Morocco’s main port and the largest city in the Maghreb, Casablanca is a multicultural financial centre known more for its modern construction than its history.
For one, the Hassan II Mosque is the largest mosque on the continent, and a technical achievement with a retractable roof on its prayer room and a high level of artistry in its fittings.
Casablanca’s boulevards were drawn up in the 20th century when forward-thinking French urban planners were given free rein.
This led to a cross-pollination of European and Moroccan design, best seen in the arcades and whitewashed walls of the Quartier Habous, a new Medina for immigrants from around Morocco.
The oceanfront Corniche meanwhile is enriched with Africa’s second-largest mall, beaches, a theme park, a multiplex cinema and sunset views of the Atlantic.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Casablanca:
1. Hassan II Mosque
On a promontory above the ocean is Africa’s largest mosque and the third-largest mosque in the world.
The Hassan II Mosque was consecrated in 1993 after less than eight years of construction, and has a capacity for 105,000 worshippers, 25,000 inside and another 80,000 on the grounds.
One of many staggering feats is the minaret, the world’s second-tallest, at 210 metres and with a laser beam pointing towards Mecca.
The dimensions of the Hassan II Mosque may be awe-inspiring but there’s also exquisite craftsmanship in its marble columns, horseshoe arches, chandeliers, woodcarving and zellige mouldings, all produced by 6,000 master artisans from around Morocco.
A guided tour of the interior, departing on the hour, is not to be passed on, during which you’ll learn more mind-bending facts about the prayer hall’s retractable roof, the vast hammam in the basement and can stop to wonder at the Atlantic.
Included in: Full-Day Casablanca & Rabat Guided Tour
2. The Corniche
The Boulevard de la Corniche curls along Casablanca’s oceanfront for several kilometres, with a palm-lined boardwalk that has seen a lot of regeneration since the 2000s.
On one side are sandy beaches, mostly with private beach clubs, sloping gently to the water.
On the other are hotels, restaurants, fast food chains, bars, exclusive nightclubs, hookah joints and a great deal more.
At the west end is the mammoth Morocco Mall and Parc Sindibad, and we’ll deal with those later.
Behind the Corniche in the eastern Anfa neighbourhood are many of Casablanca’s most opulent homes, roosted on the hillside.
Come to the Corniche late in the afternoon to amble by the Atlantic and watch the sunset from a cafe terrace.
Suggested tour: Private Half-Day Guided Tour of Casablanca
3. Place des Nations Unies
Somewhere to take the pulse of the city, the Place des Nations Unies is a transport hub, plotted at the very beginning of the French Protectorate to link the new city with the Old Medina.
Place des Nations Unies is in a constant state of flux, and the most recent overhaul came in the 2010s with the construction of the Casa Tramway station.
The square is enveloped in mostly modern architecture, although there are a couple of hints from the early days of the square at the famous Hotel Excelsior (1916), and the clock tower, erected in 1908, pulled down in 1948 and reconstructed closer to the Medina in 1993. A modern reference point is the Kora Adia (1975) by architect and sculptor Jean-François Zevaco.
This openwork half-globe symbolises Casablanca’s openness to the world.
4. Mahkama du Pacha
Like stepping into an Andalusian palace, the Mahkama du Pacha is a parliamentary building holding Casablanca’s court of justice, but also serving as a space for state receptions.
True to its name, this was also previously a residence for the Pasha (governor). The complex was built in 1941-42, and the design came from Frenchman Auguste Cadet (1881-1956), who played a key role in development of the surrounding Quartier Habous.
One explanation for the palace’s appearance is that modern building materials were unavailable at the time because of France’s war effort, so the Mahkama du Pacha was constructed in the traditional style, brick by brick, using zellige (mosaic tilework), multi-foil arches, honycomb stuccowork, cedar timber and green tiles.
In true Moorish style, the interior courtyard has an octagonal fountain and fragrant orange trees.
To get in, you can either take your chances and ask the guard to let you sneak a peek for a minute or two, or purchase passes for a guided tour in advance from the ticket office at Hassan II Mosque.
5. Quartier Habous
A calmer, cleaner alternative to the Old Medina, the Quartier Habous is a planned district, built between the 1910s and the 1950s to cope with a sudden influx of migrants from around Morocco.
Habous was built in the style of a traditional Medina, using Moorish style and materials, but at the same time its French architects applied Modern urban planning concepts.
In amongst the intricately moulded street arches, horseshoe arcades and whitewashed buildings are street cafes where you can watch the neighbourhood going about its business over a glass of mint tea and a pastry.
Vendors are famously less pushy in the Quartier Habous and you can seek out leather goods, olives of all sizes and descriptions, traditional clothing, Moroccan sweets, tagines and spices.
An obligatory stop is the little Pâtisserie Bennis, handcrafting traditional Moroccan treats since 1930.
6. Art Deco Architecture (Mauresque)
Casablanca went through unprecedented growth during the days of the French Protectorate.
The economic development that was implemented by General Lyautey (1854-1934) as a kind of insurance against insurgency, is represented by grand boulevards and a style of architecture that blends the curving lines of Art Deco with traditional Moroccan features like zellige, interior courtyards and climate-adapted design.
Many of the best works of Mauresque architecture in Casablanca are on the streets bounded by Mohammed V and Avenue Lalla Yacout to the north and south, and Rue du Prince Moulay Abdellah and rue Ibn Batouta to the west and east.
At the still-working Cinéma Rialto on the corner of Rue Mohammed el Qorri and Rue Salah ben Bouchaib, Josephine Baker entertained American troops for the first time in the Second World War.
Also see Hotel Guynemer (2 rue Brahim Belloul), Hotel Transatlantique (79 rue Chaoui) and Hotel Lincoln, in a state of semi-ruin across from the Marché Central.
In contrast Hotel Volubilis, at 20-22 Rue Abdelkrim Diouri, has come through a successful restoration programme.
7. Place Mohammed V
In the time of the French Protectorate this square, laid out in the 1910s, was named after General Lyautey and as the base of French power is framed by Mauresque architecture.
Check out the 1918 Grande Poste (central post office) on the northern frontage, as well as the 1925 Palais de Justice to the east.
Most striking of all is the Wilaya, former prefecture building to the south, constructed in 1930 and impossible to miss for its square clock tower, which has an air of Venice to it.
You’ll find out pretty quickly why Place Mohammed V has the popular nickname “pigeon square”, and you can pause in the evening and watch the fountain’s water and light show.
8. Old Medina
While Medinas in other Moroccan cities can be traced back hundreds of years, Casablanca’s old walled city is surprisingly young.
It was reconstructed by Sultan Mohammed Ben Abdallah following an earthquake in 1755, and was then almost completely razed during the Bombardment of Casablanca by the French in 1907. The upshot is that this almost indecipherable district of scruffy intertwining streets holds less tourist appeal than its counterparts in Marrakesh and Fez, but merits a daytime visit for anyone who wants to see the real Casablanca.
You can browse for typical Moroccan gifts like olives and argan oil close to the grand arched entrances.
A couple of streets in from Boulevard des Almohades on the north end, you may happen upon the Ettedgui Synagogue, on Rue Al-Aidi Ali Al-Maaroufi, destroyed during the American bombing of Casablanca in 1942 but now restored and rededicated by King Mohammed VI in 2016.
9. Private Half-Day Guided Tour
This is a good point to note that you can be forgiven for feeling intimidated by parts of Casablanca.
So if you want a guiding hand and true local context, there’s a highly rated four-hour tour on GetYourGuide.com.
Available morning or afternoon, the tour can be tailored to your tastes, but ticks off all of the essentials, like the Quartier Habous, the Hassan II Mosque, Place Mohammed V, the Central Market, Notre Dame de Lourdes (more next) the Morocco Mall and Anfa, with its plush hillside residences.
You’ll travel in an air-conditioned minivan, and your guide will fill you in with lots of interesting facts about Casablanca’s customs, culture and history.
Hotel pickup and drop-off are available.
10. Notre Dame de Lourdes
Unlike Casablanca’s deconsecrated Église du Sacré-Cœur, Notre Dame de Lourdes (1954) continues to hold services.
This peculiar Modernist building was the work of architect Achille Dangleterre and engineer Gaston Zimmer, with a tall and almost featureless silhouette that belies the beauty of the interior.
There you can enjoy the beautiful stained glass by master glass artist Gabriel Loire (1904-1996) who contributed to churches across Europe and North America.
The lower, lateral walls of the nave are made up entirely of this stained glass: Designed to evoke Moroccan carpets, these panels represent the Immaculate Conception and various Marian apparitions, including at Lourdes.
Above are slender, purely decorative strips between the bulky concrete pillars, casting multicoloured light on the floor of the nave.
11. Villa des Arts de Casablanca
Close to the intersection of the Zertouni and Roudani Boulevards, the Villa des Arts de Casablanca is managed by the ONA Foundation.
This arts organisation stages exhibitions, seminars, music performances and educational workshops, both here and in Rabat.
The Casablanca location is an exquisite Art Deco villa from 1934, and for tourists is mainly a place to come to sample Moroccan art at temporary exhibitions.
When we put this list together at the end of October there was a retrospective exhibition for surrealist turned hyper-realist painter Hamid Douieb, as well as talks by author Mamoun Lahbabi and poet Abdelhak Najib, and a recital by soprano Jalila Bennani.
12. Muhammadi Mosque
Another of the main sights in the Quartier Habous is this spectacular neo-Moorish mosque, named for Mohammed V who ordered its construction and completed in 1936. As with much of the architecture in Habous, the design came from Auguste Cadet, and Mohammed V would visit the site regularly throughout construction.
The building, accommodating 6,000 worshippers, has an unusual, irregular plan, with seven horseshoe-arched doorways on three facades.
In the prayer room are 60 columns over 11 arcades perpendicular to the qibla.
Look for the unusual polygonal columns, and cast your gaze up to the chandeliers, one of which weighs three tons.
The courtyard was modelled on the Moorish mosques of Andalusia, covering 900 m2 and with an imposing central fountain in marble.
13. Museum of Moroccan Judaism
Casablanca’s Jewish population is anything from 2,000 to 4,500 strong, and located in the European City where there are kosher restaurants, community centres and a Jewish school.
Also here, on Rue du chasseur Jules Cros, is the museum dedicated to Judaism in the Arab world.
This was founded in 1997 in a former orphanage for Jewish children, dating back to 1948. Something particularly enlightening here is text from Morocco’s revised 2011 constitution, referring to Hebraic influences as a cornerstone of Morocco’s national unity.
Also a must-see is the recreated jewellery-making workshop of Moroccan Jew Saul Cohen, displaying his tools and workbench.
Artefacts abound at the museum, including a menorah, mezuzahs, the 1944 bimah from the city’s Beni-Issakhar Synagogue, and all sorts of costume, jewellery and art over hundreds of years.
14. Musée de la Fondation Abderrahman Slaoui
An elegant 1940s Art Deco villa, just west of Place Mohammed V, houses this museum presenting the collections of businessman Abderrahman Slaoui (1919-2001). A highlight is a set of more than 80 vintage posters, for tourism and North African products.
There are also marvellous pieces by master jewellers from the 19th and 20th centuries, and a remarkable study of traditional Moroccan costume conducted by photographer and designer Jean Besancenot in the 1930s.
You can pore over works by Mohammed Ben Ali R’bati, held as the first Moroccan figurative painter, and the first to feature in exhibitions in Europe.
Afterwards call in at the museum’s cafe, which has a pleasing view of the city.
15. Phare d’El Hank
An abiding feature of the Casablanca skyline, this lighthouse is at the tip of El Hank peninsula, to the west of Casablanca’s harbour and at the east end of the Corniche.
Raised in the second half of the 1910s, the 51-metre lighthouse is equipped with a second-order Fresnel lens and has a range of 30 nautical miles.
The Phare d’El Hank opens on a pretty informal basis.
If you’re one of the lucky ones you’ll be able to climb 256 marble steps for an awesome view of the Atlantic, Casablanca and the Hassan II Mosque.
Also on a visit you’ll see how Casablanca’s richest and poorest neighbourhoods exist side by side.
16. Forêt de Bouskoura-Merchich
Green space is at a premium in Casablanca but on the southern outskirts is almost 3,000 acres of newly planted, mostly eucalyptus forest.
The Forêt de Bouskoura-Merchich is still developing and until the late-2010s facilities were a little sparse.
But slowly picnic areas, toilets and much-needed litter receptacles are being added, and the forest is becoming a go-to for bike rides and morning jogs.
If everything goes to plan there will eventually be a lookout tower, a nature visitor centre, a restaurant, a sensory trail and five children’s playgrounds across four main zones.
17. Temple Beth-El
The largest of Casablanca’s 30+ synagogues can seat 500 worshippers and is an important centre for the city’s Jewish community, and the main venue for spiritual events.
For instance, it was here in April 2019 that Rabbi Yoshiahu Pinto was named Supreme Chief Rabbinical Court Master in Morocco, a post that had been left unfilled for a century.
Temple Beth-El was built in 1942 and needs to be seen inside for its stuccowork, golf leaf, stained glass and chandeliers.
The interior was renovated in 1997, and is a worthwhile detour for anyone inspired by Casablanca’s rare multiculturalism.
18. Morocco Mall
Africa’s second-largest mall opened in 2011 between Plage Ain Diab and Plage Madame Choual.
The Morocco Mall has upwards of 350 stores and services, and contains a 1,000,000-litre cylindrical aquarium holding 40 different species.
As for fashion brands, there’s a mix of premium labels like Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Dior, Fendi and Emporio Armani, plus midmarket retailers from Zara to Pull & Bear, Oysho, H&M, Gap, Bershka, Adidas, Nike, Stradivarius and the like.
For books, movies and a wealth of other media there’s an enormous two-level branch of the French chain Fnac, while the mall’s own Souk has almost 50 handpicked artisans selling jewellery, oils, scents, cosmetics, spices, honey, kaftans and hand-embroidered linens.
Food-wise there are dozens of eateries, whether you’re up for noodles, pizza, sandwiches, crêpes, gelato, frozen yogurt and everything in between.
Last but not least there’s a cinema with two IMAX 3D screens.
19. Casa Tramway
If you’ve been away from Casablanca since the 2000s you’ll be taken aback by the slick new mass transit system that has slashed journey times in the city.
The Casa Tramway opened in 2012 and has two lines, with two more due to open in 2022. T1 runs from Sidi Moumen to Lissasfa (69 mins end to end), and T2 is between Sidi Bernoussi and Ain Diab Plage (77 mins). The lines intersect twice, at Abdelmoumen/Anoual and Ibn Tachfine/Mdakra.
Running these lines are swish Citadis Type 302 trams by the French maker Alstom.
As of 2019, a single trip is 8 dh (0.83) and a double is 16 dh.
To save hassle you’ll need exact change when you buy your ticket from the station kiosks, although you can buy a multi-ride pass at the kiosk on Mohammed V Square.
20. Derb Ghallef
Part of the southern Maârif area, Derb Ghallef is a commercial area boasting the second-largest flea market in the country.
The market is immense, cluttered and confusing, trading antiques, furniture and clothes, but is most famous for its consumer electronics.
Bargain hunters come in their droves for phones, laptops and other gadgets.
For tourists the souk is something to witness for its pure mayhem, more than a place to shop.
The passages aren’t paved, and can become sweltering in summer and turn into rivers in winter.
But what you may find appealing are plenty of street vendors and small restaurants for kebabs, tagines and nuts.
For respite make for the Horticulture Garden, a short walk to the east.
21. Parc Sindibad
The only theme park in Morocco is in a wooded are at the west end of Plage Ain Diab.
In the 20th century Parc Sindibad was a much-loved day out for young Casa residents, but closed due to financial problems in the early 2000s.
Then in the 2010s, with the arrival of a beach resort, the park was redeveloped by a partnership that included Compagnie des Alpes, which owns big French theme parks like Parc Astérix and Futuroscope.
At the time of writing in 2019 Parc Sindibad had some 24 rides and attractions, as well as a small zoo on its east side and a karting track to the south.
The big draws are Le Serpent, a steel rollercoaster, Al Mouja, a toboggan water ride, and Ain Rokh, a tethered balloon for a bird’s eye view 42 metres over the park.
22. Tamaris Aquaparc
Around 15 kilometres west along the Route d’Azemmour from Ain Diab is the Tamaris Aquaparc, ideal for families with younger kids and bored teenagers.
The water park has 10,000 m2 of treated and filtered water in lush, landscaped terrain.
Alongside a large wavepool, beach and lazy river you’ve got a whole line-up of slides, colour-coded Green (family-friendly), Red (a little more daring) and Black (high-speed). The black slides have names like Boomerang, Cannon Bowl and Kamikaze, while smaller children and toddlers can play in a shallow area with fountains and climbing equipment.
There’s a snack bar for burgers, sandwiches and shawarmas, and after you’ve dried off you could go bowling at the 12-lane alley next door.
23. Anfaplace Shopping Center
Right on Boulevard de la Corniche in Ain Diab is a modern, three-storey shopping mall, also loaded with familiar international brands.
Just by way of introduction you’ll find Clarks, H&M, Accessorize/Monsoon, Marks & Spencer, NewYorker, The Body Shop, Swatch, and on-the-go food and drink chains like Starbucks, Paul, McDonalds, KFC, Domino’s and Burger King, all anchored by a big branch of Carrefour.
There’s a surf school on the beach in front of the mall, and a bit further along the boulevard is the Cinéma Megarama Casablanca multiplex.
24. Rick’s Café
We’ve seen by now that Morocco’s chief port and main financial centre may not have the romance of the 1942 Bogart classic.
But a replica of Rick Blaine’s swanky “gin joint” opened on the north edge of the city’s Medina in 2004. A place to lie low while you’re bartering for letters of transit, Rick’s Café is an upmarket restaurant in an historic courtyard mansion, with interior decor inspired by the movie’s main set.
There are horseshoe arches, stencilled brass light fittings, balustraded balconies, and palm fronds casting moody shadows on the white walls.
There’s even a genuine Pleyel piano from the 1930s, with a live pianist playing standards from the 30s,40s and 50s.
Expect to hear “As Time Goes By” more than once each evening.
25. Dream Village
About halfway between Casablanca and the city of Mohammedia close to the forêt des Cascades is a resort with an ecological theme.
The main attraction at Dream Village is the zoo, where trails wind through landscaped greenery next to basic but mostly well-maintained enclosures for tigers, lions, flamingos, emus, bison, bears and waterfowl like swans and ducks.
There’s a leisure park too, aimed mainly at children, with slides, pools, pedal boats and rides, and an equestrian club for horseback riding lessons and treks.