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Dubai’s shopping scene has made headlines in recent years for its sheer glamour and grandiosity: the city is home to the world’s largest shopping centre, the Dubai Mall, and impressive developments that range from entire shopping neighbourhoods to modest outlet villages. But beneath the city’s ultra-modern exterior is a rich tradition of souks, or open-air markets, which are dotted among the city’s mega-malls, selling everything from Emirati jewellery to personalised perfumes. Whether you’re seeking skyscrapers or souks, brands or bartering, markets or malls, this shopping haven truly has it all.
On the opposite side of the bank of Dubai Creek from the main souk district in Bur Dubai, the Textile Souk is the place to visit for rich cottons, satins, silks and tailor-made clothing. Tens of thousands of patterns and colours of material are scattered throughout the many stalls in the market, and expert tailors will measure you and make a custom suit or dress in a matter of days. Aside from suits and dresses, abayas and niqabs, shawls and shirts, there are stalls selling all manner of buttons, laces, sequins and stones, and people who specialise in repairing clothes.
Dubai’s weekly ripe market has become something of a tradition in the winter months, recently relocating to the Police Academy Park in Al Barsha. Local growers bring crates full of fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers – all organic – to locals and visitors alike. Every Friday and Saturday in the winter months, and less frequently during the summer months, when the market is based inside the Times Square Centre, the ripe market is the best place to pick up the freshest and tastiest food in the emirate. The market offers more than just healthy and speciality foods, as there is a rotating calendar of musical, dance, fitness and pet-related events for the whole family.
ARTE – the Maker’s Market, so-called because the market is the premier location for Dubai’s creatives to market themselves and sell their products – takes place every Friday in different locations across the emirate. The market was started over a decade ago by Miriam Walsh to give artisans somewhere to sell their wares, and it has become one of Dubai’s most popular markets. Creators sell different types of paintings, handicrafts and baked goods – breads, pastries and cakes – and there are regular themed weeks. Enjoy a cup of artisan coffee with a flaky croissant and watch people haggling for their new favourite work of art.
The Dubai Flea Market is perhaps the most popular market in Dubai among the large international community, taking place in locations around the city, including Zabeel Park, the Ibn Battuta Mall and The Greens, almost every weekend. The strict second-hand-only policy ensures that sellers bring only used goods to the market, with everything anyone could want sold in over 300 stalls, including furniture of all shapes and sizes, fabrics, ceramics, pottery, clothes and antiques. The prices are cheap, and when your feet are tired from wandering through the maze of stalls, there is no shortage of coffee stands, fruit stalls and shawarma trucks to visit.
Follow the scents of Arabia deep into Dubai’s perfume souk in search of your new signature smell. Located in the souk area of Bur Dubai, beside Dubai Creek, this souk, with foundations going back over four decades, is a confusing maze of tiny stalls stocked with a vast array of colourful liquids and bottles, incense sticks, solid perfumes and smoking bakhoor (incense). Oudh is a signature scent in the UAE, and the woody smell lingers in the air. For a special treat, find a stall selling personalised scents suited to your own skin and hair type and haggle for the best prices.
The biggest mall in the world beat its own record in 2018 by adding an extension and getting even larger. With over 1,200 retail stores spread over an area the size of 200 football pitches, the Dubai Mall has something for everyone, from ultra-luxury outlets to high-street stores. Don’t be surprised to find there’s more than one outlet for the same brands – the mall is so vast that it might be worth hopping onto an indoor car that can take you around it. There’s a range of art to glimpse at venues like Gallery One, and a broad selection of entertainment to enjoy, including an Olympic-size ice rink, a cinema and an aquarium.
Walk between small shops on the street of this outdoor shopping centre located between Al Wasl and Jumeirah in Dubai’s Business Bay. The vibrant industrial complex, made out of colourful shipping containers, is the perfect place to get a trendy souvenir, with 14 retail concept stores. If it’s possible to tire of shopping, there are 30 dining outlets to choose from, as well as a cinema and lots of events to keep visitors entertained throughout the year. You won’t be able to miss the location, as there are huge Boxpark letters by the roadside.
Outlet Village is number one for bargain hunters when it comes to shopping in Dubai; it’s a destination where you can get high-end brands and high-street retailers for less. Unlike many other outlet malls that are located on the outskirts of big cities, Outlet Village sits in Dubai’s central Jebel Ali district. Some of the names on offer include Adidas, Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Tumi and Tommy Hilfiger, and during the annual month-long Dubai Summer Surprises event, the bargains get even better. The architecture is inspired by the Medieval hill town of San Gimignano in Tuscany, so you can get a taste of Italy as you browse the venue’s 125 retail brands.
Developed by Meraas, the team behind Boxpark and various other retail projects in Dubai, City Walk is a vast urban precinct with hundreds of indoor and outdoor retail options as well as leisure activities and gourmet restaurants. Head here for beauty, fashion, wellness, home, jewellery and department stores, with 240 local and global concepts across a vast space. The precinct is known for its sleek appearance and upscale shopping options, home to the likes of Forever Rose London, Holland & Barrett and Olivier & Co, a French company specialising in oils and vinegars.
Ibn Battuta Mall is the world’s biggest themed mall. Named after the 21-year-old Moroccan man who ventured around the globe in 1335, it consists of six courts designed after the places he visited: China, India, Egypt, Tunisia, Andalusia and Persia. Though each court features elaborate local designs – Persian rugs in one section and Spanish tiles in another – the shops host fairly universal brands, too, including the likes of H&M, Jashanmal, Cath Kidston and House of Leather. Located centrally on Sheikh Zayed Road, it’s a more local option and a good choice if you’d like to shop in Dubai and avoid the crowds.
This is a much more toned-down version of the world’s largest shopping centre, the Dubai Mall, on the Dubai Marina waterfront. The development plays host to 140 stores, mainly high-street names such as H&M, Koton, MAC and La Senza, as well as a Virgin Megastore and a Waitrose supermarket for all your food needs. Step outside to enjoy the Marina Walk, the permanent home of the popular Salt food truck and an outdoor library.
With architecture inspired by traditional European markets, this mall is unique in its layout. Split into 10 different buildings, the low-level venue follows the stretch around the Palm Jumeirah and has a huge amount of retail space. It’s popular with fitness enthusiasts who go running along the racetrack before stopping for a coffee and a browse through the rails. They have stores for everything, from men and women’s tailoring to musical instruments, books and even pets.
Dragon Mart 1 and 2 is the world’s largest Chinese retail and trading hub outside China. Dragon Mart 2 opened in 2016 after a $1 billion expansion, tripling its previous size to cover a kilometre of land. It’s best for picking up lower-priced home furnishings and electronics from over 4,000 stores selling Chinese products, including Carrefour and Faby Land, but also puts on international events, including musical performances from visiting artists. Shoppers love it here, as items are generally cheaper than in many other malls in Dubai.
Though there are over 630 brands on offer, including fashion, sports and electronics, the Mall of the Emirates is about much more than stores. After a day of shopping, visitors can opt into the ‘Hands Free’ service, dropping their bags at designated storage areas before enjoying attractions that include an indoor ski slope and an amusement centre as well as hotels and restaurants. The shopping can then be delivered to you anywhere inside the mall, or even to your door at home. Over 38 million people visit the centre each year, and families and those arriving on a bicycle get priority parking.
In the middle of the city’s business and heritage districts, BurJuman has a range of leading retailers, such as Splash, Matalan, Brands for Less, Sharaf DG and The Toy Store. As a well as a food court to help keep shoppers’ energy up, there’s a cinema and a family entertainment centre, Magic Planet, so children of all ages can keep busy with everything from gaming to rides.
Leah Simpson and Joe Worthington contributed additional reporting to this article.