- Rebecca Wilkinson
A beautiful seaside fishing city in the touristy region of Marrakech, Essaouira attracts a lot of yearly visitors, including the production crew of Game of Thrones who used the majestic city as a backdrop in some episodes. Rich in history, which can be seen predominantly in its beautiful coastal ramparts, and full of culture, famous in particular for its music, Essaouria boasts a range of relaxing and enjoyable things to do and see. Read on to discover the best of the city.
Ramparts are defensive walls or banks that guard a castle or settlement. Built as a form of defense, it is no surprise that they still stand today in various parts of Morocco, from Asilah, to Essaouira. The ramparts of Essaouira are beautiful and imposing pieces of history which give the city a grand ambiance. Not only are the Ramparts rich in history, with cannons still intact, they also provide the best place for seaside views. For less than $2, visitors can really explore the ramparts, making for excellent coastal and city photo opportunities.
Enjoy an evening at Il Mare bar
Il Mare is a restaurant, café, and bar, and is renowned for its popular and entertaining live music which tempts guests to stay longer than they initially planned. With funky terraces that boast fantastic views of the historical ramparts and make for a stunning backdrop to the dining experience, Il Mare attracts many locals and tourists. Not only do visitors flock here for the ideal location and ambiance, they’re also lured in by the idea of sipping champagnes whilst watching the most beautiful of sunsets at the sophisticated piano bar.
Address: Kasbah, Essaouira 44000, Morocco
Annual Music Festival
For art, the seaside location of Asilah is the place to go, but for music, Essaouria holds the title. Hosting the yearly Gnaoua World Music Festival, if you can plan your visit to coincide, you’ll be in for a treat. The music festival serves as a platform for the mystical Gnawa musicians, Gnawa being people who originated from the Ghana Empire of Ouagadougou. The festival sees jazz, pop, rock and contemporary world music experts who entertain up to 500,000 guests over the course of four fun filled days. With many of the performances free to visitors, it’s a definite recommendation.
Visit an argan oil cooperative
One of the best places to find argan oil, and argan products is Morocco, with the argan tree native to the country. In Essaouira, there are a few enchanting argan oil cooperatives which give visitors a great chance to witness the products being made from something so important in Morocco. In rooms adorned with argan trees, women use ancient tools to hand press oil from the kernels and complete the elaborate process of creating argan cream. It is indeed more expensive to buy the argan products from here, but it’s definitely worth seeing the process first hand in what is something like an open air museum.
Essaouira’s beaches are prime locations for windsurfing and kitesurfing amongst other water sports. With Essaouira benefiting from strong winds all year round, but especially in summer, and with a large swell in winter, the inexperienced and the experienced flock here to try their hand at a new extreme activity. With city being an ideal location for these sports, there are plenty of surf shops and surfing schools, as well as windsurfing schools in Essaouira that are great for beginners. A fantastic alternative activity away from the big touristy cities.
If water sports aren’t your thing, Essaouira’s beautiful coastlines are also great for horse riding. As an alternative to exploring the scenery by foot, tourists can gallop through the sea and over the dunes on a horse back adventure. These adventures cater for beginners too, offering tutorials and lots of support for those who have never ridden. With adventures varying from one hour long to a few days of horseback riding, there’s a package to suit anyone and is definitely a worthwhile experience.
Sidi Mohamad Ben Abdellah Museum
Essaouira’s very own history museum, Sidi Mohammad Ben Abdellah Museum was named after the founder of the city, and is housed in a 19th century mansion. Displaying historical artifacts, from ancient pottery to jewellery, it pays great homage to the city’s rich history and is renowned for being the best museum in the city. Visitors can appreciate not only the beautiful architecture of the building in which it is located, but the sheer range of items inside that still retain so much of their original beauty. There’s also a lot to be learnt here surrounding the Berber culture, with information about their rituals and traditions.
Fishing market & Fishing port
Since Essaouira was Morocco’s main fishing port in the mid 1900s, the fishing port and market are a must see. Simply heading there to enjoy the authenticity of the surroundings makes for a truly peaceful afternoon, reminding tourists that Essaouira is indeed a fishing town. The scenery is beautiful, with masses of small boats forming an almost unending wave of bright blue. With fishing such an important trade in Essaouira, stroll a little away from the port and there are plenty of fishermen selling the freshest catch of the day that you can enjoy freshly cooked.
Another must see market in Essaouira is the traditional souk. In every big city and small town in Morocco, visitors should take the chance to visit the traditional market streets that are often labyrinth-like and overwhelming with smells and colours. Selling traditional clothes, tapestries, pottery, and even food, these markets are a treasure trove for traditional souvenirs, and offer one of the most enchanting cultural experiences in Morocco.
Had Dra is an alternative to the souvenir markets, and is actually one of the largest in Morocco. For those lucky enough to be in Essaouira on a Sunday, take a short bus/taxi ride to the the Had Dra market which is full of animals and agricultural products. The market started off as a slave market many years ago, a practice which has now stopped. However, the market remains steeped in history, and is a less typically tourist destination, but a great and authentic insight into typical Moroccan life, and a chance to watch the process of buying and selling livestock and fresh vegetables.