Shopping for bargains in Marrakech's labyrinth of souks, a real-life Aladdin's cave

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a (modest) salary, will always want to shop – especially when there’s a bargain to be had.

And never is this more true than when said woman is accompanied by one of her closest friends, and the pair of them have managed to co-ordinate four whole days together.

So this is how my friend Amy and I found ourselves one week earlier this year, both stunned that, for once, the stars had aligned and our diaries had conspired.


Shopping for bargains: Amy browses tagines at one of the many souks in sunny Marrakech

Of course, shopping in the UK is fun. Every girl in Britain knows this. But shopping abroad is even more fun.

Foreign currency isn’t real money. It’s like Monopoly money. It has no real value, right? It’s just pieces of funny coloured printed paper you collect in a wad from the Post Office which you simply must get rid of before you return home.


Eat at Jemaa El Fna: The main square where snakecharmers sit alongside orange juice sellers and where rows upon rows of late-night eateries pop up as soon as the sun goes down serving a delicious array of freshly cooked meat and bread.

Take a horse and cart around the city: About £30 for an hour, it’s a great way to take a break and safely see the city’s sights if you’ve been on your feet for too long.

Pop into Ben Yousef Madrasa: Take in the beautiful and serene courtyard of this Quranic school which was dedicated to the teaching of Islamic scripture and law.

We settled on Marrakech almost instantly, determined to shoe-horn in a short-haul break that was a touch more exotic than the usual round of European city breaks.

Just a glimpse inside the cover of one of the many city guides told us everything we needed to know.

Bright lights, snake-charmers, sun, delicious food, and more to the point, hundreds upon hundreds of souks; the city is packed to the rafters with goodies that I'm sure would even tempt the wallets of those who aren't shopping fans.

From leather bags, shoes, spices and petals to lamps, paintings, jewellery, ceramics... the list is, endless.

So why then did we opt to take just hand-luggage? It's a question I have mulled over and over since our return. A moment of madness perhaps.

Or, more likely, the Rynair hold baggage fee was just too frightening to entertain.

Anyway, it was a foolish, schoolgirl error. No self-respecting female in her late twenties, should ever just opt for hand luggage on a trip to Marrakech. Let me be quite clear.

Pay up and take the largest suitcase you can find. (Although I’d like to add that it is possible to fit a full sized tagine inside a carry-on bag - with careful packing).

We landed in Marrakech as the sun was setting but the 40C heat hit us like a wall when we stepped off the plane. 


Artwork: Paintings hanging in one of the city's back streets


Colourful: Rows of beautifully weaved scarves and bags hang in one of the souks - but remember to haggle.

It was way too hot to be in this city, but we didn’t care. Most people go in May or September. But we needed a shopping break, whatever the weather.

Our hotel was the 28-room boutique Mosaic Palais Aziza, recently built by Saudi Prince Bandar (whose palace is opposite, presumably so he can keep an eye on it) in a leafy suburb just three or four miles north east of the city centre, and a ten minute ride from the airport.

It feels cut off from the hustle and bustle - but that’s the point.

Lined with lime and pomegranate trees, it’s a five acre haven of peace and quiet, complete with beautiful pool and understated, impeccable service.


Al fresco: One of the many outdoor eateries which pop up in the evening serving delicious fresh food


Foodie heaven: Jemaa El Fna, the main square in Marrakech, comes alive with food stalls at night


  • Make sure you're in the right frame of mind - haggling is fun, so be energetic and positive. 
  • Sellers will set the asking price several times higher than what it's actually worth. Work out how much you're prepared to pay and ask yourself if you'd pay that in Britain.
  • Don't be too keen - demonstrate a level of indifference.
  • A rough guide is to offer a third of the price and probably end up paying half.
  • Be patient and don't be railroaded into paying for something you don't want.

Despite its sky-high prices, its grand entrance, pool and spa were a welcome relief from the Moroccan mayhem which can quickly become exhausting.

We realised anyone visiting the city needs to make sure they have somewhere tranquil to retreat to as the city, and even the shopping, can become overwhelming.

Being in Marrakech is a frantic but memorable experience. It requires energy to haggle - but that's the beauty of this grubby, lavender-scented metropolis.

Our holiday began in the souks, a labyrinth of stalls, mostly undercover, which wend their way north of the main square.

Historically the souks were laid out according to what they made and sold, and little has changed in a staggering thousand-odd years. The most valuable goods are situated in the middle of the main souk area and the cheaper goods spread out from there.

Each souk is named after the product being sold and the best time to visit is after 5pm when the city comes alive and the sun begins to set.

Souk Cherratin, for example, is packed with leatherworkers, crafting beautifully coloured shoes, wallets and bags. Nearby is Souk des Bikoutiers, the jewellery souk, and Souk el Kebir, which sells clothes and scarves.

The process normally goes as follows. You begin by casually browsing and a shopkeeper clocks you lingering over an exquisitely-made leather handbag or a hand-carved lantern.

Pool and Palais by night.JPG

Luxurious: The 28-room boutique Mosaic Palais Aziza recently built by Saudi Prince Bandar

After some time you wander away, before he dashes out, beckoning frantically to you to come back and agree a price.

It can take a good several minutes of haggling but stick with it. More often than not you'll walk away with something extraordinary - and you'll get that shopping buzz too. The same buzz you get when you pick up a gorgeous coat half price in the January sales.

When you've exhausted the shopping, or find haggling just too daunting, exploring the maze of streets and noisy alleys is an adventure in itself, and nearly all the guidebooks suggest walking tours.

But be prepared to negotiate carts full of oranges and watermelons, wagons carrying various carcasses on their way to the local butchers and the furious honking of horns.

Sometimes overly eager 'guides' will insist on following you, taking you wherever you want to go, and then demand your money for the privilege. But be firm, say 'No' and walk away if you're not comfortable.

There is of course the option of fixed price shopping in Marrakech, and there are all manner of beautiful shops to tempt your wallet, including Herboriste Avicenne, a 100-year-old herbalist packed to the rafters with oils, fragrances, herbs and spices, and Akbar Delights which sells embroidered and beaded handbags, clothing and notebooks.

But somehow it just doesn't come close to haggling for a proper Moroccan bargain in a souk that feels as old as time. You can't do that in M&S after all.


easyJet offer direct flights from UK to Marrakech. Prices start at £32.49 one way,

Mosaic Palais Aziza & Spa starts from £251 per night, based on two sharing on a B&B basis, with use of the spa and complimentary airport pick up included, visit

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