Essaouira, a coastal gem, stands proudly among Morocco’s most stunning cities. With its unique blend of Portuguese influences and a location right on the Atlantic coast—roughly 240 km north of Agadir—it’s no wonder this captivating destination secured its spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This guide provides a comprehensive look into Essaouira’s history, attractions, accommodations, activities, dining, and more.
This picturesque coastal town of Essaouira harmonizes Arabic, Berber, African, and European influences, forming a mesmerizing cultural mosaic. Essaouira’s mesmerizing light and natural allure have drawn artists worldwide, fostering a distinct creative ambiance. Known as the ‘City of the Winds,’ Essaouira gracefully dances to its unhurried beat, steering clear of overwhelming tourist crowds. The consistent Alizée wind, gently blowing from the Atlantic, not only soothes but also safeguards against excessive tourist rushes.
The Medina of Essaouira, cocooned by impressive city walls, transports visitors back to the 18th century. Whitewashed houses adorned with blue shutters and labyrinthine alleyways evoke a unique and nostalgic charm. It is little wonder that Essaouira’s Medina earned its UNESCO World Heritage status in 2001. It’s also a filming location for parts of the iconic series Game of Thrones.
Beyond the medina, the lively port beckons with its famed blue wooden boats. A short stroll leads to a vast sandy beach favored by surfers and kite enthusiasts from April to November.
History of Essaouira
Once known as Mogador, Essaouira exudes an ageless charm despite its relatively recent origins. While its historical roots trace back to the Phoenicians, most of the city’s walls and fortifications hail from the 18th century. In 1764, Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah chose Mogador as the base for corsair attacks on Agadir. The city’s distinctive character arises from the city walls designed by French architect Theodore Cornut, resulting in a unique fusion of Moroccan Medina and a French grid layout.
Originally conceived as a military port, Essaouira swiftly transformed into a pivotal commercial hub, serving as the sole open port for European trade south of Tangier in the 19th century. The port played a vital role in trade between Timbuktu and Europe.
However, the landscape shifted in 1912 with the onset of the French Protectorate, leading to Essaouira’s renaming to Mogador and a redirection of trade to Casablanca, Tangier, and Agadir. Following Morocco’s independence in 1956, Essaouira reclaimed its identity as a bustling fishing port, a vibrant market town, and a sought-after beach resort. Today, it allures artists, surfers, writers, and tourists alike.
Sights in Essaouira
Essaouira may boast a handful of attractions, but its charm lies in the opportunities it offers for unhurried exploration. The city’s highlights—the Medina, city walls, port, and beach—beckon travelers to stroll, encouraging moments of respite with mint tea and delightful local cuisines.
The Medina retains its authentic allure with serene, labyrinthine alleys that foster a tranquil ambiance, offering a peaceful shopping experience minus the usual clamor of vendors.
Sqala de la Ville
This impressive bastion forms a pivotal part of Essaouira’s city walls, once shielding against maritime threats and the Atlantic’s relentless waves. Adorned with 19th-century European cannons, the city wall offers breathtaking panoramic vistas, especially from the North Bastion. Beneath, artisans craft exquisite products from Thuya wood.
Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah Museum
Housed within a historic riad in Essaouira’s Medina, the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah Museum, while somewhat dusty, exhibits an array of jewelry, costumes, embroideries, wood carvings, weapons, and musical instruments. The museum offers a glimpse into Moroccan culture and tradition within a beautifully adorned building.
Centrally located in the Medina on Avenue Mohammed Zerktouni, the souks boast exceptional craftsmanship. The fish and spice markets on one side and the food and jewelry markets on the other offer a treasure trove of vegetables and foods at reasonable prices. Galleries lining the road to the port showcase works by Essaouira’s local artists.
Sqala du Port
This bastion at the port presents captivating views of the bustling fishing harbor and the Île de Mogador. The panorama captures the essence of Essaouira, often featured in official publications.
The Essaouira port bustles with activity, contrasting the city’s laid-back vibe. Here, fishermen mend nets, skilled artisans construct boats, and the iconic blue fishing vessels unload their bounty. The air carries the unmistakable scent of salt and fish while seagulls soar overhead. Access the atmospheric port through the 18th-century Porte de la Marine.
Nestled northeast of the Medina lies the Mellah, the erstwhile Jewish quarter. Once pivotal in diplomatic relations between the Muslim Sultan and foreign powers, it housed half of Essaouira’s population in the late 19th century. With only a handful of inhabitants, the district, despite dilapidated mansions and newer unremarkable buildings, emanates a captivating, mysterious allure.
Stretching approximately 7 kilometers from the port toward Diabat, Essaouira’s pristine beach, although not the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Castles Made of Sand,’ provides an ideal backdrop for leisurely walks. The beach attracts windsurfers and kite enthusiasts, offering a serene setting for camel or horseback rides.
At the beach’s southern end, camel guides offer short rides along the dunes to explore the area from a different perspective. Better tours are available for horse or camel rides, listed below in the activities section. If you want to take a beach walk along the dunes to Diabat, cross the Ksob River to the south and head to the fascinating ruins of Borj el-Berod. It’s an ancient fortress and pavilion partially engulfed by sand. From here, you can also head inland to the village of Diabat or further along the dunes to Cap Sim.
Île de Mogador
Off Essaouira’s southwest coast lies the Îles Purpuraires, with Île de Mogador as its largest island. Dating back to the Phoenician era, the islands feature remnants of a dilapidated fortress, a small port, a mosque, rusty cannons, and a long-abandoned 19th-century prison. Now a nature reserve, the islands serve as the sole breeding ground for Eleonora’s Falcons outside the Mediterranean. Watch these majestic birds, best observed with binoculars from the beach during early evenings, as they hunt over the dunes south of Oued Ksob during their stay in Morocco.
Accomodation in Essaouira
A visit to Essaouira is not just a day affair—it’s a laid-back experience deserving at least an overnight stay, with the option to extend for a more immersive encounter with the city’s easygoing rhythm. The city provides an array of accommodation choices, from charming riads within the Medina to hotels boasting refreshing pools, with over 650 listings on (Booking.com). Finding your ideal stay is a breeze alone, spanning various price ranges and comfort levels. However, early reservations become crucial during peak seasons and the bustling Gnaoua Festival in June.
For an authentic experience, consider booking a riad within the Medina, ideally with a rooftop terrace offering captivating sea views. If you lean towards beachfront tranquillity, explore the beach hotels outside Medina.
Casa Lila & Spa
Nestled in the heart of the Medina, Casa Lila & Spa is a charming riad only 800 meters from the beach. The ten rooms showcase a tasteful design with authentic Zellij tiles, Tadelakt walls, and painted ceilings. Wellness enthusiasts can indulge in the riad’s affordable hammam while the small rooftop terrace provides a delightful city view. The option for enjoyable three-course meals is also available upon request (Booking.com).
An Essaouira institution, Jack’s Apartments was founded by a Swiss windsurfing enthusiast who, captivated by the city, decided to stay and establish stylish, well-equipped apartments next to the city walls. The apartments cater to various group sizes, some accommodating up to eight people with private terraces. Individually rented rooms have access to a communal kitchen, and everyone can enjoy the expansive rooftop terrace with breathtaking views (Booking.com).
Situated near the Sqala de la Kasbah, Dar Afram is a riad with seven simple rooms exuding a charming atmosphere. The Australian-Moroccan owners, being musicians, occasionally host improvised music sessions in the communal lounge during the evenings. The rooftop terrace provides a splendid view of the sea (Booking.com).
A charming retreat in the heart of the Medina, Villa Maroc seamlessly combines two 18th-century riads near Hassan Square. The whitewashed rooms and suites are heated in winter, and the private hammam promises relaxation. The terrace offers magnificent views, making early booking advisable due to high demand (Booking.com).
Le Médina Essaouira
Located outside the Medina, right on the beach, Le Médina Essaouira is a hotel offering contemporary designed rooms and suites with private balconies. Families can opt for connecting rooms, and there’s an accessible room for wheelchair users. The facilities include:
- A licensed bar.
- A large outdoor pool.
- A thalassotherapy spa center.
- Two restaurants.
Hotel guests enjoy exclusive access to a beach area with umbrellas and lounge chairs, making it a well-rounded choice for a beachfront stay (Booking.com).
Various activities and tours await you to ensure you make the most of your time in Essaouira. Here are some recommendations.
Horseback and Camel Riding in Essaouira
Experience the charm of Essaouira’s southern beach with spontaneous horse and camel rides offered by locals. For an unforgettable riding experience, head to the Ranch de Diabat, approximately 3 kilometers south of the city. Guided rides of 1, 2, or even three hours cater to different riding levels, ensuring a relaxed pace for beginners and free gallops for experienced riders.
The Dromedar tours are particularly family-friendly, as Dromedars are gentle animals, and children can join. Transfer to and from Essaouira is included in the price to facilitate access to this unforgettable experience.
- Horse ride (1 hour), including transfer, starting from 30 EUR (Getyourguide).
- A one-hour Dromedar ride, including transfer, starting from 30 EUR (Getyourguide).
Explore the dunes south of Essaouira with half-day guided quad tours. The 125cc quads are perfect for driving to the ruins of the Sultan’s palace. Children aged 12 and above can also drive these vehicles.
- Half-day quad tour, 3 hours, starting from 60 EUR (Getyourguide).
Surfing and Kite Courses in Essaouira
Essaouira’s beaches offer a year-round paradise for wind and kite surfers. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced, book a surfing or kite course to enhance your skills against the stunning backdrop of Essaouira.
- Surf course, 2 hours, starting from 30 EUR (Getyourguide).
- Kitesurfing course, 2 hours, including complete equipment and suit, starting from 60 EUR (Viator).
- Private kitesurfing lesson (2h), for beginners and advanced, starting from 60 EUR (Viator).
Cooking Classes in Essaouira
Immerse yourself in Moroccan cuisine with cooking classes offered by various hotels, restaurants, and individuals. L’Atelier Madada, housed in a stylishly restored almond warehouse, conducts courses in English or French for small groups. Learn to prepare traditional dishes and explore the souks to learn about Moroccan spices.
- Moroccan cooking class, 4 hours, starting from 50 EUR (Viator).
Wellness and Spa in Essaouira
Indulge in the wellness experiences offered by riads with private hammams or visit public hammams in the historic Medina. Treatments include Gommage, Argan oil massages, and Ghassoul body wraps.
- Hammam Villa de l’Ô: In-house spa of the boutique hotel with a small hammam in the South Medina (Rue Mohamed Ben Messaoud).
- Villa Maroc Oriental Spa: In-house hammam in the upscale riad with a selection of bath, massage, and beauty treatments, such as pedicures and facials.
- Spa Casa Lila: Small riad hammam and spa with affordable massage and beauty treatments.
Please note that reservations are required for access to these wellness facilities. These are just a few highlights; Essaouira offers more to explore and enjoy.
Enhance your exploration of Essaouira’s surroundings with organized excursions. A visit to the region around the Marabout of Sidi M’barek is particularly recommended. A secluded bay, flanked by an impressive dune and striking rock formations, reveals a unique landscape where a small river adds lush greenery to the golden desert sand, contrasted against the deep blue Atlantic. Agriculture thrives on the terraced fields above the bay.
Easily book these tours through the TripAdvisor platform Viator:
- Waterfall and Marabout of Sidi Mbarek with tea break with locals and visit to Argan cooperative (4½ hours, walking time: 1½ hours, starting from 45 EUR), Viator.
- Beach and Argan forest hike with lunch (7 hours, 12km, starting from 69 EUR), Viator.
- Cliff coast hike through untouched nature with waterfall and picnic (7 hours, walking time 3-4 hours, starting from 69 EUR), Viator.
Food and Drinks
For an authentic dining experience, explore the street food stalls on the edge of Hassan Square, offering freshly grilled fish and seafood. Clarify prices before ordering. Along Rue Mohamed El Qorry, Ave Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah, and Ave Zerktouni, discover these spots:
- Pâtisserie Driss: A good breakfast spot in the hidden courtyard of a pastry shop with a literary café atmosphere near Hassan Square.
- Sam’s Restaurant: An Essaouira institution at the port, shaped like a boat and known for good fish dishes. The restaurant has since moved and is now closer to the Medina. Licensed.
- Pasta Baladin: A pasta paradise in a riad owned by Italians at Sqala de la Kasbah
- The Loft (My Tip): Fresh, flavorful, somewhat experimental cuisine with Mediterranean accents. Tajines and couscous are delicious. No alcohol.
Bars und Nightlife
The nightlife in Essaouira is relatively calm. Don’t expect clubs or venues where you can party until the early morning hours. The liveliest area for evening activities is Place Moulay Hassan at the port. Here, you’ll find various bars and restaurants serving alcohol.
- Taros: The best evening spot in the city, with a terrace overlooking Hassan Square and the port. Good food, cocktails, and a generous selection of wine and beer. Regular live music in the evenings.
- Café Restaurant Bab Laachour: Not a good address for food, but affordable alcoholic drinks right on the square.
- Le Patio: Trendy restaurant with blood-red furniture in the Medina. Live music on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Festivals & Events
Essaouira hosts about a dozen local moussems, fairs, and festivals between March and October. However, Essaouira’s most outstanding annual event is the Gnaoua and World Music Festival in June.During this festival, stages are set up in the square between Place Moulay Hassan and the port and outside Bab Marrakesh, where artists from Morocco, West Africa, and Europe perform.
If you plan to visit Essaouira during the festival, I recommend booking transportation and accommodation early, as crowds of visitors frequent the city.
Banken and ATM
In Essaouira, cash access is convenient, with three banks equipped with ATMs between Hassan Square and the port, including BMCE on Rue Hajjali. These ATMs offer hassle-free access to money. Additionally, currency exchange offices are scattered throughout the Medina, such as Pro Change near the Grand Mosque on Avenue de l’Istiqlal and another on Rue Laâlouj. While these exchange offices facilitate foreign currency to Dirham conversion, banks typically offer more favorable exchange rates than exchange offices. For further insights into money and currency in Morocco, refer to our guide.
Campgrounds in Essaouira
Near Essaouira, two campgrounds offer pleasant pitches and overnight accommodations.
Camping le Calme Ida ou Gourd
Situated approximately 17 km east of the city along the road to Marrakech, this campground amidst Argan trees stands out for its serene setting. Featuring well-maintained sanitary facilities, an on-site restaurant, and a store for basic supplies, the campground offers discounts for extended stays, enhancing the overall camping experience.
Camping Des Oliviers in Ounagha
Located 24 km from Essaouira, this campground accommodates campervans and camping vehicles. With a friendly team providing clean bathrooms, a swimming pool, and a spacious playground for children, the campground offers on-site food ordering. Note that the climate at Camping Des Oliviers is more akin to Marrakech than Essaouira due to its inland location. While December in Essaouira may be gray and rainy, Ounagha boasts bright sunshine. However, summers here can be sweltering, reaching up to 50°C.
Safety in Essaouira
Essaouira is known for its overall safety and relaxed atmosphere for tourists. However, vigilance is advisable, particularly in the Mellah alleys after dark. Instances related to drug and alcohol consumption have been reported, primarily in the northern sections of Avenue Zerktouni and east of Avenue Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah.
Vacation with Children in Essaouira
For a family-friendly vacation, Essaouira is an ideal choice. Opting for Essaouira as our first family holiday destination, we spent a delightful week in a Medina riad. The car-free Medina and the pleasantly mild climate create optimal conditions for families. The lively souks, winding alleys, and impressive city walls offer exciting discoveries. Shared activities such as hikes, camel rides, and surf lessons ensure unforgettable experiences, leaving no room for boredom. Essaouira’s relaxed atmosphere makes it an excellent alternative to the bustling streets of Marrakech.
Getting around in Essaouira
Cars are prohibited within the Medina of Essaouira, making walking the best way to explore this captivating old town. To avoid carrying your luggage, individuals with luggage carts at the Medina gate will transport your bags to your accommodation for a fee of approximately 20 DH.
Outside the Medina, various transportation options are available:
- Taxis: Petit Taxis stand near the parking lot at the southern end of Avenue Okba Ibn Nafia and at the entrances to the Medina.
- Buses: Local Bus No. 5 connects to Diabat (approx. 5 DH) and Sidi Kaouki (approx. 6 DH), starting from Blvd Moulay Youssef in front of Bab Doukkala.
Arrival and Departure
Essaouira-Mogador Airport, located 15 km south of the city, offers a modern terminal with a currency exchange office and international car rental counters. EasyJet connects to Luton. Arrange transfers in advance, as demand for grand taxis often exceeds supply.
- Private Airport Transfer, from 19 EUR (Viator).
While you can purchase train tickets online for connections involving Essaouira, the Marrakech-Essaouira leg is served by Supratours. No direct train connects the two cities.
From Essaouira, there are numerous connections to major cities in Morocco offered by CTM, Supratours, and private bus companies. The private bus station (Google Maps) and the CTM station (Google Maps) are about a ten-minute walk outside the Medina. Especially at night, taking a Petit Taxi into the city is advisable. CTM buses depart from their own office. You can purchase tickets in the Medina at the Internet Club next to the Tourist Office on Avenue du Caire. The Supratours office (Google Maps) is near the southern exit of the Medina. I recommend purchasing bus tickets there a day in advance to secure a seat. Additionally, you can buy connecting tickets for onward travel by train from Marrakech to other cities.
The prices provided here are for reference and may vary depending on the bus company:
- Agadir (DH75, 2 CTM, 1 Supratours & over 20 others daily; 3½ hrs)
- Casablanca (DH160, 3 CTM & over 20 others daily; 6–8 hrs)
- El Jadida (DH110, 5 hrs, 3x daily)
- Marrakech (DH80, 2 CTM, 6 Supratours & 18 others daily; 3 hrs)
- Rabat (5 daily; 8½ hrs)
- Safi (DH55, 3 CTM, 1 Supratours & over 20 others daily; 2 hrs)
- Taroudant (DH90, 6 hrs)
- Tan Tan (DH150, 6 hrs)
Suppose you’re traveling in Morocco by car and visiting Essaouira; I advise using the parking lot (about 40 DH/day) in front of the port facilities south of Pl. Prince Moulay el Hassan or east of Bab es Sebaa.
If you’re considering car rental, the airport provides options from renowned international companies like Avis alongside local alternatives such as Dzira Location and Isfaoun Rent-a-Car.
The stand for Grand Taxis is immediately west of the bus station (Google Maps). From here, grand taxis depart to Sidi Kaouki (10 DH, 15 minutes), Marrakech (90 DH, 2½ hrs), Agadir (80 DH, 2 hrs), Casablanca (5 hrs), Inezgane (2½ hrs), Safi (2 2½ hrs).
Travel stress-free and comfortably between Marrakech and Essaouira by booking a private transfer for your group of up to 4 people. No more worrying about public transportation or negotiating with taxi drivers. Your driver is ready to take you and your group directly and hassle-free to your desired destination. You set the departure time and travel destination, and the journey begins.
- Transfer Essaouira — Marrakech, 2½ hrs, from 96 EUR (Viator).
Conclusion on Essaouira
Essaouira, one of Morocco’s most beautiful cities, awaits exploration. Its relaxed atmosphere, short distances, and unique Medina make it a standout destination. Enjoy breathtaking sunsets at Sqala de la Kasbah and leisurely walks or water activities on the 7 km long beach. A tranquil haven compared to Marrakech, Essaouira, the ‘Pearl of the Atlantic,’ is also an excellent choice for a family holiday.