Atlantis The Palm, Dubai

Shopping in Dubai

Dubai has many monikers and ‘shopper’s paradise’ probably tops the list. Once synonymous with ‘oil’, the emirate has transitioned from a business destination to an international tourist, lifestyle and leisure address that offers entertainment, fun in the sun, world-class cuisine, and, of course, endless opportunities to shop till you drop.

What makes shopping in this city unique is not the shopping per se but the hooks and baits to lure visitors into the numerous and gigantic malls. Thus, what Dubai does that, say London or New York doesn’t, is turn ‘shopping' into an ‘experience’. It has successfully achieved this with a unique mall format, where each mall has used its massive indoor and outdoor space to offer exciting entertainment, cultural and lifestyle experiences alongside the shopping experience. Blended with this format is Dubai’s themed mall architecture, which is vaguely reminiscent of Vegas’s resort properties on The Strip. And the result is stunning.

So, for instance, the beautifully crafted Souk Madinat is a recreation of a traditional Arabian bazaar anchored by large seaside hotels at either end, which are in turn connected by a series of manmade canals complete with dhows for transportation. Waft along the canal and you can hop off at one of many pubs and eateries that offer delectable cuisine. The Mall of the Emirates, on the other hand, is best known for its indoor ski slope called Ski Dubai. Yes, fresh snow and all! And there’s Mall of Arabia, which sports a beautiful, ancient Middle Eastern exterior. While it houses the best international fashion brands inside its shopping arcades, it boasts a state-of-the-art stage for theatrical performances, a 15-screen cinema and a bowling alley. Its Jurassic Park-style dinosaur theme park is a big hit with kids.

In Dubai, it’s hard to separate actual shopping from a lifestyle experience. And we can tell you, it’s absolutely amazing!

Dubai Shopping Festival : This is one time of the year when those enormous, brightly coloured signs in shop windows that scream ‘Sale!’ really mean business. So, for those who need retail therapy, Dubai’s biggest shopping extravaganza – the Dubai Shopping Festival – will give you the mother of all fixes.
Since 1996, the Dubai Shopping Festival has been turning the entire city into one giant mall, or so it would seem. The festive mood is palpable everywhere, and even audible in the frenetic pace at which gifts and goods are parcelled out in shiny wrappers. Held for a month, from January to February, the festival offers crazy discounts, daily car raffles and lucky dips with mind-boggling prizes. Throwaway prices that generate mass hysteria create a virtual stampede of tourists from around the world.

And it’s not only shopaholics who make a beeline for Dubai during the shopping festival. The entire city is in a celebratory mood and hundreds of events and activities at different venues regale locals and visitors alike, from international concerts, to musicals, sporting events, international fashion shows, mammoth firework displays and street plays. It’s an experience not to be missed. Note: During the Shopping Festival, many airlines offer cheap flights to Dubai, so keep an eye open.

Souk Madinat :

If you’ve ever wondered what Ali Baba’s cave looked like, the Souk Madinat at the Madinat Jumeira will give you a good idea. This souk is straight out of the Arabian Nights. Its arched ceilings, dark, wooden pillars on either side of broad aisles, wooden rafters and carved verandahs decorated with lanterns, street signs and colourful skylights transport you straight into a medieval dream. To complete the picture, in one section, metal trays, large wooden wheels, ornate lamps and decorative wooden sculptures spill neatly onto the floor, tempting you to delve deeper into this real-life treasure trove. You can easily spend several hours in this souk, wandering along avenues, past towers, lantern-lit hallways and narrow, manmade waterways that eventually lead to the sea. The exquisite architecture of the souk is definitely something to marvel at.

But the Souk Madinat is no traditional bazaar. Many call it a mall in traditional disguise, with expensive shops, boutiques and showrooms selling all kinds of goods, from traditional carpets to designer brands, pricey jewellery, snazzy apparel, oils and spices, and plenty of souvenirs. It is also replete with coffee shops, eateries and restaurants offering a range of Middle Eastern cuisine. And, yes, there are pubs and bars galore. Low-key, devoid of the bustle associated with glitzy malls, and perfect for quality shopping. Budget for at least half a day here.

Deira Souks :

These are the chaotic, ramshackle souks Dubai is famous for. There are four main souks or traditional markets in Deira – the Gold Souk, Spice Souk, Textile Souk and Fish Souk. Diera is an old quarter of Dubai bordered on one side by the Dubai Creek. Each souk is a separate market but close to the others. Ambling through these markets makes for one of the most vibrant experiences in this emirate. Historically the old commercial centre of Dubai, Diera is where you will experience some of the most authentic sights, scents and flavours of the city.
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The Gold Souk : Dubai is noted the world over for its gold, and the Gold Souk is where the action is. Dubai’s El Dorado is a network of narrow streets with plenty of atmosphere, and beckons visitors with an astonishing array of jewellery. It is arguably the largest single market for gold in the world and the variety of gold and gold ornaments is stunning.
There are around 300 retailers in this souk, from branded jewellery boutiques to small stores selling gold bars, ingots and jewellery studded with sparkling diamonds and other precious stones. Prices are determined by whether the gold is hand-crafted or machine made and, yes, bargaining is the norm.

For those who cannot afford the luxury of walking away with nuggets of the yellow metal, here’s a gem or two: They say this souk contains at least 10 tons of gold at any given time and that around 20 per cent of the world’s gold passes through this market.

If you’re seriously digging for gold, you are guaranteed a whale of a time but even window shopping makes for a delightful experience. For even a few minutes here makes you realise that not every proverb is just a cliché. For once, all that glitters IS gold!

Note: Gold is aggressively promoted during the Dubai Shopping Festival, when special offers and raffles give away the precious metal free.

After the Gold Souk, you could head for the Spice and Textile Souks nearby and revel in mysterious fragrances as you navigate open and closed-roof stores. If you have no intention of purchasing anything, window shopping will suffice.
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Dubai Mall : Based on area (versus leasable space), this is the largest mall in the world. Included in this gigantic shopping-cum-entertainment space the size of 50 football fields are 1,200 retail outlets,
a 250-room luxury hotel, 22 cinema screens, 120 restaurants and cafés, an underwater aquarium, Olympic-size ice-skating rink, indoor theme park and dancing fountains and a gold souk. With so much on offer, this mall offers a 360-degree experience for shoppers, family and day trippers eager to simply experience quality indoor entertainment. So, even if you’re not actually shopping, it’s an idea place to just chill.

Brace yourself for this one – Dubai Mall, as mind-boggling as it is, is one of 70 malls and shopping complexes in this emirate. Strewn across the city, it seems there’s always a mall or a retail shop nearby, constant reminders of why Dubai is called a shopaholic’s stomping ground.
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Don’t Miss :
  • Mall of the Emirates (Sheikh Zayed Road in Al Barsha)
  • Festival Centre (Festival City)
  • Ibn Battuta Mall and Marina Mall (Dubai Marina)
  • Wafi (Oud Metha)
  • BurJuman (Bur Dubai)
  • Deira City Centre (Garhoud)
  • Mirdif City Centre (Mirdif)