The Moroccan port city that lured Paul Bowles and Jean Genet is in turnaround mode, but its classic draws — iconic cafes, long beaches — remain.

Tiers of terraces descend to the Mediterranean at the beloved Café Hafa. Credit: Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

They all rushed to Tangier. From the 1920s to the 1950s, when the Moroccan port city was a freewheeling “international zone” governed (barely) by a consortium of mostly European powers, Tangier attracted expatriates and travelers seeking illicit substances and activities in a palm-fringed seaside crossroads where Africa almost touches Europe. Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth heiress, and the billionaire Malcolm Forbes built palaces and hosted celebrities. Beat writers, from William S. Burroughs to Paul and Jane Bowles, wrote in a haze of drugs and booze. And the future enfants terribles of Moroccan literature, Mohamed Choukri andMohammed Mrabet, stalked the cafes. Reviled, the Moroccan monarchy let the city decay. By the 1970s Tangier was a seedy has-been.


Today the city is undergoing a turnaround. Prized by King Mohammed VI,who assumed the throne in 1999, Tangier is building a huge new port, a green seafront and Africa’s first high-speed train line. Monuments and museums are getting face-lifts, and the streets of both the centuries-old Moorish medina and the colonial-era neighborhoods are sprouting boutique hotels, design shops and Euro-Moroccan restaurants. There’s even an electro festival, Nuits Sonores Tanger, created in 2013 and held in October. Couple those with classic draws — long beaches, artisanal goods, a thriving cafe culture — and Tangier is ripe for a global return.




Boulevard Pasteur, a.k.a. “Le Boulevard,” begins your unpasteurized plunge into colonial-era Tangier. Lined with Art Nouveau and Art Deco edifices, the bustling thoroughfare is packed with cafes, clothing shops and banks, as well as a scenic esplanade offering Mediterranean views. Side streets like Rue Khalid Ibn Oualidbeckon with antiques and souvenir shops, but the most rewarding stop is Librairie des Colonnes. Owned by Pierre Bergé, the former partner (in business and in love) of Yves Saint Laurent — a longtime homeowner in Tangier — the multilingual bookshop stocks essentials for your Tangier adventure, from street maps to indispensable tomes like Josh Shoemake’s “Tangier: A Literary Guide for Travellers.”


Nearby, the venerable Gran Cafe de Paris and the hip cafe in theCinémathèque de Tanger are windows into the spirit of Tangier, classic and contemporary. The former is a Gallic-flavored institution that fills with the (mostly) older generation of Moroccans and longtime foreign residents, who sip café au lait on banquettes once haunted by Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams. The cafe inside the Cinémathèque, an independent movie theater and archive that took over a forlorn old cinema in 2006, is awash in retro-cool furniture, fresh juices, Moroccan cool cats, arty expats and free Wi-Fi.


A photograph of King Mohammed VI beams down from a column in Saveur de Poisson, a small, rustic restaurant decorated with folkloric art. Perhaps he can smell the briny bounty, which varies with the season and tides. The day’s fresh fish offerings might include soup, a sizzling dish of calamari and monkfish with spinach, brochettes of baby shark, and a grilled sole. The purple house juice, a mix of pomegranate, fig, carrot and more, accompanies it all. Two hundred dirhams(about $21) per person.

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Le Number One bar in Tangier. Credit: Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times


4.  BEAT STREET, 10 P.M.

Rue Magellan should be renamed Beat Street. Its hotels were favorites of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Burroughs, who was a fixture at the Hotel El Muniriaand its bar, the Tangerinn. The décor has changed (black leather couches, wall-mounted vinyl LPs) as has the crowd (20-something Moroccan hipsters), but Burroughs still haunts the spot. His hangdog face forms a sizable mural, and quotes from him are stenciled on the walls. These days, Tangier’s expat writers, artists and self-styled deviants congregate three blocks away at Le Number One. The friendly dive is festooned with kitsch décor and stocked with Casablanca beer (40 dirhams)and myriad liquors.

Café Hafa is almost a century old. Credit: Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times


5. TEA AND SEA, 10 A.M.

Another day, another cafe. Before you lose yourself in the labyrinthinemedina, luxuriate along the coast at the open-air Café Hafa. A Tangier icon, the almost-century-old cafe is made up of tiers of whitewashed balconies that cascade down a steep hillside toward the Mediterranean, opening panoramic views of the sea and, beyond, Spain. Sip sweet tea with crushed mint leaves (7 dirhams) and gaze at that long-lost Moorish treasure across the strait: Andalusia.


Apostles of Paul (Bowles) can worship the author of “The Sheltering Sky” at the museum of the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies. The mansion was given to the United States government by the sultan in the early19th century and long served as a diplomatic headquarters. Today elegant rooms house exhibits related to the American (and European) presence here over the centuries. In addition to a gallery with works by Cecil Beaton, Oskar Kokoschkaand others, the museumdisplays Bowles’s possessions, first editions and correspondence, along with photos and fan mail. Admission 20 dirhams.


If Jane Austen opened a Moroccan restaurant, it might resemble Café à l’Anglaise. The twee tearoom channels the spirit of both Northanger Abbey and North Africa with its mix of European antiques (gilt-edged sofas, shelves of china) and traditional Moroccan design (geometric stained-glass panels). Run by a charming Moroccan family, the cozy spot serves up chicken tajine (a long-simmered stew with olives and candied lemon) and an even sweeter pastilla (a phyllo pastry packed with diced chicken and topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon). For dessert, the candied orange peel is a syrupy, sticky, sun-soaked delight. Lunch for two is around 250 dirhams.

A salesman of a shop on Rue Sebou. Credit: Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times



The splintering lanes of the medina district beg for a GPS: Global Power Shopper.These tiny arteries are filled with stalls and stores selling artisanal goods. Rue Sebou and Rue des Almohades are havens of traditional items, but the streets in and around the casbah, the walled hilltop fortress, now brim with shops of Moorish-modern design. Rumi 1436 specializes in naturally scented soy wax candles in classic Marrakesh tea glasses. Where SoHo meets the Sahara, Las Chicas is a sprawling emporium stocked with cushions, lanterns, massage oils,tasseled towels and handbags. For big budgets, the eponymous designer Laure Welfling’s boutique offerskaleidoscopic velvety caftans, embroidered evening dresses and other boho-chic garments.


Follow your ears immediately next door to the unmarked storefront across from the Kasbah Museum (undergoing renovations), where live music erupts at 6:30. The tiny space, lined with embroidered banquettes, is the clubhouse of Les Fils du Détroit, a team of master musicians. The Sons of the Strait are now old enough to be grandfathers — after some 40 years of playing teardrop-shaped ouds, tubular drums and violins together — but their free nightly jam sessions always sound fresh as they meld the melodies of Morocco and Spain in an evocative Arabo-Andalusian fusion. (Donations appreciated.)


Whether you’re planning a romantic dinner or an opulent banquet, the restaurant of the exquisite Nord-Pinus hotel can accommodate. The connected salons gleam with sultanic décor — marble columns, chiseled plaster arches, inlaid mirrors — and the kitchen turns out fine-tuned Moroccan classics. Starters include grilled sardine fillets with diced tomato and onion; entrees range from grilled and baked fish to a sublime slow-cooked joint of lamb with stewed fruits and almonds. The house red, a Moroccan vintage, is a smooth accompaniment. Dinner is 350 dirhams aperson, without wine.


You half expect to glimpse Humphrey Bogart in a white dinner jacket as you enter the chic, neo-Moorish lounge of El Morocco Club, a fetching cafe-restaurant-bar. The speakeasyish space feels like a 21st-century “Casablanca” set teeming with international businessmen, jet-set couples and gilded Tangier youth instead of Nazis and spies. A corner D.J. spins everything from jazz to Moroccan pop, while bartenders serve up mojitos (110 dirhams) and Moroccan red wine (60 dirhams). Still awake? Direct your caravan to Morocco Palace, a classic cabaret with elaborate geometric tilework and a dance floor of flashing colored lights. The sultry dance hall glows as red as the inferno and throbs with the neo-snake-charmer beats from live electric orchestras.

Moroccan spices. Credit: Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times




According to legend, after separating Europe from Africa, Hercules took a snooze at Les Grottes d’Hercule, a pair of caverns along the ocean to the west of Tangier. (A “grand taxi” from central Tangier should cost between 200 and 300 dirhams, roundtrip.) Recently spruced up, the adjacent grottoes offer somewhat opposite experiences. One is a carnival-like pageant of traditional musicians and gift shops(admission, 5 dirhams). The other (free) is a dark complex of caves with a huge,strange aperture — shaped like Africa, amazingly — that opens to the crashing Atlantic. Peering at the ocean through its jagged outline, you are truly at the crossroads of the continents.


Built in 1880, the Grand Hotel Villa de France (Corner of Avenue Angleterre and Rue Hollande; 212-5-39-33-31-11; was Tangier’s top luxury palace before falling into ruin. But after an ambitious renovation, the 58-room hotel reopened in 2014. Doubles from 1,225 dirhams.

In the medina, numerous traditional mansions have been converted into boutique B&Bs. Dar Nour (20, rue Gourna, Casbah; 212-6-62-11-27-24; has 10 rooms and suites decorated in chic Euro-Moroccan décor and a sumptuous salon that hosts a nightly aperitif. Doubles from 59 euros.

To be near the medina’s bustling, cafe-filled, boutique-loaded main square, Le Petit Socco, Dar Nakhla Naciria (12w, rue Naciria; 212-6-07-21-69-56; is a simple, friendly, five-room B&B with a panoramic rooftop terrace. Doubles from 50 euros.