The souks of Marrakech

The souks of Marrakech are the largest in Morocco and famed throughout the world as some of the most exotic marketplaces to shop in. For first-time visitors it can be a bewildering experience – we're here to make it a little easier. Here is our guide to the souks of Marrakech.
Metalwork for sale in Marrakech souk, Morocco. Photo: Shutterstock
Metalwork for sale in Marrakech souk, Morocco. Photo: Shutterstock

Inside the maze of shadowy alleys and passages dotted with pools of sunlight that make up the bazaars of Marrakech is a world brimming with multicoloured carpets, silk kaftans,  spices, antiques, lanterns, pottery and jewellery. The best way to approach the sensory overload of the souks of Marrakech is to take a breath and dive in.


Naming of the souks

Historically, all souks were divided and laid out according to the separate commodities being made and sold, with the most valuable products, such as gold and manuscripts, positioned in the centre of the main souk area and less expensive goods radiating out from there. Today, little has changed. Each souk is still named after the product being sold there, and aside from allowances for modern tastes, the goods are still similar to how they would have been a thousand years ago.

The souks thread north from Jemaa el Fna square and continue in a winding labyrinth until they hit the Musée de Marrakech. Open from around 9am to 9pm, the best time to visit is in the cool of the morning, or in the evening when the sunlight seeps through slatted roof shades, illuminating a million golden dust motes. 

Souk at Jemaa el Fan, Marrakech. Photo: Balate Dorin/Shutterstock


Souk Semmarine

The main artery of the souks is Souk Semmarine, a broad, covered alley that begins with pottery and pâtisserie and moves into high-quality fabric and textiles shops. Traders here sell everything from kaftans to pashminas. There are also huge, expensive, tourist emporiums full of antiques, carpets and jewellery. 

About halfway along, Souk Semmarine forks. On the right is Spice Square and on the left is Souk el Attarine, bright and gleaming with copper and brass lanterns, mirrors, candlesticks, silver teapots and lamps, as well as spices and perfumes, for which it was traditionally known.

Traditional lamps in Marrakech souk. Photo: Framed World/Shutterstock


Shoes and clothes

Souk Smata is unmistakably the shoe souk, featuring brightly coloured, sequined babouches (Moroccan slippers). Leading off Attarine is Souk el Kebir and Souk Cherratin, the preserve of leatherworkers and the place to go if you want to buy bags, belts, wallets and purses. To the left of Souk el Kebir are the kissarias, covered souks selling clothing and fabrics. There are some fantastic little shops here, too, offering chic lanterns, glassware, baskets and antiques. To the right of Kebir is the jewellery souk, Souk des Bijoutiers.


Crafts

Nowhere is Morocco’s living craftsmanship better illuminated than in the working carpenters’ and blacksmiths’ souks – Souk Chouari and Souk Haddadine, at the northern edge of the souks. These fragrant, noisy alleys are refreshingly unspoilt. To the southwest of this main cluster of streets is Souk Sebbaghine or Souk des Teinturiers – the dyers' souk, where rich iridescent skeins of wools and silks coloured with indigo, saffron, mint, poppy and rose blaze against the sky. Music lovers should explore Souk Kimakhine, where traditional Moroccan and Gnaoua instruments are sold.

Natural wool in a Marrakech souk. Photo: ClaudiaMMImages/Shutterstock


Tips for haggling

Don’t ask the price of something unless you are willing to buy it, and be prepared to take your time. The general rule of thumb is to offer half of the seller’s first price and go from there. There is never a ‘correct price’ – if you want something and are satisfied with the price, then you've paid the right amount. 


Avoiding hassle

It doesn't happen often, but beware that some people do get hassled in the souks. You may be approached by stall holders before you've even taken a look at their wares. A friendly smile and a 'no, thank you' is usually enough to ward them off. Watch your purse or valuables while navigating the backstreets of the souks: they can often become crowded and pick-pockets are not uncommon. 


Ready to take a trip to Morocco?

Insight Guides can help you plan and book fantastic trips to Morocco. Simply get in touch with us to share your ideas for the trip and let us know when you would like to travel. Our local experts will then create a personalised itinerary exclusive to you and your requirements, which you can amend until it's exactly how you want it before booking. You can browse our existing itineraries for inspiration, and keep in mind that they can all be tailored to suit your specific requirements.


Updated 17 January, 2019