© Calin Stan / Unsplash

Treasure hunt at the souk: tips and tricks for first-time visitors

A lively souk can be quite intimidating for first-time visitors, but with a few insider tips, your visit to the market is sure to be a success. PLUS: the most beautiful hotels for a feeling from '1001 Nights'!

12 February 2022

There are many reasons why travel to the Middle East has become increasingly popular in recent years. Cities like DubaiMarrakech or Abu Dhabi offer travelers exciting insights into innovative advances and, at the same time, deep ties to ancient cultural heritage. One of these historical traditions are souks, the famous open markets where one can find everything from spices to leather goods to jewelry. As impressive and exciting as a visit to the souk is, for first-time visitors the experience can be quite intimidating. But don't worry, with a little preparation and a few insider tips, your next visit to the market is guaranteed to be a success.

From spices to leather goods, the souk holds many treasures. ©Martin Adams/Unsplash

Find the right souk
Souks are typically sorted and named according to the goods that can be found there. For example, there is the gold souk for jewelry, the fabric souk, the spice souk, etc. If you inform yourself in advance, it will also be easier to find what you are looking for.

Keep right
An unwritten rule is to walk on the right side and thus avoid being in the way of someone who is going faster. In souks there are also mopeds and people on donkeys, so it is advisable to keep to the right and not wander carelessly in the area.

Even if you are visiting a souk for the first time, you should try to behave as if you were a confirmed professional. If you get lost, it's best to ask a merchant for directions to avoid pushy passersby.

Souks are still busy markets, and people on mopeds are not uncommon either, so better be mindful. ©Tom Tiepermann/Unsplash, Parker Hilton/Unsplash

Orientation is everything
The lively atmosphere of the souks can be quite overwhelming. In addition, the multitude of visual impressions can sometimes cause you to lose your orientation. It's best to look for architectural features such as columns or other buildings and take photos to remind yourself of the way.

In the right place at the right time
Not every time of the day is the same experience at the souk. Between 3 and 4 pm is usually the quietest and you have a chance to get the best deals. Often, the further you go into the souk, the more willing the merchants are to negotiate, as most visitors often only visit the stores near the entrance or exit.

No fear of negotiating
Price negotiation at the souk has nothing to do with politeness, it is a matter of principle and part of the experience. However, before entering into a negotiation, it is best to look around and get an idea of the prices, as not every merchant sells their goods at the same price. Although negotiation is expected, it is important to remain respectful and friendly in the process. Typically, start at 50 percent of the quoted price and negotiate upward from there.

Attention to the women with henna
Henna tattoos are undoubtedly beautiful and impressive - if you would like to have some and are also ready to wear them for a few weeks. The ladies who offer henna tattoos at the souk are very nimble and already interpret a friendly conversation as interest. So it can happen that they start to apply the heavily pigmented color without clear consent - and also charge considerable prices for it. If you do not want a henna tattoo, it is better to avoid a conversation with the ladies and keep your hands close to your body.

For guidance, it's best to ask one of the dealers for help. ©Hector Martinez/Unsplash

Be respectful
Even as a tourist in Arab countries, it is important to respect the local culture. This includes clothing, which is why you should avoid wearing shorts or sleeveless tops at the souk. Another sign of respect is to learn a few Arabic words. A friendly "Marhaba" (hello) and a nice "Shukran" (thank you) are often enough to show that you value the people and their language.

Caution as a woman
For women who are alone at the souk, it is advisable to wear a ring on the ring finger, even if they are not married. This can be very helpful to avoid unwanted attention and to be able to devote themselves to the hustle and bustle of the market with peace.

Take care of personal belongings
Even though there is a lot to discover, safety first. A souk, as mentioned earlier, is a very lively place, and as such is also extremely popular with pickpockets. Therefore, it is important to always remember to keep personal items close to you. Ideally, for souk visits, choose bags that are close to the body and zippered.

Preparing before visiting the souk helps make the most of the experience. ©Thiebaud Faix/Unsplash

The most beautiful places to stay for a feeling from 1001 nights

One&Only The Palm, Dubai
West Crescent, Palm, Jumeirah, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tel.: +971 4 440 1010
Price: from €1.493,-/night

One of the most romantic resorts in the Emirates, this exclusive boutique hotel offers pure luxury with a gorgeous beach, a spa by Guerlain, and first-class restaurants by Michelin Award-winning chef Yannick Alléno.

The Oberoi, Marrakech
Rte d'Ouarzazate, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
Tel.: +212 525 081515
Price: from €567,-/night

A Grand Hotel Sculpted from Marble: The Oberoi in Marrakech is the epitome of Moroccan elegance. Fully equipped with everything your heart desires, the hotel also offers breathtaking views of the Atlas Mountains.

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi
W Corniche Rd, Al Ras Al Akhdar, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Tel.: +971 2 690 9000
Price: from €173,-/night

Arabian opulence as if from the Arabian Nights: a private beach, immaculate design and a variety of restaurants specializing in different cuisines of the world, and of course a spa, including a Turkish hammam.

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