The hunt of souvenirs is not an easy job, when you are a tourist. Whether I travel alone or as a guide, with tourists, it is a must to allocate time for this particular activity. Therefore, if you are a tourist in Abu Dhabi you might want to know where to buy authentic, beautiful souvenirs. My answer is: The Souk at WTC Mall.
Souk – What is it?
First of all, let’s take a quick look at the meaning of the word “souk”, as you will hear it very often when traveling to Arabic countries. The Oxford Dictionary gives us the following explanation: Souk (from Arabic sūq) = an Arab market or marketplace; a bazaar. But, in addition to its commercial function, along the centuries, the Souk played an important social role, being the location where people met. In other words, just the perfect place for you to live the local culture and to find that “little” or “bigger something” that you can take back home, as a witness of your journey!
The transition of the oldest Souk in Abu Dhabi
It is impossible to talk about the history of Abu Dhabi without mentioning the Central Market. By far, it was the most active spot in the city, a place where locals would meet to exchange and trade their goods. Since then, its look has completely changed, but The Souk at WTC Mall is still the most attractive marketplace in the capital city. If back in the 90’s the Souk was still one of the few places where tourists could catch a glimpse of the local traditions, in 2004 demolition was decided because it no longer matched the new development of the city. I only saw pictures of the Old Central Market, but when I think about it and I walk in the new Souk, it comes to my mind a famous quotation of Teju Cole from his book, Open City: “The site was a palimpsest, as was all the city, written, erased, rewritten.”
Indeed, the demolition of the Central Market is probably one of the most impressive replacement plans that Abu Dhabi has faced. And I am not talking about the venue itself, but about the role of the Central Market in the day by day life of the locals. The demolition has definitely brought to an end a very important page of Abu Dhabi’s trade history. But for those who’ve never seen it before, it’s like it never existed.
A new shopping center, that includes the Souk, has been born from the ashes of the Central Market and the former stands of the Emirati tribes, (each was given a quota for trade in the market), have been replaced by fancy boutiques selling all sorts of souvenirs: traditional artifacts, henna and spices, jewelry, Arabic perfumes, clothing and accessories, pieces of furniture, paintings or carpets. The new market place is very elegant and appears as a fusion of classic wooden Arabian architecture and contemporary design (the complex also features a central atrium with a retractable roof and rooftop gardens).
Exercise your bargaining skills
There is one tradition that hasn’t changed though, and that is, customers can still bargain when they purchase something. Whether you are skilled or not, the salesmen enjoy playing this little game and you should definitely try to get a little discount for the things you are interested to buy.
Unlike a typical market, noisy and crowded with people, I find the Souk relaxing and silent every time I go. You can take all the time you want to stroll through its corridors and admire the fancy items that the boutiques exhibit. Even if sometimes I only stop by for a coffee or to have my favorite breakfast, I like the modern Arabic touch that the Souk displays. For coffee or tea lovers it is also the right place to visit, as a few coffee shops and tea shops lure the visitors with their cozy look. As for the gourmands, the Lebanese restaurant inside is a good choice, if you get either hungry or tempted by the smell of the freshly baked bread.
The good position, in the heart of the city, makes it very easy to be reached from whatever corner of Abu Dhabi. And for those who are not looking for souvenirs, but are rather interested into fashion and famous brands, the market is connected to the WTC Mall by Khalifa Bridge.