Traditional markets have evolved into bustling tourist attractions selling a fascinating collection of goods.
24 July 2013| Last updated on 8 January 2018
‘Souq’ is Arabic for ‘marketplace.’ Historically, sailing ships would offload their cargo and the goods would be haggled over in the nearby souqs. A "souq," which is actually pronounced [sook], is an open air market, and a place of trade, it is like a flea market in an Arab city.
Souqs are typically comprised of sizeable number of shops all connected in a way that you can walk along and through the stalls and small shops, its quite hard sometimes to know where one trader ends and another one starts displaying his wares.
Souqs are selling a wide range of goods, necessities and luxuries. Shopping at souq may give you a glimpse of Abu Dhabi’s remarkable history merged with some modern day sophistication. People can buy just about anything from the souq, from spices to jewelry. Shopping here is not so difficult because each store offers specific goods or merchandise. The goods are arranged by lanes and each lane has categories for easy access of shoppers. Normally if you are looking for something that the owner does not sell, he will point you in the right direction. Today alongside the spices, silks and perfumes you’ll find electronic goods, souvenirs, clothing and household items, As well traditional silver, brass coffee pots, carpets exported from different countries, incense; and 'oudh', the local perfume essence. Bargaining is what you have to remember if you’re shopping at souq.
Visit a number of shops to get a feel for price, quality and traditional designs. As a very rough guide, the higher the number of knots per square inch, the higher the price and the better the quality. Silk is more expensive than wool, and rugs from Iran are generally more valuable than the equivalent from Turkey or Kashmir.
Check also whether the carpet was made by machine or hand; hand-made carpets are never quite perfect and the pile is uneven, yet they are more valuable than their machine-made counterparts. Carpet salesmen will happily offer plenty of advice and can usually be trusted; just don’t feel pressured into buying simply because he has unrolled over 30 carpets for you. Most importantly, don’t forget to bargain – it’s all part of the game and is expected.
A good starting point is the Carpet Souk at the port end of Mina Road. Mina Souk is similarly well stocked. Most malls also have well-stocked carpet shops. Yemeni mattresses and machine-made carpets dominate this souk, but bargains can be found if you know what you are looking for. Some of the sellers will make up Arabic majlis-style cushions for a very reasonable price. You’ll find it on Mina Road, near the main port area.
On the opposite side of Mina Port from the Carpet Souq is the Plant Souq area, you can park your car and wonder round the many stalls, trading in plants and foliage, also selling clay pots and decorative garden ornaments. Its fun to go round the different areas, once you decide what to buy, you can barter the price, the more you buy the better your discount. The stallholders are very amicable and once your purchase price is agreed upon, they will happily plant out your flowers, plants and herbs for you in the pots your bought. They are able to deliver larger trees and garden furniture.
Every morning, fishermen load their catch on to the quayside and prepare for a day of haggling – it is a fascinating insight into the way traditional business is done. The fish souk is in Mina Zayed Free Port.
Al Mina Fruit & Vegetable Souk
Across the road from the Fish Souk, this fruit and vegetable market is bursting with colour as each seller arranges his produce outside the shops. The choice is amazing, and you can buy by the kilo or the box. Even if you are not buying, this area provides excellent photo opportunities.
The Souk at Central Market
Opened recently, this traditional Arabian souk will be a 'must visit' destination for residents with the emphasis on displaying and selling traditional and regional products ranging from jewelry, carpets, antiques to traditional tailoring, fashion and diverse restaurants.
The Souk at Qaryat Al Beri
This contemporary adaptation of a typical Arabian souk is home to local and international retail brands, coffee shops and a diverse range of restaurants. Abras (water taxis) take you around the souk via meandering manmade canals, and the stunning waterside complex offers alfresco dining in beautiful architectural surroundings.
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Gold jewellery is in abundant supply, whatever your taste. Gold is priced according to the international daily gold rate, and is available in 18, 21, 22 or 24 carats. You can also buy gold ingots in varying sizes, either for investment or to have moulded into your own design. In addition to the weight price, a small charge is added for craftsmanship, which varies according to the intricacy of design. The Gold Souk on 4th Street in Madinat Zayed has many jewellers, including some of the Gulf’s largest. Apart from the souk, you’ll also find some big-name jewellers in the shopping malls, such as Cartier, Chopard and Tiffany & Co. Regional jewellers to look out for include Damas, Pure Gold and Rivoli.
Probably one of the more interesting of the local specialties, it is well priced and in total abundance. There are even whole shopping areas dedicated to the sale of gold where beautiful jewellery from Italy to India is on display. Some of the more traditional pieces tend to be a little more extravagant than the usual western taste stretches too, but non-the- less is lovely to look at and even better to try.
It is fairly common for people to select precious stones and design their own styles and end up with an unique piece of jewellery made for the fraction of the price you would expect to pay in other parts of the world. Most of the jewellers will make jewellery for you. Silver and watches are also well priced here. You may find you will get better value for your money in the Gold Souks of Abu Dhabi compared to Dubai.
Good places to shop are the Madinat Zayed Gold Souk, Al Muroor St. and the Indian Souk on Hamdan St. Most of the gold on display around this area is 22 carat and more yellow in appearance than the 18 carat you will be used to.
Some of the bigger jewellers such as Damas are always worth a look. Despite their very smart looking shops they too can have some very competitively priced items.
Carpets and rugs tend to be very well priced here, as are pashmina shawls. Silks and satins and beautifully hand-embroidered items from other Arab countries such as Syria and Jordan are plentiful. There is no end to the unusual gift items you can take away with you after your stay here.
Some of the Arabic perfumes are very interesting, and incense is commonly burnt as an offering of hospitality. You can have special perfumes mixed especially to suit your taste, and the little ornate bottles they give with the perfume inside are delightfully decorative.
Heavy wooden furniture from Asia and Kashmir is a good buy, and there are several places around town you can look without heading into the bowels of Dubai and Sharjah. A chain of shops called Marina is worth checking out, there is one in the Abu Dhabi Mall. For smaller items Red Sea Carpets are excellent value. They have a small shop behind the Al Noor Hospital and another behind the Madinat Zayed shopping area.
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Made in UAE was founded in 2007 in Abu Dhabi by the Emirati artist Azza Al Qubaisi, and is the first local 100% non-profit project to develop and promote UAE handicrafts and artworks. Discover beautiful creations of local artists and talents beside a wide collection of UAE traditional and silver souvenirs.
List of markets and souks in ABU DHABI
Directions: Al Meena Rd
Al Meena Souk
Directions: Al Meena Rd
Directions: Sheikh Hamdan St
Directions: Al Meena Rd, near Dhow Harbour
Fish, Meat and Produce Market
Directions: Al Nasr St
List of markets and souks in AL AIN
Directions: Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Rd
Directions: Opposite Al Ain Museum
Directions: Al Masoudi St
Al Ain Souk
Directions: Zayed bin Sultan St