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When thinking of Morocco, most people picture the Sahara desert and a bunch of camels… This is true but Morocco is incredibly diverse and the Atlantic Coast is part of the adventure. Essaouira, the “Windy City of Africa” is a romantic and lively stopover in your Moroccan itinerary. With its history as a commercial hub and a hippy hangout, Essaouira is a place to be, for enjoyment and experience. Here are 12 things to do in super cool Essaouira, Morocco.
Whilst it doesn’t have as many stand-out historical features as other places, Essaouira is easily worth a couple of days. If you don’t have as much time, it’s also a great day trip out of Marrakech. The drive from Marrakech to Essaouira is three hours each way and the road is pretty flat and straightforward so you will have enough time to wander around and see the main sights. Check out the additional information and current tour prices.
I love the chilled vibe of Essaouira and it’s one of my favourite places in Morocco. The Atlantic Ocean is a powerful force and offers a lovely respite from the heat of Marrakech.
First, a Little History…
Like many cities in Morocco, Essaouira has been under various foreign influences, especially Portuguese and French. Formerly known as Mogador, the coastal city as we know it today, was built by French architect Theodore Cornut, on orders of the sultan. The old medina is an interesting combination of European and Moroccan architecture. The medina is a succession of reasonably wide alleys and narrow streets, however, it also has several Mediterranean-style courtyards, perfect to enjoy a fruit juice or mint tea…
Mogador was a major commercial route to the rest of Africa. During the French Protectorate, however, commerce was diverted to Casablanca, Agadir and Tangier. The coastal town became a sleepy backwater and was only revived after the independence of Morocco in 1956. In 1951, Orson Welles filmed “Othello” in Mogador and later on, Essaouira became a hippy hangout.
Escaping The Heat
Essaouira is less than 3 hours’ drive from Marrakech, on a good quality road. If you wish to escape the dry heat of Marrakech, Essaouira is ideal for a few days. The wind and coastal conditions will heal you from the dry air of the Sahara desert and the atmosphere is more relaxed. Due to strong winds and currents, swimming is not always safe in Essaouira, however, it’s a popular spot for surfers between the months of April and November. The summer months can overwhelm with their crowds of local tourists, and winter is great for wild winds. I really like spring and autumn in Morocco, when the weather is not too extreme. And if you are looking for a more challenging drive, you can take an itinerary further south through the High Atlas. Indeed, the Tizi n’Test is a beautiful yet dangerous road.
Walking the Old Medina
The 18th Century walled medina is a gem, added to the UNESCO Heritage List in 2001. I find that it has a good balance of shops, art galleries, restaurants and artisans workshops. Whilst Essaouira has been a tourist destination for a long time, it is still full of local life. I especially love the Mediterranean-style courtyards where you can enjoy a meal or a cool drink. Some areas of the medina, such as the Mellah (Jewish quarter) are fairly run down but I love taking notice of the ornate doors. The medina has this relaxed feel, with fewer tourists and friendly people. And you are less likely to get lost…
Observing the Fishing Port
Essaouira has a very busy fishing port, which makes for great photography. Also, there is a lot of activity and hard work happening, it’s worth catching the atmosphere there, watching the fishing vessels being unloaded and the fishnets being repaired… The blue boats are incredibly photogenic but you have to be able to handle the noise, strong fish smells and the seagulls flying everywhere…
I don’t recommend eating at the fish shacks along the harbour. It’s certainly picturesque but I don’t think food hygiene is high on their list.
Climbing the Remparts
The 18th Century Remparts make a beautiful evening walk, however, they were under renovation on my last trip.
Skala du Port
For a small fee, you can visit this bastion south of the medina and catch some gorgeous views over the fishing port and the walled city. It also offers some great views over the Purple Isles (Iles Purpuraires), also known as Mogador Island. These islands are inhabited, aside from a bird sanctuary for Eleanora’s falcons, however, there are some built structures visible from the coast. My father once met a man who had been banished there for several years with his whole family, as a punishment. His father had slapped the local French governor…
Discovering the Art Galleries
Art is an important aspect of life in Morocco and Essaouira has a broad community of artists and makers. You will find many art galleries, selling local work. Essaouira is especially popular for its calligraphy and woodworking. For paintings, the colours are bright and the style is naive, and you can easily pick up a small frame in the medina…
Relaxing at a Hammam
Essaouira is a great place to relax, I love its gentle feel, in spite of the strong winds and angry ocean… Whether you are escaping from the Marrakech heat or arrive there after the coastal drive from Casablanca, you probably need some self-care. And because locals quite happily live their life alongside the tourists, it’s easy to find a hammam where to spend a few hours.
Shopping in the Mechouar
The people of Essaouira have the reputation of being really nice, and I can vouch for that! I find that all my dealings with local people were humorous and full of kindness. Of course, the shopping in Essaouira is not as plentiful as it is in Marrakech but it is less intense. Most things in my shopping guide are available in Essaouira, however, you will also find some interesting herbal shops and argan oil products. And as always, you will need to haggle! A great place to shop for clothes and non-touristy wares is the Mechouar, this wide thoroughfare just outside the medina walls. The Mechouar also houses some beautiful 18th Century houses, built by rich merchants, and now transformed into hotels and restaurants.
You may also need to add some extra luggage to your Morocco packing list in order to carry your shopping home!
Exploring Artisans Workshops
Handmade artistry is still very dominant in Morocco. Of course, the markets are polluted by cheap fakes from China but these are relatively easy to spot. For me, buying something handmade by an identifiable artisan has a greater value than cheap souvenirs. In Essaouira, you can find woodwork and calligraphy workshops where to observe those handmade arts.
Learning about Argan Oil Cooperatives
The argan shrub grows wildly in the region around Essaouira and there are plenty of products on offer. Traditionally, argan is transformed and commercialised by women’s cooperatives. It’s hard to make the difference between genuine cooperatives that really benefit local communities and much more commercial operations with low paid staff… However, there are a few genuine cooperatives south of Essaouira and I recommend a drive through the countryside to explore this interesting aspect of Morocco’s economy and culture. If anything, the spectacle of goats climbing trees to eat the argan fruit is quite intriguing…
Listening to Live Music
Even after the hippies have gone, Essaouira remains hip… The Gnawa World Music Festival is one of the most important cultural events of Essaouira’s calendar.
Trying New Food & Drink
Whilst a lot of places in Morocco only offer basic food choices, Essaouira’s food and drink scene are a lot more elaborate. There are plenty of quality and reasonable restaurants who offer a modern take on Moroccan and European gastronomy. I especially recommend Restaurant El Minzah, in the gorgeous Hotel Desdemona.
The Windy City of Africa
Morocco by the ocean is a great experience. Just like Tangier, the presence of the sea is a relief and brings a freshness to the air. The Atlantic Coast of Morocco is also a great place to learn to surf. You can even do a day trip from Marrakech and attend a 2- hour surf lesson in Essaouira. Check out the additional information and current tour prices.
Just like Chefchaouen, Essaouira should be on your Atlantic Coast itinerary as it will bring a point of difference and sense of calmness to your travels. In my opinion, Essaouira ranks well as a reason to visit Morocco.
If this is your first time visiting this beautiful country, don’t forget to read my list of things to know before travelling to Morocco.
Did you get a chance to visit Essaouira? Tell me about your experience in the comments below! And if you are looking for more beautiful coastal views, the Spanish Enclaves and the Controversial Spanish Islands on the Mediterranean Coast won’t disappoint.
Best Day Trips from Marrakech
Morocco Atlantic Coast Itinerary
Reasons to Travel to Morocco
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64 thoughts on “12 Things to Do in Super Cool Essaouira, Morocco”
Great article with nice colourful photos. I miss Morocco
Hi Ruth, thank you for dropping by, it’s really great to hear from you! I’m glad you like my photos, hopefully you will get back to Morocco very soon!
I love love love Essaouira! One of my favorite places in Morocco as it is so relaxed. And I was so impressed with the food as they have some great modern options now as well as having an easy and cheap fish market. My mouth is salivating just thinking about it. Also – crepe d’Amlou!!
Hi Annika, I agree with you: Essaouira is such a relaxed place, I find that people are really friendly. There were some really good restaurants with delicious contemporary food, which is the sign of mature tourism in Morocco… And yet, it’s small enough and still very laid back!
I’ve never seen goats in a tree before! Morrocco is on my list of countries, I’d really love to visit.
Hi Haylee, I went to Morocco many times as a child and I don’t remember seeing goats in argan trees. I then read about it but I thought it was an exaggeration for tourists… And then I stumbled on a field of argan trees and there they were… It was quite funny to watch because they climb to the highest branch and take serious risks… And of course, one fell off and crashed to the ground in a cloud of dust! The goat got up and climbed back into the tree!
Great photos! I especially would love to visit the fishing port – it looks absolutely incredible! I also love all the blue everywhere 🙂
Hi Jordan, the fishing harbour in Essaouira is a fantastic photography subject, there is so much activity! If you love the blue, I recommend Chefchaouen, a gorgeous mountain town in the Rif, all the streets and houses are painted blue!
I have heard such good things about Essaouira and Morocco in general. It is definitely somewhere high on our list! Love that photo of the goats in the tree – hilarious!
Hi Dawn, Morocco is a great destination for everyone. As for the goats, it was such a funny sight! I thought it was a bit of tourist story but no, they do climb the argan tree to eat the fruit! And when they fall off the tree, they don’t fall on their feet, poor things…
I cant wait to visit Morocco.
hey there, thank you for coming by! You will love Morocco, it’s such an interesting and diverse country! I hope my posts can help you plan your dream trip!
We dream of going to Morocco. We keep getting introduced to more amazing cities and now we can add Essaouira to the list thanks to you! This city just looks so charming, I also love that its by the sea. The entire city looks extremely photogenic too so I know my husband will have a blast here. Your photos capture it so beautifully!
Hi Megan, thank you for your comment, I’m very pleased that my photos (and those of my father…) make you dream about Morocco. The Atlantic Ocean’s presence in Essaouira is very strong, which is a nice change from the desert and oasis atmosphere of Marrakech. I hope my other posts can help you plan your trip, you’ll have a blast!
I went to Morocco for a long weekend when I was in college. I LOVED it there. Your photos brought back some sweet memories.
Hi there, my last trip to Morocco was three weeks which was a perfect length. Some of my previous trips were much shorter and I was a little frustrated of not being able to do more… At least a long weekend is a great way to get a first taste of Morocco!
Isn’t Essaouira incredible! I loved the contrast between culture and beach vibes…such a different vibe to other Moroccan cities.
Hi Lisa, I agree that Essaouira is quite unique in its history and identity, that’s why it’s so charming. I would love to get more into the beach vibe next time, but it was so windy we couldn’t step on the beach!
Oh wow, so impressive <3
Thank you Carmelatte, I’m pleased you like my post.
Our family visited Marrakech and Essaouira in February. We fell in love with Essaouira after the craziness of Marrakech. Our riad was amazing; the people were incredibly friendly; the food was fantastic; and the shopping (haggling) was much less stressful than Marrakech with pretty much the same availability of goods. We would not hesitate to return…and now that we know there is a direct flight to Essaouira from Paris, we certainly will!
Hi Jennifer, thank you for dropping by! You’re right, the shopping in Essaouira is really good and much more relaxed than Marrakech. The herbal shops are especially funky, but I really didn’t know what to buy there… I didn’t know there is a direct flight from Paris, that’s really good to know!
Indeed Essaouira is a great place to be and visit. I have been there this past September with my youngest son, but just for the day. It deserves at least a couple of nights….in my next trip back to Marrocos! But I have one suggestion to whom is visiting this city coming from Marrakech: Marrocos is producing excellent wine. On the way from Marrocos we stopped over to visit and have lunch at one of the best wineries of Marrocos – Val d’Argan. It is worth the visit. You can have a relaxing lunch by their pool and then visit the place and buy their excellent wine.
I can send pictures, but I do not how to do it.
Hi Marcio, thank you for your comment. You make a very good point about wine production in Morocco: it’s actually very good! Morocco has been a wine producing region since Roman times due to its beautiful climate. There are several quality brands that have emerged in the last few years. I didn’t know there was a winery near Essaouira, I’ll have to look it up next time. I should do a winery tour when I’m next in Morocco!
I was supposed to be here earlier this year on a road trip (but then had to cancel it and somehow landed up in Belarus!). I am hoping to be in Essaouira when the road trip gets replanned very soon. Lots of tips here and can’t wait to get out there. I love Morocco, been there once before and the locals are so nice and friendly (I didn’t go to the touristy areas) 😀
Hi Danik, from Morocco to Belarus is quite a jump! Morocco is perfect for a road trip and Essaouira is a great stop for a few days!
Totally agree that Essaouira should be on your Morocco itinerary! Chefchaouen was my favorite town and then my glamping in the Sahara was my favorite activity, but I thoroughly enjoyed Essaouira. It probably had my favorite medina and I loved the ramparts. Funny story, I noticed where you mention the wind several times in your post as you should. I had no idea until after I had returned home that Essaouira was known for being that windy. We didn’t have windy days the couple of days we were there. It was much cooler than Marrakesh and behaved like your typical coastal city but I guess it was on a break from its normal wind-happy behavior!
Hi Heather, I agree with you that Essaouira is a really relaxed place. The medina is nice and the mechouar (the area just outside the medina) is also really good. The ramparts were under renovation when I went there last time but I will be back and explore this dreamy place in more detail!
Great post! The photos make it look so enticing. This whole area looks like a really authentic Morrocan place! Would love to go to Africa one day and start my journey in Morroco!
Hi Sam, Essaouira is quite authentic and people are really friendly!
I’ve been to Morocco a couple of years ago but I missed Essaouira. What a shame! It looks very beautiful. A totally different vibe than for example Marrakesh. Also, stunning photos! Especially the one with the goats in the tree, I really like that one 🙂
Hi Paulien, indeed Essaouira is quite different from Marrakech, mainly due to its coastal position. When it’s hot in Marrakech, heading to the Atlantic Coast is a welcome relief!
While I’ve been lucky enough to visit Greece and Turkey, my next stop in the general area would definitely be Morocco. That blue color that is so prevalent in all of your photos — from the boats to the decor — is SUCH a gorgeous color. It reminds me of just about every door to every building in Greece.
Hi Sage, I’ve been to Istanbul recently and would love to see the rest of the country. And of course is on my bucket list! If you love the colour blue, you need to head to Chefchaouen in Morocco, it’s everywhere!
“Food hygiene is not high on their list.” LOL – good to know! I’ve never been to Morocco but I’d love to go; it looks so beautiful and exotic! Essaouira seems much more off-the-beaten track than Fez or Marrakech and a good place to start a trip to Morocco. Thanks for this!
Hi Maggie, street eating in Morocco can be a little tricky, especially with fish… Essaouira is pretty touristy but it hasn’t lost its coastal soul. In my opinion, Morocco is generally pretty authentic…
I believe Essaouira might be my perfect place in Morocco. I love relaxed and arty places with kind local people. Exactly how you described Essaouira.
I could easily imagine myself strolling art galleries in Essaouira, buying some wonderful traditional Moroccan artwork, trying authentic Moroccan dishes at El Minzah restaurant, and relaxing in traditional Morrocan Hamman.
Essaouira is definitely on my list of places to see in Morocco!
You have the perfect stay in Essaouira in mind. That’s exactly the way to approach it and have a lovely time!
Lovely photos. Therese was just in Essaouira and the ramparts were open and fantastic. She recommends visiting the harbor in the early morning before sunrise to watch and photograph the fishermen going out. Fantastic!! Also she loved hanging out in the Moulay Hassan Square, the public plaza, where real life unfolded particularly in the evening as it was a locals hangout.
Thanks Michael, like a lot of places in Morocco, Essaouira is very lively and there is a lot of activity such as fishing and craft manufacturing… That’s why I enjoy it so much. The evening wander is a Mediterranean tradition and it happens in most places. The ramparts were closed on my last visit, hopefully I’ll see them next time!
Morocco is so magical. I think that the mixture of influences over time are what add to the mystery, a perfect blend of so many incredible cultures to create a unique one. I would love to visit the artisan workshops or a hammam and my kids would be all over seeing the goats in a tree. Such a unique corner of the earth!
Hi Amy, you’re right about Morocco, there is a rich mix of cultures and the result is a rich and endearing environment. Visiting artisan workshops and relaxing at a hammam is the perfect day for me in Morocco!
I have been waiting to head to Morocco soon. Fez and Chefchaouen are already in my itinerary, and I am surely going to add Essaouira in that. The place looks so calm and relaxed. I would love to visit the old Medina, stroll by the markets, relax at one Hammam, and more. I am so intrigued by the place.
Hi Shreya, Fez and Chefchaouen are really interesting places to visit in Morocco. Essaouira will be a nice addition for sure. I hope you get good weather and don’t forget to get some shopping done!
So interesting! Have never heard of Essaoruia but not that you’ve shown what it is all about, I think I would add it to my Morrocco itinerary! I love the authentic look of it, and the fishing port looks super cool!
Hi Sam, it’s true that Essaouira has an air of authenticity. I usually find that all of Morocco is pretty authentic but I especially love the cool coastal vibe of this fishing port!
Essaouira is definitely a destination that will be on our return trip to Morocco. We were really sad to miss out on such a unique area of the country. Obviously I would love to explore the Medinas and the seaport area cause it is so different from even the other port cities of Morocco like Tangiers. Plus not too far south I have read that there is some amazing kiteboarding!
Hi Eric, I heard about the kiteboarding but I haven’t seen it. The Atlantic Coast is very windy so it would be the perfect place for it!
Looks like a beautiful place to visit. I think my favorite thing to do would be the Shopping in the Mechouar. I love all the pottery the colors are just outstanding and I collect pottery or ceramic from everywhere I visit.
Hi Wendy, shopping in the mechouar was really good, the sellers are really nice in Essaouira. This is the benefit of visiting smaller places, you have more time to look around.
Essaouira in Morocco looks wonderful with so many historic and cultural things to do. Shopping in the Mechouar looks very colorful and I would love to stay in merchant’s house which are converted into hotels. I am interested to know about Argan Oil Co-operatives.
Hi Yukti, the argan oil cooperatives are a bit of a maze, it can be difficult to find a genuine one, where the women have some control and the proceeds are shared. And buying argan oil cut with cheaper products is unfortunately quite common. But with a bit of research, it’s possible to learn about argan oil and its manufacturing process.
Your photos are fabulous and make Essaouira a must-visit destination for me. I am planning on going to Morocco, for the first time, in 2020 so read all your posts on Morocco with great interest. The thought of an oceanside city with friendly locals and plenty of delicious food and shopping is a draw for me. But possibly the biggest draw is the chance to photograph the fisherman and their boats…. 🙂
Thank you Alison. Morocco is a great destination if you are looking for adventure and culture. We didn’t have the best weather in Essaouira when we visited, the sky was very cloudy. I would love to go back on a sunny day, but it’s quite common on the Morocco Atlantic Coast!
Beautiful photos, love the one with the goats in particular! Essaouira looks amazing. I hope to visit Morocco soon, my father-in-law spent decades living there and he always remembers it so fondly.
Hi Mirela, your father-in-law would have plenty of stories and recommendations about Morocco. Essaouira has a great coastal vibe and the goats are indeed a funny detail!
Essaouira, Morocco is one of those places that is high on my bucket list and yet to get there. Every time I read a post on it, I want to go there even more, like now. I really like to explore the artisans workshops. Look at how colourful everything is there. I definitely want to add Skala du Port to my list too
Hi Mel, most travellers go to Marrakech when they visit Morocco, which is a great place. But Essaouira is only three hours away and a great place to get some air for a couple of days, I highly recommend it!
Essaouira would be an amazing place to visit from Marrakesh. I agree that a few days would be best. Three hours each way is a bit long for a daytrip. Besides that, for me even experiencing the hammam and shopping could take a full day! By the way, just love that pic of the goats in the argan bush!!
Hi Joanne, I think two or three days in Essaouira is a good amount of time. The picture of the goats in the argan tree is the real thing. I used to think that goats were put in the trees for photos but these were climbing on their own…
Morocco is one of those countries we are just dying to visit but we’ve not quite gotten around to it yet. We’re hoping next year will be the year. I’ve been hearing so much about Essaouira recently too and not just Marrakech and Fez.
You will love Morocco! Essaouira and Marrakech are fantastic! Fez is one of the most important cities in Morocco in terms of culture and history.
One of my favourite towns in one of my favourite countries in the world! I first wound up in Essaouira hitchhiking through Morocco and fell absolutely in love with the colors, the architecture and the relaxed vibes. I love everything about this city… except the wind! On my next trip I´ll definitely have to check out one of the hammams and would love to walk along the city walls as well. Great tips!
Hi Erica, I agree with you that the wind is quite something in Essaouira! As long as you are nicely tucked behind the walls, it’s fine, but it’s really windy on the walls! Perfect reason to warm up in the hammam!