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Surviving the souks in Marrakech, Morocco

Tips for visiting the souks in Marrakech, Morocco – how to avoid getting lost, get the best bargain and avoid getting scammed in the Marrakech souks.

The smell of spices and motorbikes fumes, the feel of the heat, the shouts of the stallholders and the bright colours of stalls piled high with pottery and leather bags – prepare for all of your senses to be overwhelmed at once as you enter the souks of Marrakech. The souks are the heart of the medina and have been the centre for trade in the city a thousand years. Today it’s as much a tourist attraction as anything but still has that exotic, chaotic feel.

Over 3000 stalls sell everything from tagines and glassware to scarves and spices. Even if you’re not into shopping, the souks are still a spectacle that’s well worth experiencing. But they’re also all kinds of crazy, and being plunged into the heart of the action can be a bit of a shock to the system. So on my last trip to Morocco I developed a few strategies to help make experiencing the Marrakech souks more of a pleasure than an endurance test. Here are my top tips…

Read more: Souks and sunsets: Things to do in Essaouira, Morocco

Tips for visiting the Marrakech souks

The Djemma el-Fna, Marrakech's main square

The Djemma el-Fna

Get a map…

The Marrakech souks are the ultimate navigational challenge. A labyrinth of narrow alleyways twist and turn their way north of the main square, the Djemma el-Fna. However good your sense of direction is, a few minutes in these dimly lit passageways will have you totally disorientated. Most Marrakech guidebooks come with some sort of map, but it’s hard to find one with a small enough scale to show all the tiny alleyways which run through the souks.

An electronic map is more useful as it shows where you are and which way you’re pointing. If you don’t want to pay for data roaming, you can cache Google Maps so you can use them when you’re not online. You need wifi to set it up though and the Google Maps app. Then just go to the area you want, type ‘OK maps’ and it’ll save all the detail in that area. You can also download the free Marrakech Riad Travel Guide app for a GPS map of the souks that works offline.

Colourful tagines for sale in the Marrakech souks

Tagines for sale in the souks in Marrakech

… but still expect to get lost

However good your map – whether it’s paper or electronic – you’re still guaranteed to get lost in the souks of Marrakech at some point. And when you do, the best thing to do is just go with it. Choose whichever direction looks the most interesting, just keep on going and you’ll eventually reach the wall of the medina. Look out for landmarks like the Djemma el-Fna, the Marrakech Museum or the tower of the Koutoubia Mosque to help reorientate you.

If you need to get somewhere a bit quicker, there are signposts around the souks pointing to the Djemma el-Fna and no shortage of young men wanting to give you directions… though whether either of these are accurate is another thing. You’ll easily find someone to take you to where you need to go, but there’ll usually be a fee so make sure to have some small notes. Otherwise a good tip for female travellers is to ask a local woman as they’ll often give you better information.

Colourful spices and doorways in the souk, Marrakech

Medina doorway and colourful sacks of spices

Stay alert

There’s so much going in Marrakech’s souks that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But make sure to keep an eye on what’s happening around you. Those narrow alleyways aren’t just used by people, so expect to be dodging motorbikes, carts, donkeys and who knows what else as you walk. So watch where you walk and keep and eye on your belongings. You’ll have people pushing past you and stallholders grabbing onto your arms, so leave any expensive jewellery back in your room, keep a tight hold of your camera and make sure you have a bag that fastens securely.

To avoid the worst of the hassle from stallholders, it’s a good idea to wear sunglasses, give them a firm but polite ‘no Merci’ and look like you know where you’re going. If you stop at a stall it’ll be assumed that you want to buy something, so keep moving unless you’re seriously considering making a purchase. If possible it’s best to explore with someone else as two pairs of eyes are better than one, and solo travellers often get more persistent hassle from touts.

Lanterns in the souk, Marrakech

Lanterns in the souk, Marrakech

Bargain hard… but politely

Bargaining is a big part of the souk experience (though if the idea fills you with dread, you can head to one of the fixed price stores instead). The stallholders have had a lot of practice, so be prepared to work at it if you don’t want to pay over the odds. Once you’ve found something you want to buy, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research first – ask the price at a few different stalls to get an idea of what the going rate is. And don’t divulge what you’re willing to pay up front.

Decide in advance what the maximum you’d be happy to pay is, and come in with a first offer at about a quarter of the quoted price and work your way upwards. Expect that the stallholder will laugh at you and come out with lines about it being ‘wholesale price’, but stand your ground. Be firm but polite and don’t take it all too seriously – if you can’t get a bargain you’re happy with at one stall, there will no doubt be another stall selling something very similar.

The souks of Marrakech, Morocco

Browsing stalls in the souk

Take a break

The souks in Marrakech are best experienced in small doses, before the noise, the smells and the constant attention all start get a bit too much. Staying in a riad inside the medina is a good idea as it means you can head back to drop off any shopping and get a bit of peace before heading out again. Otherwise there are plenty of rooftop cafés and restaurants around the souks where you can regroup over a mint tea and soak up some of the atmosphere from a distance.

The Djemma el-Fna is surrounded by terrace cafés where you can watch the street theatre down below – from snake charmers to juice sellers. The Café Glacier and Café du Grand Balcon both have good spots, particularly at dusk when the square lights up. Further north, the Terrasse des Épices serves pastilla and tagines in the middle of the souks, or if you’re in need of something stronger than tea, check out a rooftop bar like Café Arabe for sunset views.

Moroccan mint tea

Time for tea

Or make it easy with a guide or tour

If you want to get an insiders’ view of the Marrakech souks, explore off the main paths and meet some of the craft-makers, then it’s a good idea to take a souk tour, especially if you’re short on time and don’t want to spend half of it working out where you. You’ll come across plenty of young men in the souks offering to show you around, but a lot of them are unlicensed ‘fake’ guides who overcharge or take you to their friends’ shops rather than the best places.

Instead stick to one of the licensed guides or book one through your hotel or riad who often have their own recommended guides. Or you can sign up for a tour of the souks. There are lots of different tours available, which often include visits to local craft cooperatives or artists workshops as well as a walk around the main areas of the souks and Djemma el-Fna.

Colourful herbs and spices in the souk, Marrakech

Herbs and spices

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Tips for visiting the souks in Marrakech, Morocco – how to avoid getting lost, get the best bargain and avoid getting scammed in the Marrakech souks. #Morocco #Marrakech #medina #souks #shoppingSurviving the souks in Marrakech – tips for visiting the Marrakech souks, from bargaining to finding your way around. #Morocco #Marrakech #medina #souks #shopping

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62 Comments

  • Reply
    Darlene
    April 16, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    How exciting. Thanks for the great tips.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 17, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      You’re welcome Darlene, it was definitely an experience!

  • Reply
    wakeorsleep
    April 16, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Fantastic photography, you’ve really captured the busy, colourful aspects of Marrakech! The souks were definitely an experience, walking down those alleyways feels like getting lost in another era altogether.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 17, 2014 at 10:26 pm

      Thanks so much, I’d have loved to take more photos but it’s tough to do unless you want to buy from all the stalls you visit!

  • Reply
    sinnerz13
    April 16, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    Loved the souks! I got lost for hours, but it was great fun 🙂 thus is a great advice blog 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 17, 2014 at 10:24 pm

      Thanks, I don’t think anyone makes it through a trip around the souks without getting lost at least a couple of times!

  • Reply
    Wendy Kate
    April 16, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Yes, we got very lost too….but it was fun. A map sounds like a good suggestion! I would have so loved to browse more, but as you say, once you stop the assumption is that you are going to buy something. We also liked the belly-dancers in the square who were not quite what they appeared to be 😉

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 17, 2014 at 10:23 pm

      Getting lost is definitely part of the souk experience, the map did help a bit but we still ended up going the wrong way as much as the right way!

  • Reply
    http://theenglishprofessoratlarge.com
    April 16, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    Thanks for this lively, noisy visit to the souks. I feel ready for a mint tea already.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 17, 2014 at 10:22 pm

      Thank you, it’s such a feast for the senses!

  • Reply
    anniedm778
    April 16, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Love the rich colors!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 17, 2014 at 10:20 pm

      Thanks, yes the pottery colours especially were so bright and vivid.

  • Reply
    Heyjude
    April 16, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Great post, getting lost is probably half the fun though 🙂 And I love your photos, especially the tagines, bags and herbs – all great composition. Did you have any problems when taking the photos?

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 17, 2014 at 10:19 pm

      It certainly is – you never know what you might find. Photo wise I did tend to snap on the move as once you stop the stallholders tended to pounce!

  • Reply
    swo8
    April 16, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    HI Lucy,
    Ah the souks. They are amazing. Not quite the same experience that you see in our “globalized shopping malls”. So much creative individual artistry and ingenuity.
    Leslie

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 17, 2014 at 10:18 pm

      Hi Leslie, yes it’s such a different shopping experience, especially the metalwork and woodworking souks where you can watch the craftsmen at work and buy straight from them.

  • Reply
    restlessjo
    April 16, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Low tech me will just have to get lost, Lucy, though I love the sound of your gadgetry. 🙂
    Will you come and find me if I don’t come out again in time for supper?

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 17, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      I’ll send out a search party Jo! We managed not to get too lost despite a terrible sense of direction, so sure you would manage just fine.

  • Reply
    Tim
    April 16, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Even though you are in Morocco it brings back great memories of the souks in Turkey and other places in the middle east. I agree with your tip that you should just accept the fact that at some point you will become disoriented. Finding your way out is part of the experience. Thanks, Luce.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 17, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      Yes it was very similar to souks I’d been to in Istanbul and even some of the markets in Asia, that same atmosphere and heat, and the same likelihood of getting totally lost!

  • Reply
    Alison
    April 16, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Nice post! You mention that you shouldn’t stop at a stall unless you are wanting to buy something. I am curious about the photography. Did anyone give you a hard time or expect you to buy something because you were taking photos? I always struggle with that…

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 17, 2014 at 10:14 pm

      The photography can be a tough one – I didn’t take any portraits as many people don’t like to be photographed and tended to take shots on the move or from a distance. Would’ve loved to take a lot more but unless you are buying it can be a bit difficult.

  • Reply
    xoxosanaz90210
    April 16, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    If you haven’t then do visit the souks in Dubai! Not just the one in bur Dubai but also the one in Deira.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 17, 2014 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks for the tip – I haven’t visited Dubai yet but hope to make it out there soon.

  • Reply
    Jen Seligmann
    April 17, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Great tips Lucy! This is a place I’d love to visit someday. And I already know that its likely I will leave with a few of those handbags.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 17, 2014 at 10:12 pm

      Yes they can be hard to resist! I only took a small suitcase so had to keep the shopping to a minimum this time but would’ve been seriously tempted otherwise.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    April 19, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    So much to take in amongst the stalls of the souks – I have a love hate relationship with them. I love it for the first 10 minutes then I need to get away! Madder than a bucket of spiders…

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 20, 2014 at 8:48 pm

      I know exactly what you mean – it’s fascinating for a bit but quickly gets a bit overwhelming!

  • Reply
    thebritishberliner
    April 24, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    I haven’t visited Morocco yet but it certainly sounds exciting and seems to be the place to be right now as Egypt is off-limits to many. 🙁
    I really like your souk photos and I’m not going to lie, the hangbags. Oh, the hangbags! I’m a shoe girl, but you can’t say “no” to a bag made in an exotic land!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 25, 2014 at 11:06 am

      It definitely has that real exotic feel but is not too far to go and comparatively safe to visit. And if you like bags you’ll be in heaven – though take a big empty suitcase! Some of the fabrics and household decor stuff was fantastic too.

  • Reply
    Jessie H
    April 25, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Great post and some really good advice!

    I visited Marrakech in 2012 and loved the sights and sounds of the souks, but unfortunately the touts really spoilt the experience for me. We had people following us around asking us if we needed a guide, and when we declined (politely I might add!) they turned nasty and started swearing at us and calling us names in both English and Japanese (which they thought we were… we aren’t.) One ‘guide’ even followed us a good 1km trying to introduce us to various restaurants we passed so he could claim a fee when we had already made plans to visit a particular restaurant and needed no directions there.

    I’m wondering if you had any similar experiences there? It certainly made me have some doubts about how safe it was for solo female travellers!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 27, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      Thanks, yes the touts really can sour the experience of the souks. Both times I have visited Marrakech it’s been with a guy so I’ve not experienced it as a solo female traveller, but even as a couple you do get a lot of hassle – every time we stopped we had a crowd of men trying to guide us or get us into their shops and they can be really persistent. I’ve read that the tourist police in Marrakech have supposedly tried to crack down on it as it puts people off visiting, but it didn’t seem any better than my last trip. Such a shame as it can really ruin your experience, although I liked Marrakech I much preferred Essaouira as it had a much more friendly feel and few touts.

    • Reply
      Jessie H
      April 28, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      I found that the situation was much the same in Tangier, but haven’t yet been to Essaouira. Thanks for the tip will most definitely head there if I venture back to Morocco again! (:

  • Reply
    Riona
    April 28, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Morocco is definitely on my shortlist of places I want to travel. This makes me want to go even more!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 28, 2014 at 11:26 am

      The souks can be a bit mad but Morocco is a fascinating country and well worth experiencing!

  • Reply
    madeleinedeaton
    April 29, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    Great tips Lucy, I remember first visiting souks as a naive and inexperienced traveller at 23 and being completely overwhelmed and terrified of haggling. Would love to give it another go now 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 30, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      I did wonder the same as it’d been years since I’d been but I still found it a bit overwhelming – I don’t think I’ll ever be a natural at haggling (just too British!).

  • Reply
    Josh
    April 29, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    Great advice here! I hope to go in June, so I’ll no doubt be trawling your blog for all of your handy posts 😉

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 30, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      Hope you have a great trip Josh – do give me a shout if you have any questions that I missed in my posts!

  • Reply
    lisakavanaugh
    May 11, 2014 at 1:28 am

    Great tips! I agree, you need breadcrumbs to find your way and letting yourself get lost is the best part. Your post made me miss Morocco, and reminded me I need to write about my 6 weeks there in October. Mmmmmm…tagine!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      May 13, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      You can’t beat a good tagine! Look forward to reading about your Morocco travels, six weeks is a great amount of time to spend exploring the country!

  • Reply
    Daniela Frendo
    July 7, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    I have been to Marrakech twice in the last two years. I was on my guard all the time on my first visit, but when I returned last December I felt completely at ease. You mention some very good points (I’ve experienced most of them actually), but I would also add the following:

    1) Try not to get too close to the attractions in Djema el Fna, especially if you’re taking pictures, unless you’re willing to leave tips. When taking pictures of stalls, try to be discreet – most vendors won’t be happy about it.

    2) If you’re interested in exploring the the less-touristy parts of the medina, hire a guide. Ours took us through the back streets of the medina where you can find old caravanserais and watch artisans in their workshops. It is also quiet and peaceful, with hardly any tourists in sight.

    I’ve written some firsthand accounts on my blog (www.grumpycamel.com) about navigating the souks and dining at the food market.

    I can imagine how difficult it must have been to adapt to Marrakech after leaving Essaouira. Thankfully we visited Essaouira on our last day in Morocco!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 8, 2015 at 9:08 am

      Thanks for the extra tips – I’ve not hired a guide before but think that would be a really good idea next time as I’ve seen the main areas of the souks so it’d be good to get into the back streets. Will check out some of your posts about the souks too.

  • Reply
    Ayla
    September 3, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    Having a read through all your Morocco posts – this will be very handy for my trip to Marrakech next month!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 9, 2015 at 10:34 am

      Enjoy Marakech, it’s a great city (if a bit crazy sometimes!).

  • Reply
    CrookedFlight
    March 11, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Our bargaining was hilarious! I did get a guy down to a 1/3 of his initial price for a beautiful embroidered cotton table runner – but did you ever feel bad? He made me feel like I was taking food from the mouths of his kids! I still paid $10-12 USD for it though. It was quite an experience.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 14, 2016 at 11:31 pm

      I’m not the world’s best bargainer so the stallholders probably all love me! Having said that I guess if you really were offering too little they’d say no so I think it’s all part of the showmanship!

  • Reply
    Lucy
    April 5, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    Yes it’s quite an experience! Thanks for sharing too.

  • Reply
    Traveloff
    September 4, 2016 at 9:27 am

    Amazing experience the photos in the article talk more then what i can remember. Kudos for the pics!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 5, 2016 at 7:02 pm

      Thanks!

  • Reply
    Krishnendu Kes
    December 15, 2016 at 7:49 am

    Great trip Lucy, After reading this post we imagine that it’s a best place for fun .and your photography is also good.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 19, 2016 at 12:26 pm

      Thanks, it’s quite a place – well worth a visit!

  • Reply
    Kathryn
    June 1, 2018 at 9:37 am

    Thank your for the tips! The one about the app is good and I’ll see if I can download it so I don’t get too lost in the souks.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 6, 2018 at 11:11 am

      Good luck! It has to be the most confusing place I’ve ever been – though that is part of the fun.

  • Reply
    Jaillan Yehia
    February 21, 2019 at 2:05 pm

    Spot on tips for the souks – I absolutely loved my visit, and I’m sure I overpaid for things and spent more time wandering around aimlessly than I needed to but you’re right that is all part of the experience!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 25, 2019 at 2:09 pm

      You have to do it really don’t you!

  • Reply
    Anna Parker
    February 21, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    We had a guide on our visit but that was before smart phones… I like the idea of going back with google maps ready… But getting lost first! It’s important in my experience to always look like you are going somewhere already to not get too hassled! Not a place to stroll pensively

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 25, 2019 at 2:10 pm

      A guide is a great idea, I’d definitely do that if I visit again as it would be good to get off the beaten track a bit and see some of the more traditional sellers.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    February 24, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    It’s so easy to get lost in the souks and so easy to pay far more than you’d have liked to for that souvenir that looks totally out of place once you get it home. The stall holders are experts at bartering!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 25, 2019 at 2:15 pm

      They are the pros! I’m still hopeless but a bit better than I was and only buy one or two things I really love rather than going too mad.

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    February 26, 2019 at 10:55 pm

    Great tips Lucy. I’d love to go here one day, ideally for a guided tour followed by some getting lost, just myself and my camera (plus the hundreds of stall holders trying to sell me something of course!)

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 28, 2019 at 6:16 pm

      Haha, yes you’d definitely have a few of those!

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