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Visiting Essaouira ? All the great things to know before visiting Essaouira

Essaouira is a watercolour of perfect colours, with a blue horizon contrasting with its white houses with blue frames. It is not for nothing that it is called the blue pearl of the Atlantic.

In this article, we will discuss things to know about the city of Essaouira, its climate, its main monuments to visit, the city’s famous events and its attractions to explore.

You can also read : Activities to do in Essaouira

The medina of Essaouira

If you arrive by car, you will need to park at Bab Sebaa, at the end of the promenade, at Bab Marrakech or near the port, as vehicles are not allowed in the medina. The medina is a place that no one misses when visiting Essaouira.

The medina of Essaouira has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. White and blue, it invites you to stroll and discover inside the 18th century ramparts, its splendid houses with sculpted doors and windows with delicate architectural details.

Surrounded by ramparts, with several gates, the best known are: to the north Bab Doukkala, to the east, Bab Marrakech with its bastion, next to the Bab Sebaa promenade, on the ramparts the cannons overlook the ocean.

Port d'Essaouira
Port of Essaouira

Opposite the port we have the fortress or Skala du port with two defensive towers, it is part of the typical image of Essaouira.

Taros is a highly recommended rooftop place to enjoy the panoramic view of the blue Atlantic Ocean and the spectacular sunset with a delicious cocktail.

The atmosphere is quite relaxed and it is also a great place to hang out with foreigners and locals. Enjoy the sublime views of the fortress and the bay of Essaouira while sampling some local delicacies. There are also live shows on weekends.

Muraille Essaouira
Wall of the city of Essaouira

Ce quartier de la ville a servi de cadre au tournage de la troisième saison de Game of Thrones. Dans le deuxième épisode de la saison, on peut voir les remparts de la Kasbah, où Daenery Targaryen achète des esclaves.

L’ancien palais du Pacha, datant du XIXe siècle, abrite le musée des arts nationaux Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah, avec une exposition d’instruments, de bijoux, d’armes, de costumes, de pièces de monnaie et de tapis des tribus Oulad Bou sbaa et Chiadma. Le musée accueille également plusieurs expositions et s’enrichit chaque année de nouveaux objets de collection.

Au nord s’étend le vieux quartier juif ou Mellah, datant du 18ème siècle, avec d’anciennes synagogues telles que Slat Lkahal et Slat Attia, cette dernière abritant le Centre de recherche Hain et Celia Zafrani et la Maison de la mémoire judéo-musulmane Bayt Dakira, avec des documents historiques, des antiquités et des photographies de la ville.

Des canons sur les remparts d'Essaouira
Cannons on the ramparts of Essaouira

It presents and explains all the passages of Jewish life in Essaouira, from birth to death and from Bar Mitzvah to marriage. It is also a place of education thanks to the Haim and Celia Zafrani Research Centre on the history of relations between Judaism and Islam, which constitutes a space for exchange between researchers from different backgrounds and a space for exchange, transmission and resistance to oblivion.

The Mellah is surrounded by a market, next to the Bab Marrakech gate where its defensive bastion is located. Outside is the European cemetery. The ruins of the 18th century Portuguese church are interesting.

Art galleries in Essaouira

Essaouira is a leading artistic centre in Morocco, as evidenced by the city’s streets, adorned with artistic murals depicting scenes of local life that envelop the passer-by amidst the smells of local food and the sound of seagulls.

Walking around in search of art galleries is an attraction in Essaouira and we invite you to experience it. For example, in Rue Tetouan you will find Galerie la Kasbah, located in a beautiful riad-style building, whose rooms spread over 3 floors will allow you to discover all sorts of artworks of different styles presented by its friendly staff.

You can also visit the Espace Othello or the interesting Galerie d’Art Frédéric Damgaard, two oases of contemporary culture in the middle of the city’s bustle.

The beaches of Essaouira

Don’t forget the city’s beaches, large sandy beaches overlooking the bay, where you can enjoy sports such as windsurfing, as the trade winds prevail, ride the typical camels or Berber horses, or tour the island of Mogador in a small tourist boat.

There are livelier areas, with young people playing sports, and quieter areas. Choose the one you like. Near the mouth of a small river, next to the lighthouse, the mausoleum of Sidi Magdoul is worth a visit.

The Mauve Islands are home to an ornithological reserve populated by seagulls and Eleonora’s falcons. In the 1st century, the Romans set up a purple factory that extracted purple from the molluscs found in its rocks. The ruins of a large prison dating from the late 19th century are still standing. You can’t walk on them but you can hire boats to get close to them and watch the birds.

Essaouira, a film set

Essaouira is one of the great filming locations in Morocco. In 1948, filmmaker Orson Welles shot some important scenes in his film Othello, in search of the story of this Moorish soldier in the service of the Republic of Venice. There is a square named after him and a statue.

Maisons traditionnelles et murs à essaouira
Traditional houses and walls in Essaouira

Oliver Stone’s film Alexander, starring Anthony Hopkins, was also shot in the region. Recently, Essaouira was the fictional Astapor in the legendary Game of Thrones series, which was filmed in the port area.

Where to eat in Essaouira

Essaouira is all about fish, seafood and the smell of the sea. Salads, couscous and Moorish tea. There’s not much else in life than enjoying lunch or dinner with a view of the ocean and the sound of seagulls on a rooftop terrace in Essaouira.

Around the medina’s fish market, the choice is vast. Sumptuous plates of sardines and prawns served with slices of salt, tomato and cucumber salad, all served with a spicy sauce.

Find out more: The best restaurants in Essaouira

Surfing lessons in Essaouira

Essaouira is a surfer’s paradise. Here you can learn to surf in the various schools in the city.

See also: Surfing in Essaouira

The Mediterranean wind known as the sirocco, coming from the Sahara desert, meets the seasonal Atlantic trade winds on the Moroccan coast, creating excellent conditions for windsurfers and kitesurfers, as well as good waves for surfing.

Read also: Essaouira, a top kitesurfing destination

Surfeur sur la plage d'Essaouira
Surfer on the beach in Essaouira

Sidi Kaouki is a small fishing village about 30 km south of Essaouira, where it is possible to surf and learn the basics of this water sport.

Gnawa World Music Festival, Essaouira

With their hypnotic rhythms, melancholic voices, flamboyant costumes and amazing dance steps, Gnawa musicians are popular throughout Morocco, but Essaouira is the capital of Gnawa music.

Musique Gnaoua - Festival d'Essaouira

The city’s effervescent multi-stage music festival provides a global context for their art. The programme, which usually takes place in June and is largely free, features daily concerts by leading Gnawa bands, as well as guest stars from West Africa and beyond, playing an exhilarating mix of jazz, folk, reggae and blues.

Quick tips for visiting Essaouira

Currencies and languages in Essaouira

As in the rest of Morocco, it is advisable to bring dirhams to pay. Euros are generally accepted, although rounding is always to your disadvantage. If you are paying by credit card, make sure the establishment accepts it.

Arabic and French are the most widely spoken languages in Essaouira. Spanish and English are secondary.

What to wear in Essaouira

As far as clothing is concerned, we recommend that you cover your shoulders and up to your knees. It is usually windy and hot in the summer, so it is advisable to bring a hat and sunglasses.

About taking photos

Please be careful when taking pictures, there are forbidden areas (official buildings). When taking pictures of people, ask permission beforehand.

Tourism in Essaouira, off the beaten track

Essaouira is ideal for a relaxing getaway, for tourists who appreciate nature and tranquillity. Eat well, walk around, go to the beach and do some sea sports. It is an ideal destination to relax and enjoy life away from the noisy big cities like Marrakech, Fez or Casablanca.