Visitors familiar with Dubai will find it is highly probable another shopping mall has opened in the city since their last visit... Where once the highlight of shopping in the emirate was the relentless bustle of the creek-side souks, Dubai has now become a world centre for the retail industry with malls showcasing designers from five continents amid idiosyncratic sideshows such as indoor ski-ing slopes, aquaria and circus performances.
Shopping in Dubai is not a chore, it’s an art form. First select your preference: traditional or modern, mall or outdoor market, designer or bargain basement, eclectic souvenirs, a flash of gold or a scent of spice, and culminating in a duty-free bonanza.
For those seeking flashy labels, head for the Bur Juman Centre in downtown Bur Dubai where Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana, Donna Karan, DKNY and Saks Fifth Avenue are among the headliners. Cool marble aisles, modern sculpture and a tantalising aroma of coffee percolating the entrance are among other reasons to visit.
Opposite the Dubai Creek Golf Club, the Deira City Center offers up something for everyone, from high-street youth fashions to textiles, jewellery and Arabian treasures in their dedicated sections. For time out, there are cinemas galore and a children’s entertainment court.
At Wafi City, many visitors come away with more photographs than branded bags, falling under the spell of the eclectic complex that is Egyptian themed down to its Pyramid designs, hieroglyphics and impressive stained glass. As well as a well-regarded spread of restaurants, an acclaimed spa and some quirky boutiques, it has also opened a new souk offering traditional handicrafts.
Currently flagged as the most impressive mall, architecturally, the Ibn Battuta Mall is themed around the 14th century Arabian explorer’s travels with Chinese decor in the food court, plus Tunisian, Persian, Egyptian, Indian and Andalucian styles in the major shopping courts. Many international brands are located here along with handicraft stalls, and the many visitors seem to like the design and displays as much as the shopping...
The newer the mall, the glitzier it gets as retailers compete for attention, and the Mall of the Emirates has an indoor ski slope as its claim to fame. Ski Dubai is popular with visitors and residents alike, providing all the kit needed for a chill-out afternoon as well as souvenirs to impress the folks back home. There are also 400-plus shops, Harvey Nichols through to Virgin, as well as 65 restaurants, 14-screen cinema, entertainment area, community theatre and arts centre.
Still unveiling its attractions, the Dubai Mall in Downtown Burj Dubai just off Sheikh Zayed Road has a shark-infested aquarium as its USP, plus ice rink, indoor gold souk, children’s edu-tainment centre, the SEGA indoor theme park, 160 food and beverage outlets and 1,200 shops when fully tenanted.
There’s more at Souk Madinat Jumeirah – the bazaar-style complex that fits most people’s 1001 Arabian nights’ dreams and offers souvenirs, cafes, theatre and restaurants in one easy-view stroll – or The Boulevard, designer chic at Jumeirah Emirates Towers where Gucci and Emporio Armani are the flavour of the day.
But, for a taste of the real Arabia, most visitors head for the souks of Dubai – traditional markets dedicated to a single product or theme such as gold, spices, fruit and vegetables and more, many of which are clustered around the creek and older heritage areas of the city such as Bastakiya.
On Deira side, principle attractions are the spice and gold souk where locals mingle with tourists in search of essential flavours from frankincense to cardamom and dried lemons, and equally essential bling bling.
Gold is always a bargain and is available in every form from rings and bracelets to ornate wedding sets, but there are now alternatives in the form of silver jewellery, precious stones and ethnic items, while more kitsch souvenirs can be found at the Deira Covered Souk with its stuffed camels and wooden dhow models as well as khanjar daggers and dallah Arabic coffee pots.
Elsewhere, Karama is a whole district full of bargains from cheap leather goods and t-shirts through to sunglasses while the fish market is another distinctively different venue with its plethora of maritime treasures, albeit of the edible kind – while Dubai Duty Free lives up to its reputation as one of the world’s must-buy stops for every traveller.
And, if shopping is more than a passion, the time to visit Dubai is during the Dubai Shopping Festival when the whole city becomes a treasure trove of retail delights. Held during the first months of the year, DSF includes fashion shows, children’s entertainments, nightly fireworks, street performers and a daily Aqua Fantasia show as well as emirate-wide discounts on all manner of goods and a host of opportunities to win cars, holidays and more.
Signature highlight is the Global Village, a display of handicrafts and goods in country pavilions that offers visitors a chance to shop the world, all in one destination.