This Moroccan seaside town has a little bit of everything, and the best things to do in Essaouira will never leave you bored. Whether you’re after adrenaline filled days of ATVs and kite surfing, or an easy, breezy beach holiday, Essaouira caters to all kinds of travelers, which makes it such an incredible destination.
After spending two weeks here, I’ve discovered all sorts of things to do in Essaouira, ranging from classic to off the beaten path adventures. If you want unique experiences to round out your itinerary, keep reading to discover the best things to do in Essaouira year-round.
19 Classic and Unique Things to Do in Essaouira
Ready to dive into all that Essaouira has to offer? Here are 19 of the best things to do in Essaouira, whether you have a single day or all the time in the world.
1. Explore the Medina
One of the best things to do in Essaouira is explore the medina. Like many places in Morocco, Essaouira is home to an old walled city full of winding streets, vibrant souks, and plenty of secrets to discover. Essaouira’s medina is particularly alluring because it sits right on the Atlantic Ocean. Watch waves smash against the stone walls, hear the calls of fishermen at the port, and feel the sea breeze cooling off the streets.
The 18th-century medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and about three-quarters of it is purely residential. The other quarter is lined with stalls, marketplaces, and restaurants, where you’ll find most of the action. Essaouira’s medina is quite small compared to many other old cities in Morocco, so you won’t lose your way while wandering. It’s also completely flat and has a semi-grid layout, making it easy to navigate in a single day.
2. Visit the Port and Fish Market
The port boasts some of the best fish in Morocco, and visiting is one of the best things to do in Essaouira to get a taste of the maritime industry. It’s lined with dozens of stalls selling the daily catch, shellfish, and marinated octopus, fresh as can be. Everywhere you look, there are fishing boats stacked with colorful containers and men either unloading their spoils or preparing to set sail. Oysters go for around 7 dirhams a pop, and there are always a couple of grills going, ready to fry up whatever you buy from the vendors.
Insider Tip: Buy a cheap container off the main street and bring it to the fish market with you. The guys at the stalls will fill it up with freshly shucked oysters and whatever else you want, then take it to the beach for a picnic.
The entrance to the port is also where you’ll find Essaouira’s iconic blue fishing boats, one of the top photo ops in the city.
3. Walk on the City Walls
The city walls are a great way to dive into the history of Essaouira, and a walk along the ramparts reveals canons, watch towers, and expansive views. The walls are incredibly well preserved, and instead of crumbling ruins, they give visitors an authentic glimpse at what they looked like at the height of their 18th-century glory.
Aside from the stunning scenery, this is one of the best things to do in Essaouira for any Game of Thrones fans since the city walls were featured in the series as Astapor, home to the Unsullied.
The walls are normally packed with people around sunset, and access is closed off every evening shortly after, so plan accordingly.
4. Surf or Kitesurf
Water sports enthusiasts flock to this part of Morocco for the epic conditions and endless stretch of coastline. While you can surf in Essaouria, kite surfing is particularly popular, given that the area is nicknamed the “Windy City of Africa.” There are places for gear rentals and lessons along the beach, like Moga Surf and Explore Watersports. Find them in front of the main kitesurfing area, a twenty minute walk from the medina.
5. Book a Quad Tour
One of the best things to do in Essaouira is take a quad tour to get the lay of the land. While there are tons of companies to book with, I had such a good time with Aziz from Quad Attitude that I went twice (they’re also the most affordable company)! We rode along the beach, ripped across giant sand dunes, and cruised through undulating vegetation, with gorgeous views the entire time.
A sunset tour is particularly magical when you can watch the sky change colors as you coast along the shore. Quads are a top way to adventure on the beach since you can go much farther than you can on foot, and shouldn’t be missed while in Essaouira.
6. Ride Camels
Another way to explore the beach is on camelback. Down the shore by Ocean Vagabond is essentially camel “parking,” where you’ll find dozens of animals ready for a ride. You can organize a short tour on the spot or a longer camel trek with these guys. Alternatively, book ahead of time with companies like Diana Dromedaries.
7. Go on a Horse Trek
An incredible sight in Essaouira are horses galloping along the beach. If the urge to partake in rugged adventure is appealing, horse trekking is one of the best things to do in Essaouira. Local guides will match you to a beloved horse and take you to see incredible parts of the area, from an hour trip to a multi-day ride. Canter through water, trot through greenery, and bask under the warm North African sun.
You’ll find plenty of horse trekking companies throughout the medina, and tours can be arranged through most accommodations. With options for beginners and advanced riders, this bucket list experience shouldn’t be skipped.
8. Hang Out on the Beach
The beach in Essaouira isn’t prime for tanning, but it’s a choice place to observe the sights. If you walk along the ocean toward Diabat, you’ll find towering sand dunes to chill on. From there, watch camels amble by, horses race across the beach, and kite surfers throwing tricks in the distance.
If you walk a little farther, there’s a breathtaking place where the river meets the sea, and the surrounding dunes are an insane sunset spot. The vantage point has panoramic views, where you can marvel at the water cutting through the sand, reflecting the colors until it meets the ocean. It’s no wonder music greats like Jimi Hendrix have been inspired by this seaside landscape.
The best time to visit Essaouira for the beach is the warmer summer months, but winter offers a much quieter seaside experience.
9. Watch Sunset at Ocean Vagabond
Ocean Vagabond is an institution and among the quintessential things to do in Essaouira. It’s the perfect setting for a beach bar at the far end of the sand, with a large area to hang out, drink, and watch the camels go by. The food is decent, with signature pizzas and a rotating menu, making it a nice stop if you’re hungry on a beach walk or after sunset.
10. Relax at a Hammam
When you’re ready for some R&R, Essaouira has a few stellar hammams to choose from. A hammam is a traditional Moroccan bathhouse where you can indulge in scrubs, massages, and a nice deep steam.
I had a fair experience at Les Massages Berberes in Essaouira, albeit it wasn’t the most traditional. My friend and I booked a private room where we had a strong wash and scrub before a relaxing argan oil massage. This is a lovely choice for couples.
For a more authentic experience, there are separate women’s and men’s public bathhouses in Essaouira, where you strip down and share the space with locals. It’s a much cheaper way to visit a hammam and twice the fun, based on my personal experience.
You only wear underwear in the hammam, so bring a fresh pair to change into after.
11. Shop for Local Crafts
I found Essaouria to be one of the best places to shop for local crafts in Morocco. The medina is teeming with talented artists grinding away at their workshops. From true locals to artisans from around the world, Essaouria is overflowing with special handicrafts to look at or shop for. You’ll find these artists scattered around the medina, with particularly intriguing workshops along the city ramparts. Expect to see delicate wooden statues, embellished Arabic calligraphy, elaborate oil paintings, and recycled creations made from nuts and bolts.
Essaouira also has unique offerings like raffia shoes and home goods, trendy curated shops, and clothing made from Mali and Senegalese fabrics that you can’t find anywhere else. I even had a custom laptop case made by a leather worker on the main street.
Since it’s a much smaller place and more laid back in general, it’s easier to score deals in Essaouira than in cities like Marrakech or Fes. Remember to start lower than you’re willing to pay and keep a poker face while bargaining. A genuine smile always helps, too!
12. Check Out Essaouria’s Art Scene
Another great thing to do in Essaouira is visit the many galleries. Showcasing bright, poppy canvases depicting technicolor daily scenes, the galleries are all over the medina, each one offering something special. You’ll also find several galleries set in old riads, with paintings, sculptures, and ornate furniture spanning several floors. For a more curated display, the French Institute has frequent exhibitions (and events) to further indulge in local culture.
13. Have Custom Clothing Made
If you have more than a single day, one of the best things to do in Essaouira is to get custom clothing made. The town is full of innovative creators, talented tailors, and gorgeous fabric just waiting to be used in a one-of-a-kind design. Since the area is so small, it’s really easy to find the materials and someone who’s available (and eager) to bring your vision to life.
When I was there, I had a gorgeous jacket made from Moroccan linen and Senegalese fabric. You can find the same tailor I used close to Chez Zak.
14. Eat Authentic Italian Food
Ready for a break from tajines and couscous? The best Italian food outside of Italy (at least that I’ve ever had) is sitting in the heart of Essaouira. The charming restaurant is called Silvestro’s, and it’s the perfect place to chow down on the finest ingredients, huge bowls of pasta, and wood fired pizzas made by the Italian owner himself. It’s fully packed pretty much all week long, so call for a reservation ahead of time or grab pizzas to go and feast on the beach.
In addition to Italian, Essaouira has lots of varied cuisines to choose from, like authentic Japanese ramen, delicious French fusion, and enough seafood to make your head swim.
15. Drink a Tea in the Square
The main square, Place Moulay Hassan, is the beating heart of the town. Situated between the port and the medina, one of the best things to do in Essaouira is sit in the square, drink tea or coffee, and soak in the entertainment. It’s great for people watching, with walks of all life crossing the wide expanse, but there’s also frequent busking, with music and occasional acrobatics to delight onlookers.
16. Visit Dar Sultan Palace Ruins
The Dar Sultan Palace ruins are tucked away in the dunes near Diabat and are a great place to discover regional history. The crumbling ruins were once a majestic home for the king of Mogador during the mid-1800s. The strategic position made it a prime spot for surveying the harbor and guiding boats to the port. Though time has stolen much of the palace’s grandeur, a visit here is still one of the best things to do in Essaouira and is often a stop on quad, camel, and horse tours.
17. Listen to Gnaoua Music
A huge draw to Essaouira is the music scene, which attracts people from far and wide and has served as inspiration to famous musical artists. Gnaoua (or Gnawa) music is a mysterious genre, melding desert rhythms with trance-like African melodies. Grounded in religious roots, Gnaoua uses traditional West African instruments to create jazzy, spiritual sounds that can be heard throughout the streets of Essaouira.
In addition to jamming buskers and nightly performances at venues across the medina, Essaouira hosts the annual Gnaoua World Music Festival each June, which welcomes 300,000+ people to experience global artists united by the mesmerizing sounds.
18. Find the Best Rooftop Views
To get the lay of the land, one of the best things to do in Essaouira is seek out aerial views. There are rooftops throughout the medina boasting panoramic scenery featuring the long shoreline and old city buildings. For lunch or sunset, climb to the highest terrace you can find to soak it all in. Great bets are:
- Taro’s for drinks and views of the beach
- Salut Maroc for an upscale vibe, cocktails, and live music
- Mama Lova for sweeping views from one of the highest roofs in the medina
- Ruly’s Ramen Shop to watch waves crash against the rocks (and the best soup)
19. Get Work Done at the Coworking Space
If you have to be productive, one of the best things to do in Essaouira is to stop by Noqta Space, a vibrant coworking location in a quiet corner of the medina. This lovely spot, founded by two awesome people, is housed in an old riad and a remote work haven. The open spaces (an upstairs terrace or the ground floor with big arches, lots of outlets, and a fireplace) are 8 dirhams an hour, or 55 for the day. There are also semi or fully private rooms for a slight upcharge. Not to mention the delicious food, occasional events, and welcoming people, even if it’s your first visit. Noqta also has a few rooms for rent if you’re looking for a sunny place to stay in Essaouira.