Whenever you hear of a new shopping experience in Dubai, normally it means there’s a sparkly mall on the horizon. But recently, a more grass-roots retail trend has started popping up about town: a genuine market scene. Outdoor fairs and flea markets are a-buzzing with bargains every single weekend. Not only are they a far more sociable, pleasant way to bag yourself some treasures than darting around an arctic shopping mall while dodging kids in Heelys, but Dubai’s markets usually offer more variety, better value and nicer produce. But don’t take our word for it. Get out there and haggle!
Best for... arty finds
Majlis Market: The Majlis Gallery in Bastakiya holds a market in its sunny courtyard on the first Saturday of every month. Most of the wares are made by local craftspeople and artists, and you can find pretty jewellery, shawls, cushion covers and a host of other handicrafts to brighten up the home. We’d recommend checking out the local and international art in the gallery while you’re there, too.
The Majlis Gallery, Al Fahidi roundabout, Bastakiya, Bur Dubai. The next market is on March 6, 10am-4pm
Best for... sophisticated shopping
DIFC market: No longer is Dubai’s Financial Centre purely the refuge of the suited and shoulder-padded. Japanese restaurant and bar Zuma has organised a new market, set to breathe life into the district on weekends. ‘We wanted to create more of a community vibe here on Saturdays,’ explains Zuma marketing manager Shab Rajput. ‘So we focused on the area’s arty side, which exists thanks to the galleries here, and have planned an arts and crafts market with street entertainment, inspired by [London markets] Portobello and Covent Garden.’ There’ll be local art, photography, jewellery and so on, plus finger painting and clowns for the kids. Even better for film buffs, Zuma is planning to put bean bags outside and show movies in the evenings. Oh – and everyone lunching at Zuma will receive a free bellini. Spiffing, say we!
See www.zumarestaurant.com and www.timeoutdubai.com for updates
Best for... cashmere and silks
Textile souk: Tucked away in Bastakiya and a stone’s throw from the creek, Dubai’s textile souk tends to be tourist central, with prices to match. That said, bring a steely reserve and a head for bargaining, and you could pick up some handsome fabric (think cashmere and silks). Don’t go in search of buttons or zippers, though; oddly, few places tend to stock them.
Between Bur Dubai waterfront and Al Fahidi Street
Best for… a long Saturday afternoon
Covent Garden Market: Considering London’s Covent Garden was originally a centre for fruit and veg dating back to the 1500s and is now one of the biggest and best-known art and craft markets in the world, we were a little sceptical when we heard that a market of the same name was to launch in Dubai this time last year. But thankfully, they didn’t listen to us, and the weekly JBR event has continued to grow – after kicking off with 40 stallholders, it now hosts more than 70. What should you look for? Original, quirky summer dresses, kaftans, jewellery sun hats, handbags, purses, caricature artists and a stall where kids can paint their own T-shirts. Heck, the cobbled street and slightly steep prices make it seem even more like Covent Garden proper.
Outside Paul Café, The Walk at JBR. Wed-Thu 5pm-midnight, Fri-Sat 10am-9pm. Until the end of April 2010. See www.coventgardenmarket.ae
Best for… top-notch tat
Dubai Flea Market: Arguably the event responsible for triggering Dubai’s weekend market trend, this flea market in Safa Park gets packed with stall-trawlers hungry for cheap second-hand booty. As a result, it’s best to get there as early as possible; if you arrive after 11am, be prepared to sort through a lot of chaff to get to any wheat. Still, it’s a pleasant day out in the park with a chance of a real bargain. Like us, you could find yourself going home with a beautiful pair of shoes or some smart new art, DVDs and CDs, or even a toaster. Yup, we really did buy one.
Held on the first Saturday of every month. Next market is on March 6 at Safa Park, entrance gate 5, 8am-3pm. See www.dubai-fleamarket.com
Best for… second-hand steals
Bazaar in Mirdif: This new challenger to Safa’s second-hand treasure trove takes place on the first Friday of every month at Uptown Mirdif. Because Mirdif is mostly expats-in-villas territory, there are some real finds here – residents often bring along the debris from spring-cleaning or moving house. Among the usual shoes, bags, clothes and jewellery are TVs, furniture, musical instruments, bicycles and kids’ toys, all at cut prices.
Next market is on March 5, 4pm-10pm. See www.2ndhand-bazaar.com
Best for… fresh and cheap produce
Fruit and Veg market: Buying fruit and veg in Dubai’s supermarkets can be a depressing experience. The produce is often far from fresh, rotting right there on the shelf before you’ve even got it home. Of course, that’s because it’s all flown in from thousands of miles away, and is who-knows-how-old by the time it arrives. And that’s exactly why a trip to Deira’s fruit and veg market is so essential. Row upon row of vivid colours will actually get you excited about buying the healthy stuff (honest!), and the produce is all regional – think coral-coloured Turkish grapefruit, lime-green Egyptian guavas and royal purple aubergines from India. Best of all, you’ll be paying next to nothing for quality ingredients, which is a far cry from the uniform experience of grocery shopping in this city. Get there in the early morning for the best stuff, and don’t be afraid to barter. It’s fun, we promise.
Near the Gold Souk, Baniyas Road, off the Deira Corniche. Open daily from 4am-3pm
Best for… brightening your home
ARTe Souks: Twice a month you can discover the work of the UAE’s artisans with this huge collection of locally produced art and crafts. The beauty is that if you don’t want to buy, you can just enjoy browsing – the artworks, photography, woodwork and fashion on display make it feel more like attending an exhibition, with plenty to see and do. It’s always bustling and there’s a real chance you’ll find something you love. Plus, the Festival City venue is al fresco, so you can top up your tan at the same time.
The next ARTE souks are on March 5 on Festival Marina Terrace, 2pm-9pm, and March 12 at Times Square Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road, 12pm-7pm. Stay updated at www.arte.ae or call 04 341 8020
Best for… spicing up home cooking
Spice souk: The spice souk is a sensory treat, and the smells here are altogether more pleasant than those at Dubai’s other nostril-tickling souk, the fish market. Store owners will chase you down the dusty lanes with entreaties to buy from their sacks of spices, all of which are overflowing with goodies from vanilla pods and saffron to frankincense and herbs. (It’s definitely the place to go if you’re planning to whip up a home-cooked curry.) Bartering is essential here and the friendly salesmen will chat to you for hours about where you come from and how they have a brother who is living exactly there (a fob, we suspect), and they’ll encourage you to touch, feel and taste the spices on offer.
Al Sabkha Road, Deira. Sat-Thu 10am-1pm and 4pm-10pm; Fri 4pm-10pm
Best for… discount deals
Outlet Mall weekend market: We love Dubai Outlet Mall. Where else can you get designer clothes from the likes of Boutique 1 for bargain prices? We just don’t go often enough because it’s so far down Route 66. However, if we do need extra incentive, try the weekend market, which offers even more bargains in the shape of hand-made jewellery, discount make-up, (last season’s) perfumes and hand-painted pottery that’ll add a streak of excitement to your kitchenware. The only thing missing is that outdoor, balmy ambience (and several dozen more stalls: at the moment it consists of a handful sitting at the top of an escalator). Still, we like the idea – and appreciate it if we’re heading out to the mall anyway.
Fri-Sat, 10am-midnight. See www.dubaioutletmall.com
Best for… cheap, local seafood
Fish market: This is probably the city’s liveliest market, and is definitely the most pungent. Even if you won’t want to buy anything, we highly recommend that you check it out for a taste of authentic, old-style Dubai. We say ‘taste’, but the experience will most likely overload all your senses, from the constant jabber of haggling customers to the produce that assaults the nostrils from far beyond the market itself. It’s intense, but also makes for great photo opportunities – the dozens of Indian and Pakistani traders who display their wares are always eager to be snapped holding their biggest catch. Again, it’s quality produce at a startlingly fair price: we recently picked up some sparkling, fresh Omani sardines for Dhs5 per kilo. Bargainous, indeed.
Opposite Hyatt Regency hotel, Deira. Open daily 4am-3pm. Get there early in summer (5am!), before the heat and humidity takes its toll
Best for… digging out one-offs
Community Arts Market: To compare Festival Centre’s handful of stalls to Camden’s Stables Market in north London would be something of a stretch. And yet there’s something vaguely reminiscent of Camden’s charm in the way these stalls are dotted about the labyrinthine lanes in the mall’s Trade Routes area. It’s in the products too – brightly coloured, self-made garments for around Dhs150 (kaftans, dresses with star motifs), bejewelled purses, masses of necklaces, bracelets and rings, and even a table stocked with home-made preserves and chocolates. There’s a lot of pretty stuff in there, but be prepared to dig for it.
First Friday of every month. Next market is on March 5, 2pm-9pm, Festival Centre
Best for… buying some greenery
Plant souk: Stock up on foliage for a fraction of the price you’d expect to pay in city stores at this market near DragonMart, which is filled with flowers and plants. There are plenty of bright and beautiful things for every occasion – house plants, cacti, trees and flowers – and there’s a good selection of pots to put them in. Our only complaint is that the market is often surrounded by tankers fresh(!) from the sewage plant near International City. It may well make good compost, but it’s not so nice for the nose.
Drive past DragonMart on Hatta Road, turn right at the big roundabout, then left at the next roundabout towards Warsan