Markets in the UAE

Ditch the mall and step into a more interesting shopping experience Discuss this article

© ITP Images

Amazing architecture at Sharjah’s Central Souq

Also known as the Blue Souq, this Sharjah stalwart is approaching 40 years old (it opened in 1979) and makes quite a claim of being the finest Arabian souq experience in the UAE. There are hundreds of stores selling gold, furniture, crafts, carpets, art and collectibles from around the Arab World and Asia. Look out for jewels from Yemen, rugs handwoven in Afghanistan and Rajhastani treasure chests. The bartering is hard and you’ll need to keep your wits about you to get a good deal. More impressive than the deals and stalls is the building itself. The ornate blue mosaic tiles on both sides of the split souq are picture-postcard examples of traditional art and architecture, and well worth travelling to see.
Central Souq, King Faisal Road, on Khalid Lake, Sharjah.

Fish and quips in Ajman’s markets

Okay, so the fish counter at your local supermarket might have come a long way in recent years, but for the best experiences go straight to the source. At Ajman’s tourist-friendly fish market, you can buy all manner of fish so fresh it still has seawater dripping from the gills. The canny folk at the Ajman Tourism Development Department realised a couple of years ago that around 85 percent of tourists to the emirate made a trip to see the fish market and have since invested time and money in making it an even more visitable attraction. Not, perhaps, the same as a theme park or waterslide, but packed with atmosphere, sights, sounds and smells to remember, we reckon it is an authentic experience everybody should have in the UAE. The market is in the Al Rashidiya district and open in the morning and evenings. A vibrant auction happens most evenings at around 6pm and after haggling over prices with spirited fishermen you can get your catch filleted, spiced and even grilled on the spot or to take away. If you have a long drive back home you might want to take an airtight box to stop the car stinking out. If you’ve made the trip over to Ajman, be sure to stop in at the Sale Souq while you’re near the Corniche area, too. Modernised, but with a traditional feel, it specialises in clothing and textiles but there are curios available as well. Don’t expect anything dramatically different to the souqs elsewhere in the UAE, but it is good for some haggling and traditional shopping.
Ajman Fish Market, Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum Street, near the Adnoc Service Station. Saleh Souq, behind Sheikh Rashid Bin Humeed Street, Ajman.

Go camel shopping in Al Ain

Chances are you don’t actually want a camel. Visit Al Ain’s famous camel market and you might have a job on your hands convincing the persuasive salesman and farmers of this. Behind Bawadi Mall is one of the UAE’s largest and best-known camel souqs and, even if you’re not in the market for a dromedary, it is fascinating to walk around and see the action. Merely being on foot and wandering between the many camel-filled pens will mark you out as a novice, with tradesmen conducting their bartering through 4x4 windows in the drive-through market. You will probably be asked for cash for a guided tour of the market or for the opportunity to pet or feed certain animals. Just know this: if you do want to buy, then you can do so for milk, meat or racing – the latter comes with a much heftier price tag.
Street 137 (Zayed Bin Sultan Street), also known as Mezyad Road, behind Bawadi Mall.

Refreshing roadside quirkiness in Masafi

First of all, you need to know the Friday Market on the Dhaid to Masafi Road (E88) is open seven days a week. The trading post has been selling a bewildering variety of goods for more than 30 years and it is an essential stop-off point on the drive to Fujairah or Dibba on the UAE’s East Coast. Don’t expect a lot of fanfare or fanciness, although following a fire a few years back it has been mildly modernised. Quite literally a roadside market, you’ll pull over directly into the stall-fronts and can buy fresh fruits, vegetables, carpets, garden furniture, beach accessories and more. There is a decent selection of pottery available and a mixture of handicrafts and practical accessories for tourists. You can see bunches of bananas hanging in front of stalls alongside cheap footballs and inflatable swimming toys. Pricing is inconsistent and depends on your haggling skills. You are as likely to end up paying more for your goods as you are grabbing major discounts, but much of that is down to you. The market has become known for the availability of excellent grilled corn on the cob and you should always make a point of pulling over and trying this snack if you’re en route to Fujairah or going to take a look at Masafi.
Friday Market, Al Dhaid to Masafi Road, E88, Fujairah.

Stay Ripe at Umm Al Emarat Park

From humble origins Ripe has grown into a giant UAE institution. The al fresco markets at parks in Abu Dhabi and Dubai quickly reached must-see status when they first launched and we’re still loving them just as much today. Frequented by diverse crowds of families, hipsters, fitness fanatics, tourists and residents, there is a distinctly wholesome feel to the cool afternoon-to-evening pop-up market. Stalls tend to sell arty handicrafts, boutique fashions, bespoke jewellery, art and non-supermarket-branded foods, and numerous boutique UAE brands sell directly here. A walk underneath the palm trees, picking up nik-naks, home furnishings and stylish accessories or art as you go, is a different world from super-sleek malls. Also make sure you pick up some tasty bites from the food vendors parked there.
Saturdays. 3-10pm. Umm Al Emarat Park, Mushrif, Abu Dhabi, (04 315 7000).

Welcome to outdoor shopping at Marhaba Market

Farmers’ markets and craft shows are about so much more than the produce sold. A community spirit and a sense of togetherness often hangs in the air and that’s how it goes at Deerfields Mall’s twice-monthly Marhaba Market. On top of an organic fruit and vegetable market, a nursery stall selling pot plants and herbs and local vendors with handicrafts, toys, accessories, homewares and artwork for sale, there is a distinctly family vibe. Entertainment includes bouncy castles, food stalls, activities such as football, Zumba classes and hip-hop dance routines in the sunshine. Sounds fun to us.
First and last Friday of every month, 4pm-10pm. Until April 28. Abu Dhabi-Dubai Road, (02 501 0826).

More UAE Souq Tours

Al Ain

Our appreciation of Al Ain grows stronger with each passing month. The Garden City has star attractions in Wadi Adventure and the famous safari park. If you’re over here for a visit to these and are not in the market for a camel, look to a tour of other Al Ain souqs. The Old Souq, sometimes known as Central, is the most traditional in style, meaning you’ll find materials, spices and handicrafts. Further down Zayed Bin Sultan Street, right next to the Camel Souq, in fact, are two more outdoor markets in Al Ain. Souq Al Bawadi and Souq Al Qaws sell traditional items and souvenirs, as well as items of a more practical nature. They sit alongside the massive Bawadi Mall, so you can sneak inside for a regular shopping experience, but we reckon stay out for the heritage feel. The traditional architecture itself is great for photos and you could grab yourself a decent amount of new clutter for your home. Before departing Al Ain, cross town to look at Souq Al Zafarana. It has traditional garments, incense, spices and fruits and vegetables, as well as oud.
Souq Al Bawadi, Zayed Bin Sultan Street, Al Ain.

On the north side of Dubai’s creek, in Deira, the gold souq is the arguably the city’s most famous. More than 100 shop windows are gleaming with gold and silver, pearls, diamonds and rubies fashioned in the styles of many countries. If you want a personal design, highly skilled craftsmen from around the world will make it for you. Shops specialise in Indian, Italian and Arabic gold, the best of the latter coming from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The gold souq is normally open from 7am to noon and 5pm to 7pm Saturday to Thursday. Then 5pm to 7pm on Friday. Deira, Dubai.

Ras Al Khaimah
Ras Al Khaimah usually makes it onto Time Out lists for its outdoors activities and heritage landmarks. By all means you can head to the emirate to make the most of mountain hikes and Bedouin camps, but while you’re there make the most of the opportunity to visit the old market area. Vegetable and fish markets sell, well, you can probably guess – and the emphasis is on experience and authenticity as much as it is on securing a great deal. The two main markets, Kuwait Souq and Old Souq, have the same bewildering mixture of tourist-friendly goods (pashminas, arty nik-naks), spices and practical items such as mops and alarm clocks. There is an eccentrically eclectic mix of goods that seems to work well with Ras Al Khaimah. Be sure to snap pictures of dhows on the water and pay a visit to the museum just a short stroll away through the old town.
Souq Al Samak, Shaikh Muhammad Bin Salem Road, Ras Al Khaimah.

The Central Souq takes the prize and attention but shop about and there are other gratifying souq experiences in Sharjah. Thankfully they’re within walking distance of the main attraction, so a souq crawl can be tagged on the end of any visit to the Central Souq. With that major tourist attraction more than covering the bases of textiles, jewels and collectibles, go elsewhere in search of more day-to-day items. Head to Souq Al Jubail. This enormous souq is sub-divided into three further areas with mini-souqs specialising in meat, fish and fruit and veg. It has the vague feel of a mall due to its cleanliness and well-ordered and maintained stalls. The vibe, however, is all souq, with fresh fish catches packed on ice, mounds of locally grown fruit and vegetables, plus butchery sections. It is also sold with such character and such enormous quantities that it should be enjoyed as a tourist attraction as well as a practical market for good-value groceries. The waterfront setting, incidentally, is rather stunning and well worth a look and a few photo opportunities.
Souq Al Jubail, Corniche Street, Sharjah.

By Will Milner
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

Add your review/feedback

Subscribe to weekender newsletter



Explore by