Essaouira in Morocco: Top Things to Do and See!

by Faheem

I have always had this strange fondness for Essaouira city in Morocco. It’s the place that feels like home for me and I can’t quite say why. I think it’s not only a place you would like to visit but the place where you feel that you can possibly, probably, live. Essaouira is cool but not overrated. The people are simple and generally don’t try to ‘take you for a ride’. It is unbelievably beautiful. 

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essaouira in Morocco

Travel Restrictions

Due to the current health situation, there might be travel restrictions for visitors to Morocco. Make sure to check regularly for changing travel guidelines on the government websites. You can also take a look at Flatten the Curve website for information on travel restrictions about Morocco.

9 Unmissable Things to Do in Essaouira

1. Explore the City Walls

essaouira-morocco-ancient-city-walls

One of the most iconic elements of Essaouira is the old city walls and gates. They date back to the Portuguese invasion of 1506-1510. The reign of the Portuguese clearly didn’t last long. It was almost as if the local inhabitants waited for them to finish constructing this enormous fort. Once the paint was dry they just swooped in and said ‘thank you very much, we’ll take it from here’.

 However, this solid fortress, the Fortress of Castelo Real of Mogador, still surrounds parts of the old city today. These old parts have merged with newer structures which have combined beautifully with the sea, souks and other parts of the current city, contributing to the overall charm associated with Essaouira.

The Ramparts on the seaside are well-preserved for the most part, making them the ideal platform for lovely sea views and casual walks. And who doesn’t like old canons, of which there is no shortage in Essaouira.

2. Observe the Fishing Scene

essaouira-Morocco-fishing-port

Essaouira used to be a serious trade port over the ages but has gradually stagnated into a dreamy fishing town. Most of the big trade has moved on to the big cities to the north. However, the city still retains its fishing industry. 

For a truly unique experience, wake up early and go and scout the small-time fishing buzz. The cool small blue boats and local fishermen trying to auction off their daily catch. If you are a fish lover you might as well get in on the action and throw a few bids in. Get your deal on a fresh catch and take it through to one of the resident “bring your own fish” spots where they cook your fish to your specification. It’s a great way to buy your fish and eat it, so to say.

3. Hit the Beach

essaouira-Morocco-beach-and-surfing

Essaouira is known for its beaches. Let’s be honest, these are not the best beaches in the world. However, having a beach to swim, surf, windsurf or kitesurf only adds to the suave element that is oozing in Essaouira. The beaches are great for wind sports, not bad for swimming and overall the weather is surprisingly pleasant. Neither belting hot or humid.

4. Walk the Old Medina

Although Essaouira is way past its heyday in the 18th century, walking the old medina still bears reminders of what it was like. This city was once the largest port in Morocco. Today, even the fishing is not as good as it used to be. People are now making their living through tourism.

In a way, Essaouira is like a quiet Marrakech. You can get the Moroccan experience without the drama. And by taking a walk through the old medina, you can really enjoy the sights of the many colors, commonly washed blues and whites, mixed with other earthy colored stores and buildings. Even the people don’t seem to be in a hurry. The city has its own pace. 

5. Go Shopping

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While it is seldom referred to as such, in many ways Essaouira is the ideal souvenir shopping destination. For international designer brands, no! Who needs those anyway. I’m talking about traditional Morrocan goods. The stuff that tourists are amazed by and locals are used to.

Due to its history as a major trade hub, Essaouira has retained most of its artisanry. These include textiles, rugs, leather stuff, woodwork and many more. It is also said that the quality of the goods in Essaouira is better and cheaper than other, more famous cities.  

6. Experience Essaouira Gnaoua Music and Festival

If you are interested in Saharawi music, then you would wanna make your way to Essaouria to get the best of authentic Gnaoua. This is a genre of African religious music. Essaouira also hosts a music festival, which was last organized in 2019 and probably won’t take place any time soon. However, you might still catch some of the local greats performing live if you are lucky.

7. Go Horse Riding on the Beach

There’s something really rewarding about horse riding on the beach. They are just two things that were meant to be together. That being said, Essaouira is a great place to do just that.

8. Eat the Moroccan Food

essaouira-morocco-fish-market

After checking out the fishing scene, the natural thing to do is to sample the seafood. I know seafood is not for everyone, but if you grew up on the coast like me, then Essaouira is your seafood surprise of a city. You can find fish, eel, crab, lobster, squid and other sea creatures to devour. 

9. Watch the Sunset

essaouira-morocco-sunset-views

It sounds kinda obvious, but the sunset in Essaouira is special. The reason being that if you get to the sea at the right time, you can see the sun slowly disappearing into the sea, leaving behind its shadows and highlights in the background that only accentuate the magical lines of the old city of Essaouira.

How to get around Essaouira

How to get to Essaouira

The best way to get to Essaouira is to take a bus from Marrakech. You can check for bus schedules. The bus ride takes around 3 hours.

Public transport in Essaouira

Essaouira is not a big city. If you are living in the area of the kasbah then your two feet are the best way to get around. Essaouira is one of those cities best discovered on foot. Besides that, you can get to nearby areas using petit taxis, that are quite reasonable in Essaouira. For longer day trips you should consult a local tour operator or check with your hotel or Riad for travel tips.

Where to stay in Essaouira

Essaouira does not have the unlimited options of Casablanca or Marrakech but you can still find some neat places to stay whether you are on a tight budget or have some extra cash to spend. The best experience is a local Riad. It is unique, authentic and offers a piece of Morocco that you won’t find in a regular hotel or Airbnb. So, always go for the Riad. Here are some cool and highly rated Riads in Essaouira.

Riad du Figuier

A quaint and unassuming Riad from the outside, this calm and cool place is the ideal home away from home. The courtyard includes a lovely garden and the rooms are nice and cozy with lovely art, traditional rugs and blankets. You don’t wanna miss the super breakfast that includes fresh juice, Moroccan breads and sauces. If you prefer to eat in, the cook makes lovely Moroccan three-course dinners. If you are more adventurous and would like to try your hand at cooking, you can even try their cooking class.

Riad Malaika

If you want to stay in a Riad where you can wander in and out of the lounges and sections aimlessly, well, this is it. It is a discreet yet elegant 18th century Riad that has been meticulously preserved. It is old but still remains contemporary, thanks to the well-thought decor that is littered everywhere in this hotel. Riad Malaika does everything you’d expect from a Riad. Good food check, great rooms check.

Dar Maya

This unique find is a luxury Riad experience. It prides itself as a 21st century Riad that still remains true to its traditional Moroccan essence. the amazing thing about Dar Maya is that it’s difficult to spot what is new and modern and what is old and vintage. It really is a masterpiece of a hotel. Some of its exceptional facilities are a pristine rooftop terrace with a pool, a luxurious hammam and optional private balconies.

Best time to visit Essaouira

The best time to experience Essaouira is between May and October. Maybe avoid July and August if you can’t handle very hot weather. Personally, I believe that summer is supposed to be hot and that is the best time to enjoy the beach.

How many days should I spend in Essaouira?

Essaouira is not a 24/7 busy destination with loads of things to do. It’s more of a chill zone with a few relaxing things to enjoy. If you are a busy body traveler that likes to be doing things all the time then don’t spend more than 2 days in Essaouira. If you like to go with the flow, love swimming and watersport and are in no rush, then you could extend your trip to a therapeutic 4 days to 1 week. It all depends on what your travel goals are.

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