Culture, Shopping & Recreation
From Camels to Gold — Souks in the UAE
- Many souks are named after the product that is most in focus at that particular souk, e.g. the Gold Souk in Dubai.
- Today’s souks are often a mix between old and new, both in terms of setting as well as wares.
- Bargaining for prices is a must at most souks.
There are many different souks found in Emirati cities, selling a wide range of products that even include plenty of electrical goods. Often, a souk focuses on similar products, from carpets to camels, but there are also plenty where you can find a mix of wares.
In the following, we showcase some favorites, but these are by no means the only souks you will find in the UAE!
Worth Its Weight in Gold: The Gold Souk — Dubai
After the Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates, the Gold Souk is most likely Dubai’s most visited shopping location, at least when it comes to tourists. Found in the west of Deira, close to a number of other souks, this is where tons of gold are on offer in the form of jewelry, coins, and much more. Local gold standards are monitored by the government, but this does not mean that you cannot haggle when buying your jewelry here — quite the contrary, we urge you to do so!
A Delight for the Senses: The Spice & Fabric Souks — Dubai
Situated not too far from the aforementioned gold souk, and facing each other across Dubai Creek, the spice and fabric souks may for many feel like a step into a story from the Arabian Nights — if one ignores the sometimes obvious tourist-targeting offers. Found in the north of Bur Dubai, the fabric souk presents itself as a colorful if sometimes noisy experience in a restored, traditional bazaar where some of the best tailors and textiles of the area can be found.
Dubai’s spice souk in Deira, often also referred to as old souk, on the other hand, is not only an experience for the eye, but especially for the nose! From piles of oregano to dried fruit and frankincense, we dare you to name a spice or herb that is not sold here!
An Arabian Bazaar: Souk Madinat Jumeirah — Dubai
A bit further out from the city center and situated at the Madinat Jumeirah luxury resort not far from the famous Burj Al Arab hotel, this particular souk is a delight to look at both inside and out. Build in the style of an old Arabian bazaar, you will encounter plenty of wind towers, wooden interior, and meandering paths with plenty of shops, cafés, and restaurants.
A Unique Experience: The Camel Souk, Al Ain — Abu Dhabi
Proudly declared to be “the last of its kind”, at least in the UAE, the camel souk near Al Ain is certainly an experience and affords a further glimpse into Arabian culture. The animals do, after all, still play an important role in the country, from providing milk and meat to being the participants of ever popular camel races.
In order to not miss the most intense of the bidding, get there early in the morning — the market opens between six and seven — and take a stroll through the souk to see camels of all breeds and ages. A word of advice, though: For photo opportunities or tours of the pens, you may well be asked for money, often only after the fact. So be sure to ask for permission and if necessary negotiate prices beforehand in order to not be caught out later on.
Venice in the Desert: Qaryat Al Beri Souk — Abu Dhabi
For something a little less dusty and closer to the water, head to the Qaryat Al Beri Souk in Abu Dhabi. This Arabian-styled but not necessarily traditional souk with a touch of Venice offers you plenty of shopping and dining opportunities, great views of the nearby Sheikh Zayed Mosque, as well as the chance to traverse the souk’s surrounding area by boat.
An Old Soul in a Young Body: The Souk — Abu Dhabi
More of a mix between souk and mall, the Central Market, as it is also called, is the attempt to combine the spirit of a traditional Arabian bazaar with the body of a contemporary Islamic building. Opinions are divided whether this attempt has been a success, but the air-conditioning at least is a clear plus on hot days.
The Famous Blue Souk: Souk al-Markazi — Sharjah
A favorite with tourists and residents alike, the Blue Souk in Sharjah has earned its nickname thanks to the distinct blue tiles that decorate its façade. Fitted with an impressive number of wind-towers (20) and plenty of shops (over 600) selling everything from cameras to carpets, the souk makes not only for an interesting shopping experience but also for a striking landmark in Sharjah.
A Step Back in Time: Souk Al Arsah — Sharjah
Souk Al Arsah is found in the Heritage Area of Sharjah and — while maybe not quite as impressive to look at from the outside as the Blue Souk — it is in fact one of the oldest in the emirate. Rebuilt and reopened some 20 years ago, none of the design was changed to preserve its original authenticity and charm. So if you are looking for the traditional souk experience, then look no further!
As mentioned before, this is but a small collection of souks in the UAE and there are plenty more waiting to be explored. From local fish, fruit, and vegetable markets to further gold, perfume, and textile souks, you can look forward to a range of shopping opportunities found not only in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but across the Emirates!
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