Casablanca is the commercial heart of Morocco, a port city on the Atlantic Ocean. Spread over 80 square miles or 220 square kilometers, Casablanca is also the country’s largest city. The metro area is larger at 7,786 square miles or 20,166 square kilometers. Some say the city is not as atmospheric as Marrakesh, Fez, or Rabat. But Casablanca still packs a punch – traditional Moroccan and old French colonial architecture, especially in the older city neighborhoods.
The city also has a modern identity now and is all about development and progress. You will find nightclubs, arts venues, and modern restaurants. Many from Morocco, elsewhere in Africa, and even Europe come to find work here. But even in the downtown area, you will see Moorish buildings and Art Deco architecture, a good confluence of modernity and the traditional.
Casablanca has happening urban beaches, a lot of history, and colorful markets full of food, handicrafts, souvenirs, and other things. It is now a modern cosmopolitan city in many neighborhoods, but visit Ain Diab, the beachside suburb, and you will find the local swing.
Walk on the city’s palm-lined boulevards. Visit the ancient souks, medina, vibrant shopping destinations, stylish restaurants. There is a lot to see and do in Casablanca, the commercial hub and port city of Morocco.
Casablanca – Quick Facts
- The largest city of Morocco and the country’s commercial capital
- Established in the 7th century
- Population – 3,359,818 (2014)
- Area – 80 square miles or 220 square kilometers. It is Morocco’s largest city
- Time zone – UTC+1 (CET)
- Commercial capital, Casablanca contributes 33% to Morocco’s economy.
- Casablanca was destroyed several times in earthquakes. The modern city was rebuilt between the 1960s and 1970s
- It was a pirate base before Portugal occupied the city in 1468. Many pirates moved to Salé, 1-hour north of Casablanca
- The city’s Mohammed V International Airport was a US airbase
- Named by Spanish merchants who had a trading outpost here
Casablanca’s Hassan II Mosque is the world’s tallest minaret. The 689 feet high mosque is also the seventh largest in the world. Its huge ground can hold 100,000 worshipers at one time.
Airport – Mohammed V International Airport (IATA: CMN) is the only airport in the city. It is also the country’s busiest airport. There are flights to several airports in Africa, Europe, and daily flights to other cities in Morocco.
Imperial Air Maroc flies to New York JFK, Canada, many cities in Europe, and African countries like Nigeria, the Central African Republic, and Senegal.
- There are 2 ATMs in the arrival section of the terminal. There can be a line.
Arrive at the airport at least 2-3 hours before your departure time. The check-in procedures and security can be slow. Passport control is also slow.
Train – Train travel is a convenient way to reach other Moroccan cities. Trains have both 1st and 2nd class compartments. 1st class costs more, but you will have more room. Reservation is also guaranteed. 2nd class can get crowded. You may not have a seat in peak hours.
There are trains to most big cities like Marrakech, Tangier, Fes, Oujda, and Meknes. 1st class travel is comfortable. You will find arrival/departure board displays. Tickets are available at vending machine and some shops.
Bus – There is bus service too between the cities.
|Marrakech||1-2 hours||4 hours||80-95 dirham|
|Rabat||Every hour||1½ hours||30-40 dirham|
|Essaouira||3-4 buses a day||6-7 hours||110-140 dirham|
|El Jadida||Every hour||1½ hours||25 dirham|
Meknes, Fez, Tangier, and Ouarzazate are further away. You will find overnight buses as well to these places.
Tram – There are two cities in Morocco that has tram – Casablanca is one of them. It started in 2012.
- Service is from 5.30 AM to 22.30 PM.
- Frequent service. Less than 10 minutes in the daytime.
- The stop announcements are in French and Arabic.
- Tickets at vending machines, which only accept coins.
Casablanca tramway is 19 miles or 31 kilometers long. There are 49 shops. The city had planned a metro system to ease traffic, but the plan was abandoned because of high costs. Casablanca decided to expand the tram network instead.
Bus – This is the cheapest way of traveling within the city. It costs just 5 dirhams. However, be careful, as not all buses are comfortable. There can be pickpockets as well. There are many bus companies operating on various routes.
Taxi – Taxis are colored red. You will find them in stands and also on the streets. Many drivers can speak English. But check to make sure that the meter is running, or you can be overcharged. There are also ‘white taxis’, which run on particular routes only. These cars leave only once they are full, usually 6 passengers. They are cheaper.
If you have seen the famous Casablanca movie of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, you will know the Rick’s Café. There is actually a Rick’s Café in the city, but it opened only in 2004. It recreates the bar from the 1942 movie.
The city has a Mediterranean climate. Summers are hot. Cool sea wind brings in temperature variations, making the climate much like the Los Angeles coastal areas. The temperature range is also much the same.
Best Time To Visit Casablanca
July and August are both good times to visit Casablanca. These months will be warm and comfortable. You are likely to get a lot of rain during the fall. There can be waterlogging. So avoid visiting from November to February.
Top 6 Reasons For Visiting Casablanca
Beautiful Mosques – The city has Morocco’s largest mosque, and the world’s 7th biggest. Go inside the Hassan II Mosque. The interior is as beautiful as the exterior. See the fine carvings and colorful tiling work. The outside ground can hold 100,000 worshipers at one time.
Arts, Culture – Some of the traditional villas are now turned into museums. Many of them host both temporary and permanent exhibitions. You can see vintage jewelry, Bohemian glass, paintings, sculptures, and more. Morocco has a thriving art scene.
Architecture – The city has the most Art Deco buildings anywhere in Morocco, which will remind you of Casablanca’s old French colonial past. But the buildings also blend with traditional Moroccan designs. Many of the buildings have been restored, and are now restaurants and hotels. See the impressive structures around Place Mohammed V.
Nightlife and Dining – You will find many trendy and modern restaurants. Blend is a popular place for burgers where it is difficult to find a table in peak hours. La Bodega offers very good Spanish-style tapas. Many expats and tourists come here for a drink. La Corniche is the waterfront boulevard where you will find ocean-view restaurants, chic lounges, and beach cafes. The 5th floor Mediterranean restaurant of Four Seasons is also very popular.
Surfing – The city has a surf culture. You will find many surf schools along the La Corniche. Every September there is the Quiksilver Pro surf competition, where many surfers from around the world compete.
Shopping – You will get both traditional and modern shopping in the city. The futuristic-styled Morocco Mall is one of Africa’s largest shopping centers. There are big brands like Armani, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Karen Millen, Diesel, Ralph Lauren, and Zara. See the aquarium and fountain. You will also find a traditional medina, though it is not as good as the medinas of Marrakesh. You can also visit the buzzing Marche Central street market. You will find fruits, vegetables, handicrafts, souvenirs, and seafood.
Best Areas, Neighborhoods
You will see an interesting mix of modern and traditional throughout the city. Make sure to visit different districts, from the walled medina, which is the oldest neighborhood of Casablanca, to Maârif, the high-end shopping district.
Ain Diab – A seaside district where you will find beaches, luxury hotels, upscale shopping, and the city’s must-see attraction, the Hassan II Mosque. Boulevard de la Corniche is a palm-tree-lined promenade full of cocktail bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.
Maârif – It used to be the poorest district once, but is now Casablanca’s main business center. It is also a shopping destination. You will find big international brands and top boutiques around the Casablanca Twin Center.
Habous – This is the old French quarter of the city that goes back to the early 1900s. See modern European architecture side by side with traditional riads of Morocco. You will find both outdoor colorful markets and modern western shops. Olive Souk is a must-visit for Moroccan culture. This is a small courtyard full of spices, oils, herbs, and locally grown olives.
Old Medina – Walled part of the city where there are 19th-century streets full of small shops selling pottery, handbags, hookah, souvenirs, and clothing. You will find many local cafes too, including the famous Rick’s Café.