If you’re traveling to Morocco and have a few nights to spare in either Agadir or Essaouira, you may have a hard time choosing between the two.
Essaouira is a relatively small (about 80.000 souls) port city on the Atlantic coast with a traditional town surrounded by old Portuguese fortifications. Agadir is a larger (nearly 500.000 residents) beach resort city further South on the Atlantic and a major tourist destination.
Both Essaouira and Agadir offer beautiful sand beaches and affordable to luxury accommodations. Essaouira is windier and cooler, attracting watersports crowds, and has a nice historical and cultural feel. Agadir, on the other hand, mainly appeals to beach vacationers with a wide range of all-inclusive services.
Agadir or Essaouira: what travelers say
- Agadir has a better beach than Essaouira for swimming and sunbathing. The beach in Agadir is wide and long and mostly clean. The beach in Agadir is less exposed to the Atlantic swell.
- Essaouira has very strong winds between April and September, making it cooler than Agadir on most days. Agadir has much less wind and is often warm and sunny, including in the winter months. Essaouira is typically chilly in the winter due to the strong humidity.
- Agadir mostly caters to packaged all-inclusive vacationers, with over 600.000 tourists traveling there it each year
- Essaouira is much more picturesque than Agadir and more authentic. Agadir, on the other hand, is a modern city with more mass tourism.
- Both Agadir and Essaouira have relaxed, chilled out atmospheres, but Essaouira has a more artsy and hippy type feel.
- Essaouira beats Agadir for culture, namely with its traditional old town. Agadir was completely destroyed by an earthquake in the early 60s and rebuilt as a resort town, so a lot of history is gone.
- Essaouira is very walkable and easy to get around on foot, with a nice old town
- Many travelers recommend Essaouira over Agadir without hesitation, including for repeat stays. Others, however, tend to get bored after 2 days as the city can be visited in a short time.
- Essaouira is a good option for windsurfing and kitesurfing. Agadir is a good place to learn to surf if there is swell.
- Agadir is newer, larger, more efficient, but with less character than Essaouira. It’s a beach resort with big hotels on the beach. It can get busy and noisy in high season, while Essaouira is generally more peaceful.
- Agadir has much more nightlife options (bars, clubs etc). Travelers often spend 2 or 3 days in Agadir for the beach and vibrant nightlife.
- Agadir and Essaouira both get a lot of tourists, but Agadir mostly attracts resort-type visitors while Essaouira has many backpackers and culture travelers. Both are considered quite family-friendly.
- Travelers generally view Essaouira as more charming, romantic, and poetic, with true Moroccan vibes. Others, however, would prefer Agadir over Essaouira for a honeymoon due to the gorgeous beach and the more abundant touristic activities.
Agadir or Essaouira: access & transportation
Marrakech to Essaouira is an easy 2-hour car drive or 3-hour bus ride first on the toll highway (about 1 hour) then on a good road. Marrakech to Agadir takes about 2.5 hours via the toll highway. Supratours or CTM are the 2 main bus lines that cover these routes – keep in mind though that departure and arrival times are mostly unreliable.
There are many flights to Agadir from major Europe cities including the UK, France, Spain, etc. There are much fewer flights to Essaouira, and generally from smaller cities via a couple of low-cost companies. Be aware that some flight routes to Essaouira stop running in the fall to resume again in the Spring.
If you fly into Casablanca instead of Marrakech, driving to Essaouira takes about 4 hours, and to Agadir about 5 hours. There are also buses to both cities from Casablanca (they take much longer though).
Agadir or Essaouira: vibe & people
In Essaouira, the Portuguese fortified walls and the friendly Medina (old town) are the main focus. The Medina has a bohemian/arty feel and is a nice place to chill out. It’s is where many of the shops, markets, restaurants and art galleries are located.
Many travelers love wandering in the old town through the narrow pedestrian streets and enjoying the typically Moroccan sounds and sights.
The old part and the seafront of Essaouira is quite and laid back, offering a nice and pleasant experience very different from Western places. September is one of the nicest months there.
Aside from the old town, you can stroll along the beautiful beachfront promenade that runs along the whole bay, lined by luxury residences and hotels. You can also hang out in the fishing port and observe the boats and fishermen returning with their catch.
Aside from wandering, there aren’t that many activities in Essaouira unless you’re a surfer/windsurfer/kitesurfer – many travelers feel 3 or 4 days is a good stay.
Compared to Marrakech, walking around and shopping in the Medina is more hassle-free and the prices for souvenirs and handcraft are generally lower.
Essaouira can get extremely windy during the summer with winds up to 30-50 kph, giving the city much cooler temperatures in July and August. People frequently seek shelter from the wind in the old town behind the old walls and in sheltered terraces of cafes.
One of the best months to visit Essaouira is October when the wind is low and temperatures are between 20 and 25ºC.
Unlike Essaouira, Agadir is mostly about hotel resorts. Since the city was destroyed by the large 1963 earthquake, it has little character and few noteworthy cultural sights.
In Agadir, you can walk around the extensive souk (street market), the fishing port, the new marina complex, and the impressive, long and wide beach and beach promenade.
In the summer months, to a much greater extent than Essaouira, large numbers of tourists flock to Agadir from Europe for their summer vacation. In the winter, many retired people rent apartments for a few months to enjoy the warm weather.
Agadir, however, has rampant development with new resorts soon filling the beautiful coastal area between the city and the former fishing village of Taghazout 30 km North.
Agadir has much less wind than Essaouira and is thus warmer, but it gets sea fog most mornings in the summer, and sometimes in the afternoon as well.
Agadir or Essaouira: sights & culture
As mentioned, Agadir doesn’t have many cultural and historical sights, having been mostly rebuilt in recent years. It does have a few sights, however, such as:
- the Amazigh Heritage Museum, which traces the history of the Berber people of Morocco
- The Souk El Had major street market, with its numerous stalls offering spices, fruits and vegetables, and traditional homemade dishes
- The Medina (old town) with its handicraft shops, fully reconstructed after the earthquake.
For more about Agadir’s cultural sights, see this section of my post on Agadir vs Marrakech.
As mentioned, Essaouira’s main cultural sights are in and around its Medina. Place Moulay Hassan is the town’s main square at the ocean end of the old town, where many festivals and events take place. Around the square is a host of cafes and restaurant terraces.
In the Medina itself, which is relatively bustling, small shops craft and sell woodwork, traditional jewelry and musical instruments, weaving, homemade food etc.
The ancient elevated walkway at the Skala du port runs around the port on top of the fortified walls overlooking the ocean.
Essaouira also has a Jewish quarter and rich North African Jewish community history. The community meets there annually to celebrate important events and visit certain mausoleums.
Agadir or Essaouira: nature & outdoors
The main beach in Agadir can be compared to some of the best beaches associated with European-style packaged holiday resorts. The beach of Essaouira is not as wide and long but is still a very nice beach, and is great for surfing in the winter and kitesurfing in the summer.
Besides the Essaouira bay, there are also world-renowned windsurfing and kitesurfing spots in the area, such as Moulay Bouzerktoun 60km North of Essaouira and Sidi Kaouki 25km South. Sidi Kaouki has a huge sand beach (though with rocky parts) and is a nice and peaceful place to hang out for a holiday when the wind is not too strong.
Both Essaouira and Agadir are also famous golfing destinations. Close to Essaouira is the stunning Mogador Golf course designed by Gary Player, which overlooks the ocean.
Agadir or Essaouira: food & nightlife
The small port in Essaouira serves fresh fish and seafood, typically deliciously cooked over wood fire. There are also dozens of small restaurants in the old town catering to tourists and offering affordably priced traditional Moroccan dishes, as well as classic pizza, hamburgers, kebabs etc – make sure their refrigerator when the meat is turned on.
There are also nice restaurants where you can have a good dinner, such as Elisir, La Licorne, or Il Marre. You can have traditional pastry at Chez Driss and delicious ice creams at Gelatorria del Freddo on the main square.
Essaouira also has a few really cool places to have a drink including Le Taros, a trendy cafe and cocktail lounge with a very large terrace over the main square, the hip surfer beach bar and restaurant Ocean Vagabond (also a kitesurf school), and the Beach & Friends beach restaurant and bar next door.
There are a couple of night clubs and cocktail bars in Essaouira, some of the most popular ones being the Chrysalis, the So lounge, and the Tiki So (both Sofitel upscale bars).
Agadir has many good restaurants options (more than Essaouira) and endless choices of cuisine. Many Moroccan restaurants in Agadir offer good, honest and authentic (and affordable) food. Most restaurants are found in the tourist area and along the beach promenade. La Scala, La Pergola, and le Petit Dome are a few examples of restaurants tourists recommend.
Some of the most popular tourist bars in Agadir are the Jockey Bar, the English Pub, and Complexe le Dome. Among the popular clubs are the So Night lounge Agadir (Sofitel), the Factory Club, El Paradiso, Zanzibar, and the Papagayo. You can read more about the nightlife in Agadir in my Agadir vs Marrakech comparison post.
In both Agadir and Essaouira, it’s important to remember that Morocco has a conservative Muslim culture, so for local people going out at night usually involves going for a coffee or shopping. The bars and restaurants which serve alcohol in the tourist area mainly cater to tourists. Morocco is not a party place like you would expect in a European resort.
Agadir or Essaouira: lodging
As mentioned, Essaouira has many Riads (traditional Moroccan houses turned into guesthouses), boutique hotels, and luxury charm hotels. Agadir, in contrast, has a wide choice of large resorts with pool and activities, including many all-inclusive type hotels.
Many travelers in Essaouira choose to stay in the pedestrian Medina so they can simply step outside and walk around the narrow streets with the dozens of small shops, and to the main square where people stroll and have ice cream in the evening.
From the Medina you can also easily walk to the port and to the beachfront promenade, you don’t need a car – if you’re driving, you typically leave your car in one of the parking lots at the edge of the Medina and walk to your guest house.
There are Riads of all classes, from luxury to modest – some not-so-clean so don’t go too low on prices. Upscale hotels (4-5 star hotels like Sofitel or Atlas Medina) line the beachfront starting outside the Medina’s fortified walls.
You can also find affordable little hotels in the newer part of town, a couple of blocks from the beach, such as Chateau Mogador or Vague Océan Bleu (more basic), Le Vent des Dunes or Riad Zahra.
The beach (touristic) area in Agadir is packed with large hotels, most of them within walking range of all the restaurants, bars, and beachfront animation. Examples of well-rated hotels include the Tikida Beach and Tikida Dunes, the Sofitel, Carribean Village, or the 3-star Hotel Kamal.
Agadir or Essaouira: day trips
From Essaouira, you can visit the beautiful beaches in and around the Sidi Kaouki mausoleum and seafront village, or drive further down to the breathtaking beaches of Tafadna and Imessouane.
You can also take a bus or Grand Taxi to Agadir, a 2 to 2.5-hour scenic trip passing through some nice villages along the coast.
From Agadir, travelers often take day trips to Marrakech, Essaouira, Tiznit, Tafraout, and the Atlas mountains. Paradise Valley is a palm-lined gorge leading up into the Anti-Atlas Mountains
From Agadir can also go down the coast to the nice former Spanish town of Sidi Ifni. You can also visit the Souss-Massa national park which is home to protected bald ibises.
North of Agadir are the famous surfing beaches around the village of Taghazout – though it’s now being turned into a series of resorts.
(1) Featured: “Essaouira” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by puffin11uk
(2) “Morocco: Agadir Oufella/Kasbah: October” (CC BY 2.0) by amodelofcontrol
(3) “Essaouira” (CC BY 2.0) by tiseb
(4) “Essaouira” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Nouhailler
(5) “Essaouira” (CC BY 2.0) by pedroko_75
(6) “Maroc” (CC BY 2.0) by sam_brighton
(7) “Sidi Ifni” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by dadobaca