For starters? It’s highly likely you’ve visted Marrakech. Hasn’t everyone? In which case perhaps it’s time to consider the underrated city on Africa’s northernmost tip. After all, Tangier does all the things you love about Morocco – the sprawling medina, white-washed kasbah and gorgeous well-priced riads. But it does other things, too: panoramic coastal views, a vast white-sand beach, rich cross-cultural history, and new developments including a glitzy harbour and waterfront. Phew. But despite the recent changes, it’s still known for being a place to stroll rather than tick off the sights: feel free to linger on the Idlers’ Terrace gazing out at the horizon, burrow around the dusty historic centre and eat cheaply.
Let’s begin. At main square Grand Socco, pick an arched entrance to the medina and follow any narrow thoroughfare down to its beating heart, the Petit Socco. Join locals with a mint tea (sans sucre unless you like it eye-wateringly sweet) on the terrace at Cafe Central, the legendary haunt of Joe Orton, Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and other literary visitors of yesteryear.
Dine in style? The acclaimed Saveur De Poisson – visited by Anthony Bourdain and Rick Stein – has a set five-course menu for a bargain £16 (200 dirham). Arrive at 1pm before the queue starts (no reservations), and feast on warm breads, unlimited juice, rich-red harissa dip, several fish courses – soup, tagine, brochette and grilled bass – as well as two seasonal desserts. Alternatively, down on the marina, devour tuna avocado tacos in the tropical garden at Chiringuito, or, in Ville Nouvelle, grilled swordfish at iconic hotel El Minzah, while gawping at its wall of former Hollywood guests.
Eat on the cheap. If you’re on a budget, cafes of varying quality lurk on every street corner. A corker is Al Maimouni in the medina: steep steps lead up to a roof terrace with dreamy port views, where you can tuck into chicken and olive tagine topped with sesame seeds, as well as breads, olives, lentil and aubergine dips, mint tea and biscuits. The price? A bargain £6 (65 dirham). Just up the street is the equally good Kebdani, slightly pricier at £7-8.
Drinking? There are alcohol restrictions in and around the medina, so hit the waterfront, many of whose bars and restaurants are licensed. Stop by the port on the gleaming new palm tree-lined promenade at Bar Terminus for a local Flag beer, or, further along, the new marina for several licensed bars-with-views: try a cocktail in the courtyard at Sky 5, at its far tip.
Literary buffs need to visit the historic Tanger Inn, where Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch upstairs, the beats now being of the house music variety. Need to party? Late-night bars and beach clubs line the Corniche with names like Snob or Block House: look closely for the original 1960s signage still intact for once-infamous haunt The Windmill, beloved of Joe Orton.
Soak up the vibes. For a riotous combo of sights, sounds and smells wander the rowdy fish market (Rue De La Plage), its tiled floor slippery, rows of silvery anchovies glistening, prize catches perched high. When you tire of the competing vendors’ shouts, chill out up at Cafe Hafa overlooking the Straits; time it right to watch the sun set.
Cultural morning: The steep climb up to the photogenic kasbah will reward you with the lofty harbour view from the Bab Al Bahr arch: then explore Musee de La Kasbah, with its succession of courtyards and tropical gardens, and new Contemporary Art Space documenting the rise of modern Northern Moroccan artists. Back down in the Grand Socco, the Cinema Rif is beautifully restored: stop for a café noir, a snoop around its deco interior – and even a movie.
Staying? Tangier is a walkable city, so for maximum authenticity base yourself in the medina. Hotel Tingis is a good-value riad with chic Moroccan furnishings and roof terrace boasting dazzling views. The owner goes out of his way to be helpful (printing boarding passes, or booking taxis), while breakfast is excellent, with fresh breads, pancakes, fried egg, yoghurt, juice and mint tea.
Featured image: Musee de La Kasbah