Essaouira, Morocco: Top Things to Do and See!

by capetocasa

Are you visiting Essaouira city in Morocco soon and looking to plan your trip? Great, because in this post we will show you all the things you can do in Essaouira. Plus, our recommendations on where to stay and eat as well.

Essaouira is a small city in Morocco located on the Atlantic coast. It is known for its strong trade winds, which make it a popular destination for windsurfing and kitesurfing.

I have always had this strange fondness for Essaouira and I can’t quite say why. I think it’s not only a place you would like to visit but a place where you feel that you can possibly, probably, live. Essaouira is cool but not overrated. The people are simple and very nice. Essaouira is unbelievably beautiful. 

The city is also home to a number of historical landmarks, including the 18th-century Essaouira fortress. In recent years, Essaouira has become a popular tourist destination in Morocco, with visitors from all over the world coming to enjoy its sandy beaches and relaxed atmosphere.

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Things to do in Essaouira, Morocco

Don’t expect your visit to laid-back Essaouira to be boring, there are plenty of things to do in Essaouira. The city sends a bit of Marrakech vibes but in a better way. I personally think there are even more things to do in Essaouira than in Marrakech as Essaouira is located on the coast.

Explore Historical Walls of Essaouira

things to do in Essaouira Morocco
Historical 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”.

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 of 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.

Observe the Fishing Scenes at the port

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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 residents’ “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.

Visit Borj El Barmil fortress (Sqala du port)

essaouira morocco
Borj El Barmil fortress

To get a good idea of how the charming Essaouira city looks, visit Borj El Barmil fortress at the port. With a small entrance fee, visitors can enter and get a good view of the old town and fishing port from one side and the wild rocky beach from the other side.

This fortress is considered a famous tourist attraction in Essaouira so make sure you go on a weekday. It won’t be as busy as on weekends.

Hit the beach

essaouira beach

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.

Discover the old Medina

Essaouira 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 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. 

Go Shopping in the Souk

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.

Shopping in Essaouira
essaouira-shopping

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 in other, more famous cities like Marrakech or Fez.

Experience Gnaoua 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.

Visit Essaouira Museum

Right in the heart of Essaouira’s old city, you will find the historical museum of Mohamed Ben Abdullah. The museum is named after the founder of the city and it displays a large collection of ancient Moroccan artifacts and jewelry that once belonged to people who lived in Essaouira.

The Museum is also a great place to learn about the city’s history and learn about the Berber people of Morocco.

Go Horse & Camel Riding on the Beach

Camels resting on Essaouira beach

There’s something really rewarding about horse riding on Essaouira beach. They are just two things that were meant to be together. If you are not much of a horse rider go for the camel. Yep, camels are not exclusive to the Moroccan Sahara. There is plenty of them waiting for you on Essaouira beach. You can book a full 1-hour Arabian camel ride.

Eat Moroccan Food

essaouira food
Msemen with honey served in Essaouira

After checking out the fishing scene, the natural thing to do is to sample some of the mouth-watering Moroccan seafood dishes. 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. 

And when you are done with your adventurous day of sightseeing and shopping in the Souks, the best thing to do in Essaouira is to order an afternoon snack at one of Essaouira’s traditional cafes. I recommend ordering some Moroccan pastries (Msemen) and Moroccan mint tea. The snack is even more delicious while people-watching!

Watch the Sunset

essaouira-sunset

It sounds kinda obvious, but the sunset in Essaouira is special. The reason is 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.

Take a cooking class

While this may not be your thing to do in Essaouira but it’s really worth the try. Cooking classes are only an awesome way to learn about the food culture and dishes but also a great activity to relax and have fun.

In Essaouira, you’ll find local cooking classes that cater to everyone. Whether you’re alone, with friends, or with your kids, you’ll be able to find a class that’s right for you. You’ll get to experience the city’s culture and cuisine, and you might just learn a thing or two about Moroccan cooking along the way.

>> Check Moroccan cooking class with a local family in Essaouira

Take Kitesurf & Winsurf Lessons in Essaouira

Known as the ‘Wind City of Africa’, Essaouira attracts plenty of surfers, windsurfers, and kitesurfers between April and November looking to take advantage of the winds.

If you like surfing and want to learn how Essaouira is a great start with plenty of all kinds of surf lessons available. However, if you are already a surfer and you just need to rent some surfing equipment to have fun, you can easily do that in Essaouira too. In both cases, make sure you pre-book.

>> Check 2 hours surf lesson in Essaouira

Go on a Quad Bike tour

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Quad bike tour Essaouira_Credit: Palma Quad

Not very from the city, you can find this untapped destination of Essaouira, with big dunes of sand, rocky terrains, and the beach. And the best way to discover this place is by going on a quad bike tour.

>> Check Essaouira sand dunes: Hald day quad bike tour

Essaouira on the map

essaouira-map
Essaouira on the map

Formerly known as Mogador, the Atlantic port city Essaouira is located between Safi and Agadir. To be more specific, Essaouira is approximately 350 km south of Casablanca and 118km west of Marrakech.

How to get to & Around Essaouira

Essaouira-located

The best way to get to Essaouira is to drive or take a bus from Marrakech. You can check for bus schedules. The bus ride takes around 3 hours. Also, there are plenty of Marrakech Essaouira day trips that you can consider.

Essaouira is not a big city. If you are staying 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, which 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.

Accommodation in Essaouira, Morocco

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, and authentic and offers a piece of Morocco that you won’t find in a regular hotel or Airbnb. So, when you can always, go for a Riad.

However, if you intend to go for more budget-friendly options I have included 3 hostel options as well.

Beautiful Riads in Essaouira

Riad Emotion

A quaint and unassuming Essaouira Riad from the outside, this calm and cool place is the ideal place away from home. The courtyard includes a lovely rooftop giving a nice view of the Medina 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 bread, and sauces. Gisele and Philippe, are lovely hosts and they will go out of the way to make sure you are comfortable.

Riad Malaika

If you want to stay in a Riad in Essaouira 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 littered everywhere in this hotel. Riad Malaika has everything you’d expect from a Moroccan Riad.

Riad 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 Riad Dar Maya is that hard to tell from the modern and vintage design of the hotel. 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.

Great Hostels in Essaouira

SMALA Hostel

SMALA hostel offers you two important things in Essaouira incredible location and views. Located near the city walls and overlooks La Sqala. This hostel is pretty new. It opened in 2021 and they have separate shared sections for men and women and they also have private rooms. SMALA prices range from $18 to $60 for different stay options. If you stay in SMALA don’t miss their rooftop terrace.

Chill Art Hostel

If you want to stay in the heart of the old Medina at a low price, consider Chill Art Hostel. This hostel is actually an authentic Riad, so two birds with one stone. You get to experience a Riad, plus save a lot of money on accommodation. This hostel Riad is less than $10 a night. The staff is super helpful and everything is clean. They also have a 360 degrees Medina view from the rooftop terrace.

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 very hot and that is the best time to hit the beach. And if you are visiting Essaouira for surfing purposes the best time to visit is between April and November.

How many days to spend in Essaouira?

Essaouira is not a 24/7 busy destination like Marrakech. It’s more of a chill zone with a few relaxing things to enjoy. If you are a busybody traveler that likes to be doing things all the time then don’t spend more than 2-3 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 stay in Essaouira to a therapeutic 4 days to 1 week. It all depends on what your travel goals are.

Conclusion

If you’re ever in the mood for a beautiful and relaxed seaside town, Essaouira is definitely worth a visit. With its stunning architecture, delicious food, and friendly locals, it’s easy to see why this place is a favorite of so many. Have you been to Essaouira? What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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