Shopping in Dubai: the souks

by alexritman

Shopping in Dubai isn't all about absolutely enormous shopping centres (but only just). We've also a got a few traditional-ish Arabian souks worthy of an afternoon's wander

Despite having a near-daft array of massive shopping centres, each with preposterous amounts of non-shopping activities inside (skiing, skydiving, the list goes on), we also have a few souks, the traditional Arabian markets, that are well worth an explore.

Now, these aren't like the vast souks of Damascus or the bazaars of Istanbul that have remained almost untouched for centuries, but are probably the closest thing you'll get to 'old Arabia' in a city only a few decades old. Most are situated down by the Dubai Creek, on the Bastakiya side and the Deira side, and can be explored in one pleasant afternoon, which should also feature a ride across the creek in one of the traditional wooden abra boats. One important thing to note is that the most of the shops in the souks are closed on Fridays.

The Textile Souk

Next to the Dubai Museum down by the Bastakiya (the 'old' part of town) and the Dubai Creek, this charming series of traditional looking alleyways house numerous shops selling material, but also various stalls for tourists flogging cheap clothing and tatty souvenirs. It's a great place to stock up on pashminas, which are handy (and inexpensive) gifts to take home. I heartily recommend interrupting your perusing of the shops with a stop at Bait Al Wakeel, a good local restaurant looking out over the creek.

Nearest hotel: Arabian Courtyard Hotel & Spa

The Spice Souk

Get an abra ride over the creek to the Deira side for one dirham, cross the road and you'll probably smell the spice souk before you see it. It's not the biggest of places, consisting of just a couple of lines of shops. But, even if you're not interested in picking up some cardamom pods or cinnamon sticks, it is definitely worth visiting and the shopkeepers will often invite you inside to smell the various herbs and spices.

Nearest hotel: Hilton Dubai Creek

The Gold Souk

Dubai's most famous souk sits further into Deira and about five minutes' walk from the Spice Souk. It is based around a covered, pedestrianised strip lined with shop windows glittering in all things golden. Even if you're not after something sparkly, it's still a good place to stroll around.

Nearest hotel: Hilton Dubai Creek

Souk Madinat Jumeirah

OK, so this isn't really a souk, but a purpose-built Arabian-themed souk-a-like that forms part of the sprawling Madinat Jumeirah complex down by the coast. Don't go expecting traditional stalls, but shops selling toy camels and international coffee chains. It's quite nice for a stroll though, and has a huge selection of restaurants and bars sat by the (fake) Venetian-style waterways, plus a great beach at the back (but you can only use it if you're staying in one of the Madinat's three hotels). Unlike the real souks, this is open every day.

Nearest hotel: Al Qasr

More expert advice on Dubai

Read my shopping overview on my Shopping in Dubai page.


I'm a freelance journalist in Dubai and write for a wide range of local and international titles, including Time Out, Esquire and The National. 

I came to Dubai almost five years ago with the full intention of saving a large amount of money and leaving within six months to go travelling. However, I unexpectedly began to really enjoy the place (and I also failed to save anything) so decided to stick around and watch a city grow at a frightening speed around me. As a Dubai resident (and, fortunately, working in the media) I've often been lucky enough to get ringside seats for some of Dubai's latest, greatest and (often) more ridiculous developments.

My Dubai  

Where I always grab a coffee: The Lime Tree cafe in Jumeirah may be a rather popular spot with residents, but it's just a short walk from my flat, has a very friendly vibe and a lovely outdoor seating area. Crucially, it doesn't have any WiFi, meaning that I can actually get work done there without procrastinating. It's also just over the road from the beach, which is never a bad thing.

My favourite stroll: Dubai may not be particularly pedestrian friendly in many parts of town, but the streets of Satwa are always abuzz with life, anytime of the day. It's also home to some of the best (and cheapest) roadside restaurants in town.  

Where to be seen this winter: With the temperatures having simmered down since summer, outdoors really is the place to be in Dubai. That said, the new Armani Hotel  in the Burj Khalifa (aka The World's Tallest Tower) is only a few months old and features a variety of Armani-endorsed restaurants and the rather swanky Armani/Prive club just next door. There are also a various new hotels opening up on The Palm Jumeirah, each no doubt coming with their own selection of bars and eateries. 

The most breathtaking view: While Dubai isn't short of tall structures, the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa, some two thirds of the way up the building's 828 metres, offers some frankly preposterous views of the city, even stretching out across the Gulf towards Iran. 

The best place for some peace and quiet: On the airport side of the creek, the Park Hyatt and its surrounding area is a small nugget of Mediterranean-style bliss, with cool waterside bars and restaurants providing some much needed chill in an otherwise bustling and noisy city. Alternatively, you can just drive out to the desert, perhaps one of the most peaceful and quiet places anywhere (once you've turned off the 4x4's engine). 

Shopaholics beware!: Where to start. The Dubai Mall, The Mall of the Emirates, BurJuman Mall, Ibn Battuta Mall, Deira City Centre, Mercato Mall, Marina Mall, The Outlet Mall... the list of temples to consumerism is endless. There's even a dedicated 'Shopping Festival'. With approximately 1.8 shopping centres per person (not really, but it does feel like that at times), Shopaholics should really be aware what they're letting themselves in for before they even set off. 

City on screen: Being but a youngster, Dubai has yet had the privilege of featuring in many films. There has been a few brief cameo roles in Syriana, Body of Lies and no doubt a few other tales of Middle Eastern espionage and politics, plus the appearance in an episode of Doctor Who, but no major blockbuster has been set solely in the city, a situation Dubai, I'm sure, would like to rectify. 

Don't leave without: Heading out to the desert, standing on top of a sand dune and having a look around you. Many people may do it, but this doesn't take anything away from the impressiveness that one huge amount of sand can bring. Also, get a boat to take you around The World islands. It may not look the most amazing thing from sea level, but being able to say you've been around the world in under an hour is an anecdote you can bring to any party. I suppose you should probably take a look at the Burj Khalifa too. It is very tall.