Go beyond the Dubai mall! Try a shopping game plan packed with local tips to find some of the best shops and souks in Dubai. (Photo: Iain Masterton / Arabian Eye)
Before its mega-malls rose from the sands, Dubai was a trading hub — a bustling port of commerce. The city’s archaeological relics include ancient coins, and its earliest buildings were merchants’ houses. So now that you’re ready to carry on an age-old tradition and shop in Dubai, where to begin? Your best bet: Hit these four major retail experiences for a shopping grand slam.
For most travelers, shopping in Dubai means epic browsing marathons in the city’s mega-malls, which include some of the world’s largest, such as Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates. Many shopaholics consider these the best shopping centers; their flashy department stores and boutiques stock designer brands from all over the world. But most locals find Dubai’s smaller malls more alluring. BurJuman is still capacious, but it’s comparatively more intimate and elegant. Ibn Battuta Mall, with its design based on the journeys of the great Arab traveler Ibn Battuta, boasts exotic malls within malls and roaming children’s storytellers, making it more appealing for families. One of the city’s oldest malls, Deira City Centre, remains one of the busiest and most popular with locals, while The Village Mall is compact, bright and more European in style.
Don’t Leave Without: A little piece of Arabiana — like Aladdin-esque lamps, brass trays or Bedouin camel blankets. Every mall showcases these authentic goods, and they’re usually higher quality than in the souks.
Sure, there are more atmospheric souks on the Arabian Peninsula — in Sharjah and Al Ain, for instance. But you won’t be disappointed by the vibe in the Meena Bazaar and the Grand Souk Deira. The Meena Bazaar is influenced by the local population of Persians and Indians, which explains its focus on textiles. (We love the sequined saris and shimmering brocades.) On the opposite side of Dubai Creek, the alleyways of the Grand Souk Deira are lined with small shops selling everything from household goods to the national costumes of Emiratis — including sandals, dishdashas (long-sleeved robes) and more. If you only go to two souks, though, don’t miss the aromatic Spice Souk and dazzling Gold Souk, where it’s possible to bargain for the brilliant jewelry inside. If you have more time, hit the Souk Madinat Jumeirah; its enchanting architecture was inspired by the centuries-old markets across the Middle East. It’s one of the most enjoyable places to shop, thanks to the air conditioning (which is rare in souks).
Don’t Leave Without: A carpet — Souk Madinat Jumeirah is home to some of the finest carpet shops in Dubai.
Dubai’s small, personality-driven shops beyond the malls offer exquisitely curated collections of clothes, accessories and objects you won’t find elsewhere. S*uce is owned by three Arab women whose idiosyncratic sense of style runs through the eclectic clothing collection. The style-driven O-Concept is one of the few stores owned by an Emirati male; it’s prized for its hip mélange of cutting-edge men’s and women’s fashion, art and furniture. And Bambah is Dubai’s first high-end vintage fashion boutique; it’s owned by a dynamic young Arab woman who recently started her own vintage-inspired Bambah clothing line.
Don’t Leave Without: Emirati fashion. Local designers are creating some very cool stuff. Look out for jewelry and clutch purses made from red and white checked gutras (male headdresses).
If you’re overwhelmed by the choices, then consider recruiting the expertise of local pros. Try personal shoppers such as Kelly Lundberg and Nina Iskander, who are in demand because they can source everything from unique red-carpet creations to clothes suitable for particular body shapes. Not in your budget? Don’t overlook the free personal shoppers at many department stores or boutiques — in Dubai, their knowledge and taste are superb, particularly at Harvey Nichols, Bloomingdales and Michelle Belau.
Don’t Leave Without: Snapping up a bargain. Dubai may have a reputation as being expensive but designer brands are far cheaper here than in the USA, especially at department stores and malls.