Ultimate guide to shopping in Dubai
Planning a Dubai holiday? If so, some shopping will almost certainly be on your itinerary. From massive malls and trendy districts to traditional souks and everything in between, Dubai delivers.
It has malls with movie theatres, malls with aquariums, malls with indoor ski slopes, outdoor souks with hidden shops, pop-up markets with changing brands, box parks with local designers, outlet malls and outdoor malls.
If it feels a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. Here Dubai journalist Danae Mercer reveals the best spots to stop and shop — whether you want to go in style or bag a bargain.
Step one: The Dubai Mall. Spanning 1,200 shops, 200 food and beverage outlets, and 5.9 million square feet, this behemoth structure the largest mall in the world.
It’s also among Dubai’s most visited. By noon, the mall is heaving with shoppers, families, tourists and Dubai residents.
“It’s my favourite place to shop in Dubai,” explains Dubai menswear expert Alii Muhammad. “It’s literally the world’s largest mall… the cinema is huge, the food court is insane. Once you’re inside, you need a map to go from one place to another. You’re never going to be bored there.”
You can browse spices at the thematic souk, grab a pair of Louboutins at Level Shoe District, visit the Dubai Aquarium or the Olympic-sized ice rink, catch a flick in leather seats at the luxury movie theatre, then keep going back for more. The mall is essentially its own city.
Go VIP: Book into The Lounge at Dubai Mall to shop in VIP style. This serene space provides panoramic views of the Burj Khalifa alongside complimentary snacks. For a fee, a personal shopper takes you around the mall to check out what’s new in the world of designer fashion. An in-mall limousine service travels between shops.
Insider tip: To miss crowds, shop earlier in the day and avoid the weekend, especially Friday. “Dubai Mall has an app so you can work out your route without getting lost,” advises Dubai fashion blogger Diana Bellheather of SweatshirtsAndDresses.
Insider tip: Don’t be afraid to embrace the city’s passion for high-end, advises Natasha Ekstedt, CEO of Coffee Communications. “Dubai is a shopping destination for luxury lovers because it’s tax free. You should take advantage of that. Some brands are cheaper and others have limited-edition stuff here.”
Dubai Mall might be the city’s biggest, but it’s certainly not the only one.
For fantastically quirky interiors, head to Ibn Battuta Mall. This themed shopping centre takes you around the world through the travels of Ibn Battuta (a medieval Moroccan scholar), giving the whole place an amusement park vibe.
“I love shopping at Ibn Battuta Mall because it’s the mall with the most plus-size options in Dubai: Yours Clothing, New Look Curves, Forever 21 Plus and Debenhams,” says Dubai blogger Luanne D’Souza of WeeshasWorld.
Mall of the Emirates (MOE) lures travellers with its mix of high-end and luxury shops, and its more manageable size. “It’s not as overwhelming as the Dubai Mall,” says UAE fashion blogger Milli Midwood. “And it’s not too small that it doesn’t have the shops you want.”
MOE is also home to SkiDubai, the city’s indoor ski slope, where equipment and clothing can be rented.
Go VIP: Make room for more shopping by leaving bags at MOE’s Hands Free collection desks. Bags can be picked up later or delivered to your hotel (for a fee).
Insider tip: “I recommend Dubai Outlet Mall for great shoes, even if it’s 20 minutes outside of town,” says Dubai fashion consultant Natalia Shustova.
Nestled on both sides of the Dubai Creek are Dubai’s traditional souks: the gold souk, spice souk, perfume souk and textile souk.
Here shoppers snake between winding alleys bartering for the best deals on everything from pots and pans to knock-off bags.
“The local souks are great,” says D’Souza. “I’ve bought some beautiful kaftans and engraved metal clutches from them. Just make sure you know how to bargain!”
“Bazaars make a good place to find cute things and the gold souk offers products you can’t find anywhere else,” says Sai Maricel Mansano, blogger at TheSandGypsy.
Visit in the evening to avoid intense midday heat. When done exploring, for $1 you can catch an abra (a traditional wooden boat) across Dubai Creek.
ouk Madinat Jumeirah offers a more manicured souk experience recreated for tourists, with pretty shops and air-conditioned walkways. You can take an abra tour around the Madinat complex after shopping or stop in a licensed restaurant for dinner and drinks.
Extending from The Dubai Mall, Souk Al Bahar offers a calm, air-conditioned souk experience. Most travellers come here to eat at the souk’s restaurants. Check out Bice Mare for salt-baked fish, attentive service and front-row seats to the Dubai Fountain.
Insider tip: “For a truly authentic experience, wander through the city’s markets, including the gold souk and the fabric market. Low-rise shopping isn’t as well known in Dubai as it should be. But it’s at the very heart of the emirate, which was built on trading,” says Maitha Al Suwaidi, executive director of marketing and communications for Dubai Design District (see below).
The malls are great spots to find high-street brands, while the souks are handy for traditional gifts. But a growing number of local designers are retailing in Dubai’s edgier developments.
“This city is filled with creative artists, so it’s not impossible to find products from local up-and-coming brands,” says Ekstedt.
Take a few hours to explore Alserkal Avenue, a warehouse-style complex with cafés, art galleries and fashion boutiques. At Gulf Photo Plus you can snag limited edition prints from emerging artists, while The Odd Piece sells unique rugs and furniture. Mirzam, an artisanal chocolate supplier, makes for great gifts.
And if you’re hungry? Try Hapi restaurant, says Mohamed Somji, director of Gulf Photo Plus. “It has an eclectic menu, from salmon burgers to labneh and beetroot sliders.”
Dubai Design District (d3) is another great stop for unique fashion. Only a 10-minute drive from downtown Dubai, this urban spot intersperses local designers and design-led diners with art galleries and sculptures.
“It’s for those who have an interest in slightly rarer artisanal products that are hard to find,” adds d3 insider Suwaidi. He recommends Montroi for hand-crafted leather travel accessories or Closet Case for exclusive menswear from 100 designers. For something more bespoke, visit a showroom for a customised, one-off piece.
Insider tip: “Get on the red line of the Metro and make your way to Union Square to explore the streets of Deira for fantastic shopping. It’s one of the few pedestrian-friendly areas of the city,” says Somji.