Set on a rocky peninsula protruding into the Mediterranean, Ceuta—known as Sebta in Morocco—was once one of the finest cities in the north. Originally thriving under its Arab conquerors, the city was extolled in 14th-century documents for its busy harbors, fine educational institutions, ornate mosques, and sprawling villas. Smelling prosperity, the Portuguese seized Ceuta in 1415; the city passed to Spain when Portugal itself became part of Spain in 1580, and it remained under Spanish rule after Moroccan independence.
Since 1995, Ceuta has been an autonomous city and a military base, with an economy boosted by its duty-free status. However, its strategic position on the frontier between Europe and Africa means that it’s become a hotspot for the trafficking of drugs and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. This is demonstrated by the high security around its small border. Issues aside, with its relaxed air, golden beaches, imposing buildings, pretty plazas, and buzzy tapas bars, it makes for a pleasant stopover if you’re en route to or from Algeciras in Spain.