The Princess Souq in Riyadh! Sounds like a souq for Saudi princesses right? Glamour, glitter and gorgeous gowns?
This is actually a second hand souk located in Riyadh’s Batha, the infamous “ghetto” of Riyadh.
It’s like a huge open area marketplace, fleamarket, garage sale, whatever you call it, it’s worth a visit!
At first visitors might be taken aback by the set up, looks like a shack village with all the ugly metal sheets, dirty carpets, and general uncleanliness of the area.
But this is a place where women (and why not some adventurous men!) can make incredible bargains and make some surprising finds.
The name of the souq comes from rumors that the clothing was donated there by royal family princesses. This might be partly true judging on some of the items that can be found there but the majority of the clothing is normal everyday brands (not saying real Princesses wouldn’t wear such but..) also some of the evening gowns are just..so interesting. Take a look at the pics below and you will see what I mean. Would an Al-Saud Princess step out to a gala dinner in something like this for example:
Princess souk is open everyday but the best days to go are weekday mornings. Not too much of a crowd and you can actually see the clothes! Sometimes at night the whole area might be out of electricity and even if they do have it, the lamps are ridiculously bad quality! The shops start opening at 9-10 am and close at Dhuhr prayer sharp. Muttawa roam this area frequently so shopkeepers will promptly close their shops in fear of getting arrested. Next the shops open after Asr and then close after Isha’a prayer. On Fridays the souq is closed in the morning.
When you get to the souq the amount of clothing will be overwhelming. It’s good to ask the salesmen who are mostly Indian and Pakistani and speak some English to point out the best evening gowns for you, if that’s what you’re looking for. Many of the nicest gowns hang from the ceilings and might be hard to spot. But there are some stunning evening gowns out there! This is also an indication of how many parties Saudi women attend (gown can only be used once then thrown).
The vast styles Saudi ladies wear to weddings and parties is really interesting. There are simple elegant ones and way over the top ones with the motto of “you cannot put too much lace, satin, bows, beading, crystals, ruffles and embroidery on one dress”. It’s amazing what women will actually wear! Reminds me of Christmas somehow..hmm..
Browsing the souq you will come across the weirdest things. Here some pretty raunchy panties hanging among other underwear. I will leave it to your imagination what else can be found there..
One of my favorite things to search for are children’s clothing and little girls party dresses. They will go for as cheap as 5-10SAR a piece and the more you purchase the more discount you will get! I bring these back home to my nieces who love to dress up as little princesses. In Finland raw silk and handmade gowns like this would cost anywhere form 100 euros up, so getting them for a mere fraction of the price is totally worth the hassle.
There he is again! The down side to shopping at Princess souq are the perverts. I also call this place Pervert Central. I would not advise women to go here alone but always in groups or preferably with husbands. If you absolutely must go alone then take a trusted driver to walk around with you. I have been groped here in full daylight by men walking past and just taking a go. Another tactic they use is lurking behind the clothing stands.
One of my friends actually caught a guy masturbating behind the racks. My tactic is to take their picture and shout at them. Sometimes they need serious actions! The above creepy creepers were following us around on different occasions.
The first guy pretended to be purchasing something. I told him to take a hike and he started asking if we were Russians and wouldn’t listen to me telling him to piss off, he just continued his game.I finally shouted at him very loudly and he shouted back F**k you Russians! He left cursing us.
The perv #2 was just staring at us. I tried to take his pic but he kept turning around. So next I told the salesman about his behavior (they know these guys sometimes) and he just picked up and old shoe from the ground and threw it in the perverts direction! The slimeball ran away.
So if you find yourself in these situations it’s best to make a big deal to expose him and do ask the salesmen for help, they are very friendly and polite.
For once the Hai’a who are strongly present in this area would come in handy but guess what? They only concentrate on shouting from their megaphones for women to cover and men to close shops for prayer and go pray. Sometimes they even beat people to go pray. One of my Asian colleagues got shouted at and beaten on her legs for wearing an abaya that had small butterflies on it. She was forced to cover it with a plain black one from the souq.
That’s the priorities of the religious police for you..
So what about the prices? It’s an absolute MUST to haggle here! Prices range according to the color of your face. No joke! Western women might get asked 100 SAR for something Indians or Filipinos might get for 10 SAR. I never paid more than 50SAR for an evening gown and that was only once! Usually they will go for 20-30 a piece, children starting from 10-20 a piece.
Normal clothing is much cheaper, you can get three shirts or skirts for 10 SAR. If you find an expensive brand name don’t mention it to the seller, sometimes they are not even aware. The above blue evening gown cost me 15SAR and it’s flawless and looks stunning! If you are not getting results with your bargaining skills, simply WALK away. 90% of the time the seller will run after you and sell for the price you asked.
You will not want to buy anything with a stain on it, but sometimes some stains have slipped my attention. Some do come off in laundry but the salesmen will try to convince you everything comes off. I always take the evening gowns to the dry cleaners in Saudi because it’s really cheap here and they will iron the gowns for you too. The rest of the clothes I just wash in the washing machine. It’s always a good idea to check that the zippers are working.