Middle East has been renowned as a global trading hub for centuries, and its souks are famous for their bustling atmosphere, eccentric variety and for giving an authentic flavor of Arabic Culture. Not the malls, but the souqs in the Middle East are the perfect place to buy local handicrafts and get the essence of the real tradition and culture.
Ditch the modern shopping malls next time and visit the old souqs in the Middle East. Dive into the region’s local culture and get lost in the intricate old markets of the Middle East and its neighbors. With so many old souks to choose from, we’ve brought together few must-visit old souqs/bazaars in the Middle East.
Muttrah Souk, Muscat
Best for: Traditional Arabic Feel & the Ambience
Situated just opposite the picturesque Corniche, Muttrah souk is one of the region’s smallest souks, but one you can’t miss. Glittering with the Sultanate’s silver Khanjars (ceremonial daggers) and smoky with the scent of bukhoor (wood chips drenched in fragrant oils), many visitors visit this place more than the glitzy city malls of popular cities.
Al-Balad Souk, Jeddah
Best for: The Culture & The Humbleness of Shop Owners
If you are looking for something sparkly, then AL-Balad is the best place to visit. You will find all sorts of goods, jewelry and handmade items in Al-Balad souk.
Handy-Tip: If the gold glittering in the windows tempts you, make sure to check the current price of gold, listed in the newspaper, to bargain to your best ability.
Manama Souk, Manama
Best for: Natural pearls
Bahrain has a long pearl-diving history, and to preserve the heritage, cultured pearls are banned – meaning that you can safely shop knowing you’ll get the real deal. And there’s a lot to shop in Manama Souk. All the shops appear to be overflowing with everything from gadgets, lady items T-shirts, nuts, and spices, to Shisha accouterments and fragrances.
Gold and Spice Souks, Dubai
Best for: The shiny metal and the refreshing aroma
The vibrant city – Dubai may not be as ancient as some other destinations in the Middle East, but its souks reflect the heritage and history. On the other side of the Creek, the gold and spice souks boast several shops and some of the lowest gold prices around (Just be prepared to haggle). You will also find the colorful spice souk, scented heavily with incense and overflowing bags of herbs, frankincense, and well-priced saffron.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
Best for: Anything and everything
The colorful and chaotic Grand Bazaar is the heart of İstanbul’s Old City and has been so for centuries. With almost 60 covered streets of its kind, you can buy jewelry, shisha pipes, carpets, ceramics, kilim rugs, pashminas in the Grand Bazaar. But, make sure to spend at least three hours in Grand Bazaar.
Best for: The street food
This souk is just 30-45 minutes drive from Beirut. You can buy usual goods such as items for the house, sweets, and meat. The old area of Sidon always brims with brilliant treats: sandwiches, falafel, kaak (ring-shaped bread) and kanafeh (syrup-soaked cheese pastry) for dessert are just a few to order.
Note: Make sure not to overlook the original architecture and vaulted features holding the tiny shop stalls.
Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakech
Best for: Handmade Rugs
Jemaa el-Fnaa is a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It is quite famous for handmade rugs and woolen Berber rugs. Snake charmers, medicine men, musicians and performers along the street food stalls give it a storybook atmosphere.
The old souks are the mirror of the history, culture, and traditions. Shop or not, you are going to have an experience that would be etched in your memory forever.