Casablanca is a large city and serves as the entry point for many tourists via the international airport. Since we were flying direct from JFK, we chose to spend two nights in Casablanca to start our trip. In truth, we probably only needed one night, as there isn’t a ton to see in this city on your own.
Our hotel was Hôtel Diwan Casablanca, a four-star hotel which probably equated more to a three-star hotel in the U.S. I chose it for the location, walkable to some nearby landmarks and some restaurants. The lobby was updated and the breakfast was included, but the rooms were a bit worse for wear. We were awoken every morning by the calls to prayer which are broadcasted over loud speakers throughout the city. As a Westerner, it took a bit of getting used to.
The city itself is walkable, but it can be difficult to travel far especially when the temperatures reach their peak. You can take a cab or just plan out your route and stop in a cafe when you need a break. Some sidewalks are easier than others – walking to more central parts of the city is easy for pedestrians, but walking along the shore towards the mosque has some patchy sidewalks. There is a lot of construction in the city currently, with new buildings being built and a new waterfront tourist center in the works.
From our hotel, we walked past the medina and wandered down to Park of the Arab League along wide boulevards, which felt a bit Californian. (We did get stopped at one point for taking a picture of a government building. The police demanded we delete the picture and we carried on.)
We headed towards Place Mohamed V and also wandered our way through the Central Market, where a bunch of fish stalls sell fresh fish and snacks.
The main attraction of Casablanca is the Hassan II Mosque. This is where you’ll see the most tourists in the city and it’s definitely worth a visit. To get inside you’ll need to take the tour, which I highly recommend – it is a beautiful place inside and out. The guide also shares some great information on the mosque itself, the Muslim religion, and Morocco as a whole. As the first real stop on our trip, it was a great introduction to the country.
Where to Eat
There are plenty of great restaurants in Casablanca. We mostly went to places near our hotel that had great reviews.
La Bodega de Casablanca – We actually went here twice, in part due to it’s proximity to the hotel and the fact that they had a real bar to grab a drink (which was a bit hard to come by). It’s a tapas bar with a bit of a Mexican vibe and is a great place to what a soccer game and get a drink, or have some great tapas. At night it gets pretty lively.
La Bavaroise – Right next door to La Bodega (and under the same restaurant group) is a fantastic French steakhouse that was one of the best meals we had. Catering to tourists, the staff is super accommodating and for perfectly cooked steak and a good bottle of wine you really can’t beat the price.
Rick’s Café – Made famous by the movie that made Casablanca famous, Rick’s Café has a great lunch or dinner that will introduce you to Casablanca. We didn’t make it to this gem, but fellow tourists gave it rave reviews.
La Sqala – Recommended by our hotel, we unfortunately didn’t make it to this one either but in walking by it we really wish we had. It’s built on Casablanca’s old defense wall and is therefore supposed to have a great ambiance, especially during the day in their outside garden.
Le Petit Rocher Restaurant – Condé Nast recommended this hidden gem which has the feel of a seaside country club. This restaurant has the best views of the mosque just across the bay. We went for lunch after visiting the mosque and although a bit pricey had some great food and an extensive wine list.
At the end of our stay, we headed to Gare ONCF Casa Voyageurs to grab our train north to Fez (not to be confused with Casa Port, the other train station). You can pre-purchase tickets online but the site is only in French and declined our American credit cards, so we waited until we arrived to purchase tickets. We sprung for the first class tickets which were only a few dollars more and well worth the price, as first class is not quite the same in Morocco as in Europe or the US. (The bathroom on the train has a toilet that is literally a hole over the tracks.) However, the train was cheap, easy, and relatively quick. We arrived in Fez ready for the next stop on our Moroccan adventure!