A city that has eagerly embraced the moniker “Shoppers’ Paradise,” Dubai unabashedly loves to shop. Its fashion-conscious residents are always seen looking their best, even if it’s just while running errands around town.
Home of the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping extravaganza, Dubai can often seem like an intimidating place to ogle designers, but there are plenty of buzzing local markets and traditional souks worth exploring in the older parts of town that won’t burn a hole in your pocket. Locals, long time residents and tourists can be seen briskly walking with a sense of purpose, craftily haggling over prices, and slinging bags of merchandise artfully over both shoulders. If you aspire to be one of them, we'll tell you exactly where to head. If you’re looking for a more cultural experience, skip the knickknacks and explore to the unique display of livestock at the Camel Market or one of the many ethnic hubs in the city.
The Spice Souk is a covered market where the aromas of brightly colored cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, dried chilies, dried lemons, cloves and saffron barrels intersperse with the strong scent of Henna. Though most Dubai residents buy their spices from the local supermarket for convenience, the Spice Souk is still frequented by those living close by, tourists and Abra (wooden boats) sailors. The spices come from as far away as Iran, Yemen, India and parts of Africa. A wide variety of Henna sourced from the Middle East, Africa and the Indian subcontinent is also available. Salt from the Dead Sea, rose water, dried rose petals, dates, dry fruits, nuts, tea, frankincense, incense burners, and traditional Shisha are other interesting buys. Haggling over the price is the norm, so don’t stop shy of bargaining.
Sikkat Al Khail Road, Deira
Right next to the Spice Souk, the Gold Souk is one of the largest gold markets in the world. Peruse jewelry in an unimaginably wide range of designs; from delicate bracelets to exquisite multi-layered necklaces fit for a queen. The quality of craftsmanship is believed to be very high coupled with low prices, making a visit to the Gold Souk a must for tourists looking to buy gold or silver pieces. Watch out because you’ll also be courted by touts selling knockoff watches, bags and perfumes, although a firm no should suffice in getting rid of them.
Al Sabkha Road, Deira
On first glance, the old Textile Souk in Bur Dubai looks like a traditional souk with arched wooden roof and wind towers, but has in fact been renovated and modernized. Many shops are owned by North Indian traders, some of whom arrived way back in the 1950s. A wide range of textiles such as silk, chiffon, cashmere, and organza from India, Pakistan, China, and other Asian nations can be found here, displayed in bales stacked high mostly to be sold in large quantities. Smaller shops sell T-shirts, garments, slippers, socks, trinkets, and traditional Indian and Pakistani embroidered shoes or mojaris.
Off Ali Bin Abi Taleb Street, Dubai Creek, Bur Dubai
Stroll around in the Indian neighborhood of Meena Bazar and you’ll think you’ve been magically transported to India. Heavily embroidered saris, traditional anarkali dresses, regal sherwanis for men, and gold costumed wedding jewelry adorn the windows of stores. The city’s Indian expats visit these designer boutiques and small shops in search of ready to wear outfits and shiny sequined fabrics for festive celebrations. Be warned though, it’s common for pushy salesmen follow you around with knockoff Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada bags and watches and it’s not uncommon to see shoppers lose their patience.
In its early days, the Naif Market or Naif Souk was the place you’d go to buy camels owned by the local Bedu or Bedouins. Rebuilt in 2010, the market today is a modern version of its former self, complete with air-conditioned shops selling mobile phone accessories, electronics, souvenirs, watches, leather, shoes, bags, perfumes, textiles and garments. It’s common to see locals and Middle Eastern women shopping for stone encrusted Arabic gowns or Jalabiyas, Shaylas (headscarves) and fancy Abayas.
Deira Street, Deira
Concentrated in a small complex in the center of a residential neighborhood, the Karama market caters to wide-eyed tourists lured by the prospect of owning a Marc Jacobs bag or watch for as little as 200 dirhams (about $50). The sale of counterfeit goods is illegal and shop owners will often ask prospective buyers to follow them to a concealed back room or nearby apartment to complete the transaction.
Also known as China Market, Dragon Mart is a huge conglomerate of 4000 shops selling everything from clothes, accessories and electronics to machinery, kitchenware, and furniture. As the name suggests, most of the goods come from China but there are also a few products from Iran, Turkey, India and other Asian countries. Prices here are very reasonable and bargaining is expected as the market is mainly frequented by tourists, wholesale buyers and interior designers. At least an entire day is required to fully explore.
Al Awir Road, Dubai International City
Al Ain Camel Market
The Camel Market in Al Ain is the largest livestock market in the U.A.E. It sees a large number of tourists taking in the scenes of persistent negotiation that play out in the dusty cacophonous market. With camel racing and a camel beauty pageant important cultural events that locals attend with noteworthy enthusiasm, the love for the beast of the desert stems from the old days of Bedouin tribes when camels were used for transportation, meat, and milk and regarded as a sign of wealth.
Visitors are invited to ogle at newborns, young camels and sturdy studs and are encouraged to take pictures with them in exchange for a tip. Buyers can choose from camels bred for meat, milk or racing and sellers are keen to impress, speaking in Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, and even broken English. Most often bought for their meat, the traditional Arabic dish of camel is served on a bed of rice and a common sight at festive dinner parties. Others stores in the market sell blankets, ropes, jockey outfits, canes, accessories and fodder.
Zayed Bin Sultan Street, Al Ain