In a city that’s known for its over-the-top mega malls and is synonymous with shopping, take a step back in time to Dubai’s souks (markets) for some of the most authentic wares in the United Arab Emirates. The colorful, bustling markets feature products from around the world — from silks, spices, and souvenirs to clothing, gold, and fresh produce.
Fish Market: The aptly-named Fish Market sells fish along with vegetables and meat in the same compound, making it the perfect one-stop shopping place for restaurant chefs and locals alike to buy fresh goods daily. The market is inspected three times a day by governmental authorities, ensuring some of the freshest fish, meat, and vegetables around.
Gold Market: Arguably the most famous souk, the Gold Market has more than 800 shops brimming with shimmering 18 karat, 21 karat, 22 karat, and 24 karat gold. The price of gold is set by the international gold market — however, the prices can still be exceptional here thanks to your potential haggling skills and the low mark-up on craftsmanship that turns the gold into bangles and necklaces. The window-shopping here is priceless, so stop and stay for a while.
Perfume Souk: Perfumes are an important part of Arab culture. The shops along Sikkat Al Khail Road mix natural oils in ornate vessels for a great souvenir from the Middle East. The Perfume Souk is also a great place to stock up on frankincense and elaborately-decorated incense burners. (Editor’s Note: If you buy some myrrh to go with your gold and frankincense, some might call you wise.)
Spice Market: Take the water taxi to the Spice Market in Deira, which is also referred to by locals as the “Iranian Market,” as about 90 percent of the vendors here are from Iran. There are 45 shops that sell spices such as saffron, pepper, turmeric, dried lemon, cardamom, cloves, turmeric, and vanilla bean from India, Iran, and Pakistan. Shopkeepers are eager to let visitors taste test, so don’t worry about being unfamiliar with any of the ingredients. Spices are sold by weight or in pre-weighed packages — perfect for bringing back home to complete recipes at a fraction of the cost.
Textile Souk: Set inside stone buildings in the city’s historic Bur Dubai district, the small shops that make up the Textile Souk are stocked with fabrics, shoes, and religious supplies. Visitors can also stock up on trinkets such as bejeweled camels and perfume bottles, as well as miniatures of the iconic, seven-star, sailboat-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel and replicas of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.
After meandering the narrow alleyways of the Textile Souk, take a whimsical (and efficient) ride in an abra (water taxi), which ferries locals and visitors from Dubai Old Souk Abra Station to Deira Station, at the footsteps of Dubai’s Spice Souk and Gold Souk.
In addition to old-school outdoor souks, Dubai also has several modern, air-conditioned souks like Souk Madinat Jumeriah, a recreation of an ancient Middle Eastern market; and Souk Al Bahar, an indoor market that affords a waterfront view of the Dubai Fountain and Burj Khalifa.