Shopping is something of a national past time in the UAE and one of the major attractions for visitors. Glitzy state-of-the-art malls abound, but have not replaced traditional souqs (markets). The result is a thrilling mix of old and new where the very latest twenty-first century retail delights co-exist with ancient family run businesses that trade as they have done for centuries. Shopping in the UAE really does offer something for everyone.
Traditionally souqs were as much meeting places as trading centres; a hotchpotch of sandy alleys crammed with individual stalls interspersed with tea and coffee houses where men would gather to discuss the days events over a shisha pipe or cup of tea or gahwa, Arabic coffee. Throughout the country souqs have been preserved and refurbished carefully so that they retain their traditional charm. In some emirates it is possible to buy anything in the souq, from a bag of frankincense, to a gold necklace or a camel. A visit to the souq is one of the quickest ways to immerse yourself in the countrys cultural heritage. In recent years the range of goods sold has increased dramatically to include everything from electrical goods to spare car parts. Generally souqs are divided into areas selling similar items and many are coloquially known by what they sell such as the spice souq, the fabric souq and the plant souq.
Shopping malls offer an incredible array of international brands American, European and Asian. The shopping capital of the country is undoubtedly Dubai, hailed as the shopping capital of the Middle East, but Abu Dhabi is catching up fast and Sharjah, Ajman and Ras al-Khaimah have recently opened new malls. Many malls include multi-screen cinema complexes, all have numerous coffee shops and many have childcare facilities. In twenty-first century Gulf living, the shopping mall is becoming a social centre in the same way that the souq has always been.
Prices are generally competitive, the key being to bargain wherever possible for the lowest price. In souqs prices can drop dramatically and bargaining is expected, but increasingly major outlets in shopping malls quote fixed prices and bargaining is no longer possible. That said, it is still worth asking for the best or last price as some outlets will offer discount without hesitation all you have to do is ask.
Gold, electronic goods, textiles and carpets are most likely to be extremely good value. But beware, some branded items are more expensive than elsewhere, books tend to be expensive.
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