If you’ve ever heard of shopping in Dubai – or in much of the Arab world – the word “souk” is sure to have come up. “Souk” is just a word for an Arab market. And Dubai’s souks are incredible. Famed since the nineteenth century, the city’s souks – rather than oil – are what contributed to its vast wealth. In fact, it’s the only one of the seven emirates in the UAE that acquired its wealth from something other than oil!
Here are some of the must-see (and must-shop-at!) souks in Dubai:
● The Gold Souk is both the best known and the most popular of Dubai’s many souks. And, true to its name, gold is sold here. Along with silver, gemstones, and countless handmade examples of fine jewelry.
● It’s located in Deira, the city’s center, and easily accessible from Al Ras metro station (green line).
● Another must-see souk for anyone visiting Arabia is the Spice Souk – just a few minutes’ walk from the Gold Souk. The alleys are narrow and crammed full of merchants selling the exotic spices famed in the Orient: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, saffron, turmeric, coriander, sumac, and nutmeg.
● A great Middle Eastern shopping experience can be found at the Perfume Souk. It’s a collection of perfume shops on Sikkat Al Khail Road, an easy walk from the others. International perfumes are available, but it would be more worth your time to buy a local Arabic perfume, sold in an ornate jar.
● The Old Souk, or Textile Souk, is a long line of sand-colored stone buildings (renovated, of course). The shops here offer a huge range of fabrics, from cashmere and silk to cotton and wool. You can also buy ready-made garments, slippers, and souvenirs. It can be reached from the others by crossing the water on an abra or water taxi. Or take the metro’s green line to Al Ghubaiba or Al Fahidi stations.
In addition to these older souks, Dubai has its own, modern take on the tradition:
● The Souk Madinat Jumeirah is part of the massive Madinat Jumeirah complex. Where you can shop to your heart’s content, and then dine at one of the numerous restaurants.
● The Souk Al Bahar is downtown Dubai’s answer to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. Its main draw is its restaurants, located right on the water, with great views of the Dubai Fountain and the Burj Khalifa.
● Khan Murjan is also worth checking out. It’s located in Wafi city, and entirely underground, inspired by a 14th century Baghdad meeting place.
Haggling is possible anywhere in Dubai, though you’re more likely to be successful in the older, historic souks. The only exception is the Gold Souk, where prices are based on the value of the materials used. The only negotiable part is the artisan’s charge, which is generally 10-20% of the total cost of the item.
Those are some of the city’s best souks; there are, of course, others. But shopping in Dubai is a must-have experience. Just don’t be surprised if it takes a whole day!