The Grand Socco (a French-Spanish hybrid for the Big Square) is the best point of departure for an exploration of the medina and souks. Thanks largely to personal interest from King Mohammed VI, this former market square underwent a makeover in 2005. A large marble fountain is now encircled by park benches and grass areas shaded by large palm trees; it's a popular spot to rest and watch the world go by. Place du 9 Avril 1947 (its little-used official name) refers to a visit to Tangier by the king's grandfather, Sultan Mohammed V, when he aligned himself with the Moroccan independence movement. Head into the medina via the main rue Siaghine (Silversmith's St.), and for a great introduction to Morocco's souks, detour immediately right into the covered market on rue Touahin. At stalls and cavelike shops, travelers can taste and smell fresh fruit and aromatic spices and see and feel bolts of cloth sparkling with sequins or metallic thread. As witness to Tangier's location as a crossroads between Morocco's Riffian north and its Arabic-Berber south, some women wear veils and leave only their henna-dyed hands exposed, while others walk about with their faces bare, showing off the cryptic blue tattoos on their chins, foreheads, and cheeks.

Rue Siaghine meanders downhill to the Petit Socco (Little Square). In the heart of the medina, this was the meeting place of choice for many of the writers, painters, and other creative types who breezed through the city from the 1930s to 1950s. The coffeehouses surrounding the square once served up much sleazier offerings but are today pleasant places to while away an hour and let your mind wander back to how it must have been. Thanks to the many touts and hawkers hanging around, you can even do some souvenir shopping from your seat.