To be completely honest with you, Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was not especially high up on my travel wishlist. It just didn’t appeal – probably because I didn’t know anything about the place. But when my sister moved there last year, it presented the perfect opportunity to explore, which is exactly what I was lucky enough to do last week! Hurrah! And, dedicated soul that I am, I used some of my time in Abu Dhabi to research what interiors shopping was on offer so that I could bring you a definitive guide.
I’ve divided this guide up into two different sections – one covering high-street or more contemporary style offerings, and the other focused on souk-style shopping where you can put your negotiating skills into practice.
High Street/Contemporary Interiors
There is ALOT of shopping to be done in Abu-Dhabi. With several large malls offering a wide variety of well-known Western brands, spending money here is easy-peasy. Whatever your passion – high end jewellery, perfumes, designer clothes and bags or electronics – you’ll find it. It actually makes for a bizarre shopping experience – everything feels so familiar, yet so different when you see the shop signs in Arabic.
In terms of the more well-known interiors stores, in addition to Ikea, I spotted Boconcept, Zara Home, West Elm and Pottery Barn. Great news for ex-pats – and there are lots of them in Abu Dhabi – but of less interest for me. Rather, I was on the look-out for any stores that I hadn’t heard of before. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Indigo Living was a gorgeous interiors store that I hadn’t previously come across. With stores in UAE, China and Hong Kong, Indigo Living aims to create inspirational and beautiful interiors and has been doing so in Asia for the last 30 years. A range of styles are on offer, from contemporary designs and prints, to the more traditional. It is a store that certainly would not look out of place on a UK high street. Indigo Living can be found in Yas mall, near Ferrari World on Yas Island.
Also in Yas mall (as well as 3 other locations in Abu Dhabi) is Home Centre. Based in several countries across the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent, this is another store that I hadn’t heard of before, but which offers a good array of homewares and furniture – again at reasonable prices. Definitely worth a sneaky peek if you pass a store.
Moving over to Abu Dhabi mall, near Mina/Zayed Port, I came across The One. Billed as offering affordable luxury, there were a few pieces in here that caught my eye. I particularly liked the candle selection (I almost bought an oud scented candle as a reminder of my trip, but reasoned that I actually already had plenty of reminders of my trip!) and some of the smaller furniture pieces. There were some stunning bone-inlay side tables that I still don’t rule out getting my sister to pick up for me in future…..
It didn’t come across particularly strongly in the store itself, but since I’ve looked into the company in a bit more detail, there are actually quite a large number of items on their website that are ethically and sustainably sourced from overseas. Turns out that The One is more of a globally inspired brand than I had realised! Great stuff. I shall return.
I’ve saved my favourite find for last. Next door to The One in Abu Dhabi mall is the fabulous Marina Home which had a load of stuff on display that was very much up my street. Like the other stores I’ve mentioned, a wide range of styles was on offer (both modern and more traditional), but I particularly liked that there were some more unusual pieces here, like gnarled wooden side tables and woven wall hangings. And yes, I may have picked up a cushion cover whilst I was there…..! Marina Living is a global brand, inspired by adventure and travel. They source their products from over twenty countries across four continents and aim to blend contemporary and classic designs with rustic details and a hint of the exotic. Music to my ears!!
Ok, enough of the straightforward, fixed price interiors offerings. I know that some of you will not be in the least bit interested in all of that – you’ll want the down and dirty lowdown of what to buy and where to buy it in Abu Dhabi’s souks and markets.
You want carpets/rugs? Then you need to get yourself to the carpet souk down by Mina Port. It’s not huge and it isn’t the crazy maze of stalls I’d expected. I thought it would look similar to the souks in Istanbul and Marrakesh, but it was actually quite different. It’s more like a collection of shops, each of which was choc full of lovely, lovely rugs. It was super quiet when we visited and approaching the carpet souk was a little like disturbing a flock of pigeons. All the shop owners were sat outside their stores, chatting and drinking coffee, but the moment we approached, everything sprung into life. Suddenly, we were being accosted by every shop owner trying to get us in to each of their stores to look at the rugs from Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan – most of which were made from beautiful silk and wool and had intricate and striking designs in a range of colours and tones.
I picked up a copper Turkish tea set and a decorative wooden frame from the souk based in the World Trade Centre. I loved the crazy contrast of the World Trade Centre mall – one side of the mall is your usual Western fare (including a Pizza Express and a Nando’s), whilst the other is a little more like stepping back in time with stalls selling spices, carpets and other souvenirs. Again, very different from the more traditional souks you’d see elsewhere, but it is possible to barter (though I found the traders moved much less on price than those in Marrakesh – they are hard bargainers!). The other bonus is that there aren’t too many stalls which means it’s far easier to look around, get an idea of prices and quality and then return to pick up the items you liked the most. I spotted some really lovely camel bone inlay boxes, chess and backgammon sets, as well as some striking traditional Turkish mosaic lamps. It’s also possible to pick up the more routine souvenir pieces (Aladdin-style lamps and Arabic coffee pots were in abundance – and EVERYONE wants to sell you a pashmina). Stuffed camel toy anyone?
At the Qaryat Al Beni souk (part of the Shangri La hotel complex), I bought a stunning silk cushion cover. It turned out to be made in India. Ah well. That was a lesson learned – the reality of shopping in Abu Dhabi is that most of the items on offer are not made in the UAE at all! Rather, they are imported from Afghanistan, Syria and Iran – and more often than not, from India and China. Not that it particularly matters I suppose, but you’re certainly one step removed from the makers and producers of the goods. The souk at Qaryat Al Beni only contains a handful of stores. And this is certainly high end souk shopping, with prices to match – my negotiating skills did not serve me especially well here at all! It’s well worth a visit though, if only to dine with views of the Grand Mosque and take a ride on one of the Abra boats that navigate the maze of canals that run through the complex.
Last up, I highly recommend a visit to the Khalifa centre, situated opposite the Abu Dhabi mall. An unassuming building (and unhelpfully not obviously signposted as the Khalifa Centre!), it houses a range of independent retailers offering carpets, souvenirs and lamps and is more reasonably priced than the offerings in the more swanky hotel complexes. Typically, this was the last place I found – after I had already done my shopping – but I offer it to you as a worthwhile place to visit to test out your bartering skills that’s a little more off the beaten track!
One of the places that I was hoping to visit and report back on was the Women’s Handicraft Centre. The guidebooks all list it as located in Abu Dhabi itself, but it seems that it has recently re-located to 100km outside of Abu Dhabi on the road to Dubai. It sounds like a worthwhile stop off if you have the time to get to it though – it’s a centre where women demonstrate local handicrafts, including basket weaving, and there are also opportunities to try out some of the crafts and buy some of the products. Unfortunately we only discovered its relocation thanks to a helpful taxi driver who gave the centre a call when we failed to find it on Al Karama street! We then didn’t have time to get there this visit. Next time….!
Anyways, that’s probably enough to keep you going during your next trip to Abu Dhabi. If you go – let me know what you think and whether this guide was helpful. I certainly hope so!
Happy travels, and shopping,