Described as the commercial, industrial, and educational centre of western Algeria, Oran is Algeria’s second largest city and is home to a major port, a military zone and three universities. As a result, the city is lively and full of atmosphere, although rather neglected since the end of the Algerian War. Once the home of fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent, Oran is close to Europe in many respects, and its heritage can be seen among the ruined architecture in a beautiful but crumbling city.
Getting there and away
The city is serviced by Oran Es Sénia Airport, which offers flights with many international carriers, including Air Algérie, Iberia Air, Tunisair and Air Royal Maroc. It is located roughly nine kilometres from the city itself. It is then best to take a taxi into town. Oran can also be reached by ferries from Europe; from the ports of Marseilles, Sète, Alicante and Almería, via the national company Algérie Ferries. Oran is also the Western terminus of the Algerian rail network and trains from the capital Algiers run regularly.
Once in the city, taxis and buses can be used to get around, although the system can be quite confusing and informal. Often, taxis must be flagged down, even if occupied, and they will take you if going in the same direction. The bus system is as confusing, with varying frequency and arrival times. However, there is also a newly-built tram system with 32 stops. Once in the city centre, it is an easy and pleasant walk with plenty of stunning architecture to admire.
Where to stay
Often described as the best hotel in Oran, the Royal Hotel Oran is conveniently located in the city centre. It is beautifully decorated with a rich character and history, and service is excellent. Attached to a convention centre, Le Meridien Oran Hotel monolithic structure dominates the skyline and offers some great views. This large and modern hotel has all the amenities you’d expect from a chain, but be prepared to pay more than the average for restaurant costs. Hotel le Raja is less imposing but better suited to a more modest budget.
Like many seaside cities that take inspiration from Europe, Oran has a vibrant seafront promenade lined with restaurants and bars and, as one can expect, seafood forms a major part of the Oran dining experience. Restaurant les Gazelles has a view to die for and excellent seafood – the catch of the day is extremely fresh – but can stretch the budget a bit. La Calypso has delicious pizza and attractive street setting, while It Side, despite its achingly hip name, is an affordable Turkish restaurant with friendly and efficient staff. It also serves the best steak in town. Finally, for simple but yummy cuisine and achingly gorgeous views, try Le Petit Chalet.
Like any port and university town, Oran’s nightlife is thriving and is indeed Algeria’s party capital. In fact, the city is famous for it. The Corniche, Oran’s seafront boulevard, is the must-go place for those seeking after-dark excitements. If you’re looking to dance, you have plenty of options. After all, this is the city that established the popular North African music genre rai. For a chic, upmarket venue, try the Atmosphère at the Sheraton Hotel, which now attracts international DJs. Les Pins d’Or, SunHouse and Le Murdjadjo are other options. There are also plenty of bars and cabarets. However, it is advisable to go with locals if possible.
In the city
Oran is surrounded by a military zone, but don’t let that put you off. There are many fascinating things to see in the city. There is an air of neglect among the crumbling French-built architecture but it is still full of beauty. Nowhere exemplifies this more than the Cathédrale de St Louis. From afar, the building, which sits atop a hill, looks impressive but is actually closed up and derelict. It is surrounded by crumbling architecture hearkening back to another time. Bey’s Palace has suffered the same fate but is still a curiosity. Pasha’s Mosque is a somewhat better kept sight-seeing option. For a little history, try the Musée National Ahmed Zabana.
Oran is a great place for shopping, offering everything from mall trawling, specialist boutiques, markets and bazaars. Les Arcades is a shopping zone housing food, clothing and souvenir stores, while Mdin Jdidait is a large market where the locals do their shopping. Like in Algiers, there is a Kasbah in Oran, but it is less friendly and it is not advised to go at night but if you do venture in, there are interesting little street markets hidden within. And then of course, the Corniche, or Front de Mer, inspired by Nice’s seafront, is a perfect place for an amble.
Out of the city
It is not advisable to travel too far out of the city (see Health and Safety) but there are plenty of attractions nearby. The Murdjajo hill is quite a climb but is worth it for the views overlooking the city. As if that wasn’t enough, your real reward for the climb is the beautiful Santa Cruz church, built by the Spanish in the 16th century and, above it, the Santa Cruz Fortress, built by the Marquis de Santa Cruz in 1563. For those in the know, there is also a bar in the fortress. The beach, while obviously very popular, is great fun and there are plenty of small reefs to explore. About an hour’s drive from Oran, you’ll also find Madagh, a natural beach with warm, clear water.
History and culture
Established by Moors in the year 903 and since has changed hands many times. It has been variously owned by the Spanish, the Turks, the French and the Vichy Government during World War II. Today, Oran has the sad and ravaged air of a country that has seen great tragedy and indeed its recent history is also brutal. Before the Algerian War, which lasted from 1954 to 1962, Oran had a large European population but in the violence of 1962, a number of Europeans disappeared and many others fled.
Health and safety
Algeria is a restive country with frequent, though mostly peaceful, demonstrations taking place. It is from beyond the borders that threats emanate, with warning being issued for travel near the borders of Mauretania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Tunisia. In addition, there is an increasing threat of terrorism, but it is generally safe in Algiers and other main cities like Oran. If business does take you there, avoid rural areas and travelling at night, and follow usual, sensible safety precautions during the day.