If shopping were an Olympic sport, the United Arab Emirates would certainly be among the gold medal favourites. After all, where else in the world celebrates a dedicated 'Shopping Festival' each year? Quite simply, Dubai is a city where shopping is a national pastime. But unlike other cities where there are shopping districts or store-lined streets, here it's all about the malls. There are hundreds of them, some of them are cities in themselves and they house almost any brand you can imagine. To the non-shopaholic, it can seem a little ridiculous at times. It sometimes feels like there are more malls than people, and more appear to be opening all of the time. But these vast temples to consumerism are almost always packed full of visitors, both locals and tourists alike, many staggering about with more bags than they can feasibly carry.
Shopping centres of attention
Dubai's numerous malls offer much more than just comfortable spots to max out your credit card on designer goods and electronics. The more recent ones to open have become attractions in their own right, offering mini city centres in a place without a dedicated hub. Most come littered with cafés and restaurants, and often with a whole host of enormous indoor entertainment features. The Dubai Mall, the biggest mall in the world, for example, includes a giant aquarium, ice-skating rink and theme park inside, and sits next to the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower. Another huge centre, the Mall of the Emirates, features a vast indoor ski slope (the world's biggest, naturally). As such, even if you're not a shopper, coming to Dubai and avoiding a mall will take some serious work. Thankfully, most are extremely clean, easy to get to and offer a wide range of facilities. And, most importantly, they're all air-conditioned, which is useful during the summer months.
For more information, read my guide Shopping in Dubai: the malls.
While the malls may dominate, there are opportunities for al-fresco shopping too. There are several Arabian-style souks in town, most notably the Gold Souk, the Spice Souk and the Textile Souk. Generally speaking, these act more like tourist attractions than real areas for consumerism. But they're definitely worth inspecting for a glimpse of old Arabia and bag of cheap saffron.
For more information, read my guide Shopping in Dubai: the souks.
What you need to know
Most of Dubai's malls are open from 10am to 1am, seven days a week. There might be some variation on the different attractions within each mall, but this timing is a good rule of thumb.
Be careful about how you look and behave in the malls. While these may appear like anything in Europe or North America, you're still in an Islamic country (you can sometimes hear the call to prayer on the mall's speakers). As such, don't bare too much flesh and don't display any excessive affection. Generally speaking, you'll just get a stern word if you're caught, but worse has been known to happen. During the holy month of Ramadan, you should avoid eating or drinking in the malls.
Unfortunately, gone are the days when Dubai was among the cheapest places in the world for electronics. Generally, the prices here are on a par with the shops back in the UK, sometimes even more expensive. However, many of the fashion stores have excellent sales, usually during the summer months and at the start of the year.