Stop and shop across the globe at the UAE's cultural park
We’re slap bang in the middle of the city’s biggest retail bonanza, with Dubai Shopping Festival running right up until Sunday February 2. If you’ve already exhausted every corner of the city’s malls in your hunt for the ultimate bargain, then we suggest you visit Global Village. Sectioned off into 37 different pavilions, food courts and entertainment areas (including a huge fairground), it’s like walking around an enormous bazaar, with stallholders from countries around the world selling exotic wares.
Whether you’re keen on clothes, jewellery, kitchenware, furniture or unusual foods and spices, there is something for all. Here, we reveal ten of our favourite country pavilions to visit, and the best of what you’ll find there.
India One of the most colourful and well-stocked pavilions – if you’re ever stuck for gift ideas this is a great place to start. There are the usual suspects, such as printed pashminas and sequined saris that can just as easily be found in Karama souk and Bur Dubai’s Meena Bazaar, but also a few gems not so readily found elsewhere.
Moustachioed wooden puppets hang from a number of kiosks, while one in particular sells statues and figurines carved from wood and semi-precious stones (including rose quartz Ganeshes and jade Buddhas), as well as temple bells, posters, prayer beads and much more. There are also many stalls offering henna tattoos for women and others touting special hair oils.
Italy Venetian masks, row upon row of half-metre-long strips of pasta and soft, creamy gelato are the highlights at this small European pavilion. Pick up customisable handbags and shoes, elegant crockery and Italian-made clothes.
Tunisia Prepare for some very insistent traders in this particular spot, where stallholders keenly promote their products by hollering greetings over counters and introducing shoppers to every possible item on display. Ornate bird cages made from wire and wood, inspired by the domes of the nation’s mosques, have become a symbol of the country, and these popular souvenirs are available in a variety of sizes here (it’s worth noting that all the pavilions of Global Village offer a lesson in popular souvenirs from around the world). Our favourite stand is without doubt the one selling a huge variety of kitchen essentials such as chopping boards, salad bowls and serving utensils all carved from olive wood. Be sure to seek out the small food kiosk at the back, serving up classic Tunisian snacks in sweet and savoury varieties.
Spain Sample Mediterranean specialities or buy contemporary art in this European segment, which is one of the smaller pavilions. Check out the stall selling Spanish olive oils, tinned peppers and enormous paella dishes, before wandering next door to pick up merchandise emblazoned with the crest of one of the country’s famous football clubs, Real Madrid. A number of stands offer the opportunity to taste oils and chutneys, cheeses and jams, while others sell sparkly clothes, saffron, espadrille shoes and leather bags, alongside quaint homewares such as vintage-style wall-mounted clocks, cabinets and picture frames. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a live flamenco performance.
Africa Dedicated to an entire continent rather than any single country, this sprawling pavilion is filled to the brim with friendly stallholders keen to strike up a conversation. Pick up pieces from Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Madagascar and more, including wooden bowls and salad utensils painted with zebra stripes or carved in the shape of elegant giraffe necks, tribal drums, woven baskets, beaded necklaces, leather pouches and heaps of striking artwork. We particularly like the ebony wood carvings standing up to 4ft tall – a couple of these would make a marvellous addition to a bare-looking living room or study.
UK Now connected to Global Village’s newest pavilion nations France and Germany, the UK section offers very little in the way of tempting shopping opportunities – the vibe is more dodgy Thursday markets at suburban racecourses and less the best of the country’s retail hotspots, such as London’s Oxford Street. What you can do here, however, is dress up in iconic period costume and have your photograph taken, with prices starting at Dhs150 for the experience and a small print.
China Unmissable, thanks to the enormous red pagoda façade that serves as its entrance, shoppers will find a variety of Chinese wares in this Asian corner of the complex. Pick up traditional tea, pearl jewellery, intricate 3D puzzles, delicately painted furniture or have your name written in ‘dragon-phoenix’ calligraphy. There’s also an abundance of traditional lucky charms to hang up in your home, adorned with yin-yang symbols and bright red tassels.
Yemen A country famous for its honey, you can expect to find plenty here at representative stalls, along with huge chunks of waxy honeycomb. There are also orate jambiya daggers, Bedouin-style jewellery featuring huge stones embedded in silver, and heaps (literally) of colourful, aromatic spices to give your cooking a Yemeni kick.
Thailand Expect an unlikely duo of groceries and massage to take centre stage in this Far Eastern pavilion. Two massage spots demonstrate traditional Thai techniques to visitors, while pungent dried fruits and spices do a roaring trade nearby. Shoppers can also pick up handbags and T-shirts, and peruse row upon row of brightly coloured hair accessories. Outside the Thai pavilion, there’s a standalone Thai food court, opened at the start of the 2013/14 Global Village shopping season due to the popularity and demand for Thai cuisine in previous years.
Iran Pick up mesmerisingly intricate Persian carpets, wall hangings and beautifully painted crockery that reflects the mosaic-style architecture found in Tehran in this part of the shopping destination – one of the largest and most popular in the development. Those with a sweet tooth can expect to leave with armfuls of nuts, dried fruits and Faloodeh, a traditional Persian dessert made with vermicelli noodles and semi-frozen syrup made with rose water.
Also visit… There are currently more than 37 different pavilions housed in Global Village, dedicated to countries, continents and even local charities and institutions. These include Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Forstati, Jordan, Khalifa Foundation, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (or simply KSA, as it is titled here), Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Qatar, Syria, Turkey and of course the UAE.
Entertainment Every pavilion at Global Village regularly hosts its own shows (keep an eye on the main website, as well as and GV’s Twitter and Facebook accounts for announcements and timings) though the outdoor shopping centre as a whole hosts daily entertainment. The line-up rotation includes football jugglers, a mascot show by characters from popular kids’ website Moshi Monsters, a fire display and more.
Fast fact Global Village boasts more than 17,000 parking spaces for visitors, which is great news for a speedy entrance – though we recommend you make a note of your space number to ensure you actually find your vehicle on the way out.
Get the right price Haggle whenever you’re making a purchase – ask if it’s the stallholder’s best price. Many of them will be expecting you to barter before agreeing the final bill. If you’re buying a number of items, you should be able to negotiate a discount.
Dress to impress Make sure you’re dressed modestly – this applies to gents as well as the ladies. Knees and shoulders should be covered, and you can expect to be herded by security to the nearest stall to buy something more conservative should your outfit not meet their standards.
Exclusive tech deals Telecoms provider du has kiosks in this shopping spot offering some of the best deals in town on smartphones. Though you’ll need to sign up for contracts for a minimum of 12 months, pick up the iPhone 5S for as little as Dhs749 or the 5C for a bargain Dhs349. The offer is available only in Global Village and only until the end of this season.
Essential visiting information How much: Dhs15 per person Opening hours: Sat-Thu 4pm-midnight, Fri and public holidays 4pm-1am. Runs: Until March 1. Where: Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road (E311, formerly Emirates Road). www.globalvillage.ae (04 362 4114).