Where: Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Middle East
What’s in Store: Streets of gold, designers clothes, cheap electronics, perfume, spices and jewels
What’s it like: Endless souks, malls and shop selling the best of Arabian. Be prepared to barter!
Best Buys: anything gold and Persian rugs
Shop Till You Drop
Dubai is labelled the “shopping capital of the Middle East”. With so many shopping malls and souks, there’s no better place to find products at unbeatable prices. It is truly a duty-free shopper’s paradise that gives you more for your money. Dubai’s numerous shopping malls cater to every consumer need. Cars, haute couture clothing, jewellery, electronics, furnishing, sporting equipment, and any other goods will likely all be under the same roof.
Retail prices are very reasonable thanks to its open port and low import duties and the variety of products available is virtually unrivalled. Free of tax, many top brand-name products are cheaper in Dubai than in their countries of origin. Products like gold and jewellery, high fashion, electronics, and carpets and handicrafts can be bought for amazing deals that are unmatchable anywhere else in the world.
Souks have been called “the heart of urban Arabia”, and Dubai has a good selection of them. It’s thrilling to browse through Dubai’s famous souks. The bustling atmosphere and traditional style of doing business by negotiating keeps shoppers on their toes throughout the whole shopping experience. These range from the traditional, dusty alleyways of the spice souk, a stone’s throw from the Creek, to the most famous market of all – the Gold Souk.
A trip down to the Gold Souk will demonstrate why Dubai has also earned itself the reputation as the ‘City Of Gold’. The sheer scale and variety of gold on offer (at marked down prices) will impress even the most seasoned gold trader.
Prices are very reasonable and largely determined by weight, rather than design and craftsmanship. This souk is worth a visit even if you have no intention of buying, just to soak in the atmosphere of the bold affluence of this part of the world.
This souq is aggressively promoted during the Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Summer Surprises, which both rocket gold sales into orbit.
From earrings, rings, necklaces, bracelets and pendants, just about every conceivable kind of gold jewellery is on offer. Designs can be traditional or modern, bold or conservative, chunky or delicate if you have it in mind then it’s definitely on display. To entice you further, many different shades of gold are also available. Craftsmen can alter the composition of alloys in the gold to create pink, white, yellow or green hues in one piece.
While purchasing gold don’t forget that there is always room to bargain so don’t accept the first price and be sure to shop around. Also, prices vary depending on whether the piece was made by a machine or a craftsman.
Just adjacent to the Gold Souk, the Spice Souk holds a myriad of Arabic fragrances and seasonings. The narrow lanes are filled with aromas of cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, incense, dried fruit and nuts, imported from all over the Middle East. Produce is sold straight out of large open sacks and friendly shopkeepers are never too busy to introduce their wares to visitors. It is a perfect place to bag a gift or two for home.
Spice Girl: Megan savours the scents of the Spice Souk
At the Perfume Souk you can literally find thousands of aromas, and even if you can’t find the one that you want, shopkeepers would be able to conjure up a unique concoction that suits your tastes exactly.
Arabic perfumes are very strong and spicy, in contrast to light floral western perfumes. Bargaining is the norm in all of the souks but bares in mind that most of the stalls are closed from 1200hrs to 1700hrs.
Arabic perfumes or attar are very strong and spicy, unlike western perfumes, which tend to be flowery and light. You can find perfume in shopping centres, but the best place to buy perfume is the Perfume Souq. A little word of caution: Arabic perfumes are oil based and they can leave a mark on your clothes. The perfume shops usually sell and an enormous amount of incense, which can be in form of compressed powder, crystal, rock or wood. Frankincense is probably the most common type of incense.
What to Buy
Carpets and Rugs
Dubai is also one of the best places, outside of Iran, to buy Persian carpets. A wide variety of carpets are available year round and the quality is judged by the type of dyes used, the number of knots, size as well as the family name of the makers of the carpet.
The worth of each carpet is judged by the number of knots that it has per square inch but silk carpets are considered valuable than the rest. The carpets from Iran are generally prices higher than those from Kashmir and Turkey. Another point of differentiation is that carpets on which natural dyes were used are more desirable hence expensive as compared to the ones on which artificial dyes were used.
Apart from carpets, you can even find some lovely Turkish kilims, Turkoman, Kashmiri and Afghan rugs.
Whenever you buy a rug you will be given a certificate of Authentication guaranteed by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which ensures that your expensive carpet is actually worth its price. For a traveller, buying a carpet in Dubai without getting ripped off takes great skill and patience. Do not feel embarrassed or obliged to buy just because the shop attendant has unrolled 40 carpets for you.