Essaouira is one of Morocco’s most beautiful coastal towns and one of the most popular destinations in the country. And there are so many fantastic things to do in Essaouira!
This charming harbor town is especially well-known for its white medina. It is a fascinating old town in a magnificent location directly on the sea and surrounded by an imposing fortress wall.
Among the most important attractions of Essaouira are the Portuguese fortress, the old town, and the picturesque fishing port, which can best be explored via a short stroll.
But also, the wide sandy beach is idyllic and a popular destination for surfers, kiters, and beach vacationers. But what other stunning things does this city has to offer?
Getting To Know Essaouira
In this section, I am going to reveal some of the basic information so you get to know the history behind Essaouira, its weather, its exact location, and what makes it a good place for tourists to visit.
Essaouira in a bird’s eye view
Essaouira is a port city in Morocco. It is located about 120 miles north of Agadir and almost 250 miles south of Casablanca on the Atlantic coast and is an insider tip for Morocco tourists.
Until independence in 1956, the city was called Mogador. Today it is still the name of an island off the city’s coast. Mogador/Essaouira was founded by the Phoenicians more than 2,500 years ago as Migdol and expanded by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
Even today, many buildings in the 85,000-inhabitant city still look Portuguese.
The city was once Morocco’s largest seaport and a vital trading center. However, in the 20th century, it increasingly lost its economic importance. In the 1960s, the hippies arrived in the picturesque seaside town. Since then, Essaouira, with its narrow streets, lively medina, and beautiful wide beaches, has attracted drop-outs, artists, and enthusiastic tourists from Morocco and the world.
For many visitors, Essaouira is one of the most beautiful cities in Morocco. As-Sawirah, the finished one, is a nickname Essaouira has earned. Since 2001, the entire old town with its city gates has been a UNESC0 World Heritage Site. The small town often serves as a backdrop for historical and fantasy films.
Known as the ‘Wind City of Africa,’ it attracts plenty of windsurfers between April and November. Still, the majority of visitors come here in spring and autumn to wander through the spice-scented lanes and palm-lined avenues of the fortified medina, browse the many art galleries and boutiques, relax in some of the country’s best hotels and watch fishing nets being mended and traditional boats being constructed in the hugely atmospheric port.
The Weather In Essaouira City
Winter is very mild from December to March, with highs ranging from about 18/19 °C (64/66 °F). At night, the temperature rarely drops below 8 °C (46.5 °F), but on the other hand, wind and humidity increase the feeling of cold. There may be some bad weather, with rain and wind; for the rest, the weather is fine.
In spring, in April and May, temperatures are very mild, quite similar to those of winter, though cold nights become even rare, as well as the rains. In the morning, there are frequent mists and fogs. Sometimes, the wind can blow from the desert; in these cases, the temperature can exceed 30 °C (86 °F).
Summer is particularly cool, wet, and windy from June to September. In the morning, there are frequent fog and mists. Heat waves from the desert, rare in June, may occur in July and August, with peaks above 40 °C (104 °F), but they are rarer than in other coastal areas of Morocco. However, over the past few years, hot air masses from the desert have prevailed over long periods, distorting somewhat the area’s climate.
Autumn is pleasant in October and mild in November when it can occasionally get cold at night. Usually, the rains begin to fall in October.
The amount of sunshine in Essaouira is good all year round since fine weather prevails, although the sun is often veiled in a layer of mist or fog, so it is not particularly strong. Here are the average sunshine hours per day.
The special climatic conditions of the southern Atlantic coast of Morocco often lead to a refreshing sea breeze, which has earned Essaouira another nickname: “City of the Wind.” This is why surfers and sailors get their money’s worth in the region. The surf is partly very respectable.
Essaouira is a port city in the western Moroccan region of Marakesh-Safi, on the Atlantic coast. It is situated on the Moroccan Atlantic coast, a two-hour drive from Marrakech, two and a half hours from Agadir, and five hours from Casablanca.
Essaouira Travel Guide: Everything Explained
Now, that you have known some of the basic information and facts about this Moroccan city. Let’s move on to the travel guide, in which I am going to go through every single question a new traveler might have starting from how safe is the city, the dress code, and things to do all the way to gift and souvenir ideas.
Let’s jump right in (:
Is Essaouira safe?
Yes, Essaouira feels very safe to visit. Whether you’re a solo female traveler, a young family, or a retired couple, the locals’ relaxed and friendly vibe makes it very safe.
Also, it is a safe city to travel to as long as you understand its laws and cultural customs and adhere to the status quo. Its crime rates are relatively low, but it is aware of scam artists and pickpockets, which can be common in Essaouira.
Like any tourist town, beware of pickpocketing, especially around the bus station.
However, the vast majority of travelers to Essaouira experience no problems with crime or violence at all. And if you’re visiting Essaouira with kids, Essaouira’s medina feels much safer than Marrakech as it’s close to vehicles, so no mopeds are whizzing by.
Tips On How To Stay Safe In Essaouira City
Here are some tips to stay safe while visiting Essaouira city:
- Travel as a small group when walking and sightseeing, especially at night.
- Lock away your valuables.
- Do your research on city tours and rural stays.
- Respect local dress codes and customs.
- Avoid drinking tap water.
- Dress moderately.
- Use reliable tour guides.
How to get to Essaouira?
Most people get to Essaouira by bus since there is no train station. A direct daily bus travels from Casablanca to Essaouira, which takes about 6 hours. Buses from Marrakech take around 2.5 hours, and several companies travel this route.
The bus station at Bab Doukkala in Marrakech is where the buses leave. CTM is Morocco’s biggest and most reliable bus company, so check with their offices first about prices and availability.
You can book your bus and train ticket simultaneously if you go with Supratours Bus Company. They leave Essaouira twice daily and take you directly to the Marrakech train station in time to catch a train to Casablanca city, Rabat, or Fes.
Travelers have found that Grande Taxis will take them to Essaouira from the Marrakech airport (during the daytime only). Alternatively, you can get a taxi to the main bus station in Marrakech city and then hop on a bus to Essaouira.
How to get around Essaouira?
Being a small town, Essaouira is easy enough to get around on foot; the Medina is small enough to walk from one end to the other, and the 2km promenade walk along the beach is lovely.
However, if your legs are tired or you need to head to the Carrefour supermarket, it’s easy to get around Essaouira (outside the Medina) via taxi. It’s a flat fee of 7DH (8DH at night) all over Essaouira in the blue petit taxis.
The only slight problem for families or groups of 4+ is that these taxis are limited to only three people, and drivers are very strict about this. So, if you are a group of 4 or more, you must split up across taxis.
What’s The Best Time To Visit Essaouira?
Essaouira is on the Atlantic coast and doesn’t experience the extreme temperatures of other Moroccan tourist destinations. With an average of 300 days of sunshine, it’s generally a great year-round destination.
January is the coolest month, with an average temperature of 18°C (perfect for some winter sun!), and in the summer months of July and August, the average temperature is 25°C. However, it may feel warmer in the medina than this and a little cooler on the beach.
However, the wind can make all the difference to how warm (or cold) it may feel in Essaouira, especially on the exposed beach. Indeed, Essaouira has been coined the “Windy City of Africa”; that Atlantic breeze sure blows off the cobwebs.
But this is also why beaches around Essaouira are popular with surfers (in particular kite surfers). This wind drops considerably in September and even more so in October.
So if you need warmth and sunshine and want to avoid the high-season crowds, the best time to visit Essaouira are the shoulder season months between April and June and September and October. And if you want to avoid the wind as much as possible, September and October are the best months to visit Essaouira.
What To Pack When Traveling To Essaouira?
If you can quite believe it, holidays will soon be a thing. It will be soon that you’re sipping on that 6 am pre-flight pint you don’t want.
When that glorious day does come, you’ll want to go into it with as few stresses as possible, which means having a comprehensive packing list, so you don’t have that nagging feeling you’ve forgotten something.
Below is a list of essential things to pack before your trip to Essaouira:
For Men Travelers:
- Lightweight clothing that can be layered
- Long-sleeved shirts
- Sweaters or fleece jacket
- T-shirts and tank tops (be respectful of the culture you are visiting)
- Pants and shorts
- Belt (check out this one for an ingenuitive money protection option)
- Socks (wool socks are best for hiking and camping)
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Rain jacket, windbreaker, or umbrella
- Jewelry (organized in a small cube or sac)
- Hat or sun visor
- Swimsuit or swim trunks (consider a clean/dirty organizer)
- Cell phone and charger
- Travel speakers
- Travel pillow, eye mask, and earplugs
- Electric converters, adapters, and organizers
- Travel apps that will help with language, directions, money conversion, and digital journaling
- Personal mini mirror
- Hair products like hairspray, hair gel, and beard oil
- Clothesline and detergent
- Shaving kit and extra razors
For Women Travelers:
- 4-5 tops
- 1 jacket
- 2-3 bottoms
- 1 dress (if you bring a dress, bring one less pair of bottoms or a top)
- 2-6 pairs of underwear, depending on your trip length
- 2-6 pairs of socks, depending on your trip length
- 2-3 bras (sports bras and every day)
- 2 pairs of shoes
- 1-2 swimsuits, depending on your destination
- 1 set of PJs
- Scarf, shawl, or sarong — especially for more conservative destinations like Essaouira.
- Shampoo (a bar shampoo is easier to pack)
- Basic face makeup (foundation, concealer)
- Makeup essentials (lipstick, eyeliner)
- Travel-sized bottle of hair product (if you use it)
- Feminine hygiene products
- Passport or ID
- Water bottle
- Healthy snacks
- Eye mask
- Travel pillow
- Travel blanket or blanket scarf
- Laptop or tablet (optional)
For Family Travel:
- Diaper bag
- Diapers -a little extra especially depending on your chosen destination
- Wet wipes
- Changing sheet
- Blankets- At least two
- Disposable plastic bags
- Liquid hand wash for yourself
- Child’s toiletries, including toothpaste and brush- small packs
- Toys and small books – Pick your favorites.
- Clothes, socks, and shoes depending on the season- One outfit for a day and in cold weather conditions. Instead of putting on one thick sweater or jacket, always use layers of clothing. Check the nose tip and hands of the baby to see if the layers are enough. Baby shouldn’t feel too hot also.
- Caps, mittens, and boots -necessary in case of a baby below 1 year.
- Towels/bathing suit & washable bibs
- Sunhats and sunscreen (advised by the doctor)
- Feeding sets- lightweight
- Carry snack food as well as any supplement or formula that you give
- Medical kit- You can check with your child’s doctor if he can provide you with the list of medications that you should carry for the child depending on their age. Our doctor always did this, and in times of emergency, we would take medications based on the prescription given.
- Take childproof rooms or carry socket protectors or painter’s tape to cover the switches.
- Car seat- A must if you are driving on your own.
- Stroller- Handy and easy to fold one
Remember: this is a Muslim city, and we advise you to dress modestly out of respect. It’s best to cover your shoulders and knees; women should avoid low-cut tops. Children are wonderful in T-shirts and shorts.
On Essaouira beach, bikinis may attract attention away from the sunbed and parasol areas, and topless sunbathing is inappropriate. Leave the thong-bikini at home. Bring your sunglasses and maybe a spare pair, not only will they protect your eyes from the sun, but when the wind kicks up the sand, they will protect you from getting sand in your eyes.
To make sure you are dressing the right way and feel comfortable during your trip, I invite you to read my previous article about Morocco’s dress code for tourists.
Also, make sure you keep topped up on sun cream. That Atlantic wind can lull you into thinking the sun isn’t as strong as it is.
11 Things To See & Do in Essaouira (Revealed)
The city boasts a beautiful location to relax and enjoy numerous sites. Here are a few things to see or do during your stay in Essaouira.
1. Stroll the old medina
The Medina of Essaouira, formerly known as Mogador, is a UNESCO World Heritage site built in the late 18th century. Cars and mopeds are not permitted to enter the medina (although you will spot the odd moped chugging through), so it’s a lovely place to wander and get lost.
Though don’t worry about getting too lost as it’s not too big and in a grid pattern; you will always be able to find your way out again, and locals are always happy to help you.
Spend your time in the Medina browsing and shopping in the souks, stopping at cafes for a mint tea, and noticing all the beautiful doorways.
For more interesting old cities, be sure to read my previous post about the best medinas in Morocco.
2. Visit The Skala Port Ramparts
The defensive walls of the castle share a historical experience with any visitor. The Ramparts of Essaouira are beautiful, and the best part is that you get to see the cannons, which are still remarkably intact.
Here, you can take the best photos to share beautiful memories with family and friends.
3. Visit The Fishing port
The port is a fascinating place to wonder, with all the fish laid out for sale and fishermen bringing in their catch and preparing their nets. It’s busy, smelly, and dirty, but an absolute treat to witness.
You will see sardines, pilchards, hake, sole, crab, lobster, octopus, flatfish, eels, and unfortunately, you may see the shark.
You can even buy fish directly from the fisherman here and have it cooked at one of the open restaurants at the port – ask one of the sellers, and they will point you in the right direction.
The Scala du Port is the castle-like entrance to the port with stone arches, which features in Game of Thrones. Even though signs say not to swim, you will spot local kids diving into the waters on warm days.
Walk through the fish stalls and follow the harbor wall to the end. It is possible to climb up onto the wall for more sea views.
4. Go For A Walk Along The Ocean
The rocks and cliffs surrounding the old part of Essaouira are spectacular, and you can walk near them at low tide. To get there, you will have to come out of the old city on the square of Moulay Hassan and go in the direction of the port.
When you reach the end of the square, you can access the beginning of this rocky path on your right. The rocks continue to the right for about 1 km, and they will offer you great views of the city’s outer walls.
5. Visit the Jewish corner
The Jewish corner of Essaouira’s Medina shows how the Muslim and Jewish religions worked in harmony. This area of the Medina is not as well maintained as the rest of the Medina; buildings are crumbling away, and the streets aren’t spotless.
There are also a few shacks as temporary homes. However, there are signs of restoration projects, and it’s fascinating to see a different and raw side to Essaouira Medina.
You certainly feel like you’ve stepped away from the main tourist drag.
6. Visit Interesting Museums
For decades, Essaouira has attracted artists from all over Morocco, lured by the unique light and color of the ancient medina. Numerous galleries are 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 colorful place dedicated to local artists.
The Institut Francais often has free rotating exhibitions set in a beautiful building.
The Museum has numerous Historical arts, from historical artifacts to ancient pottery and jewelry. The location shares the city’s rich history with more descriptions of the Berber culture, rituals, and traditions.
7. Shop at Sunday Souk
Visiting a traditional souk in Morocco is an experience that you should try. They often look like small labyrinths of stalls and shops and will overwhelm you with their smells and colors. Visiting these open-air markets is the best cultural experience in Morocco.
Although there is a souk held almost every day in the market area of Essaouira, the one on Sunday is particularly special.
This is a flea market where you can buy second-hand clothes, books, jewelry, home equipment, and furniture. To get there, you’ll have to get out of the old city of Bab Doukala. You should continue along with the horse carriages and pass the gas station, and then you will see a street full of stalls and vendors.
8. Chill in a Hammam
Experience a Moroccan hammam in the heart of Essaouira’s medina to rejuvenate the skin and revitalize the body.
Visiting a Hammam is the quintessential Moroccan experience. In Essaouira, just like in most major Moroccan cities, you will have two options for visiting Hammams. You can either go to the popular local hammam where most locals go, or you could visit a spa-type hammam.
All you need to do before you go is grab some natural Argan soap and your scrubbing cloth. Once there, you’ll be handed a bucket, and you have to undress amid locals scrubbing each other’s backs while chatting about their daily life.
9. Try Fresh, tasty Food
Being a fishing port, it will be no surprise that Essaouira is a haven for seafood lovers. You can even buy food directly from the fishmongers at the port and take it to a local restaurant at the port for them to cook for you.
But the French history of the town also means some fantastic patisseries and creperies dotted around the medina. Indeed around Moulay Hassan Square, there’s a distinctly European vibe, with restaurants spilling out onto the pavement and street musicians to entertain. And at the opposite end of Essaouira Beach, you’ll find some oh-so-cool beach bars perfect after a surf or quad biking in the dunes.
There are so many choices for restaurants in Essaouira that dining out is one of the best things to do in Essaouira. Indeed, there is a different eatery almost every 15 meters in the medina.
You will find the standard tagine, couscous, brochette, and Western standards at most restaurants. But there are also Asian and Italian restaurants if you have been traveling to Morocco for a while and need a bit of variation.
Vegetarians will also be pleased to hear that they don’t need to make a beeline for bustling Marrakech for a fix of veggie food (indeed, there is only so much veggie tagine a person can eat). There are just as good options for vegetarians in Essaouira, and even a designated restaurant for vegetarians and vegans in the heart of the medina, serving incredible food and run by the loveliest family.
10. Try Adrenaline Activities
If you are one of those who like their trip to be full of crazy and memorable adventures then you definitely need to try some of the activities that will make your adrenaline go up. Here are some of the things you can try:
i. Surfing & kite surfing
Essaouira is a windy coastal city, making it a top destination for surfers and kite surfers. The swell of the waves is much stronger in winter, so you’ll see more surfers there at that time of the year.
You’ll see plenty of surf shops, surfing schools, and windsurfing schools in Essaouira. If you have always wanted to learn water sports, Essaouira is the place to be. The best spot for surfing in Essaouira is at the far end of the main beach, where camels and horses are gathered.
If you are a surfer then I invite you to read my previous article about surfing in Morocco, in which I revealed the best places for surfing in Morocco.
Ride a horse along the quiet beaches south of Essaouira. This is a real bucket list moment; even beginners can do it! There is a handful of horseback riding companies that cater to all abilities and the staff are experienced riders and know the horses very well.
Riding helmets are provided, and we recommend you wear long trousers and closed-toe shoes, although absolute beginners will be fine in shorts as you will just be walking.
iii. Camel riding
You can arrange camel rides on the far end of the beach from the medina. Anything from a short ten-minute ride to an overnight trek can be organized for you. This is a must-do if you’re visiting Essaouira with kids.
You can turn up to the camel area and organize a ride then and there, or you will be approached by ‘tour guides’ along the promenade to the camels. It is also something that can be arranged through your accommodation.
iv. ATV quad biking
Essaouira quad biking is brilliant fun and a great way to explore the beach further south of Essaouira. There are a handful of quad-biking companies in the nearby village of Diabat.
You can book anything from an hour session to a full-day tour. However, most people will find 2 hours enough. You will have a guide on a quad bike to show you the way and help you if needed.
11. See Goats Trees of Morocco
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 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 kilometers 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.
To know the story and more information, you can check my previous blog post about tree goats of Morocco.
5 Souvenirs and Gift Ideas To Get When Visiting Essaouira
If you enjoy shopping and bringing home something that will remind you of your travels, you will love Essaouira city. Shopping in Essaouira is a must for any visitor to this fascinating country – the browsing, the negotiating, and the feeling that you’ve come away with a bargain is all part of the experience.
It’s also a great way to contribute to the local economy by supporting local businesses and producers. Don’t be shy – put your haggling hat on and bag some awesome Essaouira souvenirs!
1. Basket and Straw Bags
Boho style is the trend, and Essaouira is the perfect place to pick up that super cute basket or straw bag you see on Instagram and in magazines.
There are so many designs that you will need help choosing the right one, so there is a risk that you may end up with several bags.
You will find bags of all shapes and sizes with colorful and neutral designs. Some can even be personalized for you with embroidery, pompoms, or tassels.
There are so many incredible things to buy in Morocco that you can easily spend days wandering the souk of Essaouira. One of my absolute favorite things, however, is the lanterns. Many are embossed with hundreds of tiny holes, making a spectacular glow in the dark.
The owners of the tiny shops that specialize in them will plug a light in so that you can see the effect of the light gleaming through the holes.
They come in all shapes and sizes; some hang while others are freestanding.
You will undoubtedly see hundreds of different types of handmade pottery and Moroccan ceramics during your visit to Essaouira city.
The list goes on and on: plates, bowls, cups, decorative pieces. Moroccans love bright colors, but more and more neutral tones pop up in the souks.
It goes without saying that if you’re interested in buying Argan oil, Essaouira is the place to do it.
Argan is grown in the southern regions of the country. The oil is extracted from roasted seeds. There are two types of Argan; cosmetic and culinary. You’ll want to specify which you’re after. True Argan is thick, golden yellow color and smells very nutty.
It is sold in bottles as just oil, and you’ll also find many products with Argan infused into them. Some of my favorites are argan shampoo and argan hand lotion.
Remember, Argan is made only in Morocco, so stock up while you’re here.
5. Zellige (Tilework)
You can’t miss the traditional tilework that adorns most places across Morocco. While it’s a bit impractical to consider taking home a tile wall, smaller pieces of this intricate art are available for purchase.
Moroccan tiles are a unique craft. Traditionally, each of the shapes is chipped by hand. It can take up to 10 years of apprenticeship before someone is considered a master tile maker.
Read The Next Guide:
|Marrakech City||Chefchaouen City|
|Casablanca City||Fes (Fez) City|
|Rabat City||Agadir City|
|Meknes City||Tangier City|
|El Jadida City||Tetouan City|
|Kenitra City||Ifrane City|
|Ouarzazate City||Merzouga City|
The Bottom Line
Essaouira is a place to allow yourself to slip into Morocco time. While away, your days with long strolls along the beach and afternoons spent browsing the medina, ramparts, and fishing port with plenty of mint tea stops before heading back to the beach to watch the sun dip behind the fishing port.
This city has something for you, whether you’re after adrenaline-fuelled fun in the dunes, windswept beach walks, or a dive into a vibrant arts scene.
For those planning a trip and looking for things to do in Morocco, Essaouira may not have the cosmopolitan glitz of Rabat or the desert vibes Morocco is known for, but it’s a worthwhile destination!
Which is better Essaouira or Agadir?
Agadir and Essaouira are cities along Morocco’s Atlantic coast known for sun, sand, and surf. Agadir is a much larger city and attracts lots of tourists during the winter months who want to escape the cold and enjoy a beach holiday. On the other hand, Essaouira is a much smaller city and attracts water sports enthusiasts who make the most of the region’s windy conditions. Agadir has a more beach resort feel, while Essaouira has more of a boho, artsy vibe. Both cities are full of charm but are different.
What is the best month to visit Essaouira?
May to September is the best time to visit Essaouria, a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters.
Can you swim at Essaouira?
Essaouira’s wide, sandy beach is great for walking and kitesurfing, but sunbathing and swimming can be difficult when the winds are strong. For swimming, stick to the town stretch, as Plage Safi to the north has dangerous currents.
Can you drink the tap water in Essaouira?
While the locals drink the tap water, if you are only visiting Essaouira for a short time, the last thing you want is a stomach bug. Best to stick to filtered or bottled water and avoid ice cubes in your drinks at restaurants and cafes.
Can you sunbathe in Essaouira?
Yes, you can. Some people just lay out a towel while there are also a few sunbeds – wondering if they are totally ‘public’ or connected to bars.
Is Essaouira better than Marrakech?
In terms of population, Marrakech is much larger than Essaouira, so if you are looking for a city with a more intimate feel, Essaouira might suit you better. However, Marrakech would be better if you are looking for lots of things to do and the buzz of a bigger city.
Is Essaouira Expensive?
Essaouira can be cheap, but if luxury travel is more your thing, the city also offers the most luxurious lifestyle money can afford.
Why is Essaouira so windy?
Essaouira experiences, on average, 320 days of sunshine a year, but it would seem that due to its coastal location, the majority of those days are accompanied by significant winds – which lends to its reputation for windsurfing, kite-surfing, and watersports.
Is Essaouira good for surfing?
Essaouira is a great spot if you are starting your surfing journey or are an intermediate surfer. Locals say it’s an accessible and funny wave with lots of character. It has a soft sand bottom, and there are both left and right peaks to find. It’s also best on a high tide with a light north wind.