What to buy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai is practically synonymous with shopping. The huge amounts of cargo passing through its port and the low tariffs ensure that practically anything is available at fairly competitive rates, although the appreciation of the Dirham, and the plentiful supply of shoppers means that Dubai is no longer a bargain basement shopping city. You’ll also find products in western chain stores, still with the original tags quoting euro or sterling prices, being sold with a 20-30% mark-up once converted to Dirhams.
The best things to buy in Dubai are textiles, electronics and gold, electronics is believed to be much cheaper while textiles and gold offer a wide range of selection.
Even in the mega-malls, Dubai shops have no storeroom and no stocks in reserve – and for clothes shopping this may mean that you may struggle to find the style you want in the size you want. Shops open as early as 9AM and stay open to 10PM and on weekends to 12AM and some stay to 1AM.
Remember to haggle in the souks, as discounts are almost always available and even in situations where the item will not become much cheaper, the customer is always expected to “play the game” of haggling. A simple question of “what’s your best price?” will often result in a shop-keeper going to extraordinary lengths to sell his stock.
Prices in the malls and other Western shops tend not to be negotiable. Far from being a bad thing, this allows the canny visitor to work out comparative prices for common souvenirs – an invaluable aid when a shop-keeper in a souk is asking for a higher price.
Dubai Shopping Festival has been the biggest shopping event in the middle east since 1996. Almost every shop has a sale, starting in January and ending February. Dubai Shopping Festival is not just about shopping. The festival is itself a complete family entertainer and holds grand events having live concerts and performances performed by international celebrities. There’s also a very similar Dubai Summer Surprises trying to pull in punters during the summer low season.
- Satwa— this is a small community much resembling a town, its streets are rowed by textile shops notably opposite the Satwa Mosque ending to the opposite of Satwa clinic. Most of the people flock to Satwa for their textiles, you might sometimes catch offers and discounts but if you don’t do so try bargaining the price, this is what most locals do, even if you’re a tourist convince the salesman to give you a discount, bargain till you get the lowest price available. Not only is Satwa a hub for textile shops; some tailoring shops on the corners are also found if you want a dress made as soon as possible after purchasing the raw materials. Raw silk might also be available in some shops. Because of the row of textile shops, it might be Dubai’s version of Little India and Little Manila as many Indians reside in this district as well as Filipinos.
- Gold Souk— Not a mall, but a historic marketthat has been a part of Dubai since the origin of Dubai itself. Located at the mouth of the creek, it dazzles people by selling gold in large quantities and with little visible security. A must visit for shoppers and sightseers. Most of the gold is 22ct quality and quite expensive – although even here the shopkeepers are prepared to bargain – and the craftsmanship can be remarkably detailed. The gold items are sold by weight with a “making charge” added on top to cover the workmanship. It pays therefore, to go shopping armed with the current gold price and knowledge of the making charges in order to hone the bargaining process. Many outlets are part of chains that also have branches in malls, so are generally reliable.
- Spice Souk. — Not a mall, but a historic marketthat has been a part of Dubai since the origin of Dubai itself. Located at the mouth of the creek, it is not far from the Gold Souk, but has sadly declined a bit in recent years as supermarkets take over the spice trade. If you’re actually shopping for spices, odds are you’ll get better prices and quality with much less hassle at Carrefour. Both the Spice Souk and the Gold Souq are a rather hot and sweaty experience with limited air-conditioning, so wear appropriately cool, loose clothing if visiting in mid-summer. Individual shops are air conditioned. Although regularly visited by tourists, none of the souks are considered a tourist area and as such modest dress should be worn to avoid causing offence or attracting unwanted attention.
- The Dubai Mall. Sun-Wed: 10:00-20:00, Thu-Sat: 10:00-00:00. Is Dubai’s Largest Mall. It has over 1200 shops of brand names from all over the world. It is currently the largest mall in the world. Contains an indoor ice rink and indoor aquarium. It is right next door to the Burj Khalifah, the world’s tallest building, and the visitors’ entrance to the Burj Khalifah is located at the lower ground floor of the Mall.
- Mercato, Jumeirah Beach Rd. Mercato, which is Italian for Market, is the only Renaissance-themed shopping mall in the Middle East. It captures Italian, French and Spanish flavors and artistic characteristics playing host to regular fairs and festivals from each country. Mercato provides a unique shopping experience, the best in international entertainment and popular brand names like Virgin Megastore, Top Shop, Mango and Hugo Boss; Mercato is simply The Good Life.Also, Mercato houses a big Spinneys Supermarket, a 7 screen Grand Cinema, a Starbucks, and mouthwatering restaurants such as Bella Donna who have a balcony overlooking the sea that cannot be missed.
- Town Centre Jumeirah, Jumeirah Beach Rd. With a bright, open, and spacious atmosphere, Town Centre Jumeirah is a place to shop, relax and casually dine at a wide selection of eateries like Sumo Sushi, Cafe Ceramique, La Cafette by Carpe Diem and Simply Healthy. The centre also houses an extensive range of ladies’ beauty outlets like the Nail Station, Paris Gallery, Kaya Skin Care Clinic, Wax Lounge and SOS Salon.
- Mall of the Emirates, near 4th interchange on Sheikh Zayed Road, Outside Ramadan: Sun-Wed 10AM-10:00PM; Thu-Sat 10AM-12PM (midnight); Ramadan: Sun-Sat: 10AM-1AM. It was largest shopping mall outside of North America, until the Dubai Mall opened in 2008. 200+ shops, cinemas, plus the Ski Centre. It has many international high street chains as well as luxury brand stores, including Harvey Nichols. Many restaurants and cafes, though cafes tend to be much more crowded than at other malls. It’s attached to a Kempinski hotel, which has restaurants licensed to serve alcohol that are accessible from the mall. Very large Carrefour hypermarket attached, next to the Kempinski Hotel. Arabian and Middle Eastern souvenir shops are
- Ibn Battuta Mall. Daily 10AM-12AM (midnight). Areas themed around six countries (China, India, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia and Andalusia). The wide range of shops, although fewer high-class brands. Has various restaurants and cafes (including three Starbucks), and a multiplex cinema including an Imax. No restaurants serve alcohol. Also has extensive, permanent exhibition of Islamic science, invention and astronomy. Attached (access via outside) is one of Dubai’s few second-hand bookshops, House of Prose.
- Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Jumeirah Road. Includes 75 shops, numerous bars, restaurants and cafes, a nightclub, theatre. More expensive and targeted directly at tourists than other, general malls where residents go. Most bars and restaurants are licensed for alcohol. Nice to wander through as it has been designed to resemble a “traditional” souq, but with the modern comforts of air conditioning. Lots of souvenir-type shops.
- Burjuman Centre, Khalifa Bin Zayed Road. Sat-Thu 10AM-10:00PM; Fri 2PM-10PM. Focus is on premium brand stores and luxury boutiques, but high street stores are also available. No restaurants serve alcohol. Walking distance to the Consulate District.
- Deira City Centre. This is by far the most popular mall in Dubai and a visit to Dubai is not complete without a visit. Debenhams, Virgin Megastore, Zara and other international high street brands. A multiplex cinema, and many restaurants and cafes. Also has a large “Arabian Treasures” souvenir and traditional textiles area. A new extension includes many more high-end boutiques and upmarket mall restaurants. A big Carrefour hypermarket sells just about everything and is nearly always very busy. There is a Sofitel hotel at one end of the centre, where there are bars and restaurants serving alcohol.
- Wafi Mall. Includes Marks & Spencer, Goodies. Focus is almost entirely on luxury brands, jewelry and expensive boutiques. Many upmarket restaurants and bars, many of which are licensed (have alcohol available). A luxury spa is attached to the complex. The Egypt-themed architecture, which includes quite beautiful stained-glass pyramids, is worth seeing.
- Emirates Towers Boulevard, Sheikh Zayed Road. Daily 10.00AM-10.00PM, Fri 4.00PM-10.00PM. Part of the Emirates Tower Hotel complex. The shops here match the hotel, very high class, plus a Starbucks. Lipton cafe has free Wi-Fi. Restaurants and bars all serve alcohol. Quite a popular nightlife spot, with bars and nightclubs and it is considered the most expensive mall in Dubai.
- Gold & Diamond Park, Interchange 4, Sheikh Zayed Road (South side). Sells gold and diamond products. Has none of the character of the more historic gold souq, but is air-conditioned throughout, and easier to reach and park at than the historic souq (which is in the depths of downtown Deira). Can be better value, as it is less “touristy”.
- Al Ain Plaza, (known locally as Computer Plaza), On Mankhool Road along from the Ramada Hotel, Bur Dubai heading towards the creek. A mall specializing in computers, laptops, computer parts and computer add on like monitors, VoIP Phones, hard drives, etc. Prices aren’t particularly low, even after haggling, and choices are limited (for example very few shops sell AMD hardware). There is an internet cafe here. Also other malls in this area are good for computers and computer equipment.
- Festival City. Has Dubai’s only Ikea, since it relocated from City Centre, and a huge Plug-Ins electronic store. Also an ACE Hardware and a amazing mall which has 550 shops.
- Dubai Outlet Mall, on the road to Al Ain. A very large mall, with many “factory outlets”.
- Dubai Marina Mall, located on Sheikh Zayed Rd, a mall with Books and Stationery (Borders), mobile telephony (du), photography (Nikon), cards (Hallmark), children toys, nutrition, pharmacy (Boots), supermarket (Waitrose), luxury watches, clothing, Starbucks, Dubai souvenirs, etc.
- Dragon Martis the world’s largest trading hub for Chinese products outside Mainland China, opened in December 2007, playing a pivotal role in establishing the strong trade and cultural ties between the UAE and China. The complex currently consists of Dragon Mart 1 and Dragon Mart 2, which, combined, have more than 5,000 shops and 8,200 parking spaces and welcome some 40 million visitors a year.