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Modern Kuwait is host to high-end malls and markets where people flock to spend their leisure time shopping, or to enjoy the different cuisines available from the various in-house cafés. The traditional Souk Al-Mubarakiya, however, a location steadfastly rooted in the past, still remains a relevant market for both locals and tourists.
Souk Al-Mubarakiya in Kuwait City is one of the oldest souks in Kuwait. Positioned between Abdullah Al-Mubarak, Abdullah Al-Salem and Palestine Streets, the Souk was the centre of trade prior to the discovery of oil, and it retains an unmistakable charm that preserves Kuwait’s past beautifully. Reflecting the country’s rich heritage and culture, the stalls boast everything from herbs, spices and apothecary goods to clothes and accessories.
Explore the markets and enjoy various sights, sounds and smells, transporting you back to ancient Kuwait, where life was simpler. Over 200 years ago, a marketplace was created in the Al-Mubarakiya area as a platform for vendors to showcase their produce in a non-commercial setting. The market soon became a cultural hub, catering to the needs of every visitor, whether for the weekly grocery shop or an outing with friends.
With Sheikh Mubarak Al Kabeer’s Kiosk – a small garden pavilion – in the middle of it all, people were given direct access to their leader in order to voice their wishes and concerns. Soon afterwards, a diwaniya (reception hall for business discussions) was set up, dubbed The Founding Fathers’ commune. To this day, the diwaniya is a place for the country’s elders to meet and discuss everything from social issues to the coming elections.
Following the Iraqi invasion of 1990, the infrastructure of the Souk was heavily damaged, and necessary renovations were made. The renovations retain the traditional elements characteristic of the commercial trade centre, while also injecting the marketplace with a hint of modernity in the form of light displays and play areas for children. Given the warm summers in Kuwait, the Souk was originally planned and built to provide visitors with plenty of shaded areas.
South Mubarakiya (SOMU) is Souk Al-Mubarakiya’s new ‘old’ district, marked by the previously renovated SOMU Square or Thouq Square. Located behind the Al Fares Mosque, SOMU was fashioned from the rubble and abandoned shops in the area, thanks to the vision of Ahmad Al-Ghanim and Bader Al Hejailan whose goal was to breathe new life into the area. Concept store Thouq is a manifestation of all the pair believe in; the space is a hub of artistic expression, dedicated to showcasing talent from Kuwait and the wider region with new items and fresh concepts arriving each week. Despite what people thought, Al-Mubarakiya has now become a thriving hub for arts, culture and fashion. While here, don’t miss out on the opportunity to see the Gulf’s biggest mural located in the heart of SOMU. Created by the Thouq team as a tribute to Kuwait, the mural stretches across two perpendicular walls.
Treat yourself to delicious meals at some of Thouq’s best restaurants and cafés. Most comprise both indoor and outdoor seating areas, ensuring a visit need not be seasonal.
If you love to haggle, then Souk Al-Mubarakiya is your go-to place. Here, you can browse stalls selling Arabic antiques, traditional dresses and Persian carpets. If you are looking for gifts to take home, then look out for perfumes, handmade local crafts, scarves, dresses, jewellery and more. You’ll also find dates, spices, honey and scented oils, as well as shops specialising in eye-catching gold and silver.
While discussing the price of a product, be firm, but not impolite. Similar products are available in multiple shops so you can always compare the price and quality before purchasing. Finally, don’t forget to try some of the delicious traditional Arabic coffee.
You can visit Souk Al-Mubarakiya anytime between 9am and 9pm, and a little later on Fridays. You might find that some restaurants are open for breakfast early morning, and some until late night.
While mornings at the Souk are fun in their own way, it is when darkness falls that Al-Mubarakiya comes to life.