Low taxes and duties coupled with a local penchant for nice things that local wallets can afford has given Dubai licence to call itself the shopping capital of the world. Starting from the airport's epic Duty Free wonderland, visitors to Dubai are under constant siege by those enticing imps of consumerism, who sit on your shoulder pulling at the heart and wallet strings begging you not to leave without this, you surely CAN'T live without it...
But Dubai is more than a shopping mecca, even for people who love shopping meccas. Trawling its souks is an opportunity to get historic with your consumerist imps and be proud of yourself for getting a bargain into the bargain, and remember this is a desert, so it's like one long, giant, sandy, sunny beach.
It's not a particularly challenging task coming up with an itinerary for a Dubai shopping and sunshine break for yourself, there's just two things to consider:
1. The middle of the day is hot, and that's an understatement. The souks are generally open between 7am and midday then reopen in the evening around 5pm when it gets cooler, and if you're serious about spending all day on the beach you're going to need some kind of cover if you're going to last though the sun's zenith.
2. In Dubai the weekend is Thursday and Friday, so those are the busiest days in the shops, in both the malls and the souks, and late night shopping is Thursday and Friday nights. The souks are open until around 10, and some malls even later.
Those points in mind, it's easy to see that if you're planning to visit the malls, the best time to shop them is in the middle of the day when you and your consumer imp can bask in their air conditioned embrace, celebrating modern Dubai - which sees no reason why a shopping mall in the middle of the desert can't come with a ski slope. 'But won't everyone have the same idea?' You may ask. Yes, but in Dubai there's mall enough for everyone.
If you're a haggler then the souks should be tackled in the evening when they're a busy mass of noise and colour, but if you like a bit more personal space visit in the morning when your one to one care will be a bit more gentle. The rest of the days fill with the beach.
Dubai's souks, or markets, line both sides of the creek near the mouth, with most of them on the Deira side. The souks are here because it's near the old ports, from which it was easy to flood them with treasures brought from India and China. And nothings really changed there, just instead of tea and spices it's gold, diamonds and the latest electronic equipment being traded.
On Fridays, they skip the morning opening hours, but are open into the evening.
Midas heaven: this display of precious metal is unlike anything you can see anywhere else in the world, some of the most opulent creations imaginable, all crafted in 22k and 24k gold. Don't expect to find cheap souvenirs, these are mostly serious pieces, and don't go it alone unless you don't mind invasions of personal space, this is a competitive market place, that's what you're here to experience!
The Spice Souk is right next to the more sparkly Gold Souk , and you'll probably be able to spell it coming – the whiffs of cloves, cinnamon, frankincense and shisha and other fragrant herbs and spices can be smelt from several hundred metres, especially if it's a humid day, which is Dubai is on the cards. The souk's stores are laid out along narrow lanes, with all the spices in touch-tempting, colourful vats and pails, there are also dried fruits, if you're wondering what those giant seeds are... This souk has become less popular and shrunk in size due to the popularity of supermarket shopping, but you don't get to haggle at the supermarket.
Arab scents are generally more spicey than floral, but you can get all types in this fragrant street, from the traditional blends of perfume oils reminiscent of incense, to the latest parfum pour femme from Paris. If you can't find what you're looking for there's someone here who can make you a bespoke copy, and what would be nicer than having a 'signature scent', especially if it's one blended using oils that compliment your skin and lifestyle? If you're sharing the store with a lady in a burqa, watch as she tests the scents via incense smoke, more demure than the western tradition of the 'spray-by' in department stores.
The malls have the air conditioning. The also have ATMs, restaurants and brands you'll be familiar with – but the prices are more familiar, as well as the brands. What Dubai does love is a high end store though, especially if it's in a themed mall...
Even if you're not usually that impressed with shopping malls, this one has a fair chance of impressing you. It's not just really, really big, and filled with hundreds of shops, it's also won architectural awards and has it's own ski slope. Yes, that's right, not just a 14 screen cinema complex and a theatre, this mall in the middle of the desert has its own ski slope. And two mosques, two hotels and an art galley. All that and a Zara.
For when you know 200 different stores isn't going to be enough, BurJuman has 300, over four consumer-istic floors, many of them internationally known names, including Saks Fifth Avenue, and famous luxury brands. Though this kind of shopping experience has nothing to do with being traditional, the building nods to Arabian architecture, so you'll still feel like you're in Dubai, not in your shopping mall back home.
Ibn Battuta was a great explorer. How that relates to shopping is unclear, but this mall is themed around him, with the six main sections of mall named for the countries he travelled in. The decorations include a faux elephant with a water clock inside him, an Egyptian temple and a fountain that would be much more at home in a Spanish square. This mall has Dubai's first IMAX, as well as 21 regular cinema screens.
Why put a Tuscan/ Venetian architecture inspired shopping centre in the desert? Well it worked in Vegas with hotels, in Dubai it's shopping malls. The setting is supposed to encourage you to think that you're not just shopping, you're shopping the good life, for the 'choicest lifestyle offerings of the Mediterranean', around the squares and fountains you'd usually expect to find in Italy. Aside from the décor it's similar high end stores to Dubai's other huge malls, but if you're not going to be the biggest you've gotta get a gimmick, and you may as well aspire to Italian chic.
For convincing knock offs try shopping in Karama Market.
From the air this beach would look pretty lovely. The water is blue, the sand white and the bits of green neatly shaped and sprouting perfectly proportioned palm trees. Even the boardwalk looks inviting. The shades of the pools compliment the blues of the gulf instead of making them look dirty, and all in all you'd fly over it assuming luxury. And you'd be right. There's children's play equipment, an amphitheatre with live music, barbecue pits, kiosks selling ice creams, fast food and salads and marked out volleyball AND beach volleyball courts. You have to pay 5dhms entrance, then it's 15dhm for a sun lounger and 5dhm for an umbrella. The entrance fee is probably how they keep the beach clean, in all the photos it looks pristine, as does the park behind it, which also sports manicured lawns and children's play equipment over its 12 hectares. Monday is ladies day, when boys over five are unwelcome, but on other days there's no dress code, you're just as able to wear your bikini as you are a sari or burqa.
Jumeirah is one of the most upmarket parts of Dubai, it's got the 7 star Burj Al Arab Hotel, and the Jumeirah Beach Hotel which is the one that looks like the fin of a great big sea creature, not the one that looks like the sail of an America's Cup yacht.
About 25 minutes drive from the city in the opposite direction from Jumeirah Beach, this long stretch of soft sand is another example of Dubai looking after its visitors. In this case that means charging to get into the park which separates the beach from the road, but providing clean facilities, including barbecues and little chalets for guests.
Though seemingly smoothly perfect, these four lagoon-side sections of beach started off rocky and too raked, but they've been raked out and built up to make for more comfortable beach going – though the soft sand is original. It would be too much if Dubai started shipping in sand because theirs wasn't nice enough! The swimming areas are also well protected by both the shape of the beach and the lifeguards. Wednesdays are for women and children only.
Long and smooth, this is the right beach for you if you're a sunbather, or a kitesurfer. For everyone else the water may be a bit too full of people learning to kitesurf, or practicing other water sports, and the lack of facilities may detract from the smooth views.
Khorfakkan Beach has the virgin sand and the beautiful coral the sand comes from – though the coral is thankfully where it belongs, under the sea, with a colourfully healthy coating of fish and marine life. Snorkellers come on down. The breakers that come to meet the coral reef are appreciated by the local surfers and windsurfers.
The setting, with mountains rising out of the beach, is lovely, it comes highly recommended as a picnic spot. There are even things called 'picnic boats', described as being motorised boats, complete with a driver, large enough for a large family to picnic on.
This beach goes under both names – it's a fairly happy go lucky kind of place, and one of Dubai's few public (see free) spaces. Local workers come down as well as the tourists and families – be prepared for impromptu volley ball games and big family picnics.
This might not be the best spot for sunbathers though, you might get a bit more attention than you'd enjoy. If you're set on it maybe wait for the girls only day. The name apparently comes from the beaches popularity with Russians - who like to sunbathe standing up?!?!?
White and sandy with showers and shelters, this beach is one of Dubai's most popular. They've recently put nets into the water to stop swimmers straying too far out to sea, but there are life guards that should stop you before you get to the nets.
Shopping widows/ widowers whose imps have less of a hold on the reigns can break up the festival of sun and shopping by taking a tour though Jumeirah Mosque, the only mosque in Dubai open to non-Muslims, and an impressive one at that, with its two minarets and carved pearly stone exterior, or visiting the Dubai Museum, which presents the short history of the Emirates in diorama form in Dubai's oldest building, the Al Fahidi Fort. Or play a round of golf at The Montgomerie before rejoining your shoppers for an evening dhow cruise or a camel back safari into the desert.