Best alternative Christmas gifts in the UAE

Put a smile on someone’s face with the best alternative Xmas presents around


Bye-bye, bubble bath gift pack. Farewell, four-pack of underpants. So long, scented candle. The festive period is no longer a time to race through the mall throwing any old junk into shopping trolleys for loved ones to unwrap while forcing a smile before returning the empty gesture. Whether you want to spend a fortune on your love, or find a thoughtful gift for a friend, look no further.

A cool Dubai Opera show

If you’ve not yet been to Dubai Opera, shame on you. It’s time to get classy with your gift-giving and send a loved one to see a fantastic show from the 2018 line-up. How about the classic Evita from Monday January 22 to Saturday February 3, or the spectacular kung fu show Shaolin Warriors from Saturday February 27 to Saturday March 3?
Prices and times vary. Downtown Dubai, (04 440 8888).

Afternoon tea at At.mosphere

An institution in the city, there’s nowhere better to experience afternoon tea than to breathtaking views from 122 floors up in the Burj Khalifa. Enjoy creative finger sandwiches and perfect scones while sipping teas from around the world. Packages also come with a choice of beverages and a hot dish. Not cheap, but also not something you’ll forget in a hurry.
Dhs420 (sparkling grape, non-window seat), Dhs490 (sparkling grape, window seat), Dhs650 (bubbly). Daily noon-4.30pm. Burj Khalifa, Downtown Dubai (04 888 3828).

Avatar Cirque du Soleil show in Dubai

If you know someone who is a huge a fan of James Cameron’s CGI spectacular, this gift is a no-brainer. Toruk – The First Flight will be an immersive experience comprising cutting-edge visuals, puppetry and stagecraft along with the film’s memorable score, set thousands of years before the events from the movie.
Dhs295-2,495; Thu Jan 4 to Wed Jan 17, Dubai World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, (04 24 23 542).

Buy their morning coffee for a month
Before our first coffee of the day, Time Out Towers is not a welcoming haven of warmth and conviviality, so we understand the challenge of trying to function without that essential injection of caffeine and sugar. But for someone who works 260 days a year, a Dhs10 cup of joe on the way to the office every morning adds up to Dhs2,600 per annum (take that, maths!). While you might not want to stretch to that amount, charging a Starbucks loyalty card for a month’s worth of java might be better-received than socks or slippers. Pop into any store to pick up a gift card.
Various times and locations,

Cruise through the mangroves

Tour one of the capital’s most popular sites at day or night with a cruise voucher from Captain Tony’s. The 90-minute trips leave from Yas Marina and take in verdant Samaliyah Island, where voyagers could spot gazelles among the mangroves, and Al Raha Beach.
Dhs500. Capt Tony’s, Yas Marina, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, (02 650 7175).

Dive in with a PADI course
Splash out (bad pun intended) with this pricey gift that someone who has long dreamed of experiencing the beauty of the deep will surely appreciate. Al Boom’s PADI Open Water course is spread over four days of training, including classroom instruction, pool dives and the open water dives off Jumeirah beach and Fujairah. The PADI Open Water course is the world’s most widely recognised, with millions of divers around the world certified through it.
Dhs2,350. Al Boom Diving, Al Quoz, (04 341 49400).

Fly with a friend in a gyrocopter
Show a close friend the city from hundreds of feet in the air by booking a flight in a two-man gyrocopter. It’s ideal for those who aren’t totally confident about going up in a helicopter, as this smaller aircraft doesn’t fly quite as fast.
Dhs999 (20 minutes including free photos and video). Daily 10am-6pm. Skydive Dubai, Dubai Marina (04 377 8888).

Get creative with your gift
We’ve all received a pot or plate so hideous we have hidden it in the back of the cupboard – or allowed it to “accidentally” slip from our hands onto a tiled floor. Instead of risking a present someone may hate, why not allow them to design it themselves? Book a lunch and painting session at Café Ceramique for two and prepare to don apron and brush, choose a ceramic item and get creative. Once your masterpiece has been fired, take it home and display it with pride. Café Ceramique doesn’t do vouchers, so wrap a most monstrous mug (with a small note inside saying “I am not your present”) and enjoy their face as they open it.
Open daily 9am-midnight. Town Centre Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah, (04 344 7331).

Get shirty with your beloved
Those soppy nicknames you call your partner in private (admit it…) are banned from being uttered in public – so why not emblazon them on their torso? For Dhs65, Tshirtfly in JLT will print T-shirts bearing sickly slogans that will bring a smile to the face of your Mrs (Always) Right or Mr (Not Quite) Perfect.
Open Sat-Thu 9am-6pm. Fortune Executive Tower, Cluster T, JLT, Dubai, (04 558 7292).

Get them dinner with a legendary chef

If you know a foodie, this is a real treat. The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is hosting dinner with top chefs, cooked by those chefs for you to enjoy while you have a natter with them. Come Dal with Me will see Madhur Jaffrey, “Queen of Curries” whip up a four-course meal, during which you can quiz her about how she made it, while My Stir-Fried Life will see you taste three courses from Asian culinary legend and celebrity chef Ken Hom, who will also be talking about his journey to stardom.
Dinner with Madhur Jaffrey: Dhs350. Fri Mar 2, 7.30pm-9.30pm; Dinner with Ken Hom: Dhs350. Fri Mar 9, 7.30pm-9pm. InterContinental Dubai Festival City,

Give a fast-track festive gift

Do you have a friend who fancies themselves as the next Sebastian Vettel? It’s time for them to prove it with a high-speed spin around Abu Dhabi’s famous F1 track. Pick your vehicle – from a Supersport SST for a reasonable Dhs440 to a Ferrari 458 GT for a whopping Dhs4,000 – and put the pedal to the metal. We’ll be the ones wearing a full tuxedo behind the wheel of the Aston Martin.
Dhs440-4,000. Open daily 9am-6pm, Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, (800 927).

Go paintguns blazing

Show someone you care by shooting at them with a trip to the largest paintball field in the Middle East. The 500,000 sq ft Battle Park UAE in Ghantoot allows you to pick a theme from Desert Storm, Castle Siege, Junkyard Raid and more and begin your mission. Of course, the best present you could give is letting your loved one win, but you’re braver than us if you’re willing to take a bullet (sorry, pellet) for them.
From Dhs80. Open Mon-Fri 8am-10pm; Sat 8am-midnight; Sun 8am-2pm. Battle Park UAE, Ghantoot, (056 406 2999).

Go small to show you care
Money can be tight over the festive period, so rather than splashing huge wads of cash on someone close to you, why not show them you’ve been paying attention by wrapping a selection of their favourite everyday things? A food hamper with their top choice of cheese, best-loved biscuits and preferred potato snack, or beauty basket featuring their regular soaps, hand-washes and lotions, is a thoughtful gift that won’t cost the earth. Go from shop to shop to show someone you’ve taken some time on them, or take the shortcut (and pay a bit more) by getting it all at Marks & Spencer.
Open daily 10am-midnight. Mall of the Emirates (04 395 8977).

Offer pearls of wisdom…
If you don’t want to splash out on jewellery for your loved one, why not send them out to learn where the pearls that pepper their bling come from while also giving them a proper UAE history lesson? This Abu Dhabi Pearl journey on a jalboot through the Eastern Mangroves includes traditional songs sung by pearl divers and an oyster shucking that could reveal one of the gemstones. Trips last from an hour to 90 minutes.
Dhs500. Daily 9am-7pm. Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa By Anantara, Abu Dhabi,, (02 641 9914).

…or shell out for the easier option

Yas Waterworld’s pearl diving experience allows your friend or family member to experience the excitement of diving for their own oysters. Guests are also taught how to open oysters and can take home a pearl and have them set into custom jewellery. Sessions are accompanied by dive instructors and last an hour.
From Dhs250. Open daily 10am-6pm. Yas Waterworld, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, (02 414 2000).

Ride the world’s longest zip line

What better present for a daredevil than the chance to be one of the first to experience the world’s longest zip line, planned to open in December in Ras Al Khaimah? The multi-million-dirham project is being developed around Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest point. The mountain is also in the development stages of a huge observation deck.
Prices to be announced. Visit for more information.

Sponsor a pooch for your loved one…

There are too many stray dogs in Dubai, left behind by owners who have left the country or just no longer want their pet, putting huge strain on animal charities. The city is also full of animal-lovers, but not all of them can own a pet. If you know someone who fits this description, why not sponsor an animal in their name? Dubai charity K9 Friends allows you to sponsor a dog for a year for Dhs350, which gets you a certificate and picture of your dog, a profile of the pooch’s likes and dislikes and – best of all – the opportunity to visit your lucky new friend. Check out their website (but good luck if you don’t want to fall instantly in love with Bauble or Happy).
Open Sat-Thu 9am-1pm. (04 887 8739).

…scrap that, adopt a turtle – or shark!

If a dog is too fluffy for your gift recipient’s tastes, help a turtle in their name instead. The Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF has packages that allow you to help the shelled reptiles and take home a fluffy facsimile for Dhs150, available at The Lime Tree Café on Sheikh Zayed Road. If you want to sponsor an animal with a few more teeth, sign up your loved one to the international WWF’s Adopt A Great White Shark programme ( After years of being hunted for its fins, jaws and teeth, Jaws needs your help. For US$100 (about Dhs367), you’ll get a stuffed shark toy, framed certificate and photo, species card and gift box.
Open Sat-Thu 8am-5pm. EWS-WWF, Sustainable City, (02 634 7117).

Show them the city from the air

Want to give your friend a Santa’s-eye view of Dubai, minus the reindeer? Send someone up on a helicopter ride high above the city skyline, taking in iconic landmarks including the Palm Jumeirah, Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa. Prices for whirlybird flights range from Dhs675 to Dhs1,750 with Dubai tourism site Dreamdays. You could also send them on a seaplane flight for Dhs1,095 or a hot air balloon ride for Dhs1,049 and up (up and away…).
Open Sat-Thu 9.30am-6pm. Sheikh Zayed Road, 5th (04 432 9392).

Skydive over the Palm Jumeirah

Give the ultimate Dubai bucket list experience – the chance for a friend or family member to throw themselves out of a moving plane and watch the breathtaking Palm Jumeirah get ever-closer. Tandem skydives with Skydive Dubai require no previous experience and include photos and a professionally edited video of the experience. Visit to buy a gift certificate.
Dhs1,999. Open daily 10am-6pm. Dubai Marina, Dubai (04 377 8888).

Send them home
When you’ve had a prosperous year or managed to clear your credit card, it is tempting to wow your beloved with a rare treat that gets the receipt roll spinning at the checkout. If you love someone enough to flourish thousands of dirhams on them, consider an alternative to a 4K Ultra HD TV, designer leather shoes or monogrammed silk shirt. A flight home is a huge expense that hits most Dubai residents at least once a year, so save them the stress of shelling out for their next trip with a travel gift card from that allows them to pick their own journey date, destination and airline.
Various prices,

Wrap a wand for a Harry Potter fan
Enthusiasts of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world would no doubt love to grip the very instrument through which the eponymous young sorcerer conducts his spells. Dubai Mall’s The Noble Collection is a geek’s haven of collectables from mythical universes also including The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. If you know a Potter super-fan, head down to the city’s very own version of Ollivander’s wand shop and discover a range of items owned by Harry himself, Dumbledore, Newt Scamander and more. Expelliarmus!
Open Sun to Wed 10am to 11pm; Thu to Sat 10am to midnight. The Dubai Mall, (04 330 8911).

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