the shoreline which is now the town's most recognizable monument.
If you're heading down the coast to Essaouira, this is a worthwhile stop-off to break up the journey and explore the fortress and the town's medina district.
Safi is also Morocco's most famous ceramic center, and you'll find plenty of shops and stalls selling pottery throughout the town.
History of Casablanca
The origins of Casablanca can be traced to the medieval town of Anfa, which is now one of the city's suburbs.
Anfa became the capital of a Berber principality in the aftermath of the Arab invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries. The Berbers embraced Islam but quickly succumbed to heretical doctrines, setting up their own prophet and a Qur'an in Berber language.
The principality was known as Berghouata, and its tribal inhabitants joined a Kharijite rebellion against the Arab governor of Tangier. In the 11th century, the Almoravids waged holy war against these heretics, who were finally defeated by the Almohad Sultan Abdul Mou'min.
The town came under the influence of the Merenids during the 13th century, but eventually became independent as the dynasty weakened.
The Portuguese destroyed the town in 1468 in reprisal for piracy. Portugal sent a fleet of 50 vessels and 10,000 soldiers to occupy the town, which was sacked and then abandoned. But piracy soon revived, and the Portuguese returned in 1515 and destroyed the town once again.
In 1575, the town was rebuilt, fortified, and renamed Casa Branca by the Portuguese in an attempt to establish control over the area. However, the Portuguese rulers fell under constant attack by surrounding Muslim tribes and were finally forced to abandon the town following a terrible earthquake in 1755.
Under the reign of Sidi Mohamed ben Abdallah (1757-1790), the town was rebuilt with a mosque, madrasa, hammam, and a fort and renamed Dar El Beida (The White House), which the Spanish eventually translated as Casablanca.
Where to Stay in Casablanca for Sightseeing
To soak up Casablanca's modern vibe and historic sights, the best place to stay is in the city center, near the old medina, which lies about a five-minute taxi ride from the Hassan II Mosque. Another popular place to stay is on the oceanfront, especially in the upscale Anfa neighborhood, near the Corniche. From here, it's less than 10 minutes by taxi to the city center.
- About two kilometers from the Hassan II Mosque and within walking distance of the old medina, the Sofitel Casablanca Tour Blanche, with a spa and heated indoor pool, is popular for its friendly staff and chic, jewel-toned guest rooms. Breakfast is included in the rates.
- Steps from Place Mohamed V, the boutique Hotel Le Doge Relais & Chateaux resides in a grand Art Deco Villa, with glamorous rooms, great food, and attentive service.
- If you prefer to stay in an oceanfront resort, the Four Seasons Hotel Casablanca exudes contemporary Moroccan elegance. Facilities include a day spa and an outdoor pool and Jacuzzi with private cabanas.
- Right next door to the Four Seasons, the oceanfront Pestana Casablanca is a great option for families or extended stays, with its apartment-style accommodation. It's just a hop across the promenade to the beach.
- In the city center, a short drive from the old medina and less than three kilometers from the Hassan II Mosque, the pet-friendly Kenzi Tower Hotel boasts great city views from its upper-floor rooms, and the hotel has free parking, a swimming pool, and fitness center.
- Also popular in the mid-range bracket for its good-sized, business-style rooms, the Kenzi Basma is right in the city center within walking distance of the Old Medina.
- Ibis Casablanca City Center has fresh modern interiors in its rooms, a restaurant, and a convenient location opposite the Casa-Port railway station, which also offers easy access to the old medina.
- Right across from the Casa Voyageurs railway station and about two kilometers from the central market, Al Walid Hotel is popular for its good facilities with a restaurant, gym, and spa, as well as its simple but good-sized rooms.
- Nearby Ibis Casa Voyageurs is another affordable option, close to public transport in the city center. It offers a restaurant, free car parking, a nice outdoor terrace, and small but contemporary rooms.
More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com
Atlantic Coast Destinations: For sun-drenched holiday relaxation check out the resort town of Agadir, to the south of Casablanca. Or head north to the capital, Rabat, with its museums and small medina area. From Rabat, hop farther up the coast to Tangier, a major port city, famous for its 1950s artistic heyday.
Heading Inland: From Casablanca, take the train inland to the red city of Marrakesh, Morocco's premier tourism destination, famed for its walled medina and the Djemaa el-Fna. Marrakesh is the perfect place to get in some city action before heading out into the Atlas Mountain region, with its gorges, desert, and mudbrick kasbahs.