Shopping in Dubai: the malls

by alexritman

A brief breakdown of Dubai's many, many temples to consumerism

When it comes to shopping paradises, Dubai is certainly up there with the best of them. But, unlike most international cities famed for inducing credit card meltdown, here it's not about shop-lined high streets or alleyways hiding quirky boutiques. In Dubai, it's all about the malls. The mall has become a central player for a city without a real centre, housing not just a sea of stores, but cafés, restaurants and increasingly ridiculous entertainment (ski slopes, aquariums, indoor sky diving centres, anyone?). People come to the malls to hang out, meet their friends, conduct business, grab lunch or simply hide from the heat (thankfully air conditioning is present across them all). Oh, and spend - people most definitely flock to the malls to spend like there's no tomorrow. 

There are more malls than people in Dubai (and more seemingly opening all the time), but here is a breakdown of the major players. 

The Dubai Mall

(Financial Centre Road, Downtown Burj Khalifa; 20 minutes from airport; 800-382246255; www.thedubaimall.com)

Undoubtedly the jewel in Dubai’s consumer crown, this is the world’s largest mall (based on total area), neighbour to the world’s tallest building - the Burj Khalifa - and holder of various other world records. Housing almost every known brand name on the planet, this vast temple to consumerism has become a central part of life in Dubai, attracting over a quarter of a million visitors each week.

Notable shops
The dedicated ‘Fashion Avenue’ is home to glittering boutiques from almost every international designer label, Candyicious (the world’s biggest sweet store), Kinokuniya (massive book shop), Bloomingdales (the only one outside of the US), Waitrose (well there's no Tesco out here). 

Other features
Dubai Aquarium, The Dubai Ice Rink, Sega Republic (indoor theme park), KidZania (bizarre, but fun city for children), Reel Cinemas.

Tips
Even if you’re not into shopping, the Dubai Mall is difficult to miss out. Grab an al-fresco beverage at mOre Cafe, situated just by the Burj Khalifa, and marvel at what an awful lot of petrodollars can buy you. After 8pm sit outside to grab a glimpse of the Dubai Fountain squirting several bazillion gallons of water in the air. If you’ve got kids, give them a few quid and stick them in Sega Republic, a rather awesome indoor theme park packed with decent rides and the latest video games. Actually, even if you’re not with kids, this is a fun place to while away an hour or two.

Getting there
All taxi drivers will know where the Dubai Mall is. They usually stop at the rather grand main entrance. Getting a taxi at the mall used to be a problem, but now it’s rather easy – just follow the signs. You shouldn’t have to wait more than a minute or two. Many hotels offer free shuttle buses to and from the mall.

Nearby hotels
The Address Downtown Dubai, The Palace, Armani Hotel and Al Manzil Hotel.

Mall of the Emirates

(Sheikh Zayed Road; 30 minutes from airport; +971 4 4099000; www.malloftheemirates.com)

What was once the pinnacle of shopping in Dubai has been shoved into second place by the Dubai Mall. Despite losing the top spot, it’s still regularly packed out with visitors and remains the much-loved home of almost every conceivable brand imaginable. A new fashion wing has brought several high-end labels into the mall. The near-preposterous Ski Dubai indoor ski slope is most definitely one reason to visit.

Notable shops
Harvey Nichols (yup, we’ve got one of these too), Boutique 1 (locally-owned fashion store, much like Harvey Nichols but more sleekly laid out), Gallery One (excellent regional photography).

Other features
Ski Dubai, Magic Planet (impressive kids’ arcade), CineStar Cinema.

Tips
The Mall of the Emirates is just down the road from most of the beach resorts by the Jumeirah coast, so ideal if you’re staying in that part of town. Ski Dubai is a must, just to say you’ve done it. For an excellent steak, try the Butcher Shop and Grill. If you’re on a budget, there’s plenty of cheap food in Carrefour.

Getting there
All taxis know the Mall of the Emirates. There’s sometimes a queue to get one up from the pickup stop, but never more than a few minutes. The mall also has a dedicated stop on the Dubai Metro. Many hotels offer free shuttle buses to and from the mall.

Nearby hotels
Kempinski Mall of the Emirates, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Holiday Inn Al Barsha, , Mina A'Salam and Burj Al Arab.

Other malls of note

Festival Centre

(Dubai Festival City, Deira; five minutes from airport; +971 4 2136213; www.dubaifestivalcity.com)

Bright and well-designed complex by the creek (on the airport side), adjoined by the InterContinental and Crowne Plaza hotels. Houses main fashion brands, cinema, bowling alley, a wide array of restaurants and one enormous IKEA. There’s a fairground outside and its regularly hosting events.

Where
Dubai Creek, Deira side.

Visit for: cool clothes, outdoor eateries, Swedish flatpack furniture.

Deira City Centre

(Deira; 10 minutes from airport; +971 4 2954486; www.deiracitycentre.com)

Among the oldest of Dubai’s malls and looking a little tired compared to the newbies. However it’s got its own stop on the Dubai Metro and is still regularly busy. Sharaf DG, a local electronics retailer, has a massive store inside. Worth visiting: Iconic, a giant store selling ‘hip’ fashion and various fun gift and gadgets.

Where
Deira. Over road from the Park Hyatt Dubai.

Visit for: electronics, high-street clothes stores (Topshop, Zara, H&M).

BurJuman

(BurJuman Centre, Bur Dubai; +971 4 3520222; www.burjuman.com)

This used to be ‘the’ place for high-end fashion before The Dubai Mall stole its well-heeled thunder. However, there are still plenty of boutique store inside and it has its own Dubai Metro stop. A giant Saks Fifth Avenue should satisfy your designer label needs. Strangely, this mall seems rather popular with Russians, who aren't too difficult to spot. 

Where
Bur Dubai.

Visit for: high-end fashion.

Ibn Battuta

(Sheikh Zayed Road; Jebel Ali; +971 4 3621900; www.ibnbattutamall.com)

Named after the famed Arabian explorer (who sadly died 650 years too early to see such a fitting tribute), this sprawling mall is some distance from much of the Dubai, out towards Abu Dhabi. However, it's notably for the various geographical ‘themes’ in its six main courts, allowing you to skip between ‘China’, ‘India’ and ‘Persia’ without visa issues or tedious plane journeys. You might be amused to see a Debenhams and a Primark among the stores.

Where
Sheikh Zayed Road, towards Jebel Ali.

Visit for: a lengthy taxi journey.

Mirdif City Centre

(Mirdif City Centre, Nr Uptown Mirdif; 800 6422; www.mirdifcitycentre.com)

Like Ibn Battuta, this is far from the main goings on in Dubai (although this is at the opposite end of town, near the airport). However, it’s rather shiny and new, which is nice, and features a quite spectacular indoor ski-diving simulator called iFly, which gives you the chance to experience what it’s like falling from a plane but without the hefty parachute and with your shopping bags waiting by the door.

Where
Mirdif. Very near Dubai International Airport.

Visit for: iFly, Crate & Barrel (cool furniture).

The Dubai Outlet Mall

(Dubai - Al Ain Road; +971 4 4234666; www.dubaioutletmall.com)

Out towards the desert sits this lonely and rather depressing mall. Normally, it’d be ignored, but the Outlet Mall has the advantage that it is ludicrously cheap. Once the sales are finished, most of the fashion houses in the other malls dump their out-of-date (like, so last year) wares here, where they are sold for a fraction of the price. It might take a while to trail through the XXL and XXS sizes, but if you stumble across a bargain you’ll be praising the day you ventured here.

Where
Al Ain Road, 20 minutes' drive from Dubai.

Visit for: dirt cheap designer clothing. 

More expert advice on Dubai

Read my shopping overview on my Shopping in Dubai page.

alexritman

I'm a freelance journalist in Dubai and write for a wide range of local and international titles, including Time Out, Esquire and The National. 

I came to Dubai almost five years ago with the full intention of saving a large amount of money and leaving within six months to go travelling. However, I unexpectedly began to really enjoy the place (and I also failed to save anything) so decided to stick around and watch a city grow at a frightening speed around me. As a Dubai resident (and, fortunately, working in the media) I've often been lucky enough to get ringside seats for some of Dubai's latest, greatest and (often) more ridiculous developments.

My Dubai  

Where I always grab a coffee: The Lime Tree cafe in Jumeirah may be a rather popular spot with residents, but it's just a short walk from my flat, has a very friendly vibe and a lovely outdoor seating area. Crucially, it doesn't have any WiFi, meaning that I can actually get work done there without procrastinating. It's also just over the road from the beach, which is never a bad thing.

My favourite stroll: Dubai may not be particularly pedestrian friendly in many parts of town, but the streets of Satwa are always abuzz with life, anytime of the day. It's also home to some of the best (and cheapest) roadside restaurants in town.  

Where to be seen this winter: With the temperatures having simmered down since summer, outdoors really is the place to be in Dubai. That said, the new Armani Hotel  in the Burj Khalifa (aka The World's Tallest Tower) is only a few months old and features a variety of Armani-endorsed restaurants and the rather swanky Armani/Prive club just next door. There are also a various new hotels opening up on The Palm Jumeirah, each no doubt coming with their own selection of bars and eateries. 

The most breathtaking view: While Dubai isn't short of tall structures, the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa, some two thirds of the way up the building's 828 metres, offers some frankly preposterous views of the city, even stretching out across the Gulf towards Iran. 

The best place for some peace and quiet: On the airport side of the creek, the Park Hyatt and its surrounding area is a small nugget of Mediterranean-style bliss, with cool waterside bars and restaurants providing some much needed chill in an otherwise bustling and noisy city. Alternatively, you can just drive out to the desert, perhaps one of the most peaceful and quiet places anywhere (once you've turned off the 4x4's engine). 

Shopaholics beware!: Where to start. The Dubai Mall, The Mall of the Emirates, BurJuman Mall, Ibn Battuta Mall, Deira City Centre, Mercato Mall, Marina Mall, The Outlet Mall... the list of temples to consumerism is endless. There's even a dedicated 'Shopping Festival'. With approximately 1.8 shopping centres per person (not really, but it does feel like that at times), Shopaholics should really be aware what they're letting themselves in for before they even set off. 

City on screen: Being but a youngster, Dubai has yet had the privilege of featuring in many films. There has been a few brief cameo roles in Syriana, Body of Lies and no doubt a few other tales of Middle Eastern espionage and politics, plus the appearance in an episode of Doctor Who, but no major blockbuster has been set solely in the city, a situation Dubai, I'm sure, would like to rectify. 

Don't leave without: Heading out to the desert, standing on top of a sand dune and having a look around you. Many people may do it, but this doesn't take anything away from the impressiveness that one huge amount of sand can bring. Also, get a boat to take you around The World islands. It may not look the most amazing thing from sea level, but being able to say you've been around the world in under an hour is an anecdote you can bring to any party. I suppose you should probably take a look at the Burj Khalifa too. It is very tall.