Kinda crazy that the 1970’s can be viewed as olden times, but in the rapidly developing United Arab Emirates, thirty years represent radical transformation. Nestled in the base of the Emirate’s new World Trade Center is a marvelous modern souk (market). A wood-screened atrium houses bright new shops and food outlets, with tiled walkways bathed in dappled sunlight.
The Souk sits atop one of the oldest developed sites in Abu Dhabi, the former Central Market which once hosted the city’s original one-story souk, sprawled over 12 acres. That market began in the 1970’s. While the western world was doing “The Hustle”, a thousand emirati traders were hustling their traditional wares. It’s where the modern city of Abu Dhabi began.
The new Souk is worth a visit, located in central Abu Dhabi just off the Corniche. Don’t be put off by ongoing construction. Although upper level retailers (there are 3 stories) are still fitting out, the ground floor is alive with specialty shops selling furniture, jewellery, and clothing.
There are colorful displays evoking days gone by: spices and incense, soaps and shawls, but this isn’t a replica of the old souk, don’t imagine Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Its a modern shopping mall, but with more intimate spaces and a sensitive nod to traditional materials such as wood screening, natural skylighting, and high vaulted ceilings that allow hot air to rise above the crowds of bargain hunters.
Cafes and restaurants have been drawing nighttime crowds, and unlike the original marketplace, this one has ample underground parking.
The Souq opens its every day at 10 AM and stays open until 10 PM on weekdays, and an extra hour on weekends.
Although it doesn’t hold an Guinness-record-busting indoor aquarium, and you can’t ski in it, this newest United Arab Emirates mall in Abu Dhabi is a good place to escape the sun and summer heat. A commenter on travel site TripAdvisor warns visitors to “bring a jacket” because he found the interiors “very chilly”, but against Dubai’s backdrop of soaring glass and metal skyscrapers, The Souk is actually quite warm.