The Middle East has long been known for its spectacular bazaars and glittering souks, and Dubai has taken that legacy and thoroughly modernized it. Between its sinewy highways and futuristic skyscrapers, the city has moulded itself into a sort of retail heaven with an array of glittering, jam-packed mega-malls where visitors can shop for endless bargains, designer products and local ethnic goods.
Unsurprisingly the emirate boasts the biggest shopping centre in the world, and most of them are the size of small towns with shows, entertainment and leisure activities thrown in for good measure. Alongside retail therapy these malls go way beyond the norm with pop-up performances from international stars, indoor ski slopes, thrilling theme park rides and even an aquarium where you can swim with sharks. The city has close to 100 malls and it’s well worth visiting to really experience the bustling extravagance of Dubai. To help you pick, here we take a look at four of the best browsing and shopping destinations.
1. Ibn Battuta Mall
Inspired by the travels of explorer Ibn Battuta, this mall has a unique identity that sets it apart from the rest. Divided into six gorgeous emporiums dedicated to the regions that Battuta travelled through – from Andalusia, Tunisia and Egypt to Persia, India and China – it’s embellished with colourful mosaics, elaborate gushing fountains and chandeliers dripping in crystals. It’s worth exploring for its aesthetics as much for its shopping. The giant golden elephant is hard to miss and the fresh green tea gardens will transport you further east to the terraces of India. Clothes, lifestyle and sports stores are spread throughout the snazzy complex, hosting regular sales and seasonal promotions.
2. Mall of the Emirates
Flashy Mall of the Emirates takes the concept of shopping centre to the nth degree. In places this mall feels like a theme park, and in places it actually is – the Magic Planet kids’ entertainment centre is situated at the mall offering the perfect place to keep the kids amused while you head off for a spot of retail therapy. Familiar stores such as Harvey Nichols, Marks & Spencer, the Apple Store and Debenhams all have branches here. But if you are looking for more than shopping, there’s an indoor ski slope at Ski Dubai, local and international theatre and music at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre, and VOX Cinemas showing all the latest movies.
3. Dubai Mall
The world’s biggest mall, spread across an area the size of 200 football pitches, this palatial shrine to shopping is dedicated to consumer indulgence and there are beautiful products and brilliant bargains to be had everywhere. Wander the shiny floors of its large glossy retail halls, avenues and precincts and get lost in an incredible maze of more than 1,200 retail outlets including high street stores such as Top Shop and Zara. Head to Fashion Avenue for designers and brands such as Chanel, Versace, Burberry and Lanvin with window displays that are a work of art, elaborate jewel-encrusted Arabic couture gowns and mind-bendingly expensive handbags. You can also find the finest gold jewellery in the Gold Souk, as well as the latest in footwear at the Level Shoe District with shoe candy from Christian Louboutin, Fendi and Dior.
Beyond its shops, Dubai Mall is an entertainment hub housing the giant Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo right at its heart, as well as interactive children’s play centre Kidzania, a full-sized ice rink, a cinema complex and a collection of great restaurants arranged around its fringes. Every area has a touch-screen map so you can trace where you are and hunt down the shops you want. Its position close to other visitor attractions such as the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountains means the mall fits well into a sightseeing itinerary if you are only on a short stay in the city. The Social House on the edge of the mall is a good spot for lunch with windows looking out over the famous Dubai Fountains.
4. City Walk
A major recent addition to Dubai’s shopping scene, the sleek and shiny palm-lined avenues of outdoor City Walk in Jumeirah are modelled on a trendy pedestrianised European shopping district. Here you can find one-off boutiques, Michelin-starred eateries, artisan food stalls and pop-up art, as well as family-orientated spots such as the Green Planet, housing an indoor tropical rainforest with butterflies and a resident sloth, or educational play centre Mattel Play Town.
More retail utopias
With a greater concentration of malls crammed into Dubai than almost any other place in the world, you may want to explore a few more. Dubai Festival City Mall down by Dubai Creek is more a traditional department store-stacked shopping centre with a glass atrium and it’s a pleasant location with waterfront restaurants where you can board an Arabian abra water taxi for a ride along the Creek. Mercato Mall modelled on an Italian Renaissance town makes for a pleasant diversion, while in neighbouring Abu Dhabi, Yas Mall’s futuristic design and spectacular flagship stores are reminiscent of a space-age city on the moon. Snag unbelievable bargains at Dubai’s malls during shopping celebrations like Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) from December to January each year and Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS) held during the hot summer months.