Dubai is one of the most well-liked and popular cities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Many people travel to Dubai to see the famous Burj Khalifa, take part in the luxury that shrouds the city and shop til they drop in Dubai Mall. Dubai does, however, also have a lot of great Souks where tourists can shop local and typically Arabian gifts and souvenirs. Souk actually just means market in Arabic and Dubai actually has some pretty interesting markets.
The most popular souks in Dubai are:
- Gold souk where you can shop gold jewelry
- Perfume souk where you can buy traditional Oud
- Naif Souk where you can find traditional textiles and abayas
- Spice souk where you can find herbs and spices
- Souk Madinat where you can buy all your souvenirs
But before you visit the Souks in Dubai there are some things you need to keep in mind. I have made a list of the 10 things to remember when visiting the Souks in Dubai.
When shopping in the Souks you cannot be afraid to haggle. Arabs love to haggle – it is part of their culture. When visiting the Souks you are supposed to haggle down the price considerately. I have never been too keen on haggling but as it stands, I am actually quite good at it! Here are some tips you want to keep in mind when trying to find something at a good price in the Dubai Souks.
- Before you leave, make sure you look up the prices of objects and souvenirs you would want to buy. Most souvenirs you will be able to order online. I know, however, that buying these souvenirs in a Souk is far more authentic. But be sure to look up the price before you head out so you do not get ripped off by a greedy souk merchant.
- Make sure to look around the stalls before you start haggling. Many merchants will have the same wares coming from the same factory (no – nothing will be handmade, trust me). Make sure to look around and ask for different prices before going in with an offer.
- Make sure you have small bills and 1 dirham coins. You don’t want to offer up large notes.
- Always make the first offer at 50% of the asking price. You will get a counteroffer which you will have to counter at least once more with a better one. If you are not getting the price you are looking for, walk away!
- Always be respectful when haggling. It can get a bit heated – I saw haggling in Nepal where people were literally screaming at each other – but in the even everyone is respectful about each other, about the shop, the wares, and the haggling. Walk away as friends rather than ruining someone’s day to knock 2 dirhams of a tacky pot.
- Finally, you need to learn to walk away when the haggling is going nowhere. No shame in that – you just couldn’t agree on a price. Just look for a better price at the next stall!
Look up gold prices before heading to the Gold Souk
Before heading to the Gold Souk you should always look up the gold price in Dirham. This is essential when you want to negotiate a good price for a nice necklace or a ring. Obviously you will have to pay a small mark up – but overall it will help you to determine what a good price is and when a sellar is taking the piss.
Gold prices can fluctuate daily and although these fluctuations are in essence small, it is a good idea to check the daily price. When haggling try to keep in mind that a mark-up of 10% to 20% on the gold price is fair, but that paying double is too much.
Bring old gold jewelry to the Gold Souk to have it made into something new for cheap
Not many people know that you can bring old jewelry to the Gold Souk to have it made into something better and more beautiful for a small price. Many Asian people bring their family jewelry to the Gold Souk when visiting Dubai to have their jewelry remade into modern and more up to date pieces. These necklaces and bangles are often given as a wedding gift.
Before you have people melt down your gold, make sure you weigh the gold yourself (It wouldn’t be the first time someone tampers with their scales) and check the quality of the gold at home, preferably at a jeweler. You can also check the purity of the gold when looking at the mark on the inside of a ring, the back of a bracelet or the lock on a necklace. This way you are sure that you receive the same quality gold and the same weight of gold in your new necklace or piece.
Also, look around the little shops and haggle on the price to make a new piece. Do understand that craftsmanship can differ. Ask for examples of their work before committing.
Don’t buy anything (packaged) in the spice souk
The Spice Souk is very beautiful and fragrant when you walk through the Souk. But it also has its downsides. The quality of the spices is not always great and most of the time the spices are massively overpriced. If you would like to buy spices from the spice Souk you should refrain from buying any packaged spices as they are just low-tier, low-quality spices often produced and mixed especially for tourists. If you are looking for amazing spices for cheap prices you should head to your local Carrefour Supermarket. – no I am not kidding – they have high quality spices such as curry, pepper, cardamon and cinnamon for very little money. I remember buying half a kilo of turmeric for my mom and paying the equivalent of $1.50.
Same goes for dates: most big supermarkets have a little counter where you can buy high-quality dates at reasonable prices. When I bring dates home for my family I mostly go for dates with chocolate I just buy at one of those little counters.
Residents and emiratis don’t buy their spices at the spice market – so why should you?
But all in all the Spice Souk is amazing to visit, to take pictures at and to walk through. Just not to buy spices at.
Buy tacky souvenirs at 1 to 10 dhs stores
Now we are talking about buying spices and souvenirs at other stores rather than the souks, my next tip is to buy small souvenirs at the 1 to 10 dirham stores. These little equivalents of pound shops or dollar stores are scattered throughout Dubai and a reasonably unknown source of tacky little tourist tat. Whether you want an “I Love Dubai” T-shirt or a massive Dubai mug or fridge magnet, you will find a lot in these little shops.
This is a tip for people who are traveling to Dubai on a budget. Buying your souvenirs at the Souk is obviously a fun experience – but if you want to save some money, the 1 to 10 dirham stores are your place to be! Just look them up on google and instruct your cab driver accordingly.
Learn a few words in Arabic
Building report with the merchants is always a good idea. Most of the merchants in the souk, however, will be Pakistani or Egyptian. Sure, Arabic is not a Pakistani’s first language, but many of them do know a few words, and it is a way to break the ice – which is important when wanting to negotiate a price.
I have compiled a list of words and phrases in Arabic you can use when shopping in the souks.
If you need more Arabic words, you can pick up a little Arabic phrasebook that can help you on your travels through the Middle East.
- Shukran = “Thank you”
- Marhaba = “Hello”)
- Maazera = “Excuse me”
- Hal tatakalam al’iisbania = “Do you speak English”
- Ayna yomkanany shera = “where can I buy”
- Naam = “yes”
- La = means “No”
- Kam yukalif = “how much does it cost”
- Laaref = “I don’t know”
- Alshafqat tatimu = “it is finished”
- Min Fadlak = “please”
Any other words people should know? Leave them in the comments!
Go to the souk early or very late
If you want to visit the Souks in Dubai it is a good idea to go early. Not only does this mean it will be quiet, you will also evade the hottest part of the day: the afternoon.
The Souks open at 10:30 am which gives you an hour and a half before the sun rises to its highest point. During spring and summer it can get very hot in Dubai.
Early in the morning the salesmen will also be less clingy and less obtrusive. You will be able to explore the Souks in relative peace which gives you more time to look for something nice or special.
On the other hand: if you have found something you really like, it is a good idea to head to the souk near closing time to obtain a bargain. At the end of the day, the salesmen might be more willing to part with items at a lower price as the day is coming to a close and FOMO is kicking in.
The Souks close at 10 pm.
Keep your ears open to hear what prices other people can get
When bargaining, it is important to keep your eyes and ears open when other people are trying to haggle down a price. Maybe they can get a better price then you? You can also mention that you know certain other customers got a better price.
A lot of stalls will have Arab prices and tourist prices. People who are Arab will often get a better price than people like me – people who are white. I noticed this when I went shopping for an Abaya. My friends bargained down an Abaya I liked. I could not get the price below 200 dhs. It was ridiculously hard for me to knock any money off the thing. I obviously did not buy it.
My friends – cheeky as they are – decided to go back without me (I was ‘’browsing’’ another stall) and were able to haggle down the garment to 80 Dhs. They are no better or worse hagglers than I am. We just have a different skin colour.
That is why you need to keep your ears and eyes open. If other people are getting a better price than you, call the salesman out and try to secure an even lower price! Don’t let these people cheat you out of your money.
Do not overpay for your abaya
Abayas are a very popular souvenir to take home. This traditional United Arab Emirates garment is rather unknown in the Western world, which means tourists hardly know what to pay for an abaya. This means they often end up overpaying.
In fact, when you go to Naif Souk – a special clothing and fabric souk in Deira, you will be quoted ridiculous prices like 300 or even 400 Dhs. The fabric of the abayas in this souk is often quite cheap and no way in hell they are worth 300 Dhs – or even 150.
I would say that any price over 100 Dhs is too much – especially since the quality of the fabric is quite poor. My friends mostly pay between 70Dhs and 90Dhs.
Another great way to explore the Souks, learn more about Dubai’s history, how to get a good bargain and where to buy what souvenirs is through taking a Souk walking tour. These interesting and unique Dubai walking tours take you through Dubai’s most important Souks with a skilled and knowledgeable tour guide.
You can learn why the Gold Souk was so important to the city or why Naif Souk is a haven for textile. If you are looking for a unique experience while visiting the Souks in Dubai, I would opt for one of the walking tours!