If I asked you to tell me what springs to mind when you picture Morocco, you might mention chaotic souks, aggressive vendors, and crazy traffic, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
Marrakech, in particular, is renown for being an assault on the senses, and it’s the kind of place that you return from feeling like you need a holiday to recover from your holiday! However, what if I told you that Morocco was also home to a laid back seaside town with a bohemian vibe, just a 3h bus ride away?
The bus is the easiest way there (see here how to book your bus tickets from Marrakesh to Essaouira), and by the end of my trip, I found myself seriously contemplating whether I should just screw everything and move to this North African paradise.
In this post, I’m going to tell you all you need to know about visiting Essaouira, Morocco, including the best things to do in Essaouira, which restaurants to frequent, how long to stay for, and much more.
So, if you’re ready to discover the hippie side of Morocco then you’re in the right place.
Let’s get into it.
Best Things to Do in Essaouira, Morocco
Essaouira in a nutshell
Essaouira is a port city on the Atlantic Coast with a population of around 78,000.
It was built by a Moroccan king in the 1700s, but 200 years later, hippies discovered it, bringing their artsy vibe with them – Jimmy Hendrix himself spent time in Essaouira in the summer of 1969!
Nowadays, you’ll find a thriving music scene and lots of surfers, and I’m not only talking about the foreigners who come here – many locals in Essaouira are keen surfers and long-haired musicians, and they are far more laid back than their counterparts in Marrakech.
Vibes aside, Essaouira is a small city with a beautiful ivory and blue medina, a long stretch of sandy beach, and sunsets to die for.
It is a place where you’ll find hole in the wall eateries serving up some of the best food around, impromptu displays of Gnaoua music, and boutiques selling silver jewellery, spices, woven carpets, and so, so much more.
There aren’t hundreds of things to do in Essaouira – it’s definitely a place you come to to relax – but that doesn’t mean that you’ll ever be short of things to see here, so be sure to bring your camera!
Best Essaouira tours
If you’re short on time and can’t stick around for what to do in Essaouira, don’t worry – I rounded up some of the best Essaouira tours that I could find on GetYourGuide to ensure that you don’t miss out!
Essaouira full-day trip from Marrakech – I definitely recommend spending more than one day in Essaouira, but if you’re really pushed for time, this day trip is a great choice. You will be picked up from your hotel in Marrakech and transported directly to Essaouira, where a local guide will show you around the city. This is a great way to make sure you see all of Essaouira’s landmarks and gain a deeper understanding of the city. You’ll also visit a local association of Berber women who produce Argan oil!
3-hour quad bike ride on Essouira’s sand dunes – for all the adventure travellers among you, this quad bike ride over Essaouira’s glorious sand dunes is the perfect way to enjoy the landscape while getting an adrenaline rush!
Beginner-friendly surf lesson on quiet beach – You’ll find surf schools aplenty in Essaouira, but if you’re a beginner and you don’t have time to shop around, this option could be the best choice. You’ll be transported a short drive away to a secluded beach, where you can enjoy a beginner-friendly surf lesson away from the territorial surfers on the main beach (surfers are known to get a bit precious about ‘their’ waves!).
Essaouira private city tour – This private city tour of Essaouira features everything you could hope to imagine – panoramic views, mint tea, Game of Thrones filming locations, hidden gems in the medina, and much more.
Moroccan cooking class in a local’s home – Meet Hussein and Khadija and enjoy traditional Moroccan hospitality as they guide you in preparing a 3-course Moroccan dinner. Sip mint tea and learn about their culture, visit a local market to buy ingredients, and of course, feast on all the delicious food you make.
Best things to do in Essaouira
Undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Essaouira is to explore the small but labyrinthine medina.
Essaouira’s medina is every bit as charming as the medinas in larger cities, but its smaller size makes it easier to orient yourself!
The medina is actually on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site List due to its intoxicating juxtaposition of European and North African architecture.
Admire the dazzling whitewashed buildings with blue shutters, pose in front of some of the ornate doorways, snack on grilled or deep-fried sardines from local vendors, or find somewhere to sit and enjoy an iced coffee as you watch the world go by.
The medina is also full of cats that absolutely love to be petted, and if you’re not careful, you could lose an entire day to the friendly felines of Essaouira!
Go shopping in the souks
Essaouira is one of the best places to go shopping in Morocco, and so it would be rude not to buy some souvenirs during your time here!
In the vibrant souks of the medina, you’ll find dozens of independent arts and crafts businesses, selling things like thuya wood-carvings, painted tiles, Berber carpets, blankets, woven baskets, herbs and spices shaped into pyramids, and so much more.
Essaouira is also famous for its silver jewellery (there is a whole jewellery quarter in the medina), Argan oil cosmetics, and if you’re feeling adventurous, head to one of the apothecary stores for inventive cures to every ailment imaginable.
Many of the shops are so cluttered that you’ll have to literally climb over copper lanterns and trinkets to get inside (giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Aladdin’s cave!’).
Art lovers will also be pleased to know that there is a myriad of art galleries and shops selling the work of local artists, from paintings to sculptures.
I personally couldn’t resist buying some hand-painted bowls and plates, Berber jewellery, and a couple of intricate wall hangings.
The best thing about shopping in Essaouira’s souks is that the vendors are not pushy or aggressive at all, especially compared to Marrakech. They will still try and make conversation with you, but there are never any demands to purchase anything – I even enjoyed glasses of mint tea with several vendors, who insisted that ‘This isn’t Marrakech – no onligation to buy!’
There is also less haggling here than in Marrakech – if the price is written down, it’s typically fixed, but if it isn’t, you can haggle. I personally love haggling, and a general rule of thumb is that I always start haggling at a third of the price quoted, and settle on half.
Traditional Gnaoua music
Gnaoua music originated in sub-Saharan Africa (Guinea, Sudan, Senegal, and Mali specifically), and was brought to Morocco by slaves.
Although it was shunned in the early days, Gnaoua music has now been embraced throughout Morocco, and Essaouira is the spiritual home of this rhythmic music, with its blues-like style.
You can catch live Gnaoua performances everywhere, and experiencing one is definitely one of the best things to do in Essaouira – I saw a performance in my hostel, as well as at trendy rooftop bar/restaurant Taros, Restaurant Cafe des Arts, as well as a lot of street performances outside tourist restaurants.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Essaouira in June, you might also catch the Gnaoua Festival of World Music, which has been an annual event since 1998 and draws in crowds of almost 500,000 over a 4 day period!
Okay, time for a history lesson (I’ll try and keep it brief!).
Essaouira was originally founded by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC, before the Portuguese founded a mercantile and military base in Essaouira in the 15th century, naming the city Mogador.
Then, in 1765, Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah decided to redesign the port and set up a naval base. He hired a French architect to surround the town with a heavy defensive wall, most of which still stands today.
The most prominent features to look out for among the ramparts are Skala de la Ville and Skala du Port, two fortified sea bastions where you can find Portuguese brass cannons and sweeping views of the ocean and medina.
Essaouira’s ramparts are a lovely place for an early morning or romantic evening stroll.
Skala du Port
Skala du Port is part of Essaouira’s ramparts, and if you’re looking for Game of Thrones in Essaouira, look no further.
Skala du Port is the fort that features on the hit TV show, and it’s one of Essaouira’s defining images.
Climb up to the top and enjoy phenomenal views of the medina – opening hours are between 9am and 5pm, and it’s best to get there early to avoid the crowds.
Entrance costs 60 MAD, which is actually pretty steep by Moroccan standards (Skala du Port is the only part of Essaouira’s Ramparts that you must pay a fee for).
For an authentic whiff of Essaouira, head to the daily fish market to see wizened old men with giant nets auctioning off the catch of the day to eager locals.
Head through the impressive Baroque gateway of Bab el-Marsa to find pungent smells, happy cats, and noisy seagulls – even if you have no intention of buying, this is a great spot to experience the local culture, do some people-watching, and take photographs of the hustle and bustle.
A popular thing to do here is to buy some seafood and pay one of the nearby restaurants a small fee to grill it for you – you can’t get fresher than that!
Spot the blue boats
The unofficial symbol of Essaouira is the humble blue fishing boat, and you can’t fail to notice them bobbing in the water all around the port.
The eye-catching blue colour of the boats and shutters all around the town is actually a natural paint that is harvested from murex shells, and it helps to protect the boats and buildings from corroding.
R: Nets at the fish market
Take a cooking class
Taking a cooking class is one of the best ways to learn about local cuisine, and if you can do so at a local’s home, even better!
This Moroccan cooking class is held by Hussein and Khadija, and after a trip to the market to buy ingredients, you’ll be welcomed into their home to drink mint tea and prepare a traditional 3-course Moroccan dinner. Be regaled with tales of Moroccan culture as you cook, before sitting down together to enjoy the feast you’ve created!
Essaouira beach, or Plage d’Essaouira, is Essaouira’s main beach, and it’s a long stretch of golden sand that is simply stunning.
With that being said, it isn’t always the best for sunbathing due to the year-round winds that the notorious ‘Windy City of Africa’ attracts.
If you want to enjoy Essaouira beach without wearing the beach, I suggest a gentle stroll along the sand, or find a spot at one of the beach clubs, which are pretty sheltered and allow you to sunbathe in peace – I went to Beach and Friends and it was lovely.
You can even go donkey or camel riding along the sand, but I personally prefer to stay away from animal tourism, especially in Morocco.
The wind at Essaouira beach might not make for great sunbathing, but it is fantastic for water sports – windsurfing, kitesurfing, and regular surfing are all very common, and there are several surf schools in Essaouira where you can learn how to surf or simply rent equipment.
If you’re a beginner and would rather learn where it’s quiet, this beginner-friendly surf lesson takes place on a more secluded beach, where you won’t be battling for the best waves.
Drink mint tea
One of the most quintessentially Moroccan things to do in Essaouira is to drink copius amounts of sweet mint tea.
Mint tea is not only a staple of Moroccan breakfast – it’s drank at all times of day. Don’t be surprised if you get offered mint tea when you check in to your riad, whilst walking through the market, or at just about any other time.
Place Moulay Hassan
Whether you prefer mint tea or coffee, Place Moulay Hassan is the place to enjoy your drink of choice and people-watch.
This huge, pedestrian-only square is the centre of everything in Essaouira, and is lined with bars, shops, and cafes.
Buy Argan oil
Argan oil is one of the most famous exports from Morocco, and it’s no wonder – there are so many benefits of Argan oil, and it can be used in everything from cosmetics to cooking, medicine, and everything in between!
Throughout the medina, you will find several boutiques selling Argan oil, and you can ask for their advice on which products would be best suited for you.
For a truly authentic experience, go and visit a nearby Argan oil cooperative – Argan oil cooperatives are women’s cooperatives (Argan oil production is almost exclusively done by women, and has been of huge benefit to them in Morocco), and you can watch the women at work before buying the purest Argan oil there is.
If you’ve had your fill of camel riding, windsurfing, and kitesurfing, you might also want to have a go at quad biking!
All along the beach are places where you can rent an ATV and go speeding off down the sand, or you can book an ATV excursion over the sand dunes to explore more of the coastal villages surrounding Essaouira.
Thought it was difficult or expensive to drink alcohol in Essaouira?
You just have to know where to go…
Alhafra is a dingy dive bar that would be best described as the place where Moroccan men go to drink in secret (seriously, you aren’t allowed to take photos inside).
At any time of day, you’ll find men chain-smoking, drinking red wine from plastic cups, and the cheapest beer in town (by a landslide).
I visited Alhafra several times and my group were always the only tourists.
If you can put up with the smoke, it’s probably the most insightful cultural experience you’ll have in Essaouira!
You can find Alhafra here. Please note that although only Moroccan men drink in this bar, I never felt uncomfortable in there as a woman. Moroccans know that foreign women drink alcohol, and my presence wasn’t a big deal at all. Alhafra is also known as ‘Le Trou’ in French.
Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah Museum
The Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah Museum is home to a large collection of artefacts dating back to Phoenician times.
The museum is housed inside a beautiful 19th-century riad, and is home to ancient pottery, jewellery, coins, musical instruments, and more.
It narrates the story of Essaouira up to the time of Mohammed Ben Abdallah, and if you’re interested in learning some Berber history, this is the place to do it.
Day trip to Sidi Kaoki
Sidi Kaouki is is a small village 25 km south of Essaouira, and is one of the best locations in Morocco for surfing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing!
The beach is huge, and there are a couple of eateries where you can grab lunch on the beach and watch the donkeys and camels ambling by.
If you want to stay longer, there are also several guesthouses and beach camping businesses.
Cascades de Sidi M’Barek
A short drive from Sidi Kaoki are the Cascades di Sidi M’Barek, and if you want wild, rugged nature, this is the place for you.
Park on the side of the road and follow the path down towards the sea, where you’ll come across a deserted beach with crashing waves. Head up and over the sand dunes and you’ll find the cascades.
With rocky cliffs to the right and golden sand dunes to the left, this is as unspoilt as it gets, and you’ll likely not see another soul (unless you’re like us, and inadvertently adopt some friendly stray dogs).
You can find the Cascades de Sidi M’Barek here.
If you’re curious about going to a Moroccan hammam in Essaouira, then leave your modesty at the door, because you’re about to be scrubbed in nooks and crannies you didn’t know existed!
You can choose between 2 types of hammam in Essaouira – the public type, which is where all the locals go, or the spa type, designed for tourists.
Public hammams are much cheaper, and you must bring your own Argan soap and scrubbing cloth. You’ll pay a small entrance fee, and then you’ll strip off and enter a room full of naked ladies (or men, depending on your gender!), all aggressively scrubbing each other’s backs and gossiping about daily life.
If you’re not feeling quite so brave, the spa hammams are a far more private and luxurious experience, although you will pay for it.
I experienced a spa hammam, and trust me when I say that the lady in charge of scrubbing me got very intimate – if I wasn’t already red from all the steam, I’d have blushed!
Watch the sunset
Essaouira has magnificent sunsets, and one of the best things to do in Essaouira is to buy a cold drink from one of the rooftop bars, sit back, and enjoy it!
Taros in the medina, is a popular place to watch the sunset, and I also enjoyed La Coupole along the beachfront.
Everyone loves the delicate flavours of Moroccan cuisine, and the restaurants in Essaouira are exceptional.
From humble Mom-and-Pop kitchens with only a couple of tables to extravagant interiors with in-house Gnaoua bands, you really can’t go wrong in Essaouira.
My favourite restaurants in Essaouira were Chez-Youssef for a casual lunch and the warmest welcome, Taros for an evening that continues the whole night long, and Cafe Restaurant Berber for a hole in the wall hidden gem.
Le Sirocco and Caravane Cafe also come highly recommended, for an upmarket evening meal.
R: Cafe Restaurant Berber
R: Cafe Restaurant Berber
Essaouira travel tips
Getting around in Essaouira
Essaouira is best explored on foot, and all the main attractions are very close together.
Most people stay in the medina itself, which is very small and easy to navigate, but even if you stay along the beachfront like I did, you’re never more than a 15 minute walk from the centre of town.
If you decide to take a taxi anywhere, you’re in luck – every taxi journey in Essaouira is set at a fixed rate of 7 MAD (8 at night), so you don’t need to worry about being scammed.
The medina is a pedestrian-only zone.
Where to drink alcohol in Essaouira
Alcohol is not hard to come by in Essaouira, although it is usually pretty expensive.
Most modern restaurants serve alcohol, although you will not find it at the smaller eateries.
Taros is the closest thing to a nightclub in Essaouira, and you can also head to Alhafra, the dive bar I mentioned earlier, for cheap drinks and a pub vibe.
The beach clubs all serve alcohol, although again, it isn’t particularly cheap.
A short walk out of town, you’ll find a large Carrefour that sells reasonably-priced alcohol, as well as a small store called ‘Libre Service’ just outside of the old city gate that sells cheap wine and liquor and is open every day apart from Friday.
What to wear in Essaouira as a woman
Essaouira is a laid back beach town, and so you can get away with a bit more than in conservative Moroccan cities, but I would still advise you to not wear anything above the knee, or anything that shows too much cleavage.
Getting to Essaouira
Getting to Essaouira by plane
Essaouira is super easy to reach as it has a small international airport 16 km outside of town.
At present, Ryanair and EasyJet both have direct flights from to Essaouira from the UK, and you can also fly directly to Essaouira from many major European travel hubs.
A bus from Essaouira airport to the centre of town only cost 6 MAD, but buses are infrequent. Check the schedule when you arrive to see if you’re in luck.
Alternatively, you can take a taxi to the centre of Essaouira for 150 MAD, which is still incredibly affordable.
Getting to Essaouira from Marrakech
There are two bus companies operating between Essaouira and Marrakech – Supratours and CTM.
The bus from Marrakech to Essaouira takes 3 hours (which includes a 20-minute pitstop halfway). I went with Supratours, and the journey was seamless.
When I travelled, a one-way ticket was 80 MAD, plus an additional 5 MAD per large piece of luggage (bags that have to be stored under the bus).
Where to stay in Essaouira
I stayed at Essaouira Beach Hostel, which was on the beachfront, about a 15 minute walk to the medina.
The rooms were fantastic, with blackout privacy curtains, comfy beds, and large lockers. There was also a very social vibe at the hostel, with nightly family dinners, daily surf lessons, and performances of Gnaoua music.
If you want to meet other travellers and don’t mind being a short walk from the medina, I highly recommend Essaouira Beach Hostel.
If I was to return to Essaouira (and I certainly will), I’d probably opt for a riad inside the medina itself, purely because the medina is so lovely!
There are tonnes of hotels in Essaouira, but I recommend a riad, which is a traditional building and is more like a guesthouse, because not only is the experience more authentic, but the buildings are beautiful as well.
Essaouira has a very low crime rate, making it a safe place to visit, even for solo female travellers.
There is no train line to Essaouira. The best way to travel from Marrakech to Essaouira is by bus.
You can pay by card at some places in Essaouira, but most places only accept cash. Even my hostel did not accept card payments. There are cash machines just outside the medina.
Many people take a day trip to Essaouira from Marrakech, but in my opinion, you need at least two full days to enjoy the city. I spent a week there and didn’t want to leave!
You can swim in Essaouira, but as this is the Atlantic Ocean, the water is much colder than you may be used to! The winds are also quite strong, making water sports the more popular choice.
Essaouira has mild temperatures and over 300 days of sun each year, making it a great year-round destination. I visited in March, and it was lovely! My only advice would be to avoid travelling during the month of Ramadan.
Yes, Essaouira is SO worth visiting! Whether you’re a water sports fanatic, an epicurean in search of new sights and smells, a GoT fan, or a history buff, you’ll be more than happy in Essaouira.
Things to Do in Essaouira, Morocco | Final Thoughts
I hope that by now, you have a fair idea of what to do in Essaouira, as well as why this windy seaside town is so special!
Essaouira embraces Arab, Berber, bohemian, and hippie culture all at once, and in all my years of travel, I’ve never been anywhere quite like Essaouira.
That’s all I have for today, but as always, don’t hesitate to leave any questions you have in the comments section below!
Until next time,
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