From the colourful crucifix-adorned souk in Jerusalem's Old City, Israel, to the modern Central Market in Abu Dhabi's Al Markaziyah, the Middle East is filled with endless sprawls of open markets that go beyond your average shopping experience. Souks (or souqs) are as much about meeting, greeting and socialising as they are about spending – a souvenir stop and cultural adventure rolled into one.

Old Muttrah Souk, Muscat

The souks of the Middle East are among the oldest markets in the world – more often than not, you will find souks in the heart of town or in historic districts as cities gradually built around them. Muscat's iconic Muttrah Souk is arguably the most popular attraction in the city and one of the most frequented sites in Oman. Tangled covered laneways are scented with frankincense and spices, coming to life even more so at sundown when local Omani peddle their natural perfumes, handcrafted pottery, traditional silver jewellery, and delicious sweet halwa.

Gold Souk, Dubai

As you probably guessed, Dubai's Gold Souk drips in dazzling gold jewellery with side-serves of silver, platinum, diamonds and other gems. Quality control is strictly maintained at the souk, which you will find on Khaid Bin Waleed Road, and bartering is highly encouraged – the price of gold is determined by weight, so you're really haggling over craftsmanship. With that famous Emirati air of attention-grabbing opulence, each display is packed tight with necklaces, rings, bracelets and serious bling guaranteed to win the affections of friends and family back home.

Souk Jara, Amman

When the warm weather returns to Jordan, Souk Jara takes residence just off Rainbow Street, steadily growing bigger and better by the year. Souk Jara is a community effort, with more than 100 stalls showcasing local artisan works such as hand painted glassware, quirky Arabic Barbie dolls, Jordanian antiques and plenty of food stalls with samples to savour. On market day, live music rings through Jebal Amman to nearby cafes and restaurants, but only on Fridays from May to October, making it a special experience if you time your visit right.