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24 April 2024

Dubai’s souks offer a glimpse into the past

By Staff

When it comes to shopping, Dubai has emerged as a major destination for tourists looking for anything from high-end fashion brands to jewellery and gadgets. With its range of swanky retail complexes, including one of the world’s largest malls, the emirate has been able to position itself as one of the world’s major shopping hubs.

But while the city is best known for its supertall skyscrapers and luxury experiences, it also features unique traditional markets that are still a crucial part of daily life and trade.

The most prominent of these markets, the Dubai Souks, located in the bustling heart of Old Dubai on either side of the Dubai Creek, give fascinating glimpses into the UAE’s rich history and heritage.

Visitors seeking to experience a truly authentic Arabian journey and find unique items at unbeatable prices wouldn’t want to miss a stop at one of these vibrant Dubai Souks. Offering goods ranging from stunning jewellery, rare fabrics and silks to exotic perfumes and spices, these traditional bazaars provide a compelling sense of the past.

Deira’s traditional market, which was first established in 1850, became the largest and most important in the area due to its direct connectivity with the harbour on the creek.

This connectivity enabled it to receive merchandise from African and Indian cargo ships. Today, the Souks continue to be a commercial centre for residents and tourists alike.

Dazzling Display

Dubai’s Gold Souk in Deira is one of the largest gold bazaars in the world and a must-see attraction for tourists.

Offering bespoke pieces of fine jewellery, watches, gemstones and silver and even dresses made of gold, this Souk is best known for its highly competitive gold prices.

Amid its wide passageways, the historic market is abuzz with more than 300 merchants and highly skilled jewellery artists offering a dazzling array of items that cater to all tastes and cultures.  

People from all over the world visit the Gold Souk knowing they can haggle for the best prices all within a friendly and welcoming environment.

Aromatic Journey

Moving south from the Gold Souk, another magnificent old market reconnecting many visitors to the past is the popular Spice Souk.

The bustling and colourful market brings the best spices and herbs from throughout the region, ranging from saffron, cinnamon and cardamom to turmeric, sumac and much more, all offered at amazingly affordable prices.

Home to more than 150 retailers, the market also features other items such as dried fruits, nuts, shisha tobacco and pipes, beautiful traditional lamps, homeware and soaps.

The friendly vendors usually like to take visitors on a trip back in time with engrossing accounts of the origin of their products.

Bespoke Scents

For people looking for exotic perfumes, such as the traditional Oud and Bakhoor, the Deira Perfume Souk is the ultimate place to visit. Located just east of the Gold Souk, the market is lined with perfume stores that sell all kinds of fragrances and oils, including incense sticks and powder.

With thousands of beautifully fragranced options for everyone, the market on Sikkat Al Khail Road, also offers visitors a chance to sample a wide range of fragrances and customise their very own perfumes with the help of experienced perfumers.

Fabric Wonderland

A top favourite of fashion designers and people looking for a wide range of fabrics and textures at affordable prices is the Textile Souk in the Bur Dubai side of the Creek.

Visitors seeking to explore the Dubai Souks located on both sides of the Creek usually take a ride on an abra, a traditional boat, that costs as little as AED1.

The colourful market is full of shops displaying rolls of vibrant fabrics including cashmere, silk, cotton, wool and more, in addition to shops selling souvenirs and other ready-made items such as handmade scarves, t-shirts and local attire.


Dubai’s drive to modernity has not diminished the importance of these traditional markets, which serve as the heart of the city’s commercial and economic life.

Just recently, Dubai’s civic body, the Dubai Municipality, completed a massive project to revive the traditional markets of Deira and preserve its distinctive architecture. Implemented under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the project covered more than 220 historical buildings and included works to restore their historical façade.

The restoration was part of an AED6.5 billion development projects being carried out across Deira by the Municipality.

Apart from these popular Souks, Dubai also has other marketplaces selling diverse goods from different parts of the world. The Meena Bazaar is one example. Located in Bur Dubai, the bazaar district is a hub for goods from India, with shops stocking apparel, gold, jewellery, spices, textiles and more.

Naif Souk in the old Deira district of Dubai is another hot spot frequented by tourists searching for authentic souvenirs, gifts and bargains.

The Souk, which was fully renovated in 2010, has an attractive shopping ambience that preserves the traditional look and feel of the old souk while having modern facilities such as underground parking, lifts, rest rooms and restaurants.

Contemporary Souks

Souks featuring a more contemporary design are also interesting attractions for tourists visiting Dubai. Offering a traditional shopping experience but with a modern flair is the popular Souk Madinat Jumeirah. Visitors can stroll through the alleys to discover the mix of boutique brands, souvenir gift shops, luxury fashion and jewellery.

Set within the breathtaking Madinat Jumeirah resort and overlooking beautiful waterways and the iconic Burj Al Arab, the restaurants and cafes at the Souk offer cuisines from all over the globe.

Another Souk that blends the classic with the contemporary is the Souk Al Bahar located just across The Dubai Mall. The indoor Souk is a lively marketplace that offers the city’s residents and tourists a chance to discover rich tapestries and carpets, intricate handicrafts, eclectic jewellery, culturally inspired fashion and heady perfumes, as well as furnishings, books, art and more.

The Souk is also home to many restaurant and cafes overlooking the dancing fountains and the tallest tower in the world.

The Dubai Mall also features its own Arabian-style indoor souk. Over here, visitors can find a wide range of boutiques selling fine jewellery, gemstones and precious metals.

The Souk also includes a display of works by local artisans for those interested to shop souvenirs inspired by Emirati heritage for their loved ones.