Shopping is a mandatory activity in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, so when my husband Larry and I visited my sister there we spent two days scoping out its gorgeous ultra-modern malls and its bawdy old-world style souks. Both provide unforgettable experiences and give visitors a good look at how opposites meld in this city that’s contemporary and ancient at the same time.
Our first day exploring, we took the hop-on, hop-off Big Bus to Madinat Souk, a shopping venue featuring traditional Middle East clothing and decorative items in a modern setting. Built around water features, Madinat had the feel of an historic site grown up. After wandering into shops filled with pashminas and beaded shawls, antique vases and rugs, we purchased a gold and burgundy velvet pillow cover in a traditional design.
Then we hopped on the bus and headed to Mall of the Emirates, the largest mall outside North America and Dubai’s most sumptuous shopping venue. Famous for its indoor ski slope, it contains 350 shops of all kinds, plus the five-star, 400-room Kempinski Hotel. Inside we watched children play in real snow at the glassed-in ski area as a few young snowboarders maneuvered down the slope.
The mall is clean, well lit, attractive, spacious, and relatively quiet. Shopping is easy with plenty of dressing room space and help—and no sales tax. I bought a party dress to wear to dinner that night and a notebook at Carrefour (Dubai’s Wal-Mart equivalent).
Dubai is known as the city of gold, so off we went to the gold souk, the marketplace filled with around 400 small shops headlined by gleaming electric signs. Bargain shoppers with cash to spend on flashy gold and diamond jewelry are courted by persistent salesmen. Streets swarm with people of many nationalities.
Although souks open earlier, shopping doesn’t really start until around 4:00 p.m. (after siesta time), and it continues through the cooler evening hours. Gold is sold by weight, whatever the market price is that day, but it’s generally cheaper in Dubai and there are no taxes to add on. Still, be prepared to haggle hard for your chosen piece of jewelry.
If the boisterous market atmosphere of gold souks isn’t for you or you can’t find a truly unique piece, go to the Gold and Diamond Park. An indoor mall built around a lovely courtyard with blooming flowers and tables where patrons can sit and sip, the Park features more than 80 jewelry shops offering distinctive collections and manufacturers that will create your own design.
Browse the shops to find an artisan whose style appeals to you. On advice of my sister, we went to Cara Jewelry, a shop patronized by many celebrities and acknowledged for service and quality. One good sign: It was crowded while many other stores had few customers.
As I window shopped outside, a clerk inside mirrored my steps—moving from one display case to the next. I almost didn’t go in, but when I did, he was right there to make sure my buying experience was pleasant. Unlike the souks, there’s no haggling at the Gold and Diamond Park, which I appreciated. Most gold is yellow in tone (18, 22, or 24 carats), but white gold and pink gold (mixed with other metals) are also available. I bought a pair of dangle earrings made with all three types of gold—very unusual and pretty. Larry tried to resist but eventually bought a unique ring designed with layers of each gold color. The deals were too good to pass up—and we were in Dubai, a shopper’s paradise, after all.
Photos by Larry Burmeier