Abu Dhabi has many shopping opportunities, often with a memorable, old-world feel. The traditional open-air marketplaces called souks recall how traders from across the region first sold their diverse goods, complete with haggling over prices. This wealthy city also has several large, modern malls with welcoming air-conditioning and a variety of dining and entertainment options.
The United Arab Emirates’ capital city also has plenty of small boutiques selling old-world goods such as spices, perfumes, carpets, and ceramics. Some are family-owned workshops where tailors can take your chosen textiles and create custom-made suits at very affordable prices. Shopping tourists come from all over the world, partially because of the airport’s duty-free complex offering a range of goods and high-end international retailers, all priced tax free.
Tourists flock to central Abu Dhabi's souks for their unique Middle Eastern experience. The roundabout on Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum Street lies at the district’s heart and offers antiques shops, sheesha bars for sharing flavored tobacco from hookahs, arcades, and the shaded, Bedouin-style Gold Souk, where you’ll find bargains galore on all kinds of precious artifacts as well as jewelry.
The Mina Zayed neighborhood, an exclusive residential and shopping zone, dominates the northwest promontory of central Abu Dhabi. Two of the city's most character-filled souks stand adjacent to the Dhow Harbor and the canopied markets have been doing business for thousands of years. The Iranian Souk is a potent symbol of Abu Dhabi’s significant Iranian community and the place to buy intricate Persian rugs, Middle Eastern spices, and beautiful souvenirs. These commodities are shipped over from Iran on a regular basis. To the north of Corniche Road stands the centuries-old Fish Souk, where you can buy the very best of Abu Dhabi’s grouper, oyster, prawn, and lobster catches. Despite their scenic appeal, tourists should refrain from taking any photos in this sensitive, government-overseen area.
Set against a backdrop of cruising dhows and crystal-blue Gulf waves, the southwest promontory of Ras al-Akhdar offers all manner of tribal and old-world shopping options. At the Emirates Heritage Village you can admire the craftspeople hard at work carving, weaving, and stitching in a fabricated “oasis village,” that recalls the country’s past. The Marina Mall offers an air-conditioned break from the Emirates’ heat and humidity and contains traditional perfumeries as well as the typical wide-ranging selection of mall offerings.
The Corniche is an awe-inspiring beach walkway stretching 8 kilometers (5 miles) long and housing some of Abu Dhabi’s finest traditional rug emporia. Craftsmen here create rugs in Arabian, Persian, and North African styles using techniques that have barely changed in centuries. As a result, this shopping district tends to be popular with tourists keen to snatch up a bargain as well as for the many restaurants, cafes, and play areas for children.
Some of the country’s notable goods include carpets, gold jewelry, wood carvings, and other local art and handicrafts. Textiles and pashmina shawls, incense, and traditional clothing will also recall your time on the Arabian Peninsula. Fragrance lovers should shop for perfume and consider buying oud, a complex scent made from the resin of the agarwood tree that smells of wood, leather, and rich honey and has a long history in the area. Decorative perfume bottles are another souvenir idea. Coffee aficionados should pick up a dallah—an Arabian coffee pot—while hookah pipes are another traditional item.
Edible treats particular to the country include dates and date products, camel-milk chocolate, and desserts made from pastry dough, honey, and nuts. Pick up spices including mixed blends and the mildly sweet and smoky baharat.
Emiratis shop day and night in Abu Dhabi, with most establishments open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Bargaining is expected and acceptable at not only markets (souks), but also some higher-end stores and boutiques—it never hurts to ask for a discount. The clerk who follows you around the store has two purposes: he’s trying to provide what’s thought of as good service here and he’s trying to prevent shoplifting, which is a bit of a local problem.
Parallel to Corniche Road
Here Abu Dhabi’s social elite browse luxurious jewelry showrooms for gold, pearl, and diamond products. There’s also Western fashion outlets, internationally known high-end brands, and expensive perfumeries. Many hotels are linked to mini-malls selling a range of goods. Find high-rise department stores and supermarkets as well, while Hamdan’s side streets host patisseries and independent tailors.
Runs between Mohamed Bin Khalifa Street and Hazza Bin Zayed Street
This street houses galleries and workshops that focus on time-honored arts and crafts. At the Women’s Handicraft Center you can watch female artisans stitching, weaving, and dyeing traditional clothing and buy the goods too.
Located near the city’s main port area
Mina Road is home to the Al Ain Souk and anyone looking to experience this busy, traditional shopping atmosphere should plan a visit. Also called the Central or “Old Souk,” get a slice of the culture and browse a range of offerings that include not only silks, spices, and perfumes, but also electronics, clothing, homewares, and souvenirs. Mina Road is home to the Carpet Souk as well, though shoppers should be discerning to made sure they don’t end up with machine-made rugs when they’re actually seeking something handmade, like traditional tribal rugs called kilims. Don’t forget to bargain as it’s not only accepted but expected.
Major Shopping Malls
Abu Dhabi Mall
Al Zahiyah, Abu Dhabi
This mall includes more than 200 stores selling the typical wide-ranging array of mall goods. Find local, national, and international brand name retailers and specialty boutiques along with many food and entertainment options such as a movie theater and “Fun City” for kids. The mall is attached to the Beach Rotana Hotel.
Al Wahda Mall
Al Asalah Street, Zone 1E19, Abu Dhabi
More than 350 stores are found here, located next to the city’s football stadium—an Abu Dhabi landmark. A spacious, light-filled atmosphere comes from the sunroof design of the mall’s ceiling. This venue also includes a large supermarket and many options for dining.
Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street, Zone 1, Abu Dhabi
With its aquarium-lined walls enclosing three floors and more than 200 stores, this mall is a one-of-a-kind experience. Find the expected, large international brands as well as small shops selling handicrafts among the mix of wide-ranging mall goods, along with a large food court that claims to be the Middle East’s largest. For entertainment when you’re not marveling at the sea creatures swimming around you, there’s also Sparkys Family Fun Park with bowling alleys, a movie theater, gaming arcade, and rides for both kids and adults.
Al Marina, Abu Dhabi
The city’s largest mall, Marina Mall features five floors housing more than 400 stores selling clothing, beauty products, home goods, electronics, and even a Mercedes Benz showroom. International luxury retailers are included in the mix such as Tiffany, Prada, and Chanel. For entertainment find a movie theater, Emirates Bowling Village, Bounce for trampoline fun, and a zip line. There’s also many food options from casual snacks to restaurant fare.
Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
Another of the city’s shopping-dining-entertainment complexes, Yas Mall features more than 350 stores and 60 restaurants and cafes. Here shoppers will find popular international brands and every kind of product desired.
Al Marayah Island, Abu Dhabi
Shoppers can find anything they want and more at this mall featuring over 400 stores under its curved glass roof. This also is the place to purchase luxury goods from recognized international brand name retailers including Cartier, Chanel, Gucci, and Dior. There’s many food options as well from restaurants to fast-casual eateries. Additionally, there’s a 21-screen IMAX theater, and kids will enjoy the “Xtreme Zone” with its trampolines, climbing walls, and arcade games.
Avenue at Etihad Towers
West Corniche, Abu Dhabi
Big-spenders looking for luxury goods and exclusive brand name retailers will find it here—along with private rooms for a truly VIP shopping experience. Some brands offered here are found nowhere else in the city, with notable names including Versace, Rolex, Bulgari, Burberry, and Van Cleef & Arpels. In addition, there are cafes, restaurants, a grocery store, and nursery.
Madinat Zayed Shopping Center
Sultan Bin Zayed the First Street, Zone 1, Abu Dhabi
Though not as modern as most, this mall with many fabric stores has the added bonus of being attached to the Gold Souk. Find gold jewelry in both modern and traditional styles as well as diamond and pearl jewelry. Bargaining is acceptable among the more than 70 jewelry stores found in the Gold Souk, though check the price of gold before stopping by.
Al Mina Fruit and Vegetable Souk
Port Zayed, Abu Dhabi
This is the place to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables in central Abu Dhabi. Additionally, a row of shops here sell dates, the nutritious and traditional UAE commodity that makes for great gifts.
Emirates Heritage Village
Al-Kasser Breakwater, Marina Village, Abu Dhabi
This village recalls the country’s past while preserving the traditions and customs of the Bedouin people. Come to observe the craftspeople hard at work carving, weaving, and stitching in a fabricated “oasis village.” This is a great place to get traditional goods including decorative ceramics, carpets, and various artisan-made handicrafts.
Women’s Handicraft Centre
Karamah Street, al-Mushrif, Abu Dhabi
For high quality, traditional goods that are handmade, visit this government-run center. See textile-weaving, spinning, basketry, embroidery, and more, all created by local women. The café’s tasty Emirati food makes it a great lunch option. Feel free to photograph the crafts on display, but be sure to keep the lens well away from the women at work.
Article written for World Trade Press by Felicia Topp.
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