The Perfect Weekend in Essaouira | What to Do and See
Essaouira is a fishing port on the Moroccan Atlantic Coast where it feels good to relax for a few days. It is the perfect alternative to the buzzing Marrakech in fact. A laid-back city where to eat fresh fish, look for craft souvenirs and stroll along beautiful Portuguese ramparts, the impressive Skala du Port and the lively medina. This unmissable guide to the Perfect Weekend in Essaouira is a great insight into what to do and see in and around Morocco’s most charming coastal town.
Once known as Mogador (the “small rampart”) during the Portugueseestablishment in the 15th century, Essaouira is now a UNESCO World Heritage fortified seaport. It has also recently become worldwide famous for being themodern-day location of Astapor in the TV seriesGame of Thrones.
Essaouiraoffersbeautifuland livelystreets filled with localvendorsofarganoil, woodworkcraftsanddeliciousstreet food. This is aplaceyou come tounwind, stroll along sand-coloured rampartsand chill on a terrasse enjoying ahotmint tea while watchinglife goby.
It is without a doubt an expats’ dream location with amazing kitesurfing spots, art galleries and the rise of trendy cafes around town. And while tourists will for sure fall for its medieval and exotic feel, you’ll be sucked into Essaouira’s laid-back and artistic atmosphere, even if only visiting for a couple of days.
How to get to Essaouira by local transportation
You can easily visit Essaouira from Marrakech by bus. For this, it is best to allow at least a 2 days-trip to the coastal town, as it takes about 3 hours one way from/to Marrakech. By bus, the best is to go to the bus terminal CTMon Abou Bakr Seddiq. Buses leave at 8 am and 12.30 pm, but it may be best to get your Riad to call out for you and check the timetable. It shouldn’t cost more than 70 Dh (€7) per person.
NOTE | If you buy a return ticket you should get a 10% discount. Don’t hesitate to mention it to make sure they apply the discount. There are signs at the bus station about this.
You might be told by your riad to take a taxi to get to or come back from CTM as they will probably want to organise this for you. Note that we were asked 150 Dh for two people by taxi at the exit of the bus station, to return to Jemaa El-Fna. We thought that was outrageously expensive. After a bit of bargaining, we got it down to 80 Dh (which we still didn’t agree on).
TIPS | If like us, you don’t have much luggage and don’t care to walk a little bit or take a city bus, you can go back to the centre of Marrakech in no time for a couple of Dirham. For this, walk to the Boulevard Mohamed VI, and take the bus L66 to the square Jemaa El-Fna and vice versa. For more info, check Marrakech city bus lines’ website.
If you don’t have a minimum of 2 days to visit Essaouira, you can book an organisedminibus which will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel in Marrakech for about €20 per person. For more information and to check the availability of this day trip, click here.
Where to stay in Essaouira?
In Essaouira, you will find plenty of places to stay – from hotels to riads and Airbnbs. We would recommend couples and groups of friends to book themselves in a nice little riad, which is usually quite affordable with nice decoration and a tasty breakfast included. You can find nice hostels in Medina for solo travellers, but don’t expect the budget type.
We booked our night through booking.com – It was a brand new place with 4 ensuite rooms, a kitchen, a living room and a rooftop terrasse. We found “The House by Riad Inna” to be really cosy and charming, but a bit noisy at night with local kids playing football in the street. But all in all an excellent place for a small price (€22/pn/double)
The House is actually owned by the Riad Inna that can be found right in the middle of the medina. Riad Inna looked absolutely beautiful and we wished we could have stayed there, but as usual (we always book last minute) it was fully booked for our dates. We would absolutely recommend checking them out and looking at their availability. The staff were really nice, the location excellent and the wifi perfect.
THE PERFECT WEEKEND IN ESSAOUIRA | WHAT TO DO AND SEE
- Walk along the Portuguese ramparts
- Check out Essaouira’s citadel from laSkala du Port
- Admire the gorgeous blue wooden fishing boats
- Shop around at the Medina
- Sit back, relax and watch life go by
- Visit the market and eat fresh fish
- Watch the sunset from a rooftop cafe
1. Walk along the Portuguese ramparts
The old town is protected by imposing 18th-century ramparts that once were used to protect the port from pirates. Today, these ramparts are the icon of Essaouira. They were made worldwide famous by the series Game of Thrones as the place where Daenerys meets theUnsullied Army in season 3.But this shouldn’t be the only reason to visit the ramparts. The seawalls are an excellent location to take a stroll and admire the gorgeous ocean views.
At the Skala de la Ville, the ramparts can be accessed for free. After walking beside them in the medina, you will make your way up a pedestrian ramp to access the top of the ramparts and the old canons facing the ocean, in a wait of some action. This is an excellent photo opportunity and definitely a nice spot to bring a book and wait for sunset.
NOTE | The ramparts were under restoration up until the summer of 2018. You can now access the ramparts without any problem.
2. Check out Essaouira’s citadel from la Skala du Port
On the other side of the old town, towards the port, la Skala du Port, is another bastion with old canons and large walls. From here you will have an incredible panorama over the city which seems to pop out like a surprise castle hidden in a folded wishing card.
Along the ramparts, you can take a few steps up and sit in a “hole in the wall” for a very cute photo with the city in the background. However, the best view is yet to come. Enter the bastion and take the stairs all the way up for a 360° view over the medina and the port.
Entrance fee: 10 Dh (€1) – Opening hours: every day from 9 am to 5:30 pm
TIPS | We would recommend heading there in the afternoon from 3 to 5 pm to see the fishermen at work and enjoy the view with better light over the town.
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3. Admire the gorgeous blue wooden fishing boats
As you leave la Skala du port, walk under the arches of the beautiful entrance door to the port, called Bab al Mersa.After passing through, you will find the port of Essaouira and the famous blue wooden fishing boats, the Floukas. Take your time to walk around and watch the locals emptying their loads, while others clean and sell fish or repair fishing nets.
In the port, you can walk along the seawall to have a better view of the entire harbour and a little further, the local beach. To get this view, you will need to first pass by the extremely smelly fish stalls where fishermen trade their catch of the day for the regional market (you can’t buy fish here). If you are up for a bit of fun, climb up the side of the pier on your right as you walk away from the city. You will get to see the port from a different angle, away from the rest of the tourists.
We heard that people like to hang out here for sunset but we were not strong enough to handle the smell of the port a second time. Let us know if you were braver and managed to catch the sunset from the end of the pier.
While you walk around town you will probably notice that many things have been painted blue. This isn’t a tricky way to attract tourists for a perfect Instagram photo. It actually comes as a tribute to the nearby Purple Island where locals have been producing Murex for 3,000 years. This shell, which is usually used for its reddish-purple dye properties, has the particularity of producing a more bluish mucus in Essaouira. Hence, the use of blue to paint boats, windows and artefacts all around town.
4. Shop around at the Medina
A couple of main streets in thecentre of town are filled with souvenirs and craft shops, restaurants, cafes and hotels. This is probably where you will spend most of your time. At the bottom of laSkala de la Ville, you will find many workshops where you can buy crafts made ofThuya wood or simply watch the artisans at work.It is for sure the most picturesque area in the medina.
Another thing you can bring home from Essaouira is Argan Oil,which is made near the city. This product has been used for centuries for its skin and hair moisturising properties. Look out for the local women directly in front of the shops showcasing how the oil is manually extracted from the argan fruit.
Finally, don’t forget to bargain. Even if the souk of Essaouira is a bit more laid back than the ones in Marrakech, you should always have an idea of the price you are willing to pay and haggle with the vendor. This is a common practice in Morocco. Many places now display prices which makes bargaining almost impossible. However, do not hesitate to team up with your friends and family if you wish to buy the same items and ask for a friendly bundle price.
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We would not recommend venturing too far outside the main touristy streets. You will only find dead ends, dodgy dark corners and empty buildings used as dumping spaces for cats and dogs to roam around. It is a facet of Essaouira we found very surprising and which really contrasted with the lively and colourful streets found a couple of blocks away. So stick to the main touristy streets of the Medina if you want to shop or grab something to eat, the rest is unfortunately not as interesting.
5. Sit back, relax and watch life go by
The good thing about Essaouira is that you will never feel pressured in the same way as in Marrakech or in our busy city life. The layout of the centre is suitable for those wanting to relax and take it slow. Our favourite spot? Grabbing a freshly squeezed orange juice near the port and sitting on the park benches.Another good idea is to take a seat on a terrasse and order a hot mint teawith Moroccan patisseries.
These are two perfect ways to chill after a long day walking around the ramparts and the medina, reflect on your travel and the Moroccan culture while enjoying a local drink and watching life go by.
6. Visit the market and eat fresh fish
Essaouira being a fishing town, it would be a shame to not treat yourself to fresh fish. The first recommendation is to avoid food stalls near the port. The men are pushy and harassing, the fishes are pricey and the quality of the meal is pretty low. It is the perfect tourist trap!
For the best experience, visit the central marketright in the middle of the medina. You will find it behind the main shops on the avenueIstiqlal commonly calledKhodara. There, you should enter a covered area where you can buy fresh fish. Do not head to the port even if it is known as the “fish market”. The fish market was transferred there during the restoration of this covered place. It has now reopened and serves the best fish in town.
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Choose your fish or shellfish, buy a couple of drinks from nearby shops and look for a BYOB roof-top terrasse restaurant that will cook your meal for you. They will only charge a small extra fee (around 25 Dh) for the service, cooking and any extra sides.
7. Watch the sunset from a rooftop cafe
If you are not motivated to go back to the ramparts for sunset, why not look for a nice rooftop cafe or restaurant to see the sunset from a seagull’s eye? There are a few trendy bars around the medina, but the best is to find one with a view over the ocean.
The most renowned restaurant would be “Taros” but in fairness, the music was very loud and the area was not protected at all from the strong and chilly wind. We, therefore, tried the place next door, Hôtel El Fath, which from the outside looked absolutely empty and uninviting. After climbing the 4 floors, we found a nice terrace with comfortable chairs and a few groups of young locals waiting for the sunset, just like us.
8. Other things to do in Essaouira
| Enjoy the ocean activities
Essaouira lives up to its name “the windy city” perfectly. And as this may be an issue for those wishing to sunbathe, it is a dream spot for water sports enthusiasts. In fact, with strong winds all year long and a protected bay, Essaouira’s beaches have become one of the main placesalong the Maghreb coastline to go Kitesurfing and windsurfing.
But hang on. If you are not into these sports you can still head to the beach for a nice walk, a camel ride or a horseback excursion. Just be prepared for the strong breeze during the day and maybe book your activities at sunset when the light is gorgeous and the wind calms down.
| Birdwatching at the Mogador Island
Mogador is the biggest island in Essaouira’s bay. It has an important place in Essaouira’s history as defensive support with many bastions. The island is nowadays a natural reserve aiming to protectbreeding bird populations. For this reason, it is forbidden to enter the island without special permission.
However, for the birdwatching aficionados, boat or kayak tours are organised from Essaouira when the weather is clement.
| Visit Diabat and follow Jimy Hendrix’s steps
Diabat is a small village, only 3 kmsouth of Essaouira. It was an important hippy meeting place during the ’70s and is mostly known for Jimi Hendrix’s visit. As per the legend, the singer would have fallen in love with the sanded palace Bordj El Berod. This stone palace covered with sand, that once hosted the Sultan Mohamed Ben Abdallah would have inspired him to write his famous song “Castle Made Of Sand” but some say the song was actually written a few years before his visit…
Anyway, a good reason to visit Diabat is actually the sand palace itself. It can be accessed directly from Essaouira by walking south along the beach, but depending on how high and strong the water of the Oued Ksob river is, it may be more cautious to take a ride into the village Diabat and walk from there towards the beach.
Are you planning a trip to Morocco?
We have a lot of articles about travelling in Morocco and add new ones every so often. Check out our latest guides below to prepare for your trip…
- Highlights Of Marrakech: What To Do In Two Days
- The Best Riads in Marrakech – From Budget To Luxury Stays
- Marrakech To Merzouga– Sahara Desert Tour: What to Expect
- The Perfect Weekend inEssaouira: What to Do and See
- 20 Best Places To Visit InSouth Morocco
- Beautiful Places to Stay in Morocco
- 2-week itinerary in Morocco
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Jenny–Owner, writer & photographer
Jenny has lived for the past 10 years across Oceania and Ireland while also travelling long-term in Latin America, North America and Europe. She has visited more than60 countriesand set foot on every continent in the world!
She is a coffee nerd, passionate aboutphotography,wildlifeandoutdoor activities. Her organisation and curiosity make her a great travel companion always looking for DIY and off-the-grid adventures. She truly has a knack for creating the best itineraries!
During her travels, Jenny lovesvolunteeringwith animals on conservation projects. Her favourite moment? Seeing a whale breaching or a turtle hatching…
>>Favourite countries: New Zealand, Bolivia, Ireland and Canada.
>>Wishlist: Svalbard, Newfoundland, Alaska and African Savanna.
>>Philosophy: “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.
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