Top 11 essential things to see and do in Essaouira, Morocco
Essaouira has a strategic position on the Atlantic coast and has therefore always been an important trading port since the 15th century. Different populations and cultures have coexisted in harmony for centuries, creating a city with a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Its numerous monuments give it a charm that is not found elsewhere in Morocco.
Between mosques, synagogues, fortifications, beaches and markets, visiting Essaouira ensures an unforgettable stay.
1. The Medina
To visit Essaouira is first to soak up the typical Moroccan atmosphere. And what could be better than strolling through the narrow streets of the Medina to meet the locals? You will stroll from souks to small restaurants, between shopping and tea tastings. The different souks offer all kinds of souvenirs and gifts: spices, olives, handicrafts ... The charm of the historic center and the banter of traders will make you spend a pleasant time.
The Medina is surrounded by fortifications on which it is possible to climb. If you are looking for what to do in Essaouira, the Medina is a must. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
2. The ramparts
The ramparts of Essaouira were erected in the 18th century, to protect the city from foreign invasions. Essaouira was then the main commercial port of Morocco and Sultan Mohamed Ben Abdallah decided to build fortifications to protect it. The French architect Théodore Cornut was chosen to design the ramparts and direct the works. Student of the Marquis of Vauban, he created an enclosure around the Medina which was inspired by the fortifications of Saint-Malo.
On the city side, the fortress is pierced with monumental doors. Towards the ocean, you can climb the ramparts in the sqala, and admire the twenty Spanish guns pointed out to sea. From the top of the tower, you will have a view of the Medina, the sea and the offshore islets.
3. The fishing port
The port of Essaouira is deeply linked to the history of the city and a must see if you are going to visit Essaouira. Formerly known as the "Timbuktu port", it served as a link between the trans-Saharan routes to Black Africa and the major trade routes. Today, it remains one of the three most important sardine ports in Morocco. It’s certainly the busiest place in town, especially in the early afternoon. Fishing boats come in and unload their catch of the day, under the watchful eye of seagulls, cormorants and cats who wait their turn with more or less patience. The sea breams, sardines and other crustaceans are then sold at the Auction, in a cacophonic atmosphere certainly, but after all organized.
A few steps away, eateries cook these fresh products for instant tasting. In summer, you may have the chance to attend an improvised diving competition. The children of the city gather for ever more impressive jumps, from the pontoons or even the fortifications and towers. A shipyard is also on site, for the construction of wooden trawls, in an craft way.
4. The sunset
Admiring a sunset is one of the essential activities if you plan to visit Essaouira. The city’s geographic location and picturesque buildings provide breathtaking scenery as the sun sets on the horizon. The birds whose shadows stand out against a background of orange light will be the preferred models for your photo shoot.
For the best spots to watch the sunset, we recommend the Kasbah Sqala, next to the cannons. You can also go to the port or stroll around the port's sqala, to see the iridescent colors of the twilight reflected on the ramparts.
5. The souks
If you are looking for what to do in Essaouira, then do not miss a shopping session in the different souks of the city. Less touristy than those of big cities like Marrakech or Agadir, they have managed to remain authentic. There are original handicrafts that differ from those of the rest of the country. In the jewelry souk, you will find jewelers who create the pieces by hand. The leather-work and marquetry workshops also hold great surprises.
On the food side, take a look at the meat souk. The fish souks are located in a building protected by a beautiful glass roof which gives it an undeniable cachet. You choose your fresh fish and then go cook it in one of the many stalls that complete the building. The spice souk will amaze you with its colors, with the heaps of raz-el-hanout, cumin or paprika arranged symmetrically.
6. The beach
The main beach stretches for several kilometers between the fortress and the south of the city. You can relax on deckchairs, have a drink or taste Moroccan specialties while enjoying the sun. The blond sand caressed by the swell makes Essaouira beach one of the most beautiful in Morocco. You will admire the arabesques of kite surf sails in the blue sky, as well as the surfers who cut the waves and cross in a ballet with well-oiled mechanics.
For the more athletic, it is possible to take lessons or simply rent equipment. South of the beach, you will find camels that will take you on a ride, a perfect activity if you are looking for what to do in Essaouira with children.
7. The village of Diabat
Barely 3 kilometers south of Essaouira is the charming village of Diabat. Its beautiful beach is ideal for nautical activities and there are both upscale accommodation and guesthouses. In Diabat is the Dar Sultan Palace, the former residence of Sultan Mohamed Ben Abdallah, which overlooks the Oued Ksob estuary. Diabat is also known to have been frequented by hippies in the 1970s. The singer Jimmy Hendrix stayed there and would have been inspired by the sandy palace to write his famous song "Castle made of sand".
8. Women's cooperatives for the production of Argan oil
The argan tree, the tree that produces the fruit from which Argan oil is extracted, only grows in Morocco. More precisely in the Essaouira-Tiznit-Taroudant triangle.
A few kilometers from Essaouira, you will find cooperatives run by women who work the fruit of the argan tree to produce edible oil or certified organic cosmetics. This miraculous oil, prized by great chefs but also by cosmetic laboratories, provides an income for Berber women and their families. You will meet the workers who will explain all the manufacturing process to you. You will learn in particular that it takes 35 kilograms of dried fruit and 20 hours of work to produce a liter of Argan oil. Visiting Essaouira will therefore allow you to bring this luxury product home directly from the producer.
9. The synagogue of Simon Attias
The Mellah is the old Jewish quarter of Essaouira. Until the 19th century, Essaouira was home to a large Jewish population, which left many architectural testimonies like the Simon Attias synagogue. This religious building is remarkably preserved. These 500 square meters are spread over three levels, between the prayer hall, a cultural center and the Judaism museum. Observe the wrought iron mezzanine which was reserved for women. The synagogue was renovated in 2015 with old materials to keep its original appearance.
10. The hammams
The hammam is inseparable from Moroccan culture and forms an activity of choice when you come to visit Essaouira. Most hotels have a hammam, but to soak up the real Moroccan atmosphere, we recommend that you go to a public Hammam.
If it is not easy to immediately understand all the codes and rituals, however, you are guaranteed to have a good time relaxing. For an even more perfect relaxation session, employees also offer massages and scrubs.
11. A walk in the desert
Several options allow you to venture into the desert to capture the special atmosphere that reigns there. This vastness of sand is accessible by 4 × 4, quad or dromedary. Three-hour quad tours allow you to take in the scenery while filling up on thrills.
For adventurers, multi-day excursions are organized. You can camp around the fire, staring at the stars and the Milky Way. After a traditional Berber meal, you will fall asleep to the sound of the crackling of the blaze, before another extraordinary day.