In February 2018, I took a Western Mediterranean cruise on NCL’s Norwegian Spirit. Our first port of call was Casablanca, Morocco. Rather than hang around Casablanca, a bustling industrial city, we headed to Rabat, the picturesque capital of Morocco. Along the way, I wrote this guide to make it easier for other cruisers who wish to enjoy a DIY excursion from Casablanca to Rabat by train. Here, I will focus only on the transportation aspect. Click here to see how we spent our half day in Rabat.
The train station, Casa Port, is pretty close to where the ship docks. It’s about 1 mile or a 20 minute walk through a boring industrial area. Since the entire port is gated, the walk is very safe. Casa Port station is on the left literally as soon as you exit the port gate. For those who don’t wish to walk, some taxi drivers offered to drive us to the station for €5.
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Even though the tickets can be purchased with a credit card, we hit an ATM inside the station anyway to withdraw some Dirhams, the local currency. Many businesses will also accept euros but the conversion rate is terrible. We saw instances where prices were literally doubled if paying in euros. Now that said, don’t withdraw an excessive amount of Dirhams because they’re nearly impossible to exchange outside Morocco. The ATM did have instructions available in English, by the way.
The ticketing area is on the main entrance level. A staffed counter is available but we used a bank of vending machines, which also had instructions in English. There is an ONCF employee standing nearby to assist if you have trouble with the vending machines but we found them very straightforward. Make sure that you buy tickets to “Rabat Ville”. There are multiple stations in Rabat but Rabat Ville is closest to the tourist points of interest.
Tickets from Casablanca to Rabat are 37 Dirhams each way in second class or 74 Dirhams in first class. That’s about $4 or $8 at the time of this writing. We chose second class and only purchased the outbound tickets because we weren’t sure what time we wanted to return and the tickets are time-specific. The full schedule can be viewed at the ONCF website but basically, there is a train approximately every 30 minutes in each direction.
Before boarding the train, we used the restrooms on the lower level which were clean and surprisingly stylish. The 9:15am train departed on time and the journey was uneventful. The train passes through many impoverished areas but the crazy thing is that every “house”, no matter how dilapidated, had a satellite TV dish installed. There were dwellings literally constructed from rubble with a tarp for a roof… even these had a satellite dish!
We left Casa Port with perhaps 30-40% seats full but after several more stops, almost all of the seats filled up. The seats themselves were fine. Spacious enough and only a bit threadbare. We were the only non-Moroccans in our train car and stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. We definitely got a few curious glances, but no big deal. What did bother me is that almost every passenger was coughing, sneezing, sniffling, or some combination of all three. I am not a germaphobe by any means, but this felt like riding in a Petri dish!
Once you arrive at Rabat Ville, the common points of interest (Hassan Tower, Medina, and Kasbah of the Udayas) are all reachable on foot from the train station for strong walkers. But in the interest of limited time, we cheated and took the tram to our first destination, the Hassan Tower. If you head out the main entrance of Rabat Ville and walk to the right, the tram stations will come into view. The correct tram station is the one located across the street.
So once again, exit Rabat Ville main entrance, turn right, then cross the street to catch the Line 1 tram. The direction of the tram should be “Hay Karima”. Tickets are available from a vending machine or an attended booth for 6 Dirham per one-time use. We debarked the tram at “Place du 16 Novembre” but there is also a stop specifically for “Tour Hassan”. Debarking at either stop is fine.
I can’t provide any more tram directions since we travelled on foot for the remainder of the day. But I do highly recommend downloading a google map of the area onto your smartphone so you can use the map offline without cell service. Google maps worked really well in Rabat, even inside the confusing Medina.
When you return to Rabat Ville station, the ticket vending machines and agents are located on the lower level. Pricing is exactly the same as described earlier at Casa Port. We decided to splurge and used the last of our remaining dirhams to return in the first class car. While the first class seats aren’t much larger than second class, the atmosphere is much nicer overall and quieter. We nearly had the whole car to ourselves. If you can afford it, I would recommend traveling first class in both directions.
Back at Casa Port, we had about an hour to kill before we had to be onboard Norwegian Spirit. Since I wanted to sample the local Casablanca beer (actually called “Casablanca”), we found a hotel bar nearby and abused their free wifi while nursing our beers. Spoiler alert: The Casablanca label is pretty but the beer inside is an average lager.
I hope this posts helps and encourages cruisers to strike out and experience traveling Casablanca to Rabat by train. It was a fun, easy, and inexpensive adventure. Feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments section!