The souks north of the Jemaa el Fna seem vast the first time you venture in, and almost impossible to navigate, but in fact the area that they cover is pretty compact. A long, covered street, Rue Souk Smarine, runs for half their length and then splits into two lanes – Souk el Attarin and Souk el Kebir. Off these are virtually all the individual souks: alleys and small squares devoted to specific crafts, where you can often watch part of the production process.
If you are staying for some days, you’ll probably return often to the souks – and this is a good way of taking them in, singling out a couple of specific crafts or products to see, rather than being swamped by the whole. To get to grips with the general layout, you might find it useful to walk round the whole area once with a guide, but it’s certainly not essential: with a reasonable map, you can quite easily navigate the souks on your own, and besides, getting a little bit lost is all part of the fun.
The most interesting times to visit are in the early morning (6.30–8am) and late afternoon, at around 4 to 5pm, when some of the souks auction off goods to local traders. Later in the evening, most of the stalls are closed, but you can wander unharassed to take a look at the elaborate decoration of their doorways and arches; those stalls that stay open, until 7 or 8pm, are often more amenable to bargaining at the end of the day.
The easiest approach to the main souks from the Jemaa el Fna is opposite Rue des Banques (see map), where a lane to the left of the Terrasses de l’Alhambra restaurant leads to Souk Ableuh, dominated by stalls selling olives. Continue through here and you will come out opposite the archway that marks the beginning of Rue Souk Smarine.