More insider guides for planning a trip to Dubai
Shopping is a national pastime in the UAE, a place where high street and designer brands from around the world stand side-by-side in shiny, air-conditioned mega malls, while old-school souks still look much like the mock historic market on display in Dubai Museum. Elsewhere, emerging artisans are carving a niche off the beaten path. Telegraph Travel expert Sarah Hedley Hymers guides you through the retail temples you simply can’t miss and the ones worth making a detour for.
The Dubai Mall
The UAE’s highest concentration of designer boutiques can be found here, alongside the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo and an Olympic-sized ice rink, while the Dubai Fountain and Burj Khalifa are on the doorstep. Walking through the several million square feet of retail space is a workout: you can navigate with the Dubai Mall mobile app, and be sure to pack comfortable shoes – or buy a pair. With more than 1,300 shops, including anchor departments stores Galeries Lafayette and Bloomingdale’s, finding the right footwear for the job shouldn’t be a problem.
Contact: 00 971 800 38224 6255; thedubaimall.com/en
Opening times: Daily, 10am-12am
Mall of the Emirates
The only place in the UAE where you’ll find a ski slope, Mall of the Emirates is a magnet for Middle Eastern travellers who’ve never seen snow. The mall’s Fashion District looks like the pages of Vogue brought to life, with Bulgari, Dior and Gucci stopping shoppers in their tracks with attention-grabbing window displays. High-street offerings include Next, Topshop and the popular Turkish equivalent, Koton, while Harvey Nichols and Debenhams go head to head as the flagship department stores. The ‘Hands Free’ service means shoppers can have their bags collected and delivered later anywhere in the mall, car parks or connecting hotels (a Kempinski and a Sheraton).
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The Outlet Village
This incongruous Tuscan village-styled mall on the outskirts of Dubai is to the UAE what Bicester Village is to England. From Armani to Ermenegildo Zegna, several discounted high-end collections can be found in bespoke boutiques or one of three multi-brand department stores: The Deal, Priceless and Galeries Lafayette L’Outlet. Hotfoot it to Coach, Dunhill, Michael Kors and Montblanc for luxury leather accessories, and bag high street bargains at stores including Banana Republic, Gap Factory, Diesel, Superdry and Ted Baker. In addition to the 100 or so shops, there’s a food court and Stay & Play, a care facility where children can be entertained while grown-ups splurge.
Contact: 00 971 800 637 227; theoutletvillage.ae
Opening times: Sat-Wed, 10am-10pm; Thu-Fri, 10am-12am
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Lotus Arts de Vivre
This little shop of curiosities, an outpost of a family business based in Thailand, presents dramatic handcrafted jewellery and home décor inspired by Asian mythology and made from unusual materials, most striking among them the iridescent green wings of the scarab beetle. Outshining the sharpest cut of emerald, large and ornate scarab earrings and pendants emit an almost supernatural glow from within the shop’s glass display cases. A bespoke scarab souvenir can cost a few thousand pounds, but it’s sure to remain a talking point for years to come. Slightly more affordable items are fashioned from seeds, nuts, shells and emu eggs.
Contact: 00 971 4 343 6677; lotusartsdevivre.com
Opening times: Sun-Wed, 10am-8pm; Thu-Sat, 10am-10pm
Taking cues from East London, this container-park concept store narrates an interesting selection of youthful Middle East-inspired clothing, jewellery and homeware. Discover local pop-ups, attend sartorial workshops (announced on their Instagram page) and explore the ever-changing stock of offbeat fashions and Arabia-themed gifts. You may find dresses that look good with trainers, gold-plated hashtag necklaces, slogan caps, feather headdresses, insect motif slippers, coffee table fashion tomes and Hand of Fatima knuckle rings. The location, Boxpark, is a hub of quirkiness, with a programme of street performances and noteworthy neighbouring outlets, including eclectic stationary store Typo and Emirati sweet shop Sukkar.
Contact: 00 971 4 348 8002; urbaniststore.com
Opening times: Sat-Thu, 12pm-9pm
Al Wasl Road (Al Manara)
On point Middle Eastern mementos can be found at this eclectic boutique showcasing the region’s designers. Twentieth century Egyptian movie star Umm Kulthum is among the local musical legends remembered on clothing, accessories and home décor. You don’t need to understand the Arabic calligraphy of her song lyrics to appreciate the retro-Arabian look of inscribed coasters, cushion covers and clutches. Labels to look out for include Elsa O, with jewellery inspired by Levantine symbology, and Sarah’s Bag, a fashion enterprise that employs underprivileged women in Lebanon to create quirky luxury accessories.
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A seductive chocolate aroma welcomes visitors into this artisan factory and café; a table of complimentary samples gets them hooked. Available in single bars, gift boxes and hampers, the Emirati collection is a befitting present for foodies back home. Flavours of the region resound in milk chocolate bars of Ragag, filled with pieces of thin and crispy Arabian ragag bread, and Khabeesa, spiked with dates, cinnamon and cardamom. Located in an avant garde art hub known for its hip and heterogeneous boutiques and galleries, there’s plenty more to purchase in this neighbourhood, especially when fuelled by a sugar rush.
Contact: 00 971 4 333 5888, mirzam.com
Opening times: Daily, 9am-10pm
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A treasure trove of sugary sweets, exotic herbs and spices and local health and beauty remedies, Zafarana’s shelves bulge with squidgy Turkish Delight; buckets of dried lavender, hibiscus and rose petals; freshly ground coffee laced with cardamom; jars of honey packed with hazelnuts; sticky rolls of halva and baklava; fat dates bursting with dried fruits and pistachios; a hundred plant-based medicinal oils and tubs of slick African shea butter, promising shiny hair, clear complexions and improved digestions. This is a grotto for greedy travellers and the manager is an expert at explaining what’s on the menu.
Address:125 Marsa Al Seef
Contact: 00 971 4 324 2234
Opening times: Daily, 10am-10pm
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Bur Dubai and Deira
Old Dubai Souks
Long before the UAE was born, a cluster of souks formed around the mouth of Dubai Creek, feeding on passing trade from ships. On the left bank stands Bur Dubai’s Textile Souk; abra boats sail passengers across the water to Deira’s Spice, Perfume and Gold Souks. It’s hard to know where one souk ends and another begins as each tends to proffer a similar jumble – saffron, incense, pashminas, fridge magnets, jewellery, lanterns and the odd ‘genuine fake’. Get lost in the maze and haggle politely if something catches your eye. Wear noticeable headphones and turn up the volume if you prefer not to be disturbed.
Opening times: Times vary; 10am-10pm approximately – some stores may open late on Fridays or operate reduced hours during Ramadan
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Inhale the thousand scents of Arabia at the UAE’s leading fragrance house. Despite its Westernised title, TP – as it’s known – is committed to authenticity. Launched in Dubai in 2013, it now has 16 stores across the Gulf. Its best-sellers are Rose Vanilla and Amber Oud eau de perfumes and Dkhoun TP, the brand’s signature incense tablets, which smoulder atop charcoal in brass burners outside stores located in City Walk, Al Seef, La Mer and JBR The Beach. If any smell can take travellers back to Dubai, then it’s probably this one.