Are you an “average” tourist? Is your idea of the perfect souvenirs t-shirts, magnets, mugs, and canvas bags that name the places you visited?
Or worse yet a t-shirt that says ” …went to (place) and all I got was this t-shirts”!
There’s nothing wrong with bringing home all those touristy things, my husband does it all the time. But I often find that amusing t-shirt or whatever looked funny when you’re buying it, unfortunately it’s not too cute when you get it home or present it to your friends or family.
Many times what you thought was super cool ends up forgotten and unused in the back of the closet. I know my grandsons’ have outgrown many unworn souvenir t-shirts we’ve gotten for them on our trips. And I’ve got 2 kitchen cabinets bursting with mugs from everywhere.
On our last visit to Dubai I vowed to curtail my shopping (and my husband’s) to something that we could really use. It didn’t exactly workout as planned, but we did end up with some really unique or even serviceable souvenirs that we all love and know will use for a long time.
Gold prices have somewhat dropped making buying a trinket or two a bit more affordable. So if you want to treat yourself to something sparkly head on over to the Gold Souk in Diera.
In my opinion this is one of the best Gold Souks in the world, rivaled only by the one in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. At the souk you’ll find over 400 shops each with a staggering assortment of gold jewelry from baby earrings to wedding jewelry complete with diadem and tunic.
They sell gold in 18K to 24K, in a variety of colors including white, yellow, rose, and even green. Jewelry is available with our without precious or semi-precious stones.
You’ll find the prices at the souk among the cheapest anywhere in the world as there is no VAT or other taxes added to the cost. Additionally gold jewelry in Dubai is sold on gold price plus labor or “making charges”. Unlike any place else in the world “making charges” aren’t calculated as a percentage of gold prices but usually as a flat rate depending on how intricate the design.
You can be confident in the purity of the gold sold in Dubai as this is strictly regulated by the Dubai Central Laboratories Department. They have implemented a voluntary quality control and certification program called ‘Bareeq’ that recognizes shops that meet their good practice criteria for selling jewelry.
Here are a few tips for shopping at the Gold Souk:
1. Know your gold. If you are planning on making a significant jewelry purchase in Dubai (or anywhere else for that matter) do your research before you go shopping. Know the differences in Karat (purity of gold) and colors.
Different colors are achieved by mixing amounts of alloys such as copper, silver, or zinc to the pure gold. Thus tinted gold will always be less than 24K which is the purest and yellowest form of gold.
2. Check the price boards that are located around the souk. Know how much gold is selling for that day. Prices are per gram and will depend on the karat (purity). To convert to your home currency be sure you install a currency converter on our smartphone like XE Currency App.
3. Visit several stores to compare items, quality, designs, and prices, most stores carry similar designs. The prevalent designs sold at this souk will be Arab and Indian styles as well as some European styles. Some shops sell only 18K, while others only the heavier (thus pricier) 22K and 24K. Still others only sell diamond jewelry. If you’re not interested in one or the other it’s best to move on to a shop that carries what you’re looking for.
4. Snap a quick picture of something that catches your eye, ask permission first, they usually will allow it. In most cases jewelers will have multiple locations in and around the Gold Souk so if you saw something in one shop but can’t recall which shop it was chances are if you show the picture to a salesman in any shop and they can go get it for you or tell you where to find it.
5. Don’t let the price they tell you discourage you, that’s just the starting point! When you find the item you want to buy haggle for the best price. All the pieces are tagged with its weight and the salesperson will calculate the price in front of you as gold prices change almost daily, if you ask them to weigh the piece they will happily bring out the scale to weigh it for you. (Remember the price is calculated by the daily gold price plus the making charge.)
Generally the heavier the item and the more intricate the design the more room there is to haggle. They will tell you that the price on lighter items such as tiny baby studs or simple rings are fixed, but you can still talk your way into a discount even if it’s only $5. So don’t think you can’t haggle about the price of baby earrings, you can! We got a small pair of 22K earrings for my baby granddaughter for less than $50, the original price was about $70.
6. Try to buy multiple items (if you’re interested in more than one piece that is) from the same shop. Shopkeepers give deeper discounts on a set of earrings, bracelet, and necklace or multiple items like 2 or more pairs of earrings, etc.
7. Most shops will offer you refreshments; coffee, tea, soda, water, and biscuits. Feel free to accept or decline, but don’t feel obligated to buy. And don’t think that just because you accepted a bottled water or a cup of tea you must pay the asking price, you can still haggle!
8. As you wander the Gold Souk and the streets around it you will be approached by vendors selling bottles and cans of cold water, juice, and soda for 1-2 dirham; if you’re thirsty grab one they’re a bargain at less than $1.
You will also be accosted, very annoying, by touts trying to get you to follow them to their shops in the alleys behind the souk to buy fake designer bags and watches. Unless you are dying to waste your money on poorly made and terrible looking “Gucci” bags and “Rolex” watches say “no thank you”. I have to admit after being swamped by several touts in a matter of minutes they got very annoying and I ended up just ignoring them and walking away.
In case, for whatever reason, you are tempted to look at their wares remember this:
1. Unlike following the touts in Bangkok, you don’t have to be afraid you will get mugged or robbed in the back alleys. Dubai is very safe, the penalty for crimes, no matter how petty, is very severe (incarceration in a desert prison then deportation, I’ve been told). So you don’t have to worry for your safety, but you will more than likely be wasting your time and/or end up buying poor quality products.
2. Buying and bringing home fake designer products is a crime. If caught at the airport you can be fined $10,000+. Is that fake Rolex you got for $40 really worth the risk?
If you want to bring home something unique but don’t want to break the bank by buying that one pound gold and diamond tiara you can have a nameplate made for you. They whip these out in a matter of hours or at the latest overnight. They will even deliver it to your hotel.
You can have your name written in either English or Arabic. Each name plate is attached to an 18″ gold chain.
We purchased a nameplate in 22K for each of our grandchildren, and my grandsons Dion and Devon purchased one for their mom. We shopped around for them, the prices ranged from $200 to $300+ at different shops. We then sent in our super haggler aka my husband and walked out paying $150 for each necklace.
If you want something with bling that isn’t jewelry you can buy one of these bags or a pair of sandals from the shops outside the Gold Souk.
They are hand beaded in India and Pakistan. Very unique and absolutely gorgeous. You’ll find them in many shops along the road that leads to the Souk.
The sandals start at around $30. You must try them, the sizes are funky and each style fits differently. They are super cute and pretty comfy. However they are not the same quality as the blingy handmade sandals you can buy in Capri or Positano, but they are at least 75% cheaper and will last at thru the summer.
The bags are a bargain starting at about $30 for the evening clutch and $80 for the satchels. They are bulky and heavy so make sure you can fit one in your luggage if you decide to buy one.
We loved the bags and sandals, actually we just love bling! We ended up with 3 pairs of sandals (surprisingly we refrained from buying more) and a total of 12 bags. Again here you must bargain, specially if you are buying multiple items from the same shop. We ended up paying $25 per pair of sandals, $25 for each clutch, and $68 for each satchel.
If you’re shopping in and around the Gold Souk in Diera you might find yourself in need of sustenance and rest. Shopping can be exhausting! There aren’t many great restaurants near by but there are many snack bars.
There are burger, pizza, and other local fast food joints (you will not find a McDonald’s or such in this area). The best one I’ve found is this outdoor “cafeteria” that serves shawarma and falafel sandwiches and fresh fruit juices. It’s pretty good and a bargain at 5 dirham ($1.35) a sandwich.
While in the Diera shopping area around the Gold Souk you will find vendors along the streets selling souvenir t-shirts, mugs, magnets, caps, etc. If you must have some of those this is a great place to buy them. Again remember to haggle. We got adult t-shirts for 10-15 dirham, that’s less than $5 a shirt! You can also find great buys on suitcases (you will need one after a day in this area!), toys, household goods, hookahs, shoes, and more here.
If you can’t carry all your purchases, don’t worry! You can hire a porter. He’ll follow you around town with all your purchases until you’re ready to load it all up in your car or a taxi. He’ll even give the kids a ride!
This guy we hired doubled as a nanny to our grandson Devon. He took very good care of him! He patiently lifted him on and off the pile of suitcases whenever Devon decided he needed to check out a shop.
There’s no set price for porters, he told my husband to just pay him what my husband felt was fair. In this case since the poor guy hauled around all our suitcases, bags, souvenirs, and grandson all day in 116 degree heat my husband paid him 100 dirham, that’s about $27.
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Another popular item in Dubai is Oud. It’s perfumes, colognes, wood, and incense made from Agarwood essential oil. It is distilled from the dark resin heartwood that forms in Aquilaria and Gyrinops trees, evergreens native to southeast Asia. It is reputed to be the rarest and most expensive wood in the world. In the Middle East it is known as “black gold”.
Prices vary depending on purity, quality, brand, size, and bottles. You can find small bottles of not very pure oud for as little as $5 in shops around the Gold Souk. If you’re wanting designer brands such as Tom Ford, Gucci, Versace, and others expect to pay from $100 to more than $500 a bottle.
The oud scent is intense and pungent, I’m not a big fan, but I do love the bottles they come in. You will find many perfume shops in the malls and will notice the scent as you tour around town. The locals love the scent and seem to liberally douse themselves in it. Needless to say I admired the bottles but did not feel compelled to purchase any; however my husband’s friend always comes home with a bottle or two whenever he visits Dubai.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with a bar of camel milk chocolate from Al Nassma. You will find them sold in most candy shops around town or at their kiosk on the lower ground level of Dubai Mall.
They sell a variety of chocolate products from bars, to boxes of pralines, to hollow chocolate camels.
My husband picked up a couple of bars to try and grandson Dion got a box of pralines for his mom.
My husband and Dion think they taste just like regular chocolate. The rest of us weren’t so sure. I think it left a strange after taste, but they tell me it’s just in my mind.
The kiosk in Dubai Mall is cool. The boys enjoyed riding the camel in front of the kiosk while Dion and my husband shopped for their chocolates.
Since camel’s milk is not that easy to come by this chocolate doesn’t come cheaply. The bars cost about $12 and a pound of their pralines is just over $100.
Camel milk chocolate a bit too exotic for you?
Then head over to Patchi down the mall (towards the Dubai Fountain) from Al Nassma’s kiosk.
This Lebanese based chocolate company sells totally yummy chocolates in their boutiques located in most of Dubai’s major malls.
They have your standard milk, dark, and white chocolates as well as chocolate covered nuts and cream filled chocolates. My favorites are sesame honey and strawberry cheesecake! You can buy bags of chocolate covered nuts, boxed assortments, or create your own assortment. They also sell chocolates decorated with flowers and other trinkets packaged on pretty silver trays, in silver boxes, and other containers; great for gift giving or as party favors.
The nicely decorated shops are huge and the staff friendly. They have over 50 types of chocolates. The sales associates let us sample all the chocolates we wanted before we made up our minds on what to put in our boxes. The boys loved it!
We ended up with 3 kilos of chocolates. The cost to box your own assortment is $90 a kilo; you can buy as little or as much as you want. An 8 ounce bag of chocolate covered nuts cost $24.
If chocolates aren’t your thing then dates might hit the spot. The best place to get dates is Bateel. They have locations in most of the major malls in town as well as at the airport.
They sell dates in every shape and form. They have fresh and filled dates, date drink, vinegar, cookies, and biscuits.
I never leave Dubai without a box or two of their fresh and filled dates and a box of cookies. Prices start at about $18 a pound for fresh grapes in a simple box. Prices vary depending on packaging and filling.
How about some Turkish Delight, Baklava, or other Middle Eastern sweets? You’ll find many sweets shops in the malls and around town. One of my favorites is Arabesq Sweets on the lower ground level of the Dubai Mall.
They offer a large variety of sweets from around the Middle East.
If you’re craving something salty or savory check out the nuts, dried fruit, and mixes at a kiosk in one of the malls or in the souk.
They are sold pre-packaged or by the kilo. I’m not sure how much it cost, we usually grab a bag and munch on it at we shop.
The most brilliant souvenir I purchased this trip is this waterproof smartphone pouch. I got it at the gift shop in Atlantis the Palm just before we entered the water park. I paid 120 dirham, $32, and used it the whole trip.
This handy dandy pouch fits my iphone 6plus comfortably along with money, credit card, and key card. You can make and receive calls, take pictures, play games, go online, or whatever else you want to do with your phone while it’s safely in the pouch. Yes, the touch screen works great!
More than likely when visiting Dubai, specially with kids, you will end up at the beach, at one or more waterpark, at Ski Dubai, and other amusement park. This pouch keeps all your essentials literally around your neck and ready to use. No need to worry about damaging your phone with salt water or snow, or loosing it on a roller coaster. Best of all you can use it even at home.
I’m sure you can buy something similar at other shops around town, I just didn’t bother to look once I got mine. But I did need a souvenir from Atlantis and this was much more practical and just a bit more costly than a t-shirt.
As you’d expect at most amusement parks souvenirs aren’t cheap. We went to Atlantis, Ski Dubai, Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, and the Dubai Aquarium. I found their souvenirs very over-priced. Kid’s t-shirts started at 95 dirham, $5 for the toddler sizes. Mugs started out at about $10 – 12 and magnets around $3. Of course we ended up with various shirts, mugs, magnets, stuffed animals and toys, my husband insisted.
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Hookahs make nice decor, my kids have them in their homes even though they never use them. You’ll find them in many shapes and colors in shops around town and in the malls.
Carrefour in the Mall of the Emirates has a few pieces for reasonable prices. The smoke shop across the hall from Carrefour is pricier but has a better assortment.
If you must buy “normal” souvenirs the best place to get them is in Diera by the Gold Souk.
But if you don’t have time to get there then hit up one of the Carrefours in town. I like the one in the Mall of the Emirates, it’s huge.
They have a decent selection of t-shirts, mugs, magnets, statues of the Burj Khalifa and Burj al Arab, ashtrays, and other knick-knacks at very reasonable prices.
Look out for the kids’ Dubai t-shirts, you’ll usually find a rack or two for 5 dirham a piece. That’s less than $1.50!
Carrefour is one of my favorite shops in Dubai. It’s like a Super Walmart on steroids! They sell just about everything you can think of.
They have a huge grocery department including fresh fruits and veggies, baked goods, meat, seafood, and more. Check out their row of Pringles! (I know stupid things amaze me.) We ran to Carrefour almost everyday of our 2 week vacation in Dubai. We got diapers, juices, baby food, beach toys, and more. Yes my grandsons went home with some statues of the Burj as well as a few plush dancing camels from there.
A visit to Dubai isn’t complete without shopping. Everywhere you go you’ll find something you just have to buy. It’s hard to resist!