Best Things To Do In Essaouira, Morocco
Essaouira is an escape from the chaos of other Moroccan towns with a seaside vibe that has a relaxed charm and plenty of character. Here are the best things to do in Essaouira.
Essaouira shot to fame thanks to Game of Thrones with the walled seaside port providing all the old-world mystery required. But this windy escape on the Atlantic Ocean is more than a picture-postcard view of honey-coloured stone walls dotted with bobbling blue boats. It’s one of the most mesmerising places in Morocco.
The medina buzzes with energy but without the intensity of Fez or Marrakech. Local markets favour a traditional way of life, and while you can still pick up all the Moroccan crafts that tourists love, you can do so with much less hassle. Through a wall of seagulls, the port sings to the hubbub of fishermen hauling in the morning’s catch.
Beneath the energy, a chilled vibe spreads throughout the small town. Art galleries hide down narrow side streets and cafes line shaded pavements.
It’s a mile away from the chaos of other Moroccan cities, and all the better for it.
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1 – WANDER THE ESSAOUIRA MEDINA
The small laneways of Essaouira are charming and atmospheric with a blend of local and tourist haunts that fit together perfectly. It’s not as crazy as the exotic medina of Fez and it doesn’t have the big attractions of Marrakech, but there is plenty to enjoy in the unique Essaouira way.
Head up to the northern end of Avenue Mohammed Zerktouni stroll Souk Joutiya, the local flea market. This is where locals do their shopping. Vast quantities of fresh fish accompany a staggering array of exotic seasonal fruit. Go in the morning for the best atmosphere.
In the west of the medina, the Skala de la Ville protects Essaouira from the Atlantic. The views from its fortress-like walls are excellent. An energetic woodworker’s market, selling all sorts of practical (and not so practical) goods, is tucked just underneath.
2 – VISIT THE FISH AUCTION AT SKALA DU PORT
Just beyond the southern gate to the medina lies the buzzing harbour, Skala du Port, which is one of the iconic places to visit in Essaouira.
Hundreds of blue boats bob up and down in the small harbour, nestled against the honey-colour walls of the ramparts. Each day they make the journey into the Atlantic to return packed with fish. In the afternoon, the fish auction takes place where you can you can haggle for the day’s catch. With the vibrant banter of the market as the sun sets over the marina, it’s one of the most magical things to do in Essaouira.
Look through the huge medina gateway and you’ll most likely recognise the location from Game of Thrones featuring the old city wall and the large tower.
3 – STROLL THE RAMPARTS
The huge stone wall circling Essaouira was built in the 18th century to protect the city from foreign invaders. Today, walking along the ramparts, particularly at sunset, is one of the best things to do in Essaouira.
The ramparts were designed by French architect, Théodore Cornut and it’s not hard to see the connection with imperial-looking defensive stations and prominent arches.
There are great views across to the medina and out to the ocean. Artists and craft vendors often have stalls set up on the ramparts, providing a splash of colour to the stone walls.
4 – PERUSE ESSAOUIRA’S THRIVING ART SCENE
For decades, Essaouira has attracted artists from all over Morocco, lured by the unique light and colour of the ancient medina. There are numerous galleries dotted about town dedicated to the local flair for creativity.
The paintings and sculptures in Galerie Espace Othello cover a broad cross-section of artistic styles, and Galerie Damgaard is a bright and colourful place dedicated to local artists. The Institut Francais often has free rotating exhibitions set in a beautiful building.
5 – KITE SURF ON ESSAOUIRA BEACH
There is a fierce wind that rushes off the Atlantic and batters Essaouira relentlessly. There are not many days you can lie on the beach without being sand blasted. So instead, hire some kite-surfing equipment and head out for a different Essaouira Beach experience.
Several places in Essaouria take private and group kitesurfing lessons, which you can find along the front. Alternatively, this 2-hour surf lesson is a great way to take a break from the medina.
Horse riding and camel tours are also popular from the beach.
6 – TAKE A TOUR TO SEE THE GOATS IN THE TREES
They don’t do it often, but goats can climb trees. In Morocco, where food can be scarce, it can become a necessity. The goats climb the Argan tree, which only grows in Morocco and only in certain climates like Essaouira.
The leaves and nuts of the tree are a great food source for the goats, but they also contribute to the production of Argan oil, one of the region’s most successful commodities. Argan oil is used extensively in cooking and is also thought to have healing properties.
To see the goats, drive around 15 kilometres out of Essaouira towards Marrakech on the R207 where you’ll often see cars stopped to snap photographs. Alternatively, a day trip from Marrakech will generally include a stop to see the tree goats.
7 – ENJOY ESSAOUIRA’S UNIQUE FOOD OFFERINGS
Essaouira has a vibrant food scene that preserves the traditional Moroccan cooking methods but also isn’t afraid to step away from tagine every so often. Here are some recommendations from us.
Mandala Society – This cool venue decorated with vintage books and intellectual/philosophical writings, serves up the best breakfast in town. Grab an Orwell or Dostoevsky and graze on homemade muesli, avo on toast and fresh fruit salads. The coffee is the best we had in Morocco.
Triskala Café – Sit at the tables on the pavement outside or huddle in one of the nooks and crannies in the higgledy-piggledy interior. The traditional Moroccan food is flavoursome and sumptuous and changes daily.
The LOFT – This little restaurant fitted out using reclaimed wood and vintage furniture has an excellent and diverse menu. Moroccan-inspired pasta, fresh fish and creative meat dishes occupy the menu, while 60’s memorabilia and gadgets occupy the walls. Go early or book in advance.
8 – TAKE A SLOW DRINK IN ESSAOUIRA
One of the best things to do in Essaouira is absolutely nothing. Find a quiet spot, grab a drink and soak up the atmosphere of this refreshingly relaxing Moroccan town. Here are some of our favourites.
Café l’Esprit – A tiny café tucked into the narrow lanes below the towering medina walls, Café l’Esprit is a great spot for afternoon tea. Grab one of the simple wooden tables and chairs that spill onto the pavement and chat to Anis the super friendly owner.
Yoo Healthy Food – If you have your daily sugar intake from too many cups of mint team, head to Yoo and try out their local fruit juices, yoghurts and smoothies. It’s a cute colourful café also serving sandwiches and salads with vegetarian and vegan options.
Taros – As the evening comes around, the best thing to do in Essaouira is to score a spot on the terrace at Taros. Pull up a seat, order a cocktail and join the storks to watch the setting sun light up the medina walls before dipping into the sea.
WHERE TO STAY?
There’s a growing selection of accommodation options to suit every budget in Essaouira. While it’s fast becoming a settle-down place for digital nomads, there are still plenty of cool riads and modern apartments.
RIAD DAR AWIL
Perfectly located just inside the medina this cosy riad has lovely rooms overlooking a peaceful courtyard. A shared terrace upstairs is a great place to either begin the day with breakfast or cool down in the evening.
Chems Bleu is a light and airy house in a perfect location just inside the medina walls. Enjoy the best of Essaouira with the help of the friendly staff. Breakfast is served on the terrace with superb Atlantic views.
These large modern apartments close to the beach have a kitchen, TV and balcony. A shared terrace with beach loungers has great views of the beach. It’s only a 10-minute walk to the medina and spotlessly clean. Free parking is available on the street.
MAP / THINGS TO DO IN ESSAOUIRA
To help you navigate the windy seaside resort, use our map of Essaouira which contains all the highlights we mentioned in this guide.
How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.
HOW TO GET TO ESSAOUIRA
Essaouira has a small airport with flights arriving from Casablanca, Bordeaux and Paris, but most travellers visit during a road trip around Morocco. The two nearest large airports are Agadir and Marrakech.
By Car – Essaouira is a 2-hour 45-minute drive from Marrakech and 3 hours 20 from Agadir on easy paved roads. Read our driving in Morocco guide to see if hiring a car is the right way to go for you. We recommend rentalcars.com if you need a hire car; they compare prices across all major car rental companies making it easier to choose.
By Bus – Regular buses run from Casablanca (7 hours), Marrakech (3 hours, 30 minutes) and Agadir (2 hours, 30 minutes hrs) and arrive at the Essaouira bus station – a 10-minute walk north of town. Supratous (run by ONCF the national rail network) also provides comfortable coaches from Marrakech train station but book in advance at peak times.
DAY TRIP TO ESSAOUIRA
Essaouira is one of our favourite places in Morocco. It’s relaxed, interesting and the restaurants serve up some delicious Moroccan goodness. We’d recommend unwinding here for a few days at least. However, if time is of the essence, Essaouira can be done on a day trip from Marrakech. Read our guide to spending 3 days in Marrakech to help with your planning.
This day trip from Marrakech includes hotel pick-up.
BEST TIME TO VISIT ESSAOUIRA
The best time to visit Essaouira is between May and September when the south Atlantic breeze keeps the temperatures much more bearable than other Moroccan cities. Average temperatures in summer are around 28°C (82°F).
July and August is the peak time for local tourists escaping the gruelling heat of the main cities, causing accommodation prices to rise. It’s also the windiest time.
Heavy rain is rare in Essaouira but drizzly days, particularly throughout January and February are not. Average temperatures in winter are around 19°C (66°F) making Essaouira a potential destination for catching some sun, however, the strong winds can often make it feel much colder than it is.
Our pick would be May and late September to early October when the wind is the least fierce and the temperatures are lovely. This is a great time to stroll the medina and catch sunsets drinks from a rooftop.
MORE READING FOR MOROCCO
Although only a short flight from Europe, Morocco is a different world. Explore medieval medinas, bustling souks, and stunning scenery with more of our Morocco guides.
How to experience the magic of Jemaa el Fna
Our self-guided walking tour of the Fez Medina
Best things to do in Marrakech
Exploring the high Atlas Mountains
Things to do in Ouarzazate
Visiting the Valley of the Roses
MOROCCO TRAVEL TIPS
Useful tips for driving in Morocco
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