Essaouira is a small city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Essaouira is 190 km west of Marrakech (2h30 drive).
The first thing you smell at Essaouira is the fresh air mixed with the scents of flowers.
At every moment, the spectacular oceanic decor amazes you. Your eyes will catch the extremely bright colors. White and blue are the dominant colors of Essaouira. The city seems to be like a white pearl with blue reflections.
This town is both charming and messy, romantic and battered, captivating and melancholy. This fragile and precious contrast attracts delicate spirits. Many international artists have decided to settle there.
Whether you want a lazy stay or a more energetic one, Essaouira has the assets that will fit you. You will get much more than a journey, a sensory experience.
Here are the most suitable places to visit and the best things to do during your stay at Essaouira.
1 The Essaouira Harbor
You can access the port of Essaouira by going through the customs checkpoint. In front of the gate, there is a tower that houses the oldest weather station in Africa.
The port is at the foot of the ramparts. Its location is at the end of the long fine sandy beach of the city.
Nowadays, the port of Essaouira is not a major center of Moroccan maritime traffic. But it was the most important trading center of the country in the 17th century.
The port has a modest size. And today, the port finds itself in competition with larger ports for sardine fishing. Yet, the port has a famous morning animation.
From the first hours, the boats gather in an indescribable disorder around docks.
A few hours later, when baskets full of fish arrive, the noise is at its height.
The colorful boats, the women fixing the fishing nets, and the fishermen unloading the sardines make the port an exciting place.
In the hot hours of the afternoon, do not miss the hour of the siesta. The fishermen fall asleep curled up in their nets.
The most captivating spectacle takes place at the auction. Groups of seagulls come to steal the fishermen's stalls in front of their eyes.
2 The Gate of the Navy (Bab el-Marsa)
This gate connected the city to the boarding docks. It let the boats enter while remaining safe from fire from any enemy ships offshore.
It is a beautiful neoclassical construction. Despite the presence of the two watchtowers, it is more decorative than defensive.
In 1769, during the fortification of the city, Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah built the gate.
On the seaside, two fluted columns support a pediment. Three crescent moons engraved under the pediment symbolized the Ring of the Sultan.
An inscription from 1769 indicates the architect who built this gate. It was an English renegade named Ahmed El-Eulj (El-Eulj means the European in Arabic).
The gate is connected to the Sqala (artillery platform) of the port by a fortified bridge.
3 The Sqala Of The Port
Sqala Of The Port
To the right of Bab el-Marsa, under a large square tower, a beautiful fortified bridge gives access to the Sqala of the Port.
The Sqala of the port is an artillery platform, longer than that of the casbah.
The Sqala of the port defended the port from external attacks by a series of battlements and watchtowers. The Sqala has a dozen armored bronze cannons facing out to sea. In the end, the Sqala has a roundabout designed to move heavy artillery pieces.
We can still see on the four sides of the castle the engraved inscription Barakat Mohammed. Barakat Mohammed is the motto of the city. It is invoking the blessing of the Prophet on the town and its inhabitants.
The sqala has a panoramic view. From there, you can see the medina, the port, the sqala, the bay, and the island of Mogador.
The dance on the air of seagulls is another beautiful spectacle you will appreciate. After letting themselves be carried by the winds, they like to come and rest for a moment on the pinnacle of one of the four watchtowers.
In the morning, you will witness the return of the fishing boats. And walking there at dusk will allow you to rediscover the theatrical atmosphere of this platform.
Time To Visit: every day from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission fee: 10 dirhams.
4 The Moulay El Hassan Square
Moulay El Hassan Square
Moulay Hassan Square in Essaouira is the most vibrant square in Essaouira. This place is between the harbor and the entrance to the Old Medina.
Many Cafes and restaurants on the square offer beautiful sea views from their roofs.
In the evening, the square has a warm atmosphere. Families and friends meet, and children play.
5 The Sqala Of The Kasbah
Sqala Of The Kasbah
The Sqala of Kasbah or Sqala of the city is a vast artillery platform. This fortification protected the city against sea attacks.
The building has tall and fortified walls. On the top of the walls, around twenty bronze cannons face the ocean.
These cannons dated from the end of the 18th century and originated from Barcelona and Seville. The Moroccan took them from the Spanish as spoils of war.
The terrace, 200m long, overlooks the ocean and offers a superb view. A beautiful door opens onto the circular platform. You can have the best sight of the fortified building from the terrace of the north bastion.
Time To Visit: every day from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Admission fee: none.
6 The Purpuraires Islands
The Purpuraires Islands
A legend said that the Berber villagers of Diabat carried their sheep over the waters to sacrifice them on the islets.
The Purpuraires Islands refers to all the islets that protect the city from the swells. Most of the islets originally formed a single island, broken up over time by the onslaught of waves.
The islets are a stone's throw from the port. You can access most of them by asking the fishermen in the harbor to take you there. The pass is tricky for the boats. At low tide, you could access the more remote islets on foot.
The spectacle on the spot is small. Apart from the birds, one discovers not much interesting there.
7 Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah Museum
Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah Museum
This beautiful 19th-century merchant riad is an architectural masterpiece. The museum was also the city town hall under the French protectorate.
The museum is devoted to the artisanal and artistic traditions of the region. It brings together collections collected by its creator, artist Boujemâa Lakhdar.
On the ground floor, you will get general information on the city's cultural heritage. You will also learn about the archaeological discoveries in the city. The finds are from prehistoric times to the Phoenicians. Don't miss the only intact amphora (from the 3rd century AD) of Morocco found in Essaouira.
Upstairs you will see musical instruments used during religious and spiritual ceremonies. Gnaoua Festival is the most famous among them. You will also find carpets, ornate furniture, painted woods, jewelry, weapons, and more.
Visit from 8 am to 6.30 pm Closed Tuesday.
Entrance fee: 10 dirhams (about 1$).
8 The Remparts
"In 1844, the French fleet bombarded and damaged the ramparts of Essaouira".
The Avignon engineer Théodore Cornut designed the architecture of the remparts.
The ramparts are more than 2km long. The batteries of the port and the Old Medina reinforced the Remparts to push naval attacks. The southern bastion aimed to guard against a ground assault. A network of forts on the islets, the island of Mogador, and the beach of Diabat completed the defensive system.
The ochre color of the ramparts of Essaouira gives this hot and photogenic city the air of a Breton city.
In the city, two styles of ramparts coexist. They are representing Arabic and French influences:
- The Cherifian-type ramparts: are in the interior of Old Medina. They used stone covered with ocher plaster to build this type of fence. You can see rounded doors and tight walks.
- The European-type ramparts: overlooking the ocean. Made without plaster, they provide wide walkways and vast watchtowers.
9 The Medina (The Old City)
The Medina Of Essaouira
In the middle of the 18th century, Mohammed Ben Abdallah was the Sultan of Morocco. He hired European engineers and architects to create a city from scratch. The Sultan allowed them to put Enlightenment theories of town planning into practice.
Essaouira is thus the only Medina in Morocco to have an orthogonal plan, with unusually wide and perfectly straight arteries.
Yet, within each of the neighborhoods, this rigor is tempered by the wholly oriental narrow roads. And behind the modest white facades, the curious visitor will discover a colorful, warm, and mysterious life.
If you enter the Medina of Essaouira through Bab el-Sebaa, you will get into the old Kasbah. The Kasbah is the first area of the Old Medina to be built. It was a neighborhood reserved for the Sultan, administrations, and European consuls.
I suggest you get lost in the streets leading from the Bab el-Sebaa square and go to discover this Medina, its shops, and art galleries.
10 Simon Attias Synagogue - Bayt Dakira
Simon Attias was a famous Jewish merchant of the city of Essaouira.
In 1892, while traveling in sub-Saharan Africa, he died under unknown circumstances. His body was buried in London afterward.
His wife, Nima Attias, built this synagogue at the end of the 19th century. She baptized the temple in the name of her husband. Historically this was a very active synagogue.
This synagogue was built on a surface of 500m² and had a central patio of 40m². Shops composed the ground floor. It also included the home of the wife of Simon Attias.
There is a large prayer room on the second floor, with a space reserved for women. The third floor contained the offices of the Jewish court. This court processed business and personal matters relating to the Moroccan Hebrew community.
11 The Souks Of Essaouira
Scattered around the wide streets of blue and white, you will witness the souks of Essaouira.
The souks have a subtle mix of styles. You will see the traditional fabric maker next to the modern wave jewelry designer. And you will notice the showy carpet salesman neighboring the discreet painter seated in his gallery.
All kinds of traditional crafts are in the souk. The products are often cheaper and of better quality than in the big cities. And this is true for fabrics, woodwork, and even rugs.
The Jewelers' Souk
The Jewelers' Souk
This market was once one of the most famous places for its jewelers, mainly Jewish.
The jewelers' souk still allows you to find pretty pieces at reasonable prices. By digging a little, authentic discoveries in old items are possible.
There are still a few admirable items in gold, but contemporary jewelers now only work with silver.
The Fish Market
The fish souk is in the heart of the medina. This small square dates from 1863. At that time, the souk hosted fabric merchants.
Today, merchants exposed fish on tiled cement tables. You will find sardines, sea bream, soles, anchovies, red mullet, shrimp, etc.
This fish market has small cafes under the arcades. They offer to cook, grill, or fry the fresh fish bought at the moment.
12 The Mellah - The Jewish Neighborhood
The Jewish Neighborhood In Essaouira
The Mellah is the old Jewish quarter of the city.
Around 1950, this neighborhood with dark alleys hosted 18,000 Jews (40% of the city's population). They were living, mainly, from the jewelry and fabric trade.
All, except six families, left the city after Morocco's independence in 1956 and the Six-Day War in 1967.
Every year in September, a pilgrimage attracts Moroccan and foreign Jews. They come to pay homage to Rabbi Haim Pinto. The Rabbi rests in the city cemetery.
There were about forty distilleries in the Mellah. They prepared the Mahia, which is anise-flavored fig alcohol. These distilleries distributed this liquor throughout the southwest of Morocco.
13 Chaim Pinto Synagogue
Rabbi Haim Pinto (1748-1845) is a member of a large family of Sephardic rabbis. The rabbi built this synagogue, initially, like a home. The building served also as a place of worship and teaching of the Torah.
You will find this Sephardic synagogue, in the Mellah neighborhood, near the ramparts. This extraordinary building, organized vertically, is very calm and relaxing. On the ground the rabbi's house, and on the first floor, the tiny blue synagogue. And above all, don't miss the view from the room upstairs.
The guide is pleasant, welcoming, and he will tell you the history of the Jews in the city.
You can visit the old synagogue on request.
14 The Essaouira Long Beach
Here you can have the opportunity to admire a magnificent sunset while being lulled by the sound of the water.
In touch with the city, Essaouira Beach reaches the bottom of the bay. Despite the wind, this beach is gentle and very safe.
The beach is so beautiful and large enough to shelter all the city in the middle of summer. The winds bring surprising freshness here throughout the summer.
The City of the Trade Winds is the nickname of Essaouira. The winds blow all year round. It makes the city a famous destination for surfing and kitesurfing enthusiasts.
Beginner or experienced, you will find unusual places to try on-site.
The Unusual Beach of Diabat
18th-Century Castle Diabat Beach
South of the beach of Essaouira, you can discover the beautiful Diabat beach. The fine sand encourages lounging and relaxing.
Right on the beach are the ruins of an 18th-century castle. Here the waves break with power in a unique scene.
For an incredible experience, let yourself ride the back of a horse, camel, or even a quad.
15 Visit An Argan Oil Cooperative
Extracting Argan Oil
Argan oil is rich in essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins. And scientific researches proved that Argan is excellent for the skin, hair, and all the body.
If everybody knows the benefits of argan oil, few recognize the mechanism to get this majestic oil. This skill requires knowledge passed from generation to generation.
If you visit an Argan oil cooperative, you will be amazed by seeing the process to produce Argan oil.
If you want to buy Argan oil, Essaouira is the perfect place. In Essaouira, many shops offer Argan oil at competitive prices. Yet, please read our article on tips to buy Argan oil.
16 Go To Sidi Kaouki Beach Resort
Sunset At Sidi Kaouki
Are you a fan of natural landscapes? Do you like surfing? Or only you want to relax. This beautiful beach may be the best choice for you.
Sidi Kaouki is a small village only 25 km south of Essaouira via the P2201.
The village has one of the most stunning beaches on the Moroccan Atlantic shore. And the weather here is pleasant.
Sidi Kaouki village has an extensive option of accommodation. It goes from camping to luxurious riads and villas.
To get more info, you can read our Full Guide To Visit Sidi Kaouki Beach.
17 Visit Imsouane Beach Resort
Magic Bay In Imsouane Beach
Imsouane is a village 95 km south of Essaouira. For a long time, the peaks in the background of the beach made Imsouane a secret spot. The residents of the area call it the Magic Bay.
In 2017, Forbes magazine wrote a list of the 27 most stunning beaches on the planet. Imsouane Beach rated tenth on the Forbes listing.
Imsouane is a surfers' heaven. The most extended wave in Africa is in Imsouane. In a good season, the waves are between 600 to 800 meters.
Throughout the year, the weather is much more pleasant and milder.
From November to March, the surfing period is in total motion. During this time, you will have regular swells and big waves every day.
To get more info, you can read our Complete Guide To Visit And Surf In Imsouane.
18 Mogador Island
The island of Mogador, home to seagulls and Eleonore's falcons, is now an ornithological nature reserve.
On the island of Mogador, we discovered the oldest traces of habitation in Essaouira. Throughout antiquity, Mediterranean merchants visited the island of Mogador and the neighboring islet. They were Greeks, Cypriots, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans. They have left traces there that archaeological excavations revealed.
In the 19th century, the Moroccan Sultan occupied and fortified the island. Since the end of his reign, the island of Mogador has been deserted. It only shows the ruins of an old prison.
The island offers an extensive view of the coast, the city, and the bay of Essaouira. The duration of the crossing is about 15min. But you need special permission to visit the island.