As a global shopping hub, there are several must-buys that complete a trip to Dubai - and finding them is half the fun. Here's where to look.
Carpets are one of the region’s signature items, although they tend to be imported from Iran, Turkey and Pakistan. The price of a piece depends on a number of factors: its origin, the material used, the number of knots, and whether or not it is hand-made. Prices range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dirhams. It is always worth bargaining to get a better price. The most expensive carpets are usually those hand-made with silk in Iran. The higher the quality, the neater the back, so turn the carpets over – if the pattern is clearly depicted and the knots are all neat, the carpet is of higher quality than those that are indistinct. Most vendors will happily explain the differences between the rugs and share their extensive knowledge.
Ask to see a selection of various carpets and get a feel for the differences between hand-made or machine-made silk, wool or blend carpets. To find the perfect piece, head to Fabindia, the Pride of Kashmir in Souk Madinat Jumeirah, or Persian Carpet House at Emirates Towers. There’s also a good collection of places in Deira – National Iranian Carpets and Kashmir Gallery – and at Souk Al Bahar in Downtown Dubai.
Gold is notably cheaper in the UAE than in Europe, making it a popular souvenir and a main attraction for many visitors. Dubai is the world’s leading re-exporter of gold and you’ll find a jeweller in even the smallest of malls. It is sold according to the international gold rate, which means that, for an identical piece, whether you buy it in Mall of the Emirates or in the Gold Souk, there should be very little difference in price. You should do your research before buying anything though, especially if you decide to get a piece custom-made to a design, such as a necklace with your name in Arabic. Of course, don’t forget to bargain.
Many of the world’s finest jewellery stores have outlets in Dubai. Both Cartier and Tiffany have numerous branches throughout the city. Simply asking for a discount, even in these upmarket retailers, can get good results. You’ll find a large selection of outlets, most of which are open to bargaining, in the Gold & Diamond Park and this venue offers a slightly cooler, less frenetic shopping experience than the Gold Souk.
There is the usual selection of tacky souvenirs available in Dubai, but an equally impressive range of tasteful items are much more worthy of your money. Hand-carved wooden trinket boxes, sometimes filled with traditional oudh (a kind of incense) are popular, as are beaded wall hangings from the Textile Souk, khanjars (traditional Arabic daggers), pashminas and keffiyeh headscarves, embroidered slippers, hand-woven carpets and shisha pipes. For the ultimate in Arabian kitsch, pick up a gaudy mosque alarm clock that wakes you up with the sound of the call to prayer – it won’t win you any style awards, but you’ll probably be the only person on your street that has one. Good places to hunt for souvenirs include Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Karama and Dubai Antique Museum in Al Qouz.
If you’re in town for longer than a few days, it is a great opportunity to get some garments made. Tailors can be found in most areas, but the area around Dubai Museum in Al Souk Al Kabeer, or Plant Street in Satwa, are good places to start. A good tailor will be able to make a garment from scratch (rather than just make alterations), either from a photo or diagram, or by copying an existing item. If they don’t get the garment spot on, they will happily make the necessary alterations. Allow one week or more to make sure you don’t run out of time for alterations after the first fitting.
Dream Girl Tailors in Satwa is great for everything from taking up trousers to making ball gowns. Skirts cost around Dhs.60 and dresses from around Dhs.150, depending on the complexity of the pattern. Dream Boy in Meena Bazaar is good for shirts and suits, as is Whistle and Flute; shirts usually start from Dhs.85 and suits from around Dhs.1,000. One of Dubai’s most highly regarded tailors is Kachins, where you may pay a little extra for a suit or shirt, but the fabric and cut will be worth it. Santoba Tailors, near Choithram in Meena Bazaar, is another great option. Its tailors will design, copy, or alter suits, dresses and anything else you can think up – it specialises in European designs and slick shirts and suits.
If you've arrived without the essentials, or want to get hold of an inflatable lilo, most resorts will have shops selling swimwear for all ages. Adventure HQ at The Beach at JBR has a range of snorkels and swimming apparatus, or you can ask a taxi driver to take you to Carrefour or LuLu Hypermarket for cheap toys for the beach or pool.
An Arabian Shopping Experience
There are a few places in Dubai where you can sidestep the glitzy mall experience and enjoy more authentic Arabian-style shopping. The bohemian Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, formerly known as Bastakiya, has narrow walkways, traditional windtowers and courtyards, which provide the perfect setting for artisans to sell their wares. Souk Madinat Jumeirah’s walkways are a great place to shop for jewellery, photography and art, while Souk Al Bahar has some quirky boutiques and furniture stores selling traditional items. Wafi’s underground marketplace, Khan Murjan, houses 150 stalls underneath its spectacular stained glass ceiling. Trade Routes, inside Dubai Festival City, is another modern take on traditional Arabian souks. Each area holds a broad range of shops as well as several restaurants should you need to refuel.
The Wow Factor
The Dubai Mall, one of the largest shopping malls in the world, cannot fail to impress with its sheer size and volume of stores. There's also some impressive attractions both inside and out - the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, enormous dancing fountains and a huge aquarium are just a few.
Souk Madinat Jumeirah is impressive in its own way - built to resemble a traditional souk, it's a chance to soak up some Arabian architecture and check out some of the city's dining and nightlife highlights as well as shopping for souvenirs.
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