Catch a glimpse of the old Dubai in its old markets: a small pearl-diving hub on the Gulf Coast where buying and selling was as much about banter as it was about business.
Dubai makes no secret of its brazen love of shopping. In the old days, Dubai shopping was all about haggling in souks over the price of Iranian saffron. Today, the city engages its favourite pastime mostly in malls the size of small towns, like Ibn Batutta, the Emirates Mall, or Dubai Marina Mall.
But the narrow alleys of the souks in old Dubai beckon with the romance of yesteryear, promising to leave both you and your wallet happy. Whether you’re looking to buy Arabian oud or exquisite jewellery, here are the best souks in Dubai to loosen your purse strings.
Take an abra (a wooden boat) across the creek to Deira and let the vibrant hues of saffron, turmeric, and chilli guide you through the lanes of the Spice Souk, stacked with sacks of spices and herbs from the Middle East, India, and North Africa. The dried rose-petals, Dead Sea salt, tea, henna, dry fruits and dates make perfect souvenirs. Taste before you buy and bring your ace bargaining skills.
In the neighbouring Gold Souk, browse exquisite wedding jewellery in silver and gold encrusted with gemstones. Here you’ll discover elaborate designs straight from Arabian fairytales and elegant pieces made with superior craftsmanship, all sold at reasonable prices. Even if you don’t want to shop, the jaw-dropping window displays alone are worth a visit.
If you fancy an Arabian fragrance, just follow your nose. At the Perfume Souk, choose from heady oud varieties: essential oils, floral fragrances, frankincense and perfumed soap, all of which make excellent gifts for friends and family. If you can’t decide, talk to one of the chatty perfumers about your tastes and they will design a bespoke attar (oil-based perfume) with a fragrance that suits your personality.
Formerly a camel market frequented by Bedouins, this chaotic Naif Souk today sells everything else: electronics, leather goods, accessories, clothes and more. Join local women and North African tourists as they closely inspect stone-embellished evening gowns, shaylas (headscarves) and embroidered abayas (robe-like dresses). Sellers almost always quote tourist prices, so expect a long game of haggling.
In the heart of Bur Dubai, the Textile Souk is one of the city’s oldest markets. While the souk has been renovated, the arched wooden roof and wind towers were retained to maintain the traditional architecture. Get lost in the maze-like alleys of shops selling bales of beautiful fabrics: raw silks, fine cashmere, shiny organza, and sequined chiffon, imported from India and Pakistan.
Souk Al Bahar
Souk Al Bahar is a relatively new shopping venue built in the traditional style and connected to the Dubai Mall by a bridge over the Burj Khalifa lagoon. On the lower level, browse through handicrafts, art, embroidered carpets, antiques, traditional dresses, frankincense, and jewellery. When it’s time for a break, grab a seat at one of the bars or restaurants on the top floor with fantastic views of the Dubai Fountain.
Practice your haggling skills and start planning your Dubai shopping trip!