Discover Dubai’s Exotic Souks

Photo by Gavin Thomas

Hunt for gold and frankincense in the labyrinthine Deira bazaars of Dubai

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Discover Dubai souks. Facing Bur Dubai across the Creek, Deira is the second oldest district in the city, established in the 1840s when settlers from Bur Dubai rowed across the water and set up home here. Deira rapidly overtook Bur Dubai in commercial importance, and is now notably bigger, busier and more built up than its older neighbour. It’s also a lot more culturally mixed, with a cosmopolitan array of nationalities wandering its bustling streets and souks, from Iranian spice dealers to West African gold dealers and Russian housewives in search of a bargain. It’s also a great source of cheap eats, with plenty of inexpensive curry houses and shwarma cafes.

Lose yourself  in the Covered Souk

Deira’s main attraction for visitors is its string of vibrant traditional Dubai souks which blend seamlessly into a two-mile-wide shopping extravaganza. You can see the best of Deira in a morning or afternoon, although more than anywhere else in Dubai this is an area which rewards aimless wandering, ducking and diving through the backstreets and getting interestingly lost – the Covered Souk and neighbouring Al Wasl Souk are particularly interesting (and disorienting), especially after dark, when the shops fire into life and shoppers come out to play. Expect to get lost at least once. If you don’t, go back until you do.

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The glittering Gold Souk

Start at the main entrance to the Gold Souk on Sikkat al Khail Road. This is easily Dubai’s most famous traditional bazaar, with a hundred-odd shops lined up shoulder to shoulder, their windows stuffed with a vast array of gold ornaments.

Walk through the souk, admiring the vast quantities of precious metal on display, then exit via the rear entrance and follow Old Baladiya Road around to the right to reach (after a couple of minutes) the Heritage House and Al Ahmadiya School museums, two of the city’s best-preserved old buildings.

Now loop back around to the Creek to the photogenic Dhow Wharfage, with dozens of traditional old wooden boats tied up along the waterside to load and unload cargo, sweating stevedores carting cargo along narrow gangplanks and huge piles of merchandise ranged on the pavement alongside.

The fragrant Spice and Perfume Souks

From here, it’s just a few steps to the small but fragrant Spice Souk – just a few narrow lanes lined with traditional spice shops, most of them still run by the Iranian traders who have traditionally cornered this section of the city’s trade. Another minute’s walk returns you to the entrance to the Gold Souk, where you started. Nearby Ashwaq is a great place for a shwarma lunch and a fruit juice, while watching the passing crowds.

Continue east down Sikkat al Khail Road, through the Perfume Souk (with maybe a side trip to the nearby Food Souk up Al Soor Street en route) and onto the Covered Souk. Dive into the narrow alleyways and thread your way through the market, and neighbouring Al Wasl Souk, emerging finally (if you don’t get lost) on Baniyas Square.

Beyond Baniyas Square, the landmark National Bank of Dubai is one of a cluster of striking modern buildings lining this section of the Deira Creekside – you’ll probably also notice the landmark Eitsalat building, topped by what looks like an enormous golf ball. From here it’s a short walk to the Radisson Blu hotel, with an excellent range of places for a drink or meal.


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