Things to do in Essaouira

A weekend in Essaouira Morocco

After the heat of the Sahara desert, we changed our travel plans slightly and headed to the coast. Essaouira is cooler and fresher and will give you a big contrast in climate and atmosphere to the heat of Ouarzazate or the hustle and bustle of Marrakech. Changing our travel plans to include Essaouira Morocco was the best decision that we made this trip. The refreshing sea air of this hippy hangout was just what I needed to help me to recover from the Tichka Pass across the Atlas Mountains! I saw Ait Benhaddou yesterday, which was the Game of Thrones film set for Yunkai (the yellow city). Essaouira is the city of Astapor in the Game of Thrones, so this is my second Game of Thrones film set in two days!

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How long should I stay in Essaouira Morocco?

Essaouira Morocco is a safe and small city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. You can do a day trip to Essaouira from Marrakech. However, do this and you might regret it! It is a wonderful place to hang out, surf or learn Arabic. We stayed for three days, which is a pleasant long weekend. If I had known how amazing this place was, I would have scheduled in at least a week!

When to go to Essaouira?

July and August are high season in Essaouira because the Moroccans go there at this time of year to escape the heat of Marrakech. If you go at this time of year, the weather will be warm but not too hot, with a fresh sea breeze (between 24-27 degrees). It can be very windy at this time, but good for a surf. If you approach Essaouira Morocco by road, you will see local boys shaking keys at you – they want to rent you apartments! But you don’t need to go to them, their prices are high – €30 a night and hotels and roads are much cheaper. Our Moroccan friend told us that these are popular with unmarried couples because they are private and no one will ask for a marriage certificate!

Essaouira Port Morocco

Arriving in Essaouira Morocco

When you arrive, don’t be alarmed if a man with a cart appears from no-where and starts to put your luggage in it! He will be taking you to your hotel in the Medina with your luggage, for 20Dh (he might initially ask you for 30Dh or 40Dh, so barter him down!) Also, call your hostel when you arrive. We are staying at ‘Surf and Chill’ inside Essaouira Medina, and our driver Abdul called when we arrived outside the Medina gates. The lovely Hasna walked to meet us and greet us at our cab.

Exploring Essaouira – Best Things to do

Everything is easy to find in Essaouira Morocco and you are not as likely to get lost as in Marrakech! Everything you need is inside the Medina and along the seafront (including the seagulls as you can see!)

The salesmen in Essaouira are funny and friendly. They are not pushy and will not grab you like they sometimes do in Marrakech. You will probably be approached by guys selling sunglasses, even though you have got some on!

10 Things to do in Essaouira Morocco

1. Stroll around the Medina

The medina is small and easy to navigate and is the best way to absorb the culture of Essaouira. If you are not sure what a Medina is, it’s an Arabic fortified town. Essaouira has one of the best examples of an 18th Century Medina in Morocco. Inside the medina you will find numerous restaurants, shopping streets (more on the souks later!) and pottery exibitions. Walking around the Medina is a very exciting cultural experience, and best of all it’s free! But before you enter, consider walking around the ramparts which are the walls to the medina.

A weekend in Essaouira Morocco
Main gate to enter Essaouira’s Medina.

2. Visit the Ramparts

The Ramparts and Bastion are the historical monuments of Essaouira Morocco and the great walls that surround the Medina (fortified city). You can go up the ramparts for just 10Dh. These historic places of interest were used for the Game of Thrones film set. In Season 3, Daenerys Targaryen stops at Astapor in the hope of securing her army of unsullied. You will probably find many seagulls flocking around the beach near the ramparts – they are usually there to get scraps from the fish market!

Essaouira Surf Hostel
Essaouira Ramparts

3. Fish Market

You must go to the Fish Market, which is located on the main street toward the Jewish quarter of the medina (near Bab Doukkalait). Local fishermen sell their fresh catch at this market every morning – you can’t get fresher seafood than that. It is so funny – one of the best food markets I’ve been to in Morocco!

Each of the fish stalls has a different man who will want you to eat there and he will repeatedly tell you his number. You will hear cracking lines including ‘Lovely Jubbly’, ‘English – Fish and Chip, bread and butter!’, ‘See you later Alligator!’ and ‘You hungry? You full? My number is 14, my number is 26…’

Remember to barter for the price of your fish, and it’s always a good idea to check the price with the locals before you buy. It may be possible to get your fresh fish grilled at your hotel or a local restaurant.

Fish market things to do in Essaouira

4. Street Art

Tucked away in the side streets of Essaouira, you will find the most phenomenal street art. Jimi Hendrix loved this place, and it’s easy to see why. Look out for my favourite mural – the big blue eyed cat! The mural below was painted by graffiti and tattoo artist @nark.cpk.

street art Essaouira

5. Souks

Parsing the souks is part of the fun in Morocco. The Essaouira Souk is not as ‘stressy’ as the Marrakech souk. If you were put off by pushy salesmen in Marrakech, and people touching you, you will find the Essaouira souk much more manageable. We found a whole section just for jewelry!

6. Surf and Chill out on the Beach

At Surf and Chill, you can book a two-hour surf lesson with Yousef for just €25. You can also find many places along the streets and the beach for surfing and kite surfing, but make sure you book one that is upon safety!

Follow your surf session with a chill out on the beach, and you can rent a sunbed with a parasol if it takes your fancy.

7. See Gnawa Music

You will see guys in the streets playing Gnawa music for money. If you throw 10-20Dh at them, they will do you your own little performance!

8. Eat Traditional Moroccan Food

Fish soup is a specialty of Essaouira as it is on the coast. I had lovely fish soup at the Medinah restaurant. You can also get a brilliant couscous or tagine at Gnawa restaurant or 4 Seasons of Mogador. You can expect to pay around 100-150 Dirhams for a main course in Essouira, making it excellent value for money.

Moroccan tagine
Moroccan tagine in Essaouira

9. Explore the Artisan Markets of Pottery and Marquetry

Morocco is famous for its hand-painted ceramics. Essaouira also offers the opportunity to see some fantastic Marquetry (wood carving and craft). If you want to buy some, firstly remember to negotiate, and secondly, remember to get it well wrapped for your journey home. I would recommend telling them if you are travelling by plane and they should add a few extra layers for you. Carry it as hand luggage if possible, rather than checked baggage.

Handmade Pottery Marrakesh Morocco
Moroccan Pottery

10. Horse Riding and Camel Riding

Enjoy a camel ride along the beach. Just be aware that they throw you forwards when they get up. They also spit at you and kick you, so if you are unsure, it may be best not to risk it! The price of a camel ride in Essaouira is approx 150-250 Dirhams.

Bear in mind that sometimes the conditions of working camels and donkeys in Morocco is not as good as you might want it to be – some animals work long hours carrying more than they should be. If you want to support the working animals of Morocco, then a good charity is SPANA – they support owners of working animals by educating them on why keeping animals in good condition is beneficial to everyone.

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