Abu Dhabi is a shopper’s paradise. From high end luxury clothing and jewelry shops to bargain chains, Abu Dhabi’s numerous malls have everything to offer. However, finding an authentic Middle Eastern shopping experience in this glitzy city can be more difficult. There are numerous shops tucked away in alleys that offer the spices, trinkets, and carpets that we associate with the area, but these can be hard for the average tourist to find. Abu Dhabi’s one-stop souvenir shopping can be accomplished quite easily at the Central Souk. While it certainly doesn’t compare with Sharjah’s Blue Souk on the authenticity scale, it is nicely designed and offers a combination of high end boutiques, a variety of restaurants and a traditional market atmosphere.
Located near the intersection of Khalifa and Liwa Streets near the Old Clock Tower in downtown Abu Dhabi, the Central Souk is part of Abu Dhabi’s World Trade Center. After a fire gutted the area in 2003, a massive rebuild project was started, and many parts of the area are still under construction. Despite the chaos, the souk is easy to find, and ample signs lead to free underground parking.
The first floor of the souk is home to the traditional market. The walls are constructed of dark wood, and antique furniture is scattered throughout, tagged discreetly if you care to inquire further about the beautiful pieces. Here you can follow your nose to the spice shops, and their wares are displayed in colorful barrels. Shops sell the spices in bulk, and also offer gift packages of common local spices in a segmented box.
Aside from spices, treasures abound in every corner of every shop. Satisfy your kitsch craving with camel-themed snow globes and magnets. Choose a hand-made piece of jewelry crafted from semi-precious stones. Purchase a brass Aladdin’s lamp for a child and watch their eyes light up. Try to find the secret compartments in handmade wooden boxes. Admire the brilliant colors in the pottery bowls and vases. Attempt to decide which brilliantly colored Turkish lamp would best suit your decor. With many shops to choose from, it can be difficult to decide which treasure chest to dive into.
Bargaining is expected here, so be prepared to smile and haggle away. Also, if you think you may return to a particular shop for additional purchases, make sure to ask for a business card. The shopkeepers will likely offer you an additional discount as a repeat customer. The sales people also seem adequately stocked with packing materials such as bubble-wrap to help keep fragile items safe during travel.
While it may not be the Arabian bazaar of your dreams, Abu Dhabi’s Central Souk literally offers something for everyone. So if it’s a last minute shopping trip before the airport, or an afternoon devoted to browsing, Abu Dhabi’s Central Souk will not disappoint.
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