A very diverse country in the northern part of the African continent, Morocco features high mountains and sweeping sand dunes as well as ancient medinas, traditional Berber villages, and modern cities. Casablanca, a populated city of around 3.5 million, lies about 3 hours north of Marrakech. But what are the top 5 things to do in Casablanca? We will be finding out.
If most of the Moroccan cities have a traditional feel (especially when you enter the old part of a town—the medina), then Casablanca stands out mostly as a cosmopolitan city. Standing on the Atlantic Coast, the economic hub of Casablanca is one of its most prosperous cities and features elements from many different parts of Morocco, and even from Europe.
Despite being a bustling metropolis, Casablanca deserves to be explored at a slow pace as it has some terrific places that should be on everyone’s bucket list when visiting Morocco.
The Top 5 Things To Do In Casablanca Are:
- King Hasan II Mosque
- Ancient Medina
- Quartier Habous
- Cathédrale Sacré Coeur
- Colonial Architecture Of Casablanca
1. King Hasan II Mosque
Built by the end of the 20th Century, the Hassan II Mosque sits on a rocky outcrop reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean. It’s one of the world’s largest mosques and its 201m-high minaret is the tallest in the world. The mosque can accommodate 25,000 worshipers inside and 80,000 more in the courtyards around. Additionally, the compound houses an Islamic media center and a library.
The Hassan II Mosque is the only mosque in Morocco that is open to non-Muslim visitors. Once you arrive there, go down to the basement floor in the courtyard and buy your ticket. Every two hours (except on Friday mornings), guided tours take place inside the mosque. You’ll be required to respect the Muslim dressing code and remove your shoes when you enter their holy place.
The tour will take you to the main prayer hall, decorated with traditional tile-work (zellij) and stucco molding. When I visited the mosque, I was lucky to see the retractable roof gently open up. The guide told us it was a unique occasion in honor for the King Mohammed VI of Morocco who was planning a visit that day to the mosque.
Further on, the tour goes to the underground floors where you can see the rooms for ablutions and even a hammam (public bath).
Before leaving the mosque’s compound, don’t forget to tour the grounds too. There are many courtyards and the exterior of the mosque is impressively decorated in white marble and colorful mosaics.
2. Ancient Medina
You may think that going to a modern city such as Casablanca would mean that you won’t find traces of the old city center. However, Casa (how Casablanca is dubbed by locals) has a small medina built in the 19th Century and located between the modern part of Casablanca and the old port.
The walled medina features many of the authentic elements of a Moroccan old town, such as mighty fortification walls, narrow winding lanes, and storefronts lining the streets. Enter the medina next to the Place des Nations Square and you’ll see the old clock tower—a good landmark to ask for in case you get lost in the medina (which is pretty likely to happen).
On the boulevard facing the port, an old bastion of the medina’s fortifications has been refurbished as the Skala Restaurant. If you dine in the garden of the restaurant in the shade of the trees while listening to the water fountains, you will notice the complex fortification system of the old medina.
The ancient medina is also one of the top things to do in Casablanca at night since you will not be hounded by salesmen, and moreover, it will look slightly eerie and spooky!
3. Quartier Habous
The gentrified market district Quartier Habous is also called the Nouvelle Medina (meaning the New Medina). The picturesque quarter was built by the French to resemble the traditional architecture of an old Moroccan medina using modern colonial elements.
The quarter features streets with shops, bazaars, and cafés and it’s definitely more sanitized than the ancient versions of Moroccan medinas.
Habous is located 1km from the city center and it’s pretty easy to walk throughout the quarter once you get there. The imposing Muhammadi Mosque with its minarets stands in the heart of the quarter, surrounded by a park with palm trees and fountains. Nearby, the magnificent Royal Palace features whitewashed towers and high walls of stone.
4. Cathédrale Sacré Coeur
On the northwest edge of the Parc de la Ligue Arabe, Cathédrale Sacré Coeur is a good example of modern architecture with neo-Gothic elements. The graceful cathedral was designed by Paul Tournon and built at the beginning of the 20th Century as proof of the French Colonization in Morocco.
The surrounding park also features colorful arches built to resemble a portico of a Christian monastery. Visiting a Christian place in an Islamic landscape is one of the more unusual things to do in Casablanca, but this impressive cathedral features an austere interior, with tall white pillars and colorfully stained glass windows in the altar.
One of the highlights of this landmark is the possibility to climb up one of its bell towers and have expansive views of the modern part of Casablanca. If you carefully look toward the ocean, you’ll even be able to spot the imposing minaret of the above-mentioned King Hassan II Mosque.
5. Colonial Architecture Of Casablanca
Casablanca has a rich architectural heritage dating back to the beginning of the 20th Century. While local motifs had a powerful influence and led to the so-called Mauresque style, colonial architecture can be found in abundance in Casablanca. Due to its high architectural value, the city center was even suggested as a tentative addition to the exclusive list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The grand centerpiece of the French building scheme spreads out between Mohammed V Boulevard and Mohamed V Square. Most of the buildings are hotels or administrative offices built during the French protectorate under the signature of some of the most famous French architects of the time, Robert Marrast and Henri Prost.
Moreover, the main Post Office, the Law Courts, or the old Police Headquarters are also fine examples of modern colonial architecture in Casablanca. Wander the streets of this neighborhood and admire the art déco paneling or the colonial motifs on the buildings.
Once you get to Mohamed V Boulevard, look out for the Petit Poucet bar and pavement café. The place was once frequented by important names such as Édith Piaf and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Here were our top 5 things to do in Casablanca, Morocco, but we could have listed a few more such as La Corniche, Mahkama du Pacha, Notre Dame de Lourdes, and even the Morocco Mall!
Let us know how you get on and please feel free to share any of your own tips or ideas in the comments below!
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