The Perfect Guide For Shopaholics In UAE! 

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From carpets and spices, to camels and crafts, the souks in the middle east are a delight to browse. Traditional, with narrow winding lanes, all crammed with shops and smells, these markets are also a wonderful window to the old Arab world of trade, By Ruchira Bose.

From the Emirates to Egypt, we explore the best places to shop for dazzling gold, magical carpets and aromatic spices.

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Central Souk or theBlue Souk in Sharjah inUnited Arab Emirates. Credit: Ian Masterton

CAMEL SOUK AL AIN

The Camel Souk in Al Ain is the last of its kind in the UAE, offering a unique look at local customs. In the emirate of Abu Dhabi, Al Ain is a lush green garden city, and the perfect spot to discover more about traditional Arabic culture. The city is equidistant from Abu Dhabi and Dubai and is also a short drive over the border from Oman. The souk can be difficult to access, but a half hour taxi ride from the city centre will save a long walk in the heat. Within the souk itself, camels are brought in via lorries and lined up for auction. Note that while some locals try and sell tours for the souk, the market is still best explored by wandering around the pens. It’s best to arrive early in the morning to avoid the midday heat.

Address: Camel Souk, Al Ain, Al Khrair, United Arab Emirates

Camel Auction!

The bidding can get quite heated and is a great experience for anyone looking to be immersed in Emirati tradition. Camel Souk, Al Ain.

Credit: Robedero

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CARPET SOUK, ABU DHABI

Abu Dhabi’s Carpet Souk is an ideal place to shop for both traditional handcrafted carpets and beautifully patterned machine-made ones. With over 100 stores selling carpets, from Persian and Afghani origin to those with more local patterns and materials, the variety and options are almost endless. If you’re a serious collector, try the traditionally handmade Persian rugs—a little expensive, but make wonderful home accents. If you just want a souvenir, there are loads of beautiful machine made imitations to choose from.

Address: Carpet Souk, Al Mina, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

THE CENTRAL SOUK, SHARJAH

Opened in 1979, Sharjah’s Central Souk, or Blue Souk, is a popular shopping destination for residents. There are more than 600 shops in the complex, offering an eclectic mix of produce. Being Dubai’s conservative neighbour, visitors need to be wary of Sharjah’s customs and adhere to dress codes. It’s worth it, though: the city hosts the UNESCO Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture, and is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the UAE.

Address: Central Souk, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

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Stop by at the cafés and the nearby Khalid Lagoon. Credit: Alan Copson

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COFFEE IN THE MIDDLE EAST!

WILD COLOR: A Gulf blend of Yemen beans mildly roasted and includes cardamom, cinnamon and saffron.

IN EGYPT, YOU: Find blends named after people. Eg the Al-Hajj Yusuf or Umm Ahmad blend.

IN LEBANON: Coffee is boiled once and served in larger quantities with “no face.”

COFFEE IS NEVER: served to the brim because it isn’t consumed to quench thirst but to evoke joy.

YOU’RE ALWAYS: Served a few dates with your coffee to ease its bitterness.

Long ago, the region’s cafes used to be forums for political debate and animated conversations. Above are five things to know that will enrich your Arabic café experience.

Credit: Wael Hamdan

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MASAFI MARKET, FUJAIRAH

Masafi Market is located on the edge of the Hajar mountains, on the road between Fujairah and Dubai. The area is something of an oasis, renowned for its fresh water springs and wadis. An ideal stopover between Dubai and Fujairah, the expansive Friday market offers a wide range of goods. The produce ranges from vegetables, fruits and garden plants (something of a rarity in the hospitable desert) to toys, candyfloss, woolen carpets and pottery.

A visit to the market would be incomplete without the trying the corn-on-the-cobs. Roasted above a roaring fire and served with lemon and salt. The terracotta pottery here still uses ancient techniques and designs. Most of the fruit on the market is imported, but the bananas are grown on the plantations in the neighbouring Omani city of Salalah. The vegetables are also grown locally using the ingenious falaj irrigation system in the springs.

Address: Musafi Market, Fujairah, United Arab Emirates

Credit: Matteo Colombo

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FABRIC SOUK DUBAI

WHERE: Standing opposite each other on the banks of Dubai’s creek are the spice and fabric souks – the former on the Deira creek, while the latter is situated in the city’s old trading centre of Bur Dubai.

WHAT: Find colourful and patterned fabrics, with handspun pashminas being amongst the best-selling items. The souk also houses some of the most skilled tailors in Dubai, who make affordable, beautiful and high quality suits and dresses.

EXTRA: The drapers in the souk sell silks and cottons off the roll by the meter.

WHY: The souk occupies a traditionally restored bazaar and with a wooden roof, makes shopping a pleasant experience even on the hottest days of the year.

Exquisite spices in the market. Credit: Rudy Sulgan

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SPICE SOUK DUBAI

The strategic position of the souk, close to the Persian gulf, has filled the souk with exotic spices from across the Middle East for centuries. The sheer number of spices on offer, overflowing from sacks, is somewhat daunting, from Persian oregano and bay, to Indochinese Kaffir lime and curry leaves. Such is the sheer number of items that the spice souk is incomparable to anywhere else in the Emirates. As well as ingredients essential for Emirati cooking, the street vendors also sell a variety of other items from coffee and shisha to incense and frankincense, or the traditional Arabic perfume Oudh from the Agarwood tree.

Address: Eira Spice Souk, D85, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

A salesmandisplays an expensive silver khanjar knife. Credit: Jason Edward

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SOUK MADINAT AT JUMEIRAH DUBAI

Located in one of Dubai’s coastal regions, the Souk Madinat is part of the larger Madinat Jumeirah, a modern reinterpretation of a traditional Arabian town. The complex houses two hotels and nearly 50 bars and restaurants. Interlinking the restaurants and the souk is a series of man made waterways in which visitors can travel in the Abra, similar to those seen on Dubai’s creek.

The authentic appearance of the buildings with the traditional wind towers and Moorish architecture immerses visitors in Arabian culture. The site is particularly spectacular when lit up at night, allowing visitors to enjoy the al fresco eateries in the cooler evenings. Souk Madinat, Jumeirah, Intersection Jumeirah Road, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The Spice Souk still serves the dhow sailors and workers of the ‘old Dubai’ and isn’t a tourist attraction so prices are negotiable and good deals can be easily found.

locals and touristsenjoy the sunset and view from SoukMadinat. Credit: Mare Magnum

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SOUK AL-DHALAM MUSCAT

This ‘Market of Shadows’ forms a maze of incense-perfumed lanes twisting through the old harbor front quarter of Muttrah, in the heart of the Omani capital. It is one of the oldest marketplaces in the Arab world, a reminder of Oman’s rich trading past. The colourful alleyways are packed with little shops filled with gold, tubs of frankincense, old silver khanjars, Bedu jewellery and other exotic paraphernalia. Inside its silver shops you can rummage through bowls of coins from Portugal, China, imperial India and even Nazi Germany. Outside on the waterfront the pretty fish market functions as it has done for centuries.

antique sand rugs at Souk Al Dhalam, Oman. Credit: Jon Arnold

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SOUQ WAQIF DOHA

Souq Waqif is more than a hundred years old, has been renovated by the Qataris to its original glory and is today an essential to any day in Doha. Instead of dingy shops with shady people, the streets here are wide, comfortable and clean, the shopkeepers decent folks. From souvenirs to spices to pets, this souk has everything and its open air, clean style makes exploring it extremely comfortable.

Another nice touch is the abundance of restaurants, cafes, juice joints and sheesha bars dotted throughout. Purchase some spices and then join some of the many Arabs (not just tourists) at one of the outdoor tables. A perfect metaphor for Doha itself, this Souk offers all the authenticity of old world Arabia with all the comforts of the Western World.

Credit: Paul Graeme Williams

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KHAN EL ZEIT, JERUSALEM

This frenetic medieval souk fills the Old City’s narrow main thoroughfare. Fascinating to explore, the area is dotted with key historical sites. Gourmet travellers would love it because you get the best quality zaatar—a local thyme-based spice mixture here.

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