This article was originally written in 2016 but has been updated in 2019 to include the latest info about the Medieval City of Essaouira.
If there was ever a time we were grateful for having a flexible travel schedule, it was in Essaouira.
We arrived in Essaouira the day after our Sahara Desert disaster, having spent 8 long hours in a tow truck sharing a tiny, stinky driver’s seat between 3 people in 35C heat. The idea of finally reaching Essaouira, one of Morocco’s famous coastal towns, was the only thing that kept us sane. Sun, sand, warm ocean… ahhhh! We were so ready!
But Essaouira wasn’t quite what we expected. We dumped our belongings, put on our bathing suits, and headed straight for the beautiful long crescent stretch of sand, Plage Tagharte.
We kicked off our shoes, stepped onto the warm sand, and were immediately greeted by Alizée, Essaouira’s famous coastal wind that whips the Essaouira beach and works hard to ensure that this exotic destination does not turn into a beach town overrun with tourists.
Within minutes we were covered in sand, and the strong currents that accompanied the wind made the ocean equally uninviting. This was our first and only beach outing in Essaouira.
But it wasn’t the beaches in Essaouira beach that made us linger here for significantly longer than we originally expected. It was very likely the same thing which made Essaouira Game of Thrones territory!
Undeniable Medieval Feel
Walking along Essaouira’s ramparts that date back to the 18th century, we were immediately transported to the scenes of Game of Thrones that were shot on this very spot. (Season 3 Episode 4 where Daenerys meets The Unsullied Army)
Misty mornings along the fortified walls were particularly striking. Uninhabited. Abandoned. Silent. Only the sounds of the waves crashing against the fortress and the lonely cries of seagulls permeated through the air. It was absolutely magical!
The ramparts proved to be much more popular as a sunset spot, crowded with tourists on the hunt for the perfect sunset shot.
Things to Do in Essaouira
Visit the Medina
The medieval feel continued inside the medina, a UNESCO World Heritage listed city that served as the hub of activity in Essaouira. We were happy to discover that despite the impressive size of the medina, it managed to retain its laid-back vibe, infused with a touch of intrigue.
Enjoy the Cafe Culture
We spent every morning enjoying our simple yet delicious breakfast at our favourite cafe, Dar Mounia, taking our time people-watching while sipping on our mint tea and freshly squeezed orange juice.
There was no shortage of shops to explore inside the medina (we kept going back day after day) but unlike the attitude we experienced in Fez and later in Marrakech, no one hassled us in Essaouira.
No one tried to show us around the medina or lure us into their shops.
We took our time getting lost in the alleyways (as you do in any Moroccan medina), peeking into all of its nooks and crannies and stopping to say hello to many of the adorable stray cats along the way. Of course, if getting lost isn’t your kind of fun, then you can also sign up to a Essaouira Full-Day Tour, which takes in all the major sights of the city, including the medina, with the helpful insight of a local guide.
Check out the Art Scene
At first glance, the medina of Essaouira didn’t look any different than any other medina in Morocco. Yes, it’s cleaner and it’s less touristy, but the carpet-clad streets were still filled with souvenirs pouring out of the shop windows. But it wasn’t all cookie cutter pottery stalls and rug shops…
Roaming around town, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that Essaouira is home to many small arts and crafts businesses, art galleries, and unique cafes and restaurants.
There is also a big women’s cooperative in town, making and selling organic Argan Oil, handmade bohemian style clothing, and textiles.
Visit the Lively Fishing Harbour
It was the last place we visited before saying goodbye to this medieval town, but one that left a vivid mark on our Essaouira experience. The port was flourishing with activity. Workers were deep in the elbow grease, getting the fishing boats ready for tomorrow’s sail, while the fishermen crowded around peddling their daily catch.
The pungent fish aroma was impossible to escape, but the harbour filled with blue fishing boats rewarded us with plenty of postcard-worthy shots.
While Essaouira beach isn’t great for beach bums or bathers, Essaouira is one of the best surf spots in Morocco! There are a number of beaches in Essaouira where you can catch a wave, learn to surf, or if you fancy branching out, kite and wind-surfing are also big here.
Essaouira Bay is great for beginners, but if you’re more experienced and looking for a more challenging surf Essaouira experience, then head to Safi beach, which is just north of the city.
If you do want to give the surf a shot, then you can sign up for a full day Essaouira Surfing Trip from Marrakech. It’s a great introduction to the sport and to the waters and waves of Essaouira.
Essential Travel Info
Getting into Essaouira
Essaouira is a coastal town located some 200kms west of Marrakech in Morocco. The easiest way to get to Essaouira is via shared taxi from Marrakech, which you can join for only 80dh/seat. Alternatively, it is easy to rent your own car and travel to Essaouira on your own accord.
Getting around Essaouira
The main attractions are the medina and the beaches in Essaouira, both of which are easily accessible on foot.
Where to stay in Essaouira
During our visit in October 2016, we stayed at Hotel Sahara, a nicely decorated budget hotel located right at the entrance into the medina. We loved our stay but were disappointed to find out that property taxes weren’t included in our booking price and that the final price per night was actually almost double what we had agreed to during the online booking process. Beware!
There are plenty of other options for Essaouira hotels and accommodation.
- Riad Chbanate: is perfectly located, just a few minutes walk from Essaouira beach. It also has a beautiful rooftop terrace overlooking the medina.
- Dar Dayana: is smack bang in the middle of the medina and boasts a peaceful garden, which is like a little oasis of calm in the midst of the city.
- Villa Quieta: ideal place if you’re looking for Essaouira hotels with a little luxury, Again, the location is perfect, being right next to Essaouira beach. They also have an outdoor pool, which is great, since taking a swim in the sea isn’t easy!
Our View of Essaouira, Game of Thrones Country
If it wasn’t for our flight to Romania, we probably would’ve lingered in Essaouira for a few more days, enjoying the town’s perfect balance of medieval charm, bohemian feel, and laid-back atmosphere. But as all wonderful trips go, this one has run its course.
Have you ever heard of Essaouira? Does it remind you of any other towns you’ve visited on your travels?
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