Where to find the real deals of Dubai
Sidestep the mega malls and enter a multi-sensory world of retail therapy in the seductive souks of Dubai.
Home to more than 70 luxurious shopping malls, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates is the shopping capital of the Middle East. Its evolution into a retail haven started in the Dubai creek area, where dhows from East Asia, China, Sri Lanka, and India imported goods for sale in the traditional souks (Arabic for “marketplace”) on either side of the creek. The most famous souks are still clustered around the creek, and no trip to Dubai would be complete without a visit to these funky, noisy, hot, and colourful Arabian markets.
All that glitters
Experience the old-school glitz and glam of Dubai by wandering through the narrow lanes of the Gold Souk. All merchandise sold in its 380 or more shops is regulated by the Dubai Government to ensure its authenticity and quality. Items on sale range from modest delicate bangles to garish Arabic wedding rings crafted with the yellowest gold and plenty of sparkling diamonds. Haggling is part of the deal.
Spice of life
Next door to the Gold Souk is the local spice market. A must for foodies, the market highlights Dubai’s multicultural identity as a historical Arabian trading port. Persian saffron traders display their wares side by side with Indian spice sellers vending south Asian spices like turmeric and masalas, the colours and fragrances blending enticingly with local Arabic herbs and spices. The Spice Souk is also a great place to buy Arabic flower tea and high-quality dried fruits and nuts.
Scents and sensibility
East of the Gold Souk is a cluster of perfume shops on Sikkat Al Khail Road. Comprising hundreds of street-front perfume stalls, the Perfume Souk is the top destination in the Middle East for scents ranging from traditional Arabian Oud perfume to tax-free priced western designer fragrances. Arabic incense is also sold in stick, crystal, rock, and wood forms. If the huge variety seems overwhelming, some stalls will go the extra mile and create a unique blend to match your skin type and personality!
Across the creek is the “Old Souk,” or Textile Souk, which can be reached by traditional Abra water taxi from next to the Spice Souk. The five-minute journey across the creek costs only one dirham (25 cents). Everything garment-related is available in endless supply, from raw silk, cashmere, cotton, and beautiful eastern embroidered fabrics to traditional Arabic outfits and fresh local designs with Arabian flair. The loud and (overly) eager clothing merchants love to haggle, and will throw a pashmina shawl on your shoulders as “bait” when you pass their stall.
Souked in luxury
The Souk Al Madinat offers a modern take on traditional Arabic architecture. This gorgeous replica of a traditional souk is comfortably air-conditioned throughout, featuring upmarket artisan showrooms, luxury designer outlets, and well-stocked souvenir shops. Nestled within the luxurious Jumeirah resort area, the souk also comprises more than 25 eateries serving cuisines from all over the world. Surrounded by waterways and a view over the iconic Burj Al Arab Jumeirah luxury hotel, Al Madinat is a stylish location to spend an evening in Dubai.
Text Alex Leander
Photos Vesa Salmi