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.
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).
Dubai Aquarium, The Dubai Ice Rink, Sega Republic (indoor theme park), KidZania (bizarre, but fun city for children), Reel Cinemas.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Ski Dubai, Magic Planet (impressive kids’ arcade), CineStar Cinema.
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.
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.
Other malls of note
(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.
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.
Deira. Over road from the Park Hyatt Dubai.
Visit for: electronics, high-street clothes stores (Topshop, Zara, H&M).
(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.
Visit for: high-end fashion.
(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.
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.
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.
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.