- For Western fashion and high-end designers, you’ll need to spend most of your time (and you’ll need a lot of it) at Dubai’s super-sized shopping mall where most every store you’ve seen or designer you’ve heard of has a storefront.
- For the thrifty shopper, plan ahead and head 30 minutes to the “suburbs” to a city called Sharjah where they have the “Blue Souk” which is adjacent to their very own Gold Market…more on that below.
- To experience wanderlust and feel you’re getting the full Middle Eastern shopping experience while still being indoors, there are two Souks that give you all the architectural and Old World vibes you crave — Souk Al Bahar within a stone’s throw of Burj Khalifa and Souk Madinat near Burj Al Arab (the latter being my favorite).
- For the diehard shopaholic, look no further than Global Village, which claims to be the world’s largest tourism, leisure, shopping and entertainment project. This is approximately 30 minutes outside of the city so plan ahead, arrange transportation and plan to spend hours here. They do charge a small admission fee (about 15 dirhams or $5/person) but this did not stop us from returning a second time.
The most important thing to know about shopping in Dubai is you need to have a plan and you can prepare in advance (with help from this blog!) but also know that you should be willing to adjust once you arrive there based on your interests and what you see first and actually plan on purchasing. What does that mean? Two things.
- A lot of the commerce in Dubai (especially for tourists) operates on a barter system meaning negotiations between you and the seller.
- You will see repetition of products and goods throughout your visit no matter where you go.
BEFORE you go to Dubai: Make a list of what you are wanting to buy for yourself and for others. Challenge yourself to really dig deep on this because we all know you don’t want to come home from traveling around the world without a gift for someone or an extra prayer rug for yourself. Think about things like: size of your luggage or even better, extra luggages and airline allowances on this. Then, do you want western or traditional fashion? Children’s toys, clothes? Art? Home decor? Islamic wares? Spices? And of course, gold? You’re going to need a game plan on getting that gold home…my tip: wear all of it to the airport and on the plane. Once you have started your list, let’s call it your Dubai Desire list, think about other aspects of your trip: where are you staying, what transportation will you have, do you have any other commitments (work or leisure), or are there paid excursions you plan on doing that must be done at specific times? If you reach out to me in the Comments and tell me where you will be staying, I am happy to provide some pointers on what the easiest shopping itinerary would look like for you. *See below an example itinerary!*
Below is a guide I created inspired by my trip to Dubai detailing what I purchased and where I found these items in the highest quality and supply.
AFTER you arrive in Dubai: You made it! There’s so much to see, do, and eat! Where to start, what to do…it is overwhelming which is why you did all that amazing prep before you arrived so do not panic, you are going to see and do everything you want to do because you know where, what, and how to shop!
For a broad perspective, I would say that as long as you are staying within 15 minutes drive of Burj Khalifa and your trip is at least 5 days in length, your shopping itinerary could look something like this:
Worth the trip…go to Sharjah
In the sample itinerary, I suggested you go to Sharjah for Gold shopping before you visit the Old Dubai Gold Souk because you will be shopping for gold among locals, not tourists so you may find more unique designs and better negotiations (prices)! It is an indoor Souk with probably 50+ storefronts and every thing is available — gold bangles by the hundreds if not thousands, Indian and Pakistani style jewelry, and even some Western style jewelers showcasing pearls and diamonds (though not as abundant). You will also avoid aggressive vendors asking you to come inside, you can browse at your leisure and it is a much more relaxed experience but do plan to spend several hours if you are buying for more than one person.
The Blue Souk is next door and is another indoor Souk but this one is all fashion and home interiors. You may find the quality to be a bit less than what you’d find in a traditional mall; but the prices are very, very reasonable–and again negotiable. There are toy stores, men’s and women’s fashion, children’s clothing, Islamic prayer outfits, and home decor like linens and tapestries that would make excellent gifts. You may only need 1-2 hours here so start with the Gold Souk!
For me, I shop best in the morning so if you are the same and get to Sharjah early, you’ll be ready to leave in time for a late lunch. Sharjah is a big city on it’s own so there are plenty of dining options. We went to Madfoon Al Khaimah and it was amazing. Their menu had plenty of options and the portions are HUGE. We had chicken, fish, and lamb. For dessert, you absolutely must try their Lotus Kanafa which is the BEST in all of UAE I think.
Jumeirah Beach Residences (JBR)
There are a lot of hotels, condos, and AirBNB options so many of you may choose JBR as your base which I definitely encourage because that is what we did and I found it to be very central to the city but you also got the beach vibes. You are going to need to rely on Uber or have your own transportation to reach everywhere you want to go BUT there is a lot to walk to at JBR so you can definitely explore this whole area without a car which is great for people traveling with kids. We pushed the stroller around on wide sidewalks and there is a beachwalk with stores and street vendors, restaurants and of course a wide sandy beach. I would go as far to say that JBR > The Palm so consider that and explore all JBR has to offer if you had been planning on staying at the Atlantis Palm. We did drive over to the Palm for a morning/lunch just to see it and there are beautiful restaurants and stores but I found JBR to have more variety and obviously less isolated than the hotels at The Palm.
Navigating Negotiations/Barter System
At Dubai Mall, Ibn Battuta Mall, and other internationally known storefronts, prices are fixed and the price listed is the price you will pay unless they have a Sale posted same as what you would find in the United States or Europe.
At the Souks, Global Village, Beachfront and CityStreet vendors, they will expect you to attempt negotiations. I say attempt because confidence is key! A lot of times the store owner or vendor will not even have a price listed on an item you are interested in but the shopkeeper or employee will always be on hand for you to inquire so upon entering or approaching, be friendly, engaged, and comfortable because they are truly happy you are there. You will encounter some aggressive sellers so if you are only there to browse, you can say this upfront and you are not required to carry on conversation if you choose not to buy so be firm but friendly.
Once you see an item you are interested in, inquire as to the price. My tip is if you are interested in multiple items, inquire on one item and say a simple “OK” and continue browsing. Once you know what items you want to purchase, ask the seller what his “BEST PRICE” is for ALL of the items you want. He or she will tell you the cost in Dirhams so be prepared and know what the exchange rate is in dollars or your currency. Do NOT accept his or her first “best price”. This is the start of your negotiations process. Offer him anywhere from 25-50% less what his or her first price was. You may be surprised he or she will accept this, but if they do not, negotiate again until you both are happy. This is important–if a deal cannot be reached, you are free to walk away. Do not worry! There are many other vendors, stores and Souks to explore where you may find something even better. It is also not uncommon if you do say you are walking away, they will reach out to you one last time to make a deal.
I found that as I navigated more and more stores, practiced, and fine-tuned my skills negotiating I got better and better and the whole process became fun and only added to the richness of my experience shopping in Dubai! I did not have a bad experience negotiating; however, things can become heated because this is their livelihood, please be friendly and respectful. When you feel you no longer wish to shop in their store, exit and go somewhere else.
When you are shopping for gold, know what the price per GRAM on that day (not ounce!) and know that THIS is a fixed price; however, the “wiggle room” the Gold sellers have is in their workmanship cost so this is where you will find the most room for negotiations. For example, if you find a gold bangle that is 10 grams weight and a gram is $55 (this is the current value as of March 25, 2021), then expect to pay minimum $550 for this bangle. They will quote more than this because they have to add their overhead and the design of the bangle. In Dubai, the jewelry and gold designers do everything by hand so you are paying for high quality workmanship. So the more intricate the design is, the higher the cost will be. A tip to avoid paying a premium is to find a Gold vendor you really like and buy more than one piece. They will be able to make the best deal for you this way because you are buying more than one item.
A brief note about the Spice Souk by Dubai Creek. This is a much more intense experience and I do not recommend you go alone. I caution this not because of actual safety; however, the vendors can be more aggressive here and it always helps to be accompanied by your fellow traveler. It’s important to note we traveled in November 2020 during the COVID Pandemic and many international lockdowns so there were virtually very few Americans or foreign travelers which means sales were down for these vendors.
If you are shopping for the highly sought after Saffron spice from the fields of Iran, be careful who you buy from. There are many YouTube videos that show you how to spot the real thing from the adultered. Watch those before you go to Dubai. I did purchase Saffron and it was only after I witnessed them do these tests and it was not from one of those huge barrels AND it was more expensive than other vendors had quoted me. I was buying Saffron for myself, friends and family so I wanted to be sure I was getting the real, right thing.