There’s something to be said about the magnetic pull of the Marrakech Souks. I for one never thought I’d be writing a post about shopping. It’s one of my least preferred activities and the prospect of spending all day buying clothes and shoes is not (usually) one that tickles any inspiration in me, a stance which has been a saving grace whenever my mood swings have Pumpkin pondering his choice of woman..)
But what if the shopping wasn’t in a covered and crowded mall, full of pre-pubescent teenagers hurling profanities at one another? What if you could meander through a narrow labyrinth of absorbing alleyways, where the aromatic scent of saffron propels you from stall to stall and the warming seductive glow of suspended lanterns illuminates your tracks?
What if you weren’t fishing between designer boutiques and staring at window displays of handbags that cost more than airline flights? What if, instead, your vision was blasted with a kaleidoscope of textured, layered carpets and dyed leather handmade bags, from fuschia to regal blues?Maybe then, just maybe, I could learn to love the shopping experience?
In souks of Marrakech, I found it all. And so much more.
Surviving the marrakech Souks
Uncovering the souks is an art-form in its own right, not one that you’ll perfect during a long weekend break but there are certainly a few recurring themes recognised by most visitors to the Marrakech souks.Getting Lost
If you’re not getting lost inside the souks, you seriously need to question whether you’ve actually reached them. Go armed with a map and try and have some idea of where key landmarks lie in relation to your location, such as the main square but even with the navigational genius that is Pumpkin, we still got lost – it’s almost a rite of passage here.
In truth, it is quite mesmerising, leading us to micro-cosms made up entirely of Moroccan slippers, neatly-aligned terracotta tagines and mosaics of fruit and nut displays. The bejewelled patterned fabrics left me wondering if I could wear the local attire and I left desperately trying to convince myself that the pointy silver teapot would somehow stand proudly in place in my kitchen.Haggling and Bargaining
It is completely acceptable to haggle when shopping in the Marrakech souks. Shop owners expect you to do so and they start off the proceedings accordingly. The general rule of thumb is to aim for approximately a third of the asking price and negotiate accordingly moving up in incrementally. I’m hopeless at bartering but you need to stand your ground, set a price in your mind that you aren’t willing to exceed and avoid revealing too much flexibility – they’ll see right through it and you may end up overpaying horrendously. Pumpkin fancied himself the confident market trader, proudly protesting “leave it to me, I’ve got this covered” and then leaped straight from 500 – 800 Dhirams when the bargaining began! As with all bartering though, follow your instincts – if you start to feel guilty about how far down you’re pushing the price, chances are it’s time to stop but most tradesmen we came across seemed to rather enjoy the banter and spectacle of the process.
This is particularly true for leather goods such as bags or shoes so be sure to check the soles of slippers to see if they’re made from proper quality leather or plastic, to see whether they’re stitched firmly at the seams and give the bags a sniff to assess – some leather on sale can smell rather potent. Check zips, pockets, buckle fastenings and straps before parting with your pennies.Be patient
It is difficult to walk through the souks without getting hassled and you’ll be inundated with comments such as “Come in, I give you good price”. On some of these occasions, I was not even sure what the shop was selling and I was still propositioned. It seems quite a few Moroccans thought I was Spanish resulting in a fair number of “Holas” and the few that recognised our Indian heritage were quick to shout out, “Namaste!” Many people working in and around the Souks are happy to chat but just be prepared for the possibility that they are trying to encourage your custom.If you turn your head or gaze over at any goods, chances are you will be pounced on (proverbially might I add) shortly afterwards. But, despite this, we found that politely saying, “No thank you’ once or twice proved sufficient and we had no difficulties beyond that.Caution with photography
This is the age-old dilemma I have with myself. On the one hand, I ponder over how I would feel if a stranger came to my place of work and tried to photograph me doing my day to day routine. I would probably find it offensive and a tad creepy. On the other hand, I consider the notion that if photographs help to promote a country’s tourism industry, then perhaps this may eventually serve as an additional source of revenue for traders.Where I was buying from a stall or where stall holders were welcoming photographs, I felt less hesitant but the jury is out on this issue for me. Just be aware of the fact that many stall holders don’t take kindly to photography so use your discretion and be astute to individual preferences. How do you feel when browsing around markets during your travels?
Keep an eye on your belongings
This is true not just within the souks but also during any visits to the main square, the Jemma el-Fnaa which gets immensely flooded with tourists and locals and where the number and range of stimuli to distract tourists are such that it would be treasure trove for a pickpockets – keep wallets and phones in zipped pockets, handbags to your side or front or padlocked and hold on tightly to your belongings.What to buy?
The most common items you’ll spot in the souks include leather goods, bags, shoes, slippers and to a lesser extent clothing. Beanbags, cushions and carpets are also a plenty and if you fancy a complete overhaul of your home furnishings, you could enhance this with a hand-woven, Moorish-influenced rug and a silver lantern if you really want to give your home a Bedouin feel. I was most tempted by the ornate teapots and intricate small glasses used by the Moroccans to gulp down gallons of fresh Moroccan mint tea. Temptation didn’t get the better of me in this instance though because just remember to think about whether these purchases will have a place in your own home – it is SO easy to get carried away so think about restricting your search to purchases you truly love or could see yourself using back home. And if you are more foodie-inclined, the olives, nuts and dates are not to be missed. I have loved dates for most of my life as they remind me of growing up in the Middle East but they are enormous, succulent and impossibly sweet and cost pennies in comparison to the prices I pay for them in London.
Independent Exploring vs Taking a Souk Tour Guide
And if all of the above has left you feeling a little overwhelmed, there are plenty of options to take a guided Souk tour. We were quite happy ambling through at our own pace, broadly absorbing the array of products and essence of the souks on our first couple of visits before finally making a cheeky purchase on the third trip. I was also unsure whether there would be time pressure to buy purchases on the guided tours but we did see a few couples and small groups being led around by a guide, being told of the history of the Souks and a little part of me was tempted to eavesdrop and hear of the age-old traditions and customs that lie behind this intriguing shopping experience. If you have ever taken a Souk tour, I would love to hear whether you felt it was a worthwhile.
Have you ever visited the Marrakech souks? What are your key tips?
61 thoughts on “An Essential Survival Guide to Shopping in The Souks of Marrakech”
It’s so colourful! It reminds me more of the markets in India rather than somewhere in Africa. Marrakech is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for years but I’m pretty sure the idea of shopping isn’t going to tempt Mr Ayla into it! So I’ll just save this post for myself for future use 😉
Haha, yes the shopping may not fit his definition of fun but I can see him being quite good at the bartering banter! It was very colourful and full of amazing smells – I think because it’s all covered and dimly lit, I found it a bit more mystifying than the markets in India, or perhaps I was just more used to the Indian ones
I went there last year and although the city was a little crazy I loved it!
I can completely empathise with that feeling Becky! It felt like a chaotic city but in a very exciting way!
glad you loved it . you are welcome in my city anytime 🙂
I have to admit my disappointment at losing my nerve in the Morroccan souk – for someone who considers herself outgoing I just couldn’t bring myself to be more involved in the shopping – one of my biggest regrets.
Don’t be too hard on yourself Emma as I can imagine I would probably have been the same way if I hadn’t had Pumpkin with me as he’s a lot more relaxed in these situations! I actually only bought one thing despite visiting the souks 3 times so for me, the novelty was mainly browsing the souks and taking it all in ☺
I love this post – the photography is just beautiful. I’ve been to Marrakech twice now, and feel it’s all about getting lost in the Souks. It’s definitely an experience! Thank you for sharing. X
Thank you for your lovely comment Sarah. I’m so pleased to hear you enjoyed the lost souk experience as much as I did! I can totally see why you went back a second time and why so many do as it really does have a certain charm doesn’t it?! ☺ x
This looks and sounds like my kind of shopping experience too. I’m certainly lusting after a trip to Marrakech now!
Haha, it’s got a whole lot more character than a busy mall or Oxford Street on a Saturday which is why I think I kind of got into the shopping a bit more there!! It’s actually so quick to get to from London Jodie so a great option for a long weekend break!
I love the way you wrote this post… so nice to read!
Also, the post is complete and veeery useful… I am saving it for when I go there!
Your photos are soo colourful and beautiful!! 😀
Aww thank you Allane! So glad you found it helpful! The souks are a wonderful experience but can be a bit overwhelming on a first visit so hopefully some of this may come in helpful when you go ☺
Yess I can only imagine!! Being on the streets of Egypt was already overwhelming, I can only imagine how it must be in the souks in Morocco! That’s why I have already saved your post! 😀
Nice post Shikha with lovely photos.
One tip from our experience – Make sure you ask them to check the measurements of articles like table covers etc. in front of you rather than just taking the printed/hand written label as fact! Got stung recentely when after turning down a 220cm tablecover, we were sold one as 240cm cm long only to find on our return home that this was another 220cm long cover.
No way?! That’s so cheeky! Great example though of how important it is to check the details and also to play it cool and not to make it too obvious how much you like a particular item! Thanks for the tip ☺
Such a colorful and vibrant market – looks straight out of an ‘Arabian nights move’.
Definitely a must visit place in my lifetime.
That’s a great way to describe it Rachael! The colours and smells are so enticing and it’s easy to spend hours just wandering around the Souks. Hope you’ll enjoy them if you get to visit one day! Thanks so much for stopping by ☺
Lovely writing, and great post… And so funny, in our family, Janice loathes shopping, while George loves losing himself in markets when we travel. These souks remind us a little of the experience of shopping in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. That’s a mind-boggling place, except there, it’s somewhat organized with gold and silver jewelry in one section, other items in another section, etc. The last bazaar we visited was the Scott Market in Yangon, Myanmar – everything from the richest rubies to intricate lacquerware, Shan bags and rosewood cigar boxes.
The markets in Yangon sound so intriguing and how fascinating to hear that you saw precious gemstones and rubies amongst the items on sale. Interesting to hear that George enjoys browsing the markets more than Janice! Can’t say the same for the man in my life A few people have mentioned to me the similarities with Istanbul, which is a city I’d love to see one day and find out for myself. Thank you so much for your lovely comment!
We both have Marrakech high on our travel list. Its such an easy flight from London. It too reminds us of the markets in Istanbul. The color, the patterns, the spices. Looks a little crazy and crowded, but I think markets (or souks) really can represent the uniqueness of a locale. Also, they are the jackpot for family Christmas gifts!
Oh I hadn’t even thought about it from a Christmas shopping point of view but you are SO right! It’d be brilliant for that! And all these comments about Istanbul really make me want to go there and see their markets too! Marrakech really is so close to England – I was surprised at how quickly we had arrived and were out exploring the city! Thanks so much for reading ☺
My first experience of travelling alone was in Morocco and I have to say I was a little scared to try and buy things in Marrakech. Haha, everything is such a hassle! Once you’ve got used to way people communicate with you it can be a lot of fun though and the things you can buy are just gorgeous. It’s such a colourful country!
I love your comment- “If you’re not getting lost inside the souks, you seriously need to question whether you’ve actually reached them.”. Could not be more accurate.
Hehe, well everyone told us we’d get lost so we went with maps, downloadable maps, tried to keep abreast of landmarks etc – and then still got lost so I figure it’s one of those inevitable things out there! I’m very impressed you travelled there alone Katie as I’m not sure I’d have felt all too comfortable doing so out there but glad you got used to it after a while. Still so much more of Morocco I’d love to go back and see ☺
So colourful! This reminded me of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul; equally colourful and as intriguing 🙂 I loved ambling through the Grand bazaar with all those treasures on display so I’m sure I’ll love visiting the souks as well! One day… Sigh!
Oh the Grand Bazaar sounds so intriguing Upasna! Did you end up buying much when you went there? If they’re as similar as people have been saying, I’m sure you’d really enjoy the souk experience ☺
I bought a few gifts for friends and family … Was hounded by carpet sellers to buy a whole new carpet (which I didn’t of course) and bought lots of baklava… 🙂 I’m sure I’ll love the souk experience!
I loved reading this post, Shikha! I felt like I was right there with you wandering through the narrow stalls. I love the colorful photographs too. I love shopping (though I’m much more the bargain hunter type as opposed to the designer shopper) and exploring markets in other countries is one of my favorite activities. I always want to photograph the colorful items, but I get afraid of making the vendor mad. So I usually have very little pictures from markets. Marrakesh looks so vibrant, it’s definitely on my travel wishlist!
Yes when it comes to markets, I just love browsing and bargain hunting even though I’m rarely interested in designer shopping or shopping malls etc at home but authentic local markets have so much character! I remember you saying about how you don’t want to offend people in markets by photographing them sneakily in one of your previous posts so I thought you might be able to relate to that bit. Marrakaesh was a little chaotic at times but was so buzzing and colourful with delicious authentic food too so I think you’d love it!
Great tips Shikha! I agree with checking the quality of the leather, it varies a lot. Did you buy any souvenirs in the end?
Suze | LuxuryColumnist
I wanted to buy a little something from the souks Suze but wasn’t sure what and as it happened, a handbag of mine broke just a few days before this trip so I came home with a new one from the souks to replace it ☺
Such pretty pictures! I’m yet to visit Marrakech, but when I do (which I’m hoping will be in the not too distant future), this handy guide will be coming with me. Great post!
Follow Your Sunshine
Aww thank you Polly! So glad you like the pics – it’s such a photogenic city with all its colours, fabrics and spices! I’d never realised it was so quick and easy to get to from London and can’t imagine it would be too far from the Middle East for you either ☺ x
I hate shopping (except online…) at home, but I get totally caught up in souks and markets. My husband really has tried to bring practicality to my souvenir shopping with some success (do you REALLY think you’ll need this? where will it go?)…but it’s always hard.
I also do not always feel comfortable taking photos–I think using the storekeeper’s body language (or verbal cues) is probably the best way to go. You definitely got some great and colorful shots!
Thank you Heather! Sounds like you and I have a similar approach to photo taking in these situations and to shopping for that matter! Without my husband on standby to keep me in check, I can totally imagine I would’ve ended up buying all sorts of unnecessary (but pretty) things home but there is something so appealing about these types of souks and markets ☺
Looks like the perfect place to get lost in!
It was so intriguing to wander through these dimly lit souks Andrew!
Gahhh, this makes me want to visit Marrakech EVEN MORE! So vibrant, so bustling, so colourful – I could easily wander for hours through all those stalls! And wonderfully written up as usual, sucked me in from the beginning 🙂 x
Aww thank you Emily! Vibrant and colourful are exactly the right words for it! I never imagined I’d end up making 3 trips to the souks in just a short break but it’s so tempting just to browse through all the lovely things on sale ☺ I’d highly recommend it for a city break!
I read this post right before hitting the souq but actually didn’t buy very much. Like you I was weary of taking photos and always asked first if that was okay. I had a very well respected tour guide take my around the souq on my last day and he showed me what the traditional objects were vs the items made me for the tourists (it was a shocking comparison). xx
That’s really interesting Kelly and definitely one of the perks of doing the souks with a guide it seems. I only bought one thing too and I loved the way that even for someone like me, who’s usually always more a window shopper than an actual shopper, the souks still have a way of drawing me in and keeping me there for hours! X
I could spend hours getting lost in a good old fashion souq, way better than a big shopping mall x
I love tinkering around markets like these – and lanterns definitely make everything better. Love the little colourful handbags!
A little handbag was exactly the one souvenir I came back with Frankie (although I didn’t go for one of the fun colours sadly!) Markets are one of my favourite things to explore when I’m travelling so the Marrakech souks are an absolute haven for this!
Great photos! I was there 30 years ago and I see they still sell the same stuff. Very colourful though and you could go crazy buying.Love the lanterns, carpets and bronze ware they have.
Thanks so much Frank! That’s fascinating to hear that 30 years on and the products on sale are much the same! I loved the lanterns too and really had to stop myself from buying them knowing perfectly well that they just wouldn’t work here in London but lovely things to browse around nevertheless! Thank you so much for reading ☺
I love all the beautiful and colorful photos here. I have wanted to visit Marrakech and shop at the souk. This was a great guide with very useful tips. I don’t think I’ll walk out of here empty handed. What a wonderful experience though.
Thank you Mary! Marrakech is such an intriguing place to visit and the souk shopping is definitely a big part of the experience – they are full of lovely colourful knick knacks so I’m sure you could find a few great purchases ☺
So glad that I read this before our departure on Saturday! I am so worried about being disappointed by the souks and coming home with random items … I’m wondering if we should arrange a guide so we don’t get lost!
I hope some of this was helpful Jaime & I hope you’ll love Marrakech, it’s like a sensory explosion! I think a souk guide is actually a really good idea – we didn’t get one but I was a little envious of the people who did, as I felt like they were probably being taken to all the under-the-rader best little spots! Have an amazing trip 🙂
just loved the way you are describing the souks and also the colorful photos. this is just amazing. i am living there for 4 years and i just recognize how amazing is marrakech lol
I’m so pleased you enjoyed the read Aziza! I do the same here in London – sometimes we forget how special the cities we live in are & that’s why it’s nice to see it through a tourist’s eyes from time to time!
We are visiting in a couple of weeks time and will have 2 kids – boy 14, girl 8 – with us. We would very much like to enjoy the experience of the souks but we are a little nervous about the whole thing.
Has anyone ‘done it’ with children in tow? Thanks! 🙂
I personally don’t have friends who have done it with children but honestly, I don’t think it will be a problem. They were great fun to explore & I found that other than some eager salesmen trying to draw people in to look at their products, there were no occasions during which we felt intimidated or unsafe I any way. Your kids will hopefully love it – the souks are filled with interesting colours, sounds & aromas! Have a great trip!☺
I can help I am living there and I can show you some places there if you want of course 😉
I am heading there next week and found your post very helpful! Thank you
I’m so delighted to hear that Paul & thank you for reading! I hope you have a wonderful time out there – such a vibrant & colourful city!