10 best things to do in Essaouira, Morocco
10 best things to do in Essaouira: Appropriately named ‘Little Picture’ in Arabic, Essaouira is a picturesque port city located on the North Atlantic coast of Morocco. Characterized by an 18th century fortified old town, a colourful fishing port and a glorious golden strip by the sea, Essaouira is one of Morocco‘s most underrated cities.
A fantastic choice for romantic, family or individual vacations, visitors can haggle for souvenirs in the bustling souks or explore the city’s historic tourist attractions. Other things to do in Essaouira include camel and horseback riding through the dunes or kitesurfing in Essaouira’s fairly sheltered waters – the perfect way to take advantage of the city’s notorious trade winds!
Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah Museum
Unlike many other Moroccan cities, Essaouira has more art galleries than museums. For those who love history, the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah Museum is still the best.
Located in a 19th-century mansion that once served as a royal residence, municipal building and youth center in its heyday, the museum now houses a collection of ancient ceramics, traditional costumes, jewelry, carvings, musical instruments, ancient coins, tapestries and weapons.
Named after Mohammed ben Abdallah, who founded the modern city of Essaouira, the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah Museum is the ideal place to discover the tales of the region’s fascinating centuries-old Berber history.
10 best things to do in Essaouira: Held in the Moroccan city of Essaouira each year is the Gnaoua World Music Festival
. Held over three hectic and packed days in June, the festival welcomes half a million visitors every year as it fills the city’s streets and venues with the sounds, sights and traditions of North Africa. And the best part? The majority of the shows are entirely free to attend!
The festival is more than just a music festival. It’s also a festival of art and culture with musical, artistic and cultural performances to see on the more than 20 stages scattered around Essaouira’s medina. Guests can expect contemporary funk, blues, jazz, reggae and soul shows from Africa and beyond.
Diabat is a Berber village a short drive south of Essaouira in western Morocco. Once a laid-back hippy hangout in the 1970s, its main claim to fame now is its popular golf resort: Golf de Mogador. This luxury vacation resort includes two lush golf courses designed by Gary Player.
As well as playing golf, other things to do in Diabat include exploring the ruins of an ancient kasbah and a bridge. The Bordj El Berod, a ruined watchtower and palace believed to have inspired Jimi Hendrix’s song ‘Castle Made Of Sand’, is also worth a visit. This sand palace can be reached with a walk, quad bike or horseback ride along the beach.
Affectionately nicknamed ‘the city of trade winds’, it’s no surprise that one of Essaouira’s main claims to fame is its kitesurfing. The wind blows here all year round, so you can kitesurf in all seasons – if you can brave the cold Atlantic waters.
The conditions along the golden sandy beach are perfect for kitesurfing and various other water sports. Protected by Mogador Island, very few large waves hit the shore, unlike the strong waves found along the rest of the coast. As currents are also weakened by the island’s barrier, it is much safer to navigate the waters.
Essaouira’s oceanic climate is also an attraction for surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. Temperatures remain the same throughout the year, rarely getting too cold or too hot, but summer is the best as the strong trade winds from ‘Alizee’ are more constant. The water temperature remains at an average of 18 to 22 degrees Celsius, but wetsuits are recommended all year round. Kitesurfing schools dot the Bay of Essaouira.
10 best things to do in Essaouira: Le Souk is Essaouira’s main shopping center. This popular street market is packed with rows and rows of fresh fruit and vegetables, aromatic spices, cuts of meat, argan oils and local handicrafts. Find a café and stop for a pot of fresh mint tea while people-watching before bartering for souvenirs and cheap clothes in the stores that line the market.
If you’re visiting Essaouira at the weekend, don’t miss the Sunday flea market held at Le Souk. It’s the perfect place to pick up some inexpensive gifts for the home, such as scarves, leather goods, wood carvings and jewelry!
Horse and camel rides
Explore Essaouira in a different way – by camel, dromedary or on horseback. Many schools and tour operators offer different approaches to these activities, so you can usually search for the best deals.
Essaouira has the perfect terrain for animal walks and hikes. You can choose from a variety of settings, such as walks through the sand dunes of the Sahara, deserted beaches, argan forests and mountains, to enjoy on a day trip or a trek of several nights.
You’ll learn a lot about Morocco’s history and culture along the way from your French-Moroccan guides, passing local farms and authentic Berber villages at your own pace. If you’re extending your day trip into an overnight journey, you’ll stay in Berber tents and enjoy Moroccan cuisine prepared over the campfire.
10 best things to do in Essaouira: You can’t leave without climbing the ramparts of Essaouira and walking along the walls. Protecting the old medina from the Atlantic Ocean and ancient land threats, these walls date back to the 1760s.
Connecting the blue and white Skala du Ville and the Skala du Port with 19 bronze cannons between them, the walls offer some of the best views of the Essaouira medina and the Atlantic coast – especially the Bastion Nord.
Check out the famous cubicles in the wall that were used to store ammunition, goats and donkeys back in the day. Today, these small holes in the wall house a series of marquetry workshops that are well worth a look. You might even recognize the walls – they were featured in Orson Wells’ 1952 film ‘Othello’.
Essaouira’s port is one of the city’s main landmarks. It offers a hectic mental picture of daily life in Morocco, as it is a constant hive of activity. Watch the boats coming in and out of the port, see the fishing nets being unrolled for repair and witness the traditional blue fishing boats being built.
Arrive here in the late morning when the local fishermen bring in the day’s catch, soak up the lively atmosphere of the fish auction at the municipal market outside the port gates and stop by in the afternoon to buy your fish directly from the vendors and order it grilled at lunchtime.
The port is also a beautiful place to visit at sunset, when you can catch the pretty blue fishing boats against the backdrop of a fiery orange sky.
10 best things to do in Essaouira: A lengthy stretch of gorgeous golden beachfront is Essaouira Beach. It’s a popular spot for beach walks and sunset strolls, but as it often receives very strong trade winds, it’s more suited to kitesurfing, windsurfing and sailing than sunbathing and swimming.
If you’re determined to swim, stay close to the town side, as the northern beach has strong currents. The Atlantic waters are chilly even on pleasant days, so you might also want to bring a wetsuit. Other enjoyable activities on windy Essaouira Beach include sandcastle building, camel riding, Frisbee games and beach soccer.
Surrounded by 18th century blue and white walls, Essaouira’s medina – or walled old town – looks like something out of a storybook. Always a hive of activity, the medina is the perfect place to soak up Morocco’s everyday culture – from haggling in the souks to sipping Moroccan tea in a people-watching café.
Lose yourself in the narrow, labyrinthine streets of the medina. With stores and stalls the size of cupboards, fragrant and noisy markets and splashes of color everywhere, it’s a veritable feast for the senses. Head to Le Souk and barter for tapestries, ceramics and souvenirs for the home, or climb the city walls for a bird’s eye view of the beautiful historic center.
10 best things to do in Essaouira
In fact, Essaouira’s medina is so impressive that it has been used as a filming location for a variety of movies and television series, such as Game of Thrones (presented as the city of Astapor), Lawrence of Arabia, the Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, and Alexander.