11 essential things to do in Essaouira
Are you going to visit Essaouira in Morocco? Discover our selection of must-do activities to make the most of this desert gem.
Essaouira has a strategic position on the Atlantic coast and has therefore always been an important trading port since the 15th century. Different populations and cultures have coexisted in harmony for centuries, creating a city with a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Its many monuments give it a charm not found elsewhere in Morocco.
Between mosques, synagogues, fortifications, beaches, and markets, visiting Essaouira ensures an unforgettable stay.
1. The Medina
Visiting Essaouira means first soaking up the typical Moroccan atmosphere. And what could be better than strolling through the narrow streets of the Medina to meet the inhabitants? You will wander from souks to small restaurants, between shopping and tea tasting. The different souks offer all kinds of souvenirs and gifts: spices, olives, and handicrafts... The charm of the historical center and the cheerfulness of the shopkeepers will make you spend a pleasant moment.
The Medina is surrounded by fortifications that can be climbed on. If you are looking for something to do in Essaouira, the Medina is a must. It was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
2. The ramparts
The ramparts of Essaouira were built in the 18th century to protect the city from foreign invasions. Essaouira was then the main commercial port of Morocco, and Sultan Mohamed Ben Abdallah decided to build fortifications to protect it. It is the French architect Théodore Cornut who was chosen to design the ramparts and direct the work. A student of the Marquis de Vauban, he created a wall around the Medina inspired by the fortifications of Saint-Malo.
On the city side, the fortress is pierced by monumental doors. Towards the ocean, you can climb the ramparts to the Sqala, and admire the twenty or so Spanish cannons pointed out to sea. From the top of the tower, you will have a view of the Medina, the sea, and the islets offshore.
3. The fishing port
The port of Essaouira is deeply linked to the history of the city and is a must-see if you visit Essaouira. Once known as the "port of Timbuktu", it served as a link between the trans-Saharan routes to black Africa and the major commercial maritime routes. It remains today one of the three most important sardine ports in Morocco.
It is certainly the most animated place in the city, especially in the early afternoon. The fishing boats return and unload their catch of the day, under the watchful eye of seagulls, cormorants, and cats that wait their turn with more or less patience. The sea breams, sardines, and other crustaceans are then sold at the auction, in a cacophonous atmosphere, certainly, but all in all, organized.
A few steps away, Gargotes cook these fresh products for an instant tasting. In the summer, you may be lucky enough to witness an impromptu diving contest. The city's children gather for ever more impressive jumps, from the pontoons or even the fortifications and towers. There is also a shipyard where wooden trawls are built in an artisanal way. An interesting place if you are looking for something to do in Essaouira for a day.
4. The sunset
For the best spots to watch the sunset, we recommend the Sqala of the Kasbah, next to the cannons. You can also go to the port or stroll around the Sqala of the port, to see the iridescent colors of the dusk reflected on the ramparts.
5. The souks
If you are looking for something to do in Essaouira, then don't miss a shopping session in the different souks of the city. Less touristy than those of big cities like Marrakech or Agadir, they have remained authentic. You will find original handicrafts that are different from those of the rest of the country. At the jewelry souk, you will find jewelers who create pieces by hand before your eyes. The workshops of leather goods and marquetry also reserve beautiful surprises.
As for food, we'll have a look at the meat souk. The fish souk is located in a building protected by a beautiful glass roof which gives it an undeniable cachet. You can choose your fresh fish and have it cooked in one of the many stalls that complete the building. The spice souk will amaze you with its colors, with piles of raz-el-hanout, cumin, or paprika arranged symmetrically.
6. The beach
The main beach stretches for several kilometers between the fortress and the south of the city. You can relax on deckchairs, have a drink, or taste Moroccan specialties while enjoying the sun. The blond sand caressed by the swell makes the beach of Essaouira one of the most beautiful in Morocco. You will admire the arabesques of the kite surfing sails in the blue sky, as well as the surfers who cut the waves and cross each other in a well-oiled ballet.
For the more athletic, it is possible to take lessons or simply rent equipment. South of the beach, you will find camels that will take you for a ride, a perfect activity if you are looking for something to do in Essaouira with children.
7. The village of Diabat
Just 3 kilometers south of Essaouira is the charming village of Diabat. Its beautiful beach is ideal for water sports activities and there are both upscale accommodations and guesthouses. In Diabat is the sandy Dar Sultan Palace, the former residence of Sultan Mohamed Ben Abdallah, which overlooks the estuary of Oued Ksob. Diabat is also known to have been frequented by hippies in the 1970s. The singer Jimmy Hendrix stayed there and was inspired by the sandy palace to write his famous song "Castle made of sand".
8. Women's cooperatives for the production of Argan oil
The argan tree, the tree that produces the fruit from which is extracted Argan oil, grows only in Morocco. More precisely in the triangle Essaouira-Tiznit-Taroudant.
A few kilometers from Essaouira, you will find cooperatives managed by women who work the fruit of the argan tree to produce certified organic edible or cosmetic oil. This miraculous oil, prized by top chefs and cosmetic laboratories, provides an income for Berber women and their families. You will meet the workers who will explain the manufacturing process. You will learn that it takes 35 kilograms of dried fruit and 20 hours of work to produce one liter of Argan oil. Visiting Essaouira will allow you to take this luxury product home directly from the producer.
9. The synagogue of Simon Attias
The Mellah is the old Jewish quarter of Essaouira. Until the 19th century, Essaouira was home to a large Jewish population, which has left many architectural testimonies such as the Simon Attias synagogue. This religious building is remarkably well preserved. These 500 square meters are spread over three levels, between the prayer hall, a cultural center, and the Museum of Judaism. Observe the wrought iron mezzanine that was reserved for women. The synagogue was renovated in 2015 with old materials to keep its original look.
10. The hammams
The hammam is an integral part of Moroccan culture and is a great activity to do when visiting Essaouira. Most hotels have a hammam, but to get a real feel for the Moroccan atmosphere, we recommend you visit a public bath.
While it is not easy to understand all the codes and rituals right away, you are guaranteed a good time. For an even more perfect relaxation session, the staff also offers massages and scrubs.
11. A walk in the desert
Several formulas allow you to venture into the desert to capture the special atmosphere that reigns there. This vastness of sand is accessible by 4×4, quad, or camel. Three-hour quad bike tours allow you to enjoy the landscape while getting a good thrill.
For the adventurous, excursions of several days are organized. We camp around the fire, looking at the stars and the Milky Way, spared from any light pollution. After a traditional Berber meal, you will fall asleep to the sound of the crackling of the fire, before a new extraordinary day.
How to go to Essaouira?
The Essaouira-Mogador airport serves the city of Essaouira. It is located 18 kilometers from downtown and is easily accessible by cab.
By bus from Marrakech
From Marrakech, several companies such as Supratours or CTM provide the connection to Essaouira in 3 hours. It will cost you about €7. Supratours will drop you off directly in the center of Essaouira. Departures take place several times a day. From Agadir, the companies and the travel time are the same. The fare is 12€ round trip.
Where to stay in Essaouira?
You will find very nice hotels in the heart of the Medina of Essaouira. Choose establishments located in the small streets or along the sea. If you have heavy luggage, choose a hotel not far from the gates of the Medina, as cars do not circulate inside.
In the south of the city near Tagharte beach, there are some very nice Riads that offer high-quality services. In any case, look for accommodation on a hotel comparator. You'll find the best deals according to your criteria and budget and can benefit from the comments and opinions of previous travelers.