Step by step guide through Dubai's souqs
What does Dubai say to you whilst you are relaxing on your hotel rooftop looking out around you at the incredible city skyline? Splendour, extravagance, decadence and excess? There is so much wonder and awe when first arriving in this paradise, and the novelty feels like it will never wear off. Surrounded by so much luxury, it really is easy to forget yourself where you are, out of your usual comfort zone and into an entirely new, plush (and air-conditioned) one. It is so awe-inspiring it is almost unrealistic... like you are in a fairytale dream sequence...so: wake up and smell the kofti! Cash in the artificial for the authentic and visit what Dubai’s old neighbourhoods have to offer. A day spent wandering through the wonders of the twisting, winding souqs is an essential part of the Dubai experience, and is not easily forgotten. There is, after all, only so much lavishness you can take.
The souqs are all located in Bur Dubai and Deira by the Creek and can be accessed in taxis or you can walk between them. This could be an enjoyable morning excursion, but be wary of the intense heat. And of course we all love to dress to impress, yet when walking through the souqs, it is advisable to dress for the occasion and cover up, it’s part of the old town’s charm.
Deira Gold Souq
The best place to start is on Sikkat al-Khail St, the Deira Gold Souq. Here, all that glitters really is gold. It is home to one of the world’s largest gold markets and it is a sight to behold. Watching the credit card clad women of leisure swanning through the souq is as much entertainment as watching the men trying to sell them rip off goods at exorbitant prices. Whether you plan to indulge in purchasing some gold jewellery or just want to experience the atmosphere and hustle of the Deira Gold Souq, it’s definitely a good introduction to the souqs and how they operate, and there is plenty more to come along the way.
Deira Spice Souq
Leaving the gold behind, and walking toward the creek, you will find yourself somewhere more accessible. The vibrant colour and the aromatic smells beat anything you will find in the classiest restaurants in the city. Visiting Deira Spice Souq is absolute bliss. This may be only a portion of what it would have been in the nineteenth century but the character remains intact. Unlike so many other places in the city, it isn't necessarily catered for tourists either, the Deira Spice Souq is an authentic hub of Arab life, and a great place to get a bargain and a chance to fill your cupboards with spices, herbs and even some frankincense. One of the magical elements of this souq is the enchanting sounds of music which ricochet off the walls and the little pleasant shops selling everything from sheesha to saffron.
The Deira Perfume Souq is in between the Gold and the Spice souq, yet this can be an overpowering experience, especially in the height of the sun. Although it definitely is worth a look around if you have time and fancy something sweet or sensual!
After having spiced up your visit to Dubai, it’s time to take a relaxing trip across the creek on an abra. An abra is a traditional arabic wooden boat and they are dotted around the creek waiting to take people across every few minutes. Not only is this the cheapest method of crossing the creek (from 1dhm), it is also the most spectacular, and authentic. Being on the creek even offers some respite from the intoxicating heat, ready to rejuvenate yourselves before exploring Bur Dubai.
Bur Dubai Souq
Prepare to be dazzled with the Textile Souq area of the Bur Dubai Souq. This is very close to where you disembark from the abra, although you can ask to make sure you’re on the right track! The amount of material available here is a feast for the eyes and senses. Indian silks and intricate fabrics, vibrant, deep and rich in colour surround you at every turn. Pashminas, authentic arabic dress and clothing in general can be purchased here for next-to-nothing and it is even possible to choose material and request a custom, tailor-made outfit which will be delivered to your accommodation within 24 hours. Once you have done that, shopping will never quite be the same again. The Bur Dubai Souq stretches far and is possibly the most authentic of the souqs in the mismash and disorganisation of stalls, it isn’t as consistently impressive as in Deira, but that is part of its appeal. This is also where your bartering and haggling skills will be tested most ardently, it almost a sport for the vendors and it is advisable to become involved. This type of negotiation is expected, and, to an extent, even quite enjoyable once you get used to it.
Although you should really visit the souqs in the morning as the bright colours will be at their best, the Bur Dubai Souq is a hub of activity in the evening/night. It is well worth a visit if you want an alternative souq experience! To finish off your souq tour, along the creek you will find several authentic restaurants all of which are reasonably priced, and serving mouthwatering traditional Arabic fare. Now is the time to have that kofti (or al machboos, hummus or another traditional Arabic dish), look out onto the creek and bask in the authenticity and splendour of the real Arabic culture!
A trip to Dubai should always include at least one visit to the souqs and, after this one visit, I defy you not to wish to go back for more - you haven't seen Dubai until you have seen it’s souqs!