A souk, also spelled suk, souq or suq, is a typical Arabian market and at the same time a crucial part of life and commerce for the residents of Dubai. A tour through one of these markets in the city is an essential experience for visitors, who will have the chance to discover, explore and understand the real and genuine Dubai, the one that sits behind the scenes of unbridled luxuries and record-breaking skyscrapers.
Usually, souks in Dubai are located in the vicinity of the Creek, in the Deira or Bur Dubai areas. However, in some of the more exclusive areas of the city, shopping areas have been created that reproduce souk life but in a much more elegant and refined environment, for the use of tourists and residents alike.
The best time to visit a souk in Dubai is from just after midday prayer until the beginning of sunset, when the markets are filled with people, the air is filled with smells ranging from spices to perfumes, from leather to incense, and all around you can hear the sound of haggling between shopkeepers and customers.
Notoriously one of the most important and renowned souks in the city, the Dubai Gold Souk is a must-see for gold dealers and visitors alike looking for a special souvenir to take home.
There are hundreds of jewellers one after the other selling unique pieces, gems and traditional Arabian jewellery to suit all tastes and budgets. The Dubai government authority closely observes the goods arriving at the gold souk to ensure that all are genuine, authentic and of the best quality.
With a modicum of expertise, good bargains can be had: the retail price is on average 20-30% lower than European prices.
Situated in the heart of the Deira district, not far from the Creek, to reach the spice souk from the gold souk you need only follow the smells. This market offers a glimpse into the traditions and trade of the Arabs: it is here that star chefs, home cooks and foreign workers choose from a wide range of local and imported spices, as well as rice and fruit.
At the spice souk one finds excellent saffron at equally excellent prices, first-class dates and tobacco for smoking with hookahs. With such a wide selection of exotic spices, dried fruits and nuts on display, you are sure to discover new flavours, and you can even smell or taste before you buy.
If you love scented fragrances, not far from the gold and spice souks is the Deira perfume souk, located on Sikkat al Khali street. In this market, anything with a scent can be found for sale, from essential oils to pure fragrances, from incense sticks to the ever-popular and traditional Oud.
There is the option of buying fragrances in bulk batches but vendors and shopkeepers will be more than happy to prepare smaller bottles, even mixing several essential oils together to create a perfume that perfectly suits each buyer’s taste.
From the perfume souk, take one of the many abra, Dubai’s typical boat, used to cross the Creek since the city’s expansion began, to the Bur Dubai fabric souk. Inside the heavy wooden doors of this delightful market you will find shops full of rolls of luxurious fabrics, including beautiful silk, light cotton and sparkling saris.
You can choose your favourite and take it to one of the nearby tailors for a perfect tailored suit, an abaya (a traditional dress for ladies), a kandora (a men’s suit) or an elegant suit of any kind. Affordable and fast, tailors can work from patterns or images that you want replicated: the dress is usually ready within a week.
If you are looking for instant gratification and a typical Arabian atmosphere, head for Downtown Dubai right in the middle of the lake: the Al Bahar souk is not quite as souk-like as you might imagine; there are no modest merchants but fashionable boutiques and luxury goods for sale.
Patrons can indulge in shopping for high-end goods including perfumes and fragrances, jewellery, scarves, abayas, Arabic lamps and typical UAE sweets and pastries. Vendors do not give the impression of wanting to haggle much, prices are often fixed or even displayed. A large area of the Souk Al Bahar is dedicated to souvenirs, with shops full of postcards, t-shirts and plenty of soft toys depicting sheikhs or camels.
Just under 15 minutes by taxi from Downtown Dubai, the Madinat Jumeirah souk is the right place to combine luxury and tradition. Built around an artificial lagoon (on which some decidedly inauthentic abras sail to the delight of tourists), the Souk Madinat Jumeirah is home to more than 40 restaurants and bars of all kinds, from Lebanese cafes to Western fast food, passing through options for the more refined palates with outdoor tables from which to admire the canals and with any luck even the magnificent profile of the Burj Al Arab. Inside, shops offer souvenirs, artwork and sculptures, along with jewellery, textiles and leather goods.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Whether you are looking for jewellery, handmade textiles or traditional fragrances, there are several souks in Dubai that will allow you to find just the right one for you. The first thing to realise when visiting a typical souk is that the ability to get a good bargain is entirely up to you: usually when you are interested in an item and ask about the price, the shopkeeper will shoot very high.
You should never accept his first price, but with a little experience you will understand how low he can go. A golden rule is not to buy immediately: several shops offer the same goods for sale, so try to buy the item from the one offering it at the lowest price.
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