Stepping into the souks of Marrakech is an experience you will never forget. A heady mix of colours, aromas, shouts of vendors and the bustle of buyers besiege the senses as you wonder, where do I even begin?
Visiting the Marrakech souks is an absolute must on any trip to Morocco. Here, you will find countless bargains and unique souvenirs, as well as local street food, spices, herbal medicine and much more. The real draw of the souks is the captivating atmosphere, the hustle and bustle – but, to give you the best chance of finding what you’re looking for in the markets, here is our guide to shopping in the Marrakech souks…
First of all, you’ll need to know the basics. In Marrakech, the souk is a long, labyrinthine network of vendors and stalls, stretching from the central Jemaa el-Fna square to the Musée de Marrakech. There are several points where you can enter and leave the souks, the most obvious of which being from behind the square itself.
The souks of Marrakech are open from around 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily – although this may change during religious festivals such as Ramadan.
On any Bucket List Company trip, you will receive a local-guided tour around the souks, ensuring that you find everything you’re looking for – and don’t get lost! However, if you choose to explore them for yourself, too, here are a few tips on what to find, and where.
The main area is called Souk Semmarine. In this wide alley, you can find souks selling everything from pastries to pottery, and a range of textiles. Around half-way down the alley, you will come to a fork. Follow the right-hand fork and you will reach the spice square, or, if you take the left fork you will come to Souk el Attarine, which is full of traditional ornaments including lanterns, teapots, lamps and more.
Follow Souk el Attarine and you will end up passing through Souk el Kebir and Souk Cherratin, which sell leather items. Here you can encounter various tanneries in action. To the left of Souk el Kebir you can find the kissarias, covered souks that sell clothing and textiles, whereas to its right you’ll find Souk des Bijoutiers, which sells jewellery.
Towards the northern edge of the souks are Souk Chouari and Souk Haddadine – the carpenters’ and blascksmiths’ souks respectively. Here, tradesmen work in the streets. Southwest from here, you will come to Souk Sebbaghine, where clothmakers dye their fabrics. Souk Kimakhine is also close-by, which sells traditional Moroccan and Gnaoua musical instruments.
In all honestly, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to navigate the souks in any straightforward way on your first visit to Marrakech – they have a tendency to blur into one. The best thing to do is give yourself plenty of time to wander around and just enjoy the experience.
If you’re really keen on finding a particular location, make sure to pick up a tourist map and use it in tandem with your phone GPS. You can always ask locals for directions – but be aware that they will usually expect a tip, and may attempt to make commissions by taking you to other stalls on the way. Otherwise, the best thing to do is look for the minaret of Koutoubia Mosque and keep an eye out for it as a reference point.
What to buy in the Marrakech souks
You can buy pretty much anything you can imagine in the souks of Marrakech. Whether you’re looking for spices or souvenirs, clothing or carpets, you’ll find plenty of choices here.
The range of items available in the souks is too vast to list, but here are a few popular items you should check out during your visit:
Lanterns and lamps
The lanterns of the Marrakech souks are nothing short of iconic. You will see hundreds of these stunning, intricate lanterns hanging from the doors and rafters of souvenir souks, glistening in the sunshine or illuminated at night. They are a fantastic souvenir and ornament to remember your trip by.
Moroccan teapots are similarly famous. These silver teapots are used locally to pour steaming hot mint tea from great heights into the cup, and they are a lovely gift to take home. You can find them in a range of sizes and materials, from cheap metals to real silver.
Tagine pots and ceramics
There’s no place to buy a tagine pot like Marrakech itself. You will see hundreds of colourfully-painted tagine pots throughout the souks, so if you’re looking for one, it’s worth having a look around before you enquire. If you’re looking for a small, affordable trinket, you can also find small tagine-style pots for condiments – usually in Morocco this will mean salt and cumin – that fit nicely in the nooks and crannies of your luggage!
Carpets and rugs
One item that Morocco is famous for selling is carpets. These are among the most expensive of items on offer in the souks – and are a commitment to buy both in terms of price and practicality (due to their size!) If you enter a carpet souk, you can expect to be offered mint tea and then be shown various items – the sales process is turned up a notch here. However, if you are looking for a beautiful, handmade Berber carpet or rug (boucherouite), this is a great place to find it.
When it comes to clothing, you can find anything in Marrakech’s souks. Most visitors are usually looking for traditional Moroccan scarves, pashminas, kaftans and patterned trousers, but you can also find t-shirts and jeans, too. From colours to shapes, to fabrics, the choices are endless.
One of the most popular items among visitors to Morocco are local slippers. These colourful, embroidered slippers are incredibly eye-catching. Among locals, they are called Balgha, whereas the versions that more closely resemble pump-style outdoors shoes are Mojris. You can find both throughout the souks.
It’s well worth heading into the leather souks in Marrakech, whether you plan on buying an item or not. Here, you can see the leather tanneries going about their daily routine, laying out leathers to dye and dry in the sun. If you choose, you can also buy high-quality leather bags, shoes and belts here.
The chances are that you’ll smell the spice souks before you see them, but once you do see them, these stalls are a sight to behold! Spices in every vibrant colour under the sun are laid out in mounds, from cooking spices to dried flowers and much more.
Herbal medicines and cosmetics
On our tours of Marrakech, we always like to stop by a local Berber pharmacy, or herbal medicine shop. You can find all sorts of things in these souks, from natural lipsticks to Berber viagra! They are also a great place to find local argan oil products – you might even see the nuts being ground!
Of course, there is also plenty of street food on sale in the souks. Whether you’re looking for local bread or a tasty donut to take with you as you walk, some dried fruit or olives, there are countless delicious options here.
How to haggle in Marrakech’s souks
In the souks, haggling is a standard part of the transaction procedure. As in any market frequented by tourists, sellers will initially offer you a ‘tourist price’. You can’t expect to get a true local’s price, but you can certainly get it down to a figure that, compared to the prices home, is a definite bargain.
The most important piece of advice for haggling in the Marrakech souks is: unless you’re actually willing to buy something, don’t ask the price! In Morocco, asking the price of an item is tantamount to agreeing to buy it, and if you then try to walk away, the vendor will do everything they can to make the sale. Sellers here are very persuasive, so don’t lose time by enquiring about items you’re not really interested in.
When you do find an item that catches your eye, however, the general rule of thumb is to offer one third of the seller’s first price and then increase your offer slightly every time they make a counter offer. Remember to stay calm and friendly – getting frustrated by the process will not get you a good deal! Instead, keep it lighthearted – a bit of friendly banter and laughter can go a long way!
If you’re really not coming to an agreement you’re happy with, simply say a polite but firm “no, thank you” (or “la, shukran“, if you want to give the impression of being less of a newbie!) and walk away.
There is no set rule of what constitutes a ‘good price’ in the souks. This is because the quality of items varies significantly from stall to stall. Your guide will be able to tell you what is generally considered a fair price, but the best price is ultimately the one you are happy to pay.
However, here is a rough guide for a few key items:
- Small lamps : 30 dirhams each
- Olives : 40 for a big tub
- Harems: 140
- Handloom cloth bag: 120
- Argan oil: 150 medium size bottle
- Head turban: 70
- Mojris: 140
A few good questions to ask yourself when deciding how much to haggle are:
- Will this item bring me joy (channel your inner Marie Kondo!)
- Can I afford this item?
- Would I consider this to be a good price at home?
- Will I be able to get an item of this quality for a better price anywhere else?
- Will I remember whether I knock another pound off the price when I think back to my trip?
- Will that last 10% I want to knock off the price have more of a positive impact in my pocket, or the seller’s?
Tips for shopping in the souks of Marrakech
Go early – or late
Your experience of the souks in Marrakech will be highly influenced by the time of day you decide to visit them. If you want a relatively calm browsing experience, turn up early, around 9:30 a.m. when the stalls have just opened. This way there will be less shoppers, and vendors won’t feel under so much pressure to make their sales as they have the whole day to go.
If you’re looking for a bargain, however, you might consider visiting the souks in the evening before they close around 9 p.m. At this time, vendors will be looking to make any last-minute sales they can, and so you might get a nice deal.
Look one souk ahead
One tried and tested trick for shopping in the souks is to look one or two stalls ahead of the one you’re passing. In Marrakech, eye contact is the beginning of the sales process, so if you’re browsing and not ready to start bargaining (or not looking to be sold an item), avoid looking directly at the souk you are passing, because the vendor will undoubtedly notice and begin advertising their wares.
Instead, look a couple of souks ahead so that you can get an idea of what each stall is selling and whether you’re interested in their items before you stop for a closer look.
Practice your Arabic
We all know that the more of a tourist you resemble when travelling, the higher the prices you will be charged. Learning a few phrases in Arabic is a great way to make yourself look like a more seasoned traveller, who has perhaps been here before and knows what to expect.
A simple “la, shukran” will often be much more effective than “no, thank you” when trying to deter particularly persistent sellers (or young men offering to guide you around). However, it is also a nice sign of respect to learn a few phrases to chat with the locals – and they are sure to appreciate your effort to educate yourself about their culture.
It goes without saying that everyone should be able to dress however they wish and feel safe and respected. That being said, if you want to blend in with the crowd in the souks – and therefore look like a more educated traveller – it is best to dress somewhat modestly.
It is also good to respect the local culture, which is predominantly Muslim – and while the dress code is far from strict here, it’s best to keep the general principle of hijab (modesty) in mind (which applies to both men and women, by the way, and is more about how you behave than how you dress!)
If you stick to casual clothes, you will find that you are less likely to be offered prices that are way over the odds – because if you look flash, you’ll be expected to pay prices accordingly!
Keep your valuables close
With this in mind, it is advisable to keep an eye on your valuables whilst in the souks. As with any busy, confined area in the world, there can be pickpockets in operation, although this is rare!
Keep your valuables in a zipped pocket or bag on the front of your body. One good tip is to keep one hand sat on your bag if it’s a purse. Don’t clutch at it – that isn’t necessary and will make you stick out – just rest it there – this way any potential pickpockets will avoid you, because they know that you’ll notice if they touch your belongings!
Ask permission before taking photos!
One of the most important pieces of cultural etiquette in Morocco (and in most countries) is to always ask permission before taking photos of people. This is especially important in the souks – many vendors don’t like tourists taking their photos. Some don’t mind, however, providing you ask beforehand.
We would advise that you avoid taking photos of animals in the souks, and if you want to take a picture of an animal used by performers in the square you will definitely need to ask permission, and will be expected to pay a small fee.
Finally, the most important piece of advice we can give to anyone exploring the souks of Marrakech is to simply keep calm and enjoy the experience. Make sure you bring your sense of humour, and remember that all of the shouting and haggling of vendors is lighthearted.
If someone offers camels to marry you – it’s a joke, and they only say it because they know tourists expect them to! If a vendor shouts to you as you pass, you can just laugh and shake your head if you’re not interested.
Moroccan people are among the friendliest in the world, so you can rest assured that you will be safe in the souks. So relax, take your time and have a chat with the locals – you’re bound to learn something new and enjoy some really special encounters along the way.
So, there you have it, our complete guide to shopping in the souks of Marrakech.
Visiting the souks is a bucket list experience in of itself, and is included in every one of our Morocco trips, whether it be trekking in the Sahara Desert, climbing Mount Toubkal or white water rafting in the Atlas Mountains.
If you’re interested in experiencing the hustle and bustle for yourself, whilst ticking off a Bucket List adventure, give us a call on 01769 309 007.
So what are you waiting for? Get it ticked off today!