By Maryam Montague
January 09, 2015
Credit: Megapress / Alamy

The heartbeat of Marrakesh is undoubtedly the souks or markets of the medina in the old city. The biggest in all of Morocco, they are a honeycomb of connecting alleyways where all five senses are alive. There’s the whiff of lemons, mint, and olives, the flavor of nuts, figs, and apricots, and the dazzling eye-catching colors of intricate lanterns, leather bags and rich carpets. It’s here that you can take part in the pleasure of haggling—where stubbornness, creativity, and feigned disinterest come together as a form of art. (Try your hand at leaving and saying you’ll come back to immediately knock a few dirhams off the price.)

Many travelers are swept away in the souks’ throngs never to be seen again (ahem, just kidding). But seriously, overcome your trepidation and embrace the chaos, even if it means being entangled in the souks’ labyrinths for hours. Here is a list of my five favorite souks in Marrakesh.

Carpet Souk

One can marvel at the carpets on display here, from the more urban refined Arab rugs with intricate designs to the intriguing Berber carpets adorned with talismanic symbols and often tell a tribe’s story. Remember there is no “correct” price so it’s good to cut the asking price in half and try from there.

Slipper Souk

Perhaps the very prettiest souk in Marrakesh, here you’ll find walls of traditional Moroccan leather slippers called babouches. There is incredible variety, from simple and steamlined to bedazzled, embroidered and jeweled. The bright yellow ones are meant for men, and those slippers with a hard sole are meant to be worn outside.

The Mellah

The Mellah, or Jewish quarter, is not a souk per se but a distinct district in the medina. In addition to the area’s historical importance, you’ll find a good variety of shops here. This is where I go to buy fabrics and beautiful trims and notions.

Metalworking Souk

While there are oodles of things made of metal to buy in this souk, Moroccan lanterns take center stage—from basic ones made from tin, to ornate beauties that take days to make. It’s fascinating to watch the craftsman in meticulous action before your very eyes.

Spice Souk

The spice souk’s square is a sight in itself, with spices heaped into astonishing large cones making for a colorful display like no other. Here you can buy a wide variety of spices at affordable prices. (Tip: Moroccan saffron is expensive and should never be in powder form. Don’t be fooled!)