If you’re thinking of visiting Morocco, you’re probably already dreaming about visiting the Moroccan markets and souks. The sights, smells and unique atmosphere make them excellent places to get closer to Moroccan culture, even if you aren’t intending to shop – but who goes to the souks without coming back with at least one souvenir?!
Moroccan souks began as small gatherings outside city areas where merchants would come to sell their goods. In smaller towns, the souk might still be a weekly event but in cities like Marrakech and Fez, souks are now a major tourist draw, covering huge areas and selling everything from slippers to carpets, pottery, beauty products and more. Read on for our pick of some of the best souks and markets to visit in Morocco.
Starting with the big one. Many travellers will be staying in, or at least passing through, Marrakech which has a host of excellent souks to explore. Packed the rafters with goods and people, they might feel a bit overwhelming at first, but if you dive in and let the atmosphere, sights, smells, and sounds, wash over you you’ll be transported to another world. There are many different souks in Marrakech all in the same area and they are roughly divided by what they sell, although to a first-time visitor they might all seem to blend into one.
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Souk Semmarine is a covered alley that sells pottery, fabrics, and textiles, while traditional Moroccan slippers (babouches), can be found at Souk Smata. This leads off onto Souks el Kebir and Cherratin, where you can buy lovely leather goods, such as bags or purses. For wood or metal items, there are specialist carpenters’ and blacksmiths’ souks – Souk Chouari and Souk Haddadine – and it's always fun to go to Souk Kimakhine, where you can see traditional Moroccan musical instruments for sale.
As night falls in the city, you should head towards Jemaa el-Fna, the central square in the medina. There's a street food market here every night selling traditional dishes like snail soup and tagine. The tables are all communal so don't be shy – simply grab a seat and join the throng.
After you've eaten seek out the real highlight of the square – the storytellers. Storytelling is a traditional Moroccan practice that fuses comedy, topical subjects, and music into long tales, and it's a revered art form. So make sure you take some time to stop and enjoy this unique form of entertainment.
No visit to Morocco would be complete without a visit to the Unesco world heritage site, Fez, where you will find Souk el Attarine. Fez is a maze of a city (there are a whopping 9,000 alleys) and it’s absolutely teeming with living history – it is perhaps one of the best examples of medieval civilisation left, with its trades and crafts having barely changed for a millennium. In the shops at the Souk el Attarine, you will find all sorts of wonderful goods for sale, including spices, herbs, incense, and traditional Moroccan crafts.
Some of the shops are set up in beautiful old mansions, so you can explore a traditional Moroccan riad while doing your shopping.
The souks of Fez and Marrakech can feel quite claustrophobic, so far a breath of fresh air head to the fishing port and market town of Essaouira, formerly known as Mogador and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s an 18th-century European fortified seaport and the original architecture and layout are incredibly well-preserved. The souks fill the lanes of the town, but for something different to the usual slippers and woven throws, head down to the famous fish market there and try the freshest catch of the day.
Get out of the city for a day and experience a traditional country market at Had Dra souk. Held in the town of Had Dra (located between Essaouira and Marrakech) this Sunday market is a great place to meet local people. This traditional market still serves the needs of local people and is much less geared towards tourists. If you get there early enough you might see the cattle auction in actions, and you'll definitely see fresh meat, vegetables and agricultural products on sale. The Had Dra souk is an important local meeting place, so if you want a truly authentic cultural experience in Morocco, then put this souk on your list.
For more inspiration on how to make the best of your trip to Morocco, our new Rough Guide to Morocco is out now. You can also check out a recent podcast episode from our friends at Insight Guides, which is all about the Fez medina.
Top image: Jemaa el Fna square crowded at dusk, Marrakesh, Morocco © Jose Ignacio Soto/Shutterstock