It’s really no wonder that Sex and the City 2 was centred in the UAE; shopaholics the world over actually wondered what took Carrie so long to discover this earthly shopping haven. Dubai is synonymous with shopping, yet not for the reason many people imagine: it’s not cheap. There’s nothing extremely economical about shopping in Dubai it must be said. Sure if you’re in the market for a $20,000 Rolex you’ll probably get a better deal here than Paris, but other than that, shopping in Dubai is about fun and variety, more than anything else. Plus…the whole city is geared towards retail therapy, so even those who arrive with no intention of going on a shopping spree end up maxing out the cards and over-filling their suitcases with spices, pashminas, jewellery and genuinely-fake-Guccis: that’s just Dubai! It’s almost as if the residential parts of Dubai are built around seemingly endless luxury malls, chaotic and bustling souks and the more elegant, tourist-oriented bazaars; but that’s probably because they are.
As the Borgs once said “resistance is futile”, so go where many men and women have gone before, and dive straight into the shopping world of Dubai with unabashed abandon. Following is the ultimate Dubai shopping guide, outlining the very best products your hard-earned dirhams can buy, and where to go to get the best quality items in town.
Cheap & Cheerful
If you’re after a great bargain on quality locally made products, then Dubai’s insanely chaotic souks are the way to go. Just be prepared to haggle with a vengeance! A place worth sweating up buckets for are the Karama Markets (right next to Dubai Creek), a seemingly unattractive flea market filled with good quality copies of the latest bags, garbs and accessories. Be prepared for the crowds, touts and shopping ‘assistants’ who will try hard to drag you into their friend’s cousin’s mother’s shop for the ‘best quality, best price’ whatever. Some of the copies here are almost ridiculously dodgy (ever heard of Dolce & Banana?), but look hard and you can find some truly good pieces. Head to Links and Linda’s for bags and don’t be afraid if a shopkeeper wants to show you his ‘secret room’. It’s not code language for gigi-gigi business; they really have these secret little rooms full of more bags and shoes they can’t fit in their stalls!
If the sun in Dubai’s not bright enough for your liking, then you should definitely head to the glistening Gold Souk in Deira. The over 300 retailers here deal exclusively in gold, jewels and watches and, if nothing else, it is a shopping destination worth experiencing for eye-popping value alone, even if you don’t plan on buying anything. The increase in gold prices means this particular souk is not the bargain it once was, so convert prices carefully before purchasing, or you may end up with a rude shock once you get back home. If you do want to spend up big, then head here at first light: local custom has it that the first customer of the day must never be refused so we dare say the best bargains of the day are to be found at 8am!
Whilst you’re out in Deira don’t miss the chance to visit the nearby Spice Souk, one of the most sensually feasting markets in Dubai. Here you can fill up your bags with wonderfully aromatic spices like saffron and sumac (a delicious lemon-flavoured spice used in meat dishes in Arab countries), for half the price you’ll pay at home. The rainbow coloured displays of infinite hessian bags filled with spices is just superb, and here you’ll also find tiny little shops stocked to bursting point with aromatic coffees, teas and obscure herbs.
For a superbly authentic feel of Dubai, check out the Fish Souk nearby, even if you’re not self-catering. The least touristy of all the markets, the Fish Souk is one of the most photogenic places in Dubai where tourists are welcomed but not hassled. The traders are super friendly and will show off their best daily catch, some stalls even happy to cook you some delectable crab or shark fillet for lunch.
Clean, cool & colossal
If you prefer a much more sanitised shopping experience then Dubai’s world-famous shopping malls may be just the thing for you. You’ll still get the chance to buy plenty of spices, jewels, clothing and souvenirs (at slightly higher prices), but you won’t have to elbow your way through the crowds, or deal with overly-aggressive sellers.
Dubai is home to almost 70 shopping malls and almost a dozen under construction. Some people arrive with the notion that a mall is a mall is a mall, but just to give you an idea of what a Dubai mall is all about, we’ll guide you through the microcosms that is…the Dubai Mall.
The Dubai Mall is the single most visited shopping centre in the world and attracted more tourists in 2012 than the whole of New York City did: over 65 million people! Home to an astonishing 1,200 retail stores, Dubai Mall also plays hosts to the Dubai Aquarium, a 5* hotel, super-complex cinema, ice rink, an underwater zoo and a SEGA theme park. By sheer volume in square metres, this is the largest mall in the world, so micro-chip the kids before you head here or you risk losing them forever.
It is quite possible that every brand store ever opened is to be found here, along with indoor souks, multiple food halls and everything in between. Prices are quite standard and so is the shopping on offer, yet it’s the colossal size of this mall which makes it one of Dubai’s most astonishing attractions. Try as you may…you just won’t be able to leave, mostly because once you get in it’ll take you hours to find your way out! A fantastically mesmerizing day-trip destination, the Dubai mall is the place to head to when the heat of outdoor Dubai gets a little too much. Here you can take your time shopping for unique souvenirs like Persian rugs, shisa smoking sets, Turkish coffee or tea sets and browse for hours looking for that unique souvenir.
Theodore Scott via Flickr
Jopi Ito via Flickr
Fabio Achilli via Flickr