Is Casablanca the birthplace of modern Moroccan dance music? It certainly seems that way. Slowly but surely, this coastal town is establishing itself as a major player in the country’s growing music scene, and is responsible for providing numerous headliners – Polyswitch, Guedra Guedra, Malika and Yasmean – at Moroccan festival Beat Hotel Marrakech (19-22 March).
Here are all the best spots to hang out, drink, sleep and shop in Casablanca, according to local DJ, record producer and label head Polyswitch, aka Mouhcine Zouitina.
What to see
A great start to anyone’s first day in Casablanca is a walk by the Atlantic. Follow this up with an architectural tour so you can get a real taste of the city and take in its many unique historic buildings and theatres. Your ideal sightseeing itinerary would include the monumental Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca Cathedral, Abderrahman Slaoui Museum and Cinéma Rialto.
Stroll through the city’s famous Art Deco district and take a breather in the central Arab League Park before stopping by the Old Medina – it’s perfect for an afternoon mint tea, and has plenty for visitors who fancy getting their hands on souvenirs and stunning local crafts. If you want to really take a step back in time, to Casablanca’s Middle Ages, head to the arches of Quartier Habous.
Where to stay
For easy access to Casablanca’s clubs and nightlife, the best place to stay is on the waterfront, like the Boulevard de la Corniche in the Ain Diab neighbourhood, which is right next to the ocean. The Sofitel Casablanca Tour Blanche, near the Old Medina, is an equally great choice, and offers some of the best views of the city and the sea. If you need something a bit more local and serene, the Oasis neighbourhood in the south-west is a quiet residential district and perfectly located.
Where to eat
For mouth-watering Moroccan specialities, definitely visit La Sqala on Boulevard des Almohades. It’s a wonderful restaurant with a beautiful interior and garden, and is found behind the walls of an 18th-century fort.
Another of my favourite spots to pick up something to eat is the central market (Marché Central), one of the oldest and most important marketplaces in Casablanca. Not only can you find fresh oysters and seafood, but you can also have the fish and meat you buy cooked for you there and then – it’s a real feast for the senses.
When it gets dark
Near the port is a piano bar called Ricks Café, which has a great, jazzy atmosphere and a fabulous interior inspired by the film Casablanca. Le Cabestan, next to the Phare d’el Hank lighthouse on the Corniche, offers spectacular views and is perfect for an evening of fine dining. One of my favourite places for a cocktail is Sky 28, a high-rise bar and restaurant on the 28th floor of the Kenzi Tower Hotel, which often has live music to accompany your panorama of the city.
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For more live music, try Le Backstage in the city centre, which is an amazing place for bands and concerts. Or head to local favourite Le Vertigo, a popular retro bar that stays open late. With a cheerful, casual atmosphere, it always draws a fun crowd and is a great place to catch performances by local artists.
Where to shop
You can find modern malls, souks and street markets all over Casablanca, but for traditional handicrafts and leather goods, check out the shops inside the walls of the Old Medina. Another good neighbourhood for shopping and hanging out is El Maarif, which is packed with nice boutiques. If it’s thrift shops and unexpected treasures you’re after, then check out Derb Ghallef, the immense second-hand and discount market that’s famous for its cheap electronics (and for being the largest flea market in Morocco). Freshly opened People’s Choice is an audiophile café and record shop where music heads can get their hands on the finest records in town.
Advice for a first-timer
If it’s your first time in Casablanca, it’s great to just wander the streets taking it all in. When you need to get somewhere, act like a local by taking a petit taxi, and if you get lost don’t be afraid to talk to strangers – we’re all very eager to help! If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of markets and the noisy surroundings, escape to one of the many destinations within easy reach of the city. Dar Bouazza is a sublime spot for sun, sand and water sports, or if you prefer some greenery, Bouskoura Forest is beautiful, and at just 20 miles south of the city, is an easily accessible place to relax and enjoy nature.