Shopping could almost be described as Dubai’s raison d’êtré. This is real shop-till you-drop territory, with an amazing array of vast, modern air-conditioned shopping malls, street markets, large and small shops, and the renowned gold, perfume and spice souks.
There’s plentiful opportunity to use credit cards, but cash is king where bargains are concerned. Tax-free status plus lots of haggling – which, as in all Arab countries, almost reaches the level of an art form – ensures great value and even major stores may come up with special discounts if you ask first, and you should never be afraid to ask.
Deira’s mind-boggling gold souk has some 320 outlets, with pricing usually by weight rather than design or craftsmanship. Perfumes, Arab arts and crafts and carpets have their own dedicated souks. Cameras, computers and other electrical are there in profusion and the prices compare well with those in Hong Kong, Singapore and other Asian shopping paradise cities.
There’s also a vast fish market located close to the sea and to the Deira side entrance to the Shindagha Tunnel. Here there’s an amazing variety of fish and shellfish, fresh from the sea, a good seafood restaurant and a museum devoted to Dubai’s history as a fishing harbour.
Sweetmeats and exotic fruits on display in stalls throughout the city are equally enticing and you’ll also find grocery stores that resemble Aladdin’s Cave with their bounty.
Beating America at its own game, Dubai has a plethora of western-style air-conditioned shopping malls, including the massive Gardens Mall, which currently claims to be the world’s largest - though the soon to be opened AED 235 billion Dubailand and Mall of Arabia will be even bigger.
Among the best malls are Burjuman Centre, Deira City Centre, Lamcy Plaza, Mercato, Wafi Mall, Jumeriah Centre, Dubai Mall and the Oasis Centre. Many hotel lobbies also incorporate malls where designer labels rule. And when feet get weary, many malls feature extensive food courts, catering for everything from a simple burger or sandwich to full-blown Arab cuisine and gourmet offerings.
Straddling January and February, the month-long "Dubai Shopping Festival" attracts more than three-million shopaholics annually, with prices even more competitive than usual. Summertime’s "Dubai Summer Surprise"s is another shopping bonanza. Both these major events are accompanied by dancing, entertainment and a carnival atmosphere.
New retail outlets are opening at breakneck pace and the city’s 20 million square feet of retail space already accounts for more than four times per capita what the USA can offer.