The atmospheric fishing port of Essaouira sits on Morocco’s western coast. It’s a welcoming city that charms travellers with its bohemian vibe and Mediterranean influences. Here you can explore the passageways of the UNESCO-listed Medina, and sip pots of mint tea in the spice-scented souks. At the beach, kiteboarders and windsurfers can often be found catching the waves, thanks to Atlantic gusts of wind. A diverse crowd gathers after dark in the many terrace bars, which play live music and hypnotic world beats.
Hostels in Essaouira range from cosy dorms in whitewashed buildings to rooms in riads (traditional Moroccan houses) with rooftop spaces. There's an art-filled hostel set in the heart of the bustling Medina, as well as an eco-lodge out in the peaceful Berber countryside. Most Essaouira hostels have Moroccan-style lounges perfect for music and mingling. At some places, you can learn to surf, do yoga or even join a day trip out to the desert.
Essaouira has a busy harbour, filled with fishing boats and restaurants selling the catch of the day. The Medina, which can be entered through impressive stone babs (gates), spans most of the city. Inside, the paths are laid out in a grid system, making them fairly easy to navigate. The souks are found at the junction of Rue Mohamed El Qorry and Avenue Mohamed Zerktouni, while bars are dotted throughout. Locals often meet at Place Moulay Hassan – the square between the port and the Medina – for a sunset stroll.
Essaouira's main attractions include the honey-coloured ramparts of Skala du Port, which was used as a film location for the popular Game of Thrones series. A bath, scrub and buff in a traditional hammam is an indulgent treat if you're in need of relaxation. Housed in an ancient riad, the Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah Museum displays historical artefacts such as pottery and coins. For a beach fix, the laid-back town of Sidi Kaouki is 25km away, and is worth visiting on a day trip.
Essaouira Mogador Airport is 16km away from the centre. From there, you can take a taxi or catch a bus to Bab Doukkala, just outside the city walls. Buses from Marrakech also run regularly to Essaouira, taking about two-and-a-half hours. Vehicles aren’t allowed inside the Medina, but there are plenty of blue Petit Taxis waiting outside the gates. Within the centre, most visitors get around on foot, but bicycles and motorbikes can be rented from most hostels in the city.