Discover the best things to do in Essaouira, a Moroccan coastal gem. The city known for its historic city walls featured in ‘Game of Thrones’, and its captivating souks within the old medina. Since the days when Jimi Hendrix soaked up its sun, Essaouira has become known as Morocco’s hippie paradise. This enchanting city draws a diverse crowd, from surfers and vacationers to hippies and Westerners, all lured by its relaxed atmosphere, captivating waves, inviting beaches, and unique hippie flair. This blog unveils ‘The Wind City of Africa’, from the mesmerizing sights of Essaouira to ‘Game of Thrones’ filming spots and top activities to enjoy.
Essaouira is situated on the Atlantic, southwest of Casablanca and just north of Agadir. It is set in a bay with wide, inviting beaches.
How To Get To Essaouira?
The nearest international airports are in Casablanca and Marrakech, with direct flights to many European cities. With no train station in Essaouira, a bus ride from the airport is your entry to this serene city.
From Marrakech, it’s about 3 hours by bus and slightly less by car. The journey is a visual treat, passing stunning landscapes and unique argan trees, home to climbing goats.
Near Essaouira, the hippie village of Sidi Kaouki, a favored Moroccan surfing spot, awaits just a short drive south.
Camper Travel in Essaouira
Traveling Morocco by camper like we are? Essaouira has strict rules against campers entering the city, marked by clear signage. Free daytime parking is available south of the boulevard on the beach, with a 25-minute walk to the old medina. Overnight camper stays at this location are prohibited by the police.
What is Essaouira known for?
UNESCO World Heritage
The medina of Essaouira, once known as Mogador, has been honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001. This recognition celebrates Essaouira as a model of a fortified city from the late 18th century, particularly for its European military architecture in a North African context.
Essaouira’s role as a major trading center between Morocco, the Sahara, and the world is reflected in its diverse cultural influences. These unique aspects have earned it its prestigious UNESCO status.
Wind City of Africa
Also known as the ‘Wind City of Africa,’ Essaouira lives up to its name with year-round strong winds. This has made it a favorite destination for wind and kitesurfers from around the globe.
Its special location and climate create perfect conditions for these sports, particularly appealing to beginners, thanks to the bay’s curved shape.
Game of Thrones Filming Location
Essaouira’s historic city walls and old medina served as a key location for the popular ‘Game of Thrones’ TV series. It stood in for the fictional city of Astapor in season 3.
The Skala de Ville, the city’s defensive fortress, and the Skala du Port, along with the harbor and its iconic blue fishing boats, were featured prominently in scenes with Daenerys Targaryen and her Unsullied army.
Where to stay in Essaouira
For first-time visitors to Essaouira, staying in the medina offers a convenient and delightful experience. As the historical heart of the city, the medina situates you near the ancient city walls, vibrant markets, delightful restaurants, and renowned landmarks of Essaouira. And when it comes to extraordinary places to stay in Essaouira, nothing compares to the experience of staying in one of its enchanting riads.
The most exquisite riad hotels in Essaouira’s medina:
#1 Riad Chbanate is uniquely positioned on Essaouira’s renowned city wall. The riad hotel is a photographer’s dream. The spacious, elegantly appointed rooms feature Moroccan interiors and a fireplace. For ultimate relaxation, the rooftop terrace offers magnificent views of Essaouira’s old medina.
#2 Riad Emotion captivates with its traditional courtyard, featuring a fountain, cozy seating area, and a sun-drenched terrace with loungers. The spacious rooms are a tapestry of local crafts, plush carpets, and inviting seating areas. The breakfast is a culinary journey through Moroccan flavors.
#3 Riad Dar Maya, nestled in the medina, offers luxury with its sunny rooftop terrace, a hot tub, a library, and an authentic hammam. The rooms blend luxury with a contemporary flair, featuring private fireplaces for intimate evenings. Start your day with a lavish breakfast on the rooftop terrace, or unwind there in the evening with a cup of Moroccan tea, watching the sunset.
#4 Chems Bleu boasts breathtaking views of the beach and harbor. The riad’s floral courtyard with an Andalusian fountain and expansive terraces is a feast for the senses. Consistently earning high praise, guests laud its perfect location, beautiful riad ambiance, and the amiable staff.
#5 Riad Lyon-Mogador is a true gem, housed in an authentic 18th-century riad on the medina’s edge. The beautiful rooftop terrace offers phenomenal views of the Atlantic Ocean. The interior exudes luxury and comfort, blended with authentic Moroccan details.
#6 Riad Lyon-Mogador is a true gem, housed in an authentic 18th-century riad on the medina’s edge. The beautiful rooftop terrace offers phenomenal views of the Atlantic Ocean. The interior exudes luxury and comfort, blended with authentic Moroccan details.
#7 The Chill Art Hostel is Essaouira’s finest hostel. Located centrally in the medina, it features an artistic interior and an exquisite rooftop terrace. It offers both dormitories and private rooms with shared bathrooms, catering to various preferences.
Alternatively, the beachside district is a great choice if you’re planning a longer stay in Essaouira, looking to save on accommodation, or wish to be near the beach for surfing. A top option near Essaouira’s beach:
#8 Hotel Le Médina Essaouira Thalassa is a luxurious hotel with stunning sea views. Just a short walk from the medina and even closer to the beach, this hotel boasts lavish amenities like a spa, multiple dining options, and a pool.
For a quieter setting, consider Sidi Kaouki, a small coastal town with hippie vibes south of Essaouira. Offering a long sandy beach, wild coastal dunes, and surfing and kite surfing opportunities, top recommendations include Dar Iziki, Blue Kaouki, La Maison des Vagues.
10 best things to do in Essaouira
#1 Essaouira Medina
At the heart of this Moroccan coastal city lies the Medina of Essaouira, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a mesmerizing maze of narrow alleys and charming whitewashed buildings, adorned with vivid blue doors and windows. Dating back to the 18th century, when it was the bustling port of Mogador, the medina showcases a fusion of Arabo-Islamic and European architectural styles.
Compared to other Moroccan cities, Essaouira’s medina offers a more tranquil and leisurely vibe. If you’re coming from the hustle of Marrakech, this place feels like a serene retreat. Wander freely here, away from the pushiness of vendors, and discover art galleries, artisanal shops, and boutiques selling local specialties like argan oil, leather goods, and traditional Moroccan attire. Shopping for souvenirs here is a relaxed and enjoyable affair.
#2 Skala du Port
Skala du Port, a historic fortress, is an iconic landmark of Essaouira. Perched at the medina’s edge, it offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and the bustling port. Recognizable by its robust walls and rows of ancient cannons, the fort dates back to the 18th century, designed to defend against pirates and sea attacks. Its architecture, a blend of European and Moroccan styles, adds to its unique allure.
Visitors can explore the fort for about 50 dirham (around 5 euros), getting up close with the old cannons and battlements. The walls provide stunning views of the fishing harbor, the vibrant blue boats, and the distant Île de Mogador islands. It’s also a prime spot for witnessing mesmerizing sunsets over the Atlantic.
#3 The Fishing Harbor
Essaouira’s fishing harbor is a lively, colorful hub, showcasing the city’s authentic side. Situated beside the medina, this harbor is the epicenter of the local fishing industry. Early morning is the best time to visit, as the fishing boats return with their catch.
The harbor, filled with traditional blue fishing boats, presents a picturesque scene. Here, you’ll find workshops for boat repairs and net making. The area’s lively ambiance, complete with the scent of fresh seafood and the sounds of seagulls, is captivating. A visit here also allows you to buy fresh seafood, which can be grilled to perfection at nearby stands – a perfect chance to taste the local flavors.
#4 Bab El Marsa
Bab El Marsa, translating to ‘The Harbor Gate,’ is located next to the grand Skala du Port. This historic gate, dating from the 18th century, marries various architectural styles. It features Greek-like columns and a triangular frieze, alongside defensive towers and Arabic inscriptions, creating a striking facade. When heading to the fishing harbor, take a moment to appreciate this photogenic and significant gate.
#5 The Historic Fortification Walls
The fortification walls are a signature feature of Essaouira, encircling the medina and shaping the city’s character. These walls, integral to Essaouira’s history, were built under Sultan Mohammed ibn-Abdullah around 1760. The French architect Théodore Cornut designed these impressive structures to protect the city from pirates and other external threats.
Today, the walls stand intact, enclosing the old medina and punctuated by grand gates like Bab Doukkala and Bab Sbaa. Walking along the seaside part of the walls is highly recommended. Here, the majestic walls on one side contrast with trendy spots, delightful shops, and traditional craftspeople on the other. Notably, within these broad, ancient walls are quaint little shops, adding to the charm of this historic walk.
#6 Skala de Ville
The Skala de Ville is an essential part of Essaouira’s fortifications, notable not only for its striking construction and panoramic views of the medina and sea but also as a famed ‘Game of Thrones’ filming site.
This bastion, originating from the 18th century, showcases the era’s military architecture. Its grandeur impresses all visitors, regardless of their knowledge of military structures. Free to explore, the Skala de Ville offers access to its robust defense tower and expansive city wall, each providing breathtaking vistas of the ocean.
For the most enchanting experience, visit during sunset when the light casts a magical glow, though it’s also the peak time for visitors.
#7 The Rocky Coast Beyond the City Walls
At low tide, the rugged coastline along Essaouira’s city walls reveals its full splendor. The craggy rocks at the foot of these ancient fortifications are home to flocks of seagulls and locals gathering crabs and other seafood.
Access this unique landscape from Place Moulay Hassan (Google Maps). Here, you can embark on an extensive walk along the rocky shore, flanked by the boundless Atlantic Ocean on one side and the city’s historic walls on the other.
#8 The Fish Market
While the harbor of Essaouira is the go-to place for the freshest morning catch, the fish market in the medina is a vibrant and intriguing stop. Hidden beside one of the medina’s main streets (Google Maps), the market displays an array of seafood from the Atlantic, including fish, shellfish, squids, and other marine life.
For a truly authentic culinary adventure, savor freshly prepared seafood at one of the local restaurants. Alternatively, select your own fresh catch to be expertly grilled just for you.
#9 Hip Hotspots Scene
Essaouira stands out as one of Morocco’s most fashionable destinations, largely due to its long-standing popularity among tourists. Since Jimi Hendrix’s legendary visit, the city has been a magnet for hippies and Westerners, attracted by its artistic flair and laid-back atmosphere. Many visitors even opt to stay for extended periods. The city teems with stylish cafes, art galleries, trendy bars, and chic restaurants.
The city’s streets are a delightful blend of bohemian coffee shops and Instagram-worthy venues. But fear not, traditional Moroccan cuisine is also well-represented. In Essaouira, you can easily switch between the charm of local flavors and the allure of international cuisine.
#10 The beaches
Essaouira’s beaches are a paradise for sun-lovers and surfers alike. Adjacent to the old town lies an extensive, beautiful beach, bordered by a wide boulevard. From the medina, step directly onto Essaouira’s main beach, where sunbeds await your leisure. While bikinis are acceptable on the beach, it’s recommended to dress more conservatively on the promenade.
More than just a beach getaway, Essaouira is renowned for being one of Morocco’s premier wind and kitesurfing destinations, thanks to the consistent northwest trade winds. The bay’s curved shape and shallow sandy bottom create an ideal environment for beginners, offering perfect conditions despite the sometimes strong winds.
Tip: The nearby beaches of Moulay Bouzerktoun and especially Sidi Kaouki are also hotspots among the surfing community.
Beyond the surf, horseback riding, camel treks, and quad biking are popular along the beach and through the dunes farther from the medina. Past the bustling promenade and sunbathers, the bay extends to a pristine, untouched coastal stretch, ideal for experiencing the beauty of Essaouira’s coastline on a camel, horse, or quad bike.