Aptly named ‘Little Picture’ in Arabic, Essaouira is a picturesque port city located on the Northern Atlantic Coast of Morocco. Characterized by an ancient 18th-century fortified town, a colorful fishing port, and a glorious golden stretch of beachfront, Essaouira is one of Morocco’s most underrated cities.
A fantastic choice for a romantic, family, or solo holiday, 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 rides and horseback rides through the dunes, or go kite surfing in Essaouira’s reasonably protected waters – the perfect way to take advantage of the city’s notorious trade winds!
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10. Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah Museum
Unlike many other Moroccan cities, Essaouira has more art galleries than museums. But the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah Museum remains the highlight for history buffs.
Located in a 19th-century mansion that once served as a royal residence, a municipal building, and a youth center in its hey-day, the museum now houses a collection of ancient pottery, traditional costumes, jewelry, woodcarving, musical instruments, old coins, tapestries, and weapons.
Named after Mohammed ben Abdallah, who founded the modern-day city of Essaouira, the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah Museum is the ideal place to discover the tales of the region’s fascinating hundred-year-old Berber history.
9. Gnaoua Festival
The Gnaoua World Music Festival is held every year in the city of Essaouira, Morocco. Held over three eventful and jam-packed days in June, the festival welcomes half a million visitors every year as it fills the city’s streets and venues with North African sounds, sights, and traditions. And the best part? Most of the performances are completely free for visitors to enjoy!
The festival is more than just a music festival though. It’s also an arts and culture festival with musical, artistic, and cultural performances to look forward to on the 20-plus stages spread throughout the Essaouira medina. Guests can look forward to contemporary funk, blues, jazz, reggae, and soul shows from Africa and beyond.
Diabat is a Berber village just a short drive south of Essaouira in western Morocco. Once a laidback hippy hangout in the 70s, its main claim to fame now is its popular golfing resort: Golf de Mogador. This luxury holiday resort includes two lush Gary Player designed signature golf courses.
Apart from playing golf, other things to do in Diabat include exploring the ruins of an old kasbah and bridge. The Bordj El Berod, a crumbling watchtower and palace that’s believed to have inspired Jimi Hendrix’s song ‘Castle Made Of Sand,’ is also well worth a visit. This sand palace can be reached with a stroll, ATV, or horseback ride across the beach.
Lovingly dubbed ‘the city of trade winds,’ it’s no surprise that one of Essaouira’s main claims to fame is its kite surfing. The wind blows here all year long, so you can kitesurf in all seasons – if you can brave the cool waters of the Atlantic.
The conditions along the golden-sand beach are perfect for kitesurfing and a range of other watersports. Protected by the Island of Mogador, very few big waves reach the shoreline, unlike the strong waves found along the rest of the coastline. As the currents are also weakened by the island’s barrier, it’s much safer for navigating the waters.
Essaouira’s ocean climate is also a drawcard for surfing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing. Temperatures remain the same throughout the year, rarely getting too cold or too hot, but summer is best, as the strong ‘Alizee’ trade winds are more constant. The water temperature remains at an average of 18 to 22 degrees Celsius, but wetsuits are recommended year-round. Kite surfing schools dot the Bay of Essaouira.
6. Le Souk
Le Souk is Essaouira’s main shopping hub. This popular street market is filled with rows and rows of fresh fruit and veg, fragrant spices, cuts of meat, argan oils, and local arts and crafts. Find a café and stop for a pot of fresh mint tea while you people-watch before bartering for inexpensive souvenirs and clothing in the shops that line the marketplace.
If you’re visiting Essaouira over the weekend, don’t miss the Sunday flea market held at Le Souk. It’s the perfect place to pick up a few affordable gifts for home, such as scarves, leather products, wood carvings, and jewelry!
5. Camel and Horseback Riding
Explore Essaouira in a different way – by camel, dromedary, or horseback. Many schools and tour operators offer different takes on these activities, so you can usually shop around for the best deals.
Essaouira has the perfect terrain for animal rides and treks. You can take your pick from a range of scenery, such as trekking through the sand dunes of the Sahara, along deserted beaches, through argan forests, and into the mountains, to be enjoyed on a day trip or a multi-night trek.
You’ll learn plenty about Morocco’s history and culture along the way from your French-Moroccan guides, passing through local farmland and authentic Berber villages at your own pace. If you’re extending your day trip into an overnight trek, you’ll stay in Berber tents and enjoy Moroccan cuisine cooked on the campfire.
4. Essaouira Ramparts
You cannot leave without climbing the Essaouira Ramparts and walking the walls. Protecting the old medina from the Atlantic Ocean and age-old land threats, these city walls date back to the 1760s.
Connecting the blue and white Skala du Ville and Skala du Port with 19 bronze cannons between them, the walls offer some of the best views of the Essaouira medina and the Atlantic coastline – particularly from Bastion Nord.
Check out the famous rampart cubbyholes that were used to store ammunition, goats, and donkeys back in the day. Today, these little holes in the wall host a range of marquetry workshops that are well worth a look. You may even recognize the ramparts already – they were featured in the 1952 film ‘Othello,’ by Orson Wells.
Essaouira’s port is one of the city’s top landmarks. It offers a bustling mental picture of daily life in Morocco as it’s a constant hive of activity. Watch the boats coming in and out of the harbor, see the fishing nets being unfurled for repair, and witness the traditional blue fishing boats being built.
Get here for late morning when the local fishermen bring in their catch of the day, soak up the lively atmosphere of the fish auction in the market hall just outside the port gates, and stop in the afternoon to purchase your fish directly from the sellers and have it grilled in time for lunch.
The port is also a beautiful location to visit at sunset, when you can capture the pretty blue fishing boats against the backdrop of a fiery orange sky.
2. Essaouira Beach
Essaouira Beach is a long stretch of glorious golden beachfront. It’s a popular spot for beach walks and sunset strolls, but as it often gets very strong trade winds, it’s more suited to kite surfing, windsurfing, and sailing than sunbathing and swimming.
If you’re set on swimming though, make sure you stay near the town side, as the north beach has notoriously strong currents. You may also want a wetsuit, as the Atlantic waters are cold even on a good day. Other enjoyable activities on windy Essaouira Beach include sandcastle building, camel rides, Frisbee games, and beach football.
1. Essaouira Medina
Surrounded by blue and white 18th-century ramparts, the Essaouira 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 the everyday culture of Morocco – from haggling in the souks to sipping Moroccan tea in a people-watching café.
Get lost in the narrow labyrinthine streets of the medina. With cupboard-sized shops and stalls, fragrant and noisy market places, and splashes of color everywhere you look, it’s a true feast for the senses. Head to Le Souk and barter for tapestries, pottery, and souvenirs for home, or climb the city ramparts for a bird’s eye view over the gorgeous old town.
In fact, the Essaouira medina is so striking, it’s been used as the filming location for a variety of films and television series, such as Game of Thrones (featured as the city of Astapor), Gladiator, Alexander, the Kingdom of Heaven, and Lawrence of Arabia.
Best Time to Visit Essaouira
Quite mild and sunny almost all year-round, Essaouira sees by far the most visitors in both July and August. Due to the strong Alizee trade winds that strike the coast though, even the summer months can be a bit breezy for sunbathing and swimming.
During this peak season, temperatures average 23°C (73°F); ideal for exploring its old town or enjoying some fun kitesurfing and windsurfing. Prices are more expensive though with its medina’s streets and squares all humming with life.
As the sea has warmed a bit, September and October are amongst the best months to swim and surf. This is a great period to visit if you’re after a more authentic Essaouira experience as the city is less crowded and prices are lower.
Loads of Europeans escaping the cold of winter also head here in November and December when temperatures average a comfortable 19 or 20°C (66 to 68°F). There is more rain during these months but the sun usually returns quite quickly.
After this, there is a lull until the Easter holidays and Ramandan come around. While things are quieter during the days, the evenings are very lively with large celebrations taking place for Eid. Many also visit in June for the excellent Gnaoua World Music Festival.