In the UAE, shopping is almost considered a national sport. From luxury mega malls to hip boutiques and markets, when it comes to retail, we really do have it all.
If New York is the city that never sleeps, Dubai is the city that never stops shopping. With the major malls open until midnight daily and two shopping festivals – Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Summer Surprises held annually, the emirate is a consumer's paradise. According to a 2015 report by leading global property adviser CBRE, new international brands enter the Dubai market almost on a weekly basis, making it the second most important shopping hub in the world after London. This year it was announced that in August, Apple will open its first and largest store in the world, a whopping 15km2 next to the exclusive Fashion District at Mall of the Emirates. The move by the tech giant only emphasises the pull of Dubai as a retail hub.
The Shopping Festivals
Experienced shoppers will tell you that the best time to visit Dubai is in January, also the most temperate time of year, with Dubai Shopping Festival usually kicking off on the first. The month-long retail bonanza includes city-wide sales and there are bargains to be had across most of Dubai's malls and boutiques as well as millions of dirhams to be won in prizes and cars.
For those travelling in the middle of the year, Dubai Summer Surprises offers sales on a much smaller scale and some much-needed respite from the heat. For the rest of the year, there’s always the promise of a new store launch, boutique opening or development in the works.
The major malls
One of the city's most exciting upgrades is due to be finished by the end of this year. Work on the one-billion-dirham Mall of the Emirates redevelopment began in 2013 and the final phase is due to be unveiled in October 2015. The plans include the new Fashion District, which features more than 30 contemporary brands including hard-to-find labels McQ by Alexander McQueen and NYC's Alice + Olivia, as well as a sports and leisure precinct.
When it comes to one-stop-shopping, The Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates are go-to hubs for luxury, mid-range and high-street brands including Topshop, Zara and Forever 21. Where The Dubai Mall has Bloomingdale’s (the only outlet outside the US), Mall of the Emirates has the UK’s Harvey Nichols. Both luxe imports offer free personal shopping experiences by appointment for clients who would like assistance in styling their look.
Browse the boutiques
Where malls and mainstream brands have ruled in the past, the city's independent boutique scene is on the rise. Best visited in winter, outdoor dining and shopping districts such as The Beach at JBR and City Walk in Jumeirah 1 now offer an alternative to the mega malls. The districts feature a handful of established stores and standalone boutiques including Sephora and outlets of local boutique S*uce, the latter a must-visit for cutting-edge designs, contemporary Arabic designers and accessories with Middle Eastern flair.
When it comes to the city’s hippest independent boutiques, you’ll find them scattered along the stretch of Jumeirah Beach Road and Al Wasl Road. Chic villa-turned-boutique O De Rose sells charming Arabic-inspired decor and accessories with a nod to pop culture.
For more targeted shopping, there is a cluster of cool spots at both Sunset Mall and Galleria Mall that you can easily hit in an afternoon. Head to Cities Boutique at the latter for statement sneakers and stop in at SoH for artful manis and pedis. At Sunset Mall, look for hipster favourite West LA Boutique for LA and Aussie brands including Unif and Finders Keepers, as well as edgy NYC brand Opening Ceremony at Socialista.
If handmade, one-off buys are more your thing, ARTE Market is held twice a month (except during July and August) at Times Square Centre and features art, crafts and products including candles and baby clothes from local artisans. Meanwhile, RIPE Market takes place every Saturday at the same location until September, where you'll find organic food, fashion and crafts.