12 Things to Do in Super Cool Essaouira, Morocco

12 Things to Do in Super Cool Essaouira, Morocco

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. 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.

A walk around the harbour bastion in one of the things to do in Essaouira

Photo Thierry Mignon

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…

Things to do in Essaouira include walking around the Place Moulay Hassan

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.

Taking the ocean sights is on my list of things to do in Essaouira

Photo Thierry Mignon

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…

Collecting antique door frames in the médina is one of favourite things to do in Essaouira

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…

If you are looking for things to do in Essaouira, don't miss the blue boats of the fishing harbour

Photo Thierry Mignon

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.

For alternative things to do in Essaouira, fishing is probably an easy choice

Photo Thierry Mignon

Climbing the Remparts

The 18th Century Remparts make a beautiful evening walk, however, they were under renovation on my last trip.

If they are open, walking along the remparts is a thing to do in Essaouira

Photo Thierry Mignon

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…

The Purple Isles and the Skala should be on your list of things to do in Essaouira

Photo Thierry Mignon

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…

There are several art galleries to add to your list of things to do in Essaouira

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.

Shopping is quite relaxed and an easy to do in Essaouira

Photo Thierry Mignon

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.

Browsing street stalls is also something to do in Essaouira

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…

Goats climbing argan trees are not a myth but something to do near Essaouira

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.

Enjoying the food scene is something you must do in Essaouira

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. Just like Chefchaouen, Essaouira should be on your Morocco 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.

Counting cats is on my list of things to do in Essaouira

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.

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24 Comments

  1. Ruth Johnston

    March 23, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Great article with nice colourful photos. I miss Morocco

    1. Delphine

      March 23, 2018 at 6:48 pm

      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!

  2. Annika

    March 24, 2018 at 6:44 pm

    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!!

    1. Delphine

      March 24, 2018 at 9:59 pm

      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!

  3. Haylee

    March 25, 2018 at 1:33 am

    I’ve never seen goats in a tree before! Morrocco is on my list of countries, I’d really love to visit.

    1. Delphine

      March 25, 2018 at 8:05 am

      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!

  4. Jordan

    March 25, 2018 at 8:22 am

    Great photos! I especially would love to visit the fishing port – it looks absolutely incredible! I also love all the blue everywhere 🙂

    1. Delphine

      March 25, 2018 at 8:30 am

      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!

  5. Dawn

    March 25, 2018 at 8:26 am

    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!

    1. Delphine

      March 25, 2018 at 8:32 am

      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…

    1. Delphine

      March 25, 2018 at 8:37 am

      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!

  6. Megan Indoe

    March 25, 2018 at 8:47 am

    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!

    1. Delphine

      March 25, 2018 at 8:58 am

      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!

  7. shesatripblog

    March 25, 2018 at 9:02 am

    I went to Morocco for a long weekend when I was in college. I LOVED it there. Your photos brought back some sweet memories.

    1. Delphine

      March 25, 2018 at 9:45 am

      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!

  8. Lisa - The Wandering Lens

    March 25, 2018 at 10:20 am

    Isn’t Essaouira incredible! I loved the contrast between culture and beach vibes…such a different vibe to other Moroccan cities.

    1. Delphine

      March 25, 2018 at 3:00 pm

      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!

  9. Carmelatte

    March 25, 2018 at 11:09 pm

    Oh wow, so impressive <3

    1. Delphine

      March 26, 2018 at 6:44 pm

      Thank you Carmelatte, I’m pleased you like my post.

  10. Jennifer

    April 22, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    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!

    1. Delphine

      April 23, 2018 at 5:16 am

      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!

  11. Marcio Bonfiglioli

    October 27, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    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.

    1. Delphine

      October 31, 2018 at 11:17 am

      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!

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