Essaouira. What to see, what to do and where to stay
Essaouira: a weekend by the ocean

Essaouira. What to see, what to do and where to stay

The smell of the ocean, the sound of seagulls, the taste of freshly caught seafood, fill Essaouira. It is impossible to come to this colorful place of music, ocean, windsurfing, yoga and not fall in love with its freedom.

After the madness of Marrakech and Fez, the port city on the Atlantic coast brings tranquility and joy. Freedom-loving hippies and Portuguese colonizers influenced the city’s history and culture. The mix of West and East is evident in the architecture, decor and traditions of the locals.

The city in this location dates back to the 7th century BC, but what we see now was built in the 18th century. A French architect brought a European approach to city building to Moroccan soil, so Essaouira looks both oriental and old European at the same time. The name of the city from Arabic translates as «beautifully designed» and locals pronounce it as «Esaouira», while in Russian two names — Essaouira and Essaouira — have equally taken root.

What to see in Essaouira?

A fast pace is not suitable for exploring Morocco’s gem. There you want to go for kilometer-long walks, take pictures of colorful streets, smile at passers-by. There are few sights in the city, but there is no desire to leave quickly.

Leisure time in Essaouira means hours of watching the ocean waves, an endless selection of souvenirs and gifts on the stalls, and relaxing in the coffee shops on the upper terraces. So what attractions are not to be missed?

Essaouira Sightseeing Map


Essaouira’s old town is unlike any other medina in Morocco. It was designed by a French engineer and is a UNESCO heritage site. Houses with white walls and blue windows, cozy cafes, patios for relaxing in hot weather, small details create a relaxed atmosphere for strolling.

In the streets of Medina
In the streets of Medina
Authentic alley cafe
Authentic alley cafe
The sights of the city - in street art
The sights of the city — in street art
The ordinary life of the inhabitants of Essaouira.
The ordinary life of the inhabitants of Essaouira.

The medina is walled and faces the Atlantic coast. Similar to other old towns in the country, Essaouira’s old town has several entrances. Through the main gate Bab Marrakech (Bab Marrakech), caravans used to exit in the past. Another gate, Bab Doukkala, was the departure point to the north. At the intersection of the streets that start from the two gates is the Souk Jdid market.

In the market rows you will find amazing souvenirs, just like in Marrakech. Silver jewelry made by local artisans stands out. You can even get your ring size customized on the spot.

Handmade silver jewelry
Handmade silver jewelry

You can bring argan oil from Essaouira, because it is the surroundings of the city that are considered to be the center of its production in Morocco: argan trees grow along the roads, on which special goats climb — the main participants of the production process. What else to bring from Morocco

The market is full of stalls with hippie and boho style clothes, as Essaouira was the Mecca for hipsters, Rastamans and the favorite city of hard rock legend Jimi Hendrix.

In the evening, crowds of vendors mingle with tourists in the central streets of the medina. Noise, trade continues until late at night. I advise you to keep your bags with you and keep safety in mind.

At the main entrance to the medina there is a parking lot where we left our car for a day. In the morning, we had an unpleasant surprise — cheeky seagulls tried to dirty the car. About cleaning the roof and windows from bird droppings can be agreed with a local worker. The hard work and small wages of Moroccans are astonishing.

Beach and ocean

The promenade and a wide sandy beach 6 km long attract travelers to sunbathe and walk along the ocean. Moroccans love soccer and often play on the beaches.

Thanks to the constant wind and high waves due to the city’s location on the cape, Essaouira has ideal conditions for surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. People come here to stand up surf (from 32 e for 2 hours) or windsurf (from 64 e for 2 hours). The biggest waves are seen in winter. There are schools in town teaching surf skills. For more information, see the Explora Watersports website.

All year round, the ocean water is cool, which discourages lovers of lounging. There are cafes, restaurants and hotels along the coast.

Essaouira Beach
Essaouira Beach
An endless sandy beach
An endless sandy beach
Atlantic coastline
Atlantic coastline

Fishing Port in Essaouira (Fishing Port in Essaouira)

The city used to be the most important transportation hub and the main port in the country. Trade was carried out with the whole world, pirates hid in the bays. Essaouira developed rapidly.

It is not a romantic place today. The first impression is the smell, the sickening odor of fish mixed with sea salt. The second is the fish scales underfoot, the poorly dressed fishermen. The third impression is the photogenic rows of authentic blue boats and posing cheeky cats. This place is not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth a visit. The port preserves the history and traditions of the Moroccan pirate town.

A posing cat in the harbor
A posing cat in the harbor
Transportation of local fishermen
Transportation of local fishermen

There are thousands of photos on Instagram of bloggers in chic dresses and white sneakers against the backdrop of boats. They come here for atmosphere, for color, for authentic locations. There are local people with wrinkled faces, with tanned rough labor hands, whose lives seem to be stuck in the past.

The blue boats are not props, they are the active transportation of local fishermen. They go out into the ocean at night and return with their catch early in the morning.

There is a market in the port where you can buy fresh fish, oysters, clams, sea urchins. Be sure to bargain! This rule applies to any Moroccan shopping.

Sea urchin on the harbor counters
Sea urchin on the harbor counters


The port and surrounding fortifications were designed in the 18th century by the English architect Ahmed el Inglisi, who converted to Islam and joined the Berber pirates. The fortress of Essaouveira has the Bab el Marsa gate and two forts: the Scala du Port and the Scala de la Kasbah.

The ancient harbor walls became the setting for the TV series Game of Thrones: episodes were filmed here in the Slaver’s Bay in the third season, where Daenerys freed the slaves and acquired an army of blameless.

A still from the movie: A fortress from the sea
A still from the movie: A fortress from the sea
Even the blue boats of Essaouira made it into the show
Even the blue boats of Essaouira made it into the show’s footage
In reality, there is a row of bronze cannons at this spot
In reality, there is a row of bronze cannons at this spot

Sqala du Port (Rock of Port)

The platform with cannons was built in the Portuguese style to protect the city from attacks from the ocean. In the past there was a castle on this site.

There is a fee to enter the fortification, but the tower offers a beautiful panorama of the city and ocean.

View of the medina
View of the medina
Essaouira Fortress
Essaouira Fortress
A still from "Game of Thrones" at the fortress of Essaouira
A still from «Game of Thrones» at the fortress of Essaouira
The same ground - in reality
The same ground — in reality

Sqala de la Kasbah (Sqala de la Kasbah)

A two-level platform for the defense of the city. On the first floor there are souvenir shops, and on the second floor there is a row of ancient bronze cannons. From the platform you can watch the ocean waves crashing colorfully against the rocks.

Essaouira Fortress
Essaouira Fortress
A platform with bronze cannons
A platform with bronze cannons
Essaouira. What to see, what to do and where to stay

Sea Gate (Bab el-Marsa)

In addition to the fortifications, the sea gate — a stone structure with watchtowers and columns — was built in the 18th century. The gate has relief symbols of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Near the entrance through the gate, there are fish stalls and cafes where fish and seafood are cleaned and prepared. Fish dishes in small taverns are served with round bread and vegetable salad.

Sea gates and fishermen
Sea gates and fishermen’s nets

Festivals and celebrations in Essaouira

In 1998, the city organized the first Gnaoua World Music Festival (Gnaoua World Music Festival). The descendants of slaves from Black Africa, the Gnaoua brotherhood, created a musical art based on African and Berber traditions.

The annual celebration attracts about half a million spectators. In addition to local musical trends, numerous jazz bands from Europe and America perform. The concerts take place in the open air and the festival lasts 4 days in mid-June.

Check the Festival-Gnaoua website for the exact schedule.

Where to stay in Essaouira

Morocco’s popular riad houses are located in the medina. Oriental flavor, luxury and conditions depend on the price. There are riads to suit all tastes and wallets.

If you prefer modern housing, choose options in New Town.

We stayed in two riads, close to the parking lot and the entrance to the medina, and I can recommend both hotels for their atmospheric setting and balance of European comfort and Moroccan flavor.

30 — 50 €
Price per night in a good riad in Essaouira

Dar Latigeo

Dar Latigeo is located in the center of the Medina, within walking distance of the port and the fortress. Each room of the riad is decorated in a special style, combining Moroccan traditions and European decor elements. The owner is a Frenchman who married a local woman, moved here and opened a tourist business.

The hotel has a courtyard, barbecue, terrace overlooking the ocean and the medina. Breakfast includes scones, tea, coffee, orange juice, jam, national scones, granola with fruit and yogurt. A room per night costs from just €30.

Albatross Room in the Dar Latigeo riad
Albatross Room in the Dar Latigeo riad
Room design details
Room design details
Delicious breakfast in the riad
Delicious breakfast in the riad

Riad Saltana

Riad Saltana has beautiful rooms from 50 € with traditional Moroccan-style furnishings. There are 2 terraces with panoramic ocean views. The hotel is close to the fortress and the market but on a quiet street. The hostess is hospitable and helpful and recommended a great place for dinner.

Lounge area in the hotel
Lounge area in the hotel
A number in Saltan
A number in Saltan’s riad
Ocean view from the terrace
Ocean view from the terrace

Essaouira is like a breath of fresh air in Morocco: a little European, a little exotic. It is better to come here for two days: the first day to see the medina and sights, have dinner overlooking the ocean or the old town, and the second day to spend by the ocean, quietly and leisurely.