Old and New Dubai: Consumer Culture Through the Centuries

Bright spices and colourful goods in the old spice souks in Deira. (Photo via Wikimedia user russavia)

Bright spices and colourful goods in the old spice souks in Deira. (Photo via Wikimedia user russavia)

Written by Laura Gavin

Dubai has quickly established itself as the world’s premier shopping destination. From luxury vendors in the airport to the Dubai Outlet Mall to traditional souks, this booming Emirate is the ultimate destination for consumers of all kinds.

Dubai’s culture is an eclectic mix of old and new. The city’s strategic geographical location has meant that it has been one of the most important trading ports in the Middle East for centuries. Today the city is a popular destination in its own right and a bustling hub for international airlines.


While traditional Dubai souks (Middle Eastern style bazaars) don’t quite resemble the touristy markets in Marrakech or Istanbul, they are true to Dubai culture and cater to both tourists and locals alike.

Local families venture to Deira and Bur (two of the city’s most popular souks) to shop for everything from fake designer headscarves to kitchenwares to traditional incense and digital gadgets.

The city’s souk culture also provides immigrant populations with goods from their home countries. Dubai’s Indian population can source saris and textiles from home while other expat communities from Afghanistan to Bangladesh can find inexpensive domestic products from children’s clothes to warm blankets.


Standing in stark contrast to the somewhat dilapidated stalls of the city’s souks, Dubai is home to some of the most magnificent and luxurious shopping malls in the world.

The Dubai Outlet Mall offers tourists the opportunity to source designer goods at rock bottom prices and is fun for the whole family.

With the city’s only Chuck E Cheese, this somewhat off the beaten path destination is perfect for sourcing holiday bargains on high end goods.

The Mall of the Emirates on the other hand has become one of Dubai’s most ubiquitous and luxurious landmarks. Complete with spa facilities, gyms, and of course the famous indoor ski facility, this world-class shopping destination is second to none.

Mall culture in Dubai has emerged as a result of myriad factors. New construction, the desire to build the biggest and best of everything, demand for high end goods and of course the sweltering heat have made indoor malls incredibly popular in the Emirate.

The shopping experience in Dubai, while seeming rather dichotomous at times is in reality a reflection of what made the city famous several centuries ago. As a central trading post and home to a dynamic multicultural population, the city’s ability to innovate and provide for a range of consumers has long been its claim to fame and continues to this day. For the ultimate shopping holiday, Dubai is the place to be.


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