With average temperatures in Dubai set to soar from 31°C to 38°C in the next month, now is your last chance to ditch the mall and shop al fresco. While we love the sensory smorgasbord of the city’s huge malls, they can get mighty claustrophobic, with month-long events such as Dubai Shopping Festival alone attracting more than four million visitors.
So, to avoid the crowds and calm your mall-rage, we suggest wandering around Dubai’s outdoor markets, shopping suburbs and atmospheric souks while you still can. The wares often cheaper, the vendors more interesting and screaming toddlers far less likely to disturb your visit. There are also more quirky, one-off pieces to be found – from antique radios in Satwa to hand-made jewellery in the Marina, there’s something for everyone. So let’s get to it. Here are our top 15 spots.
Hurry – these markets end soon!
Souk Al Bahar Farmers’ Market
Best for: pesticide-free fruit and vegetables
The cheapest place to buy organic fruit and vegetables in Dubai, we also love this weekly option because you buy straight from the farmer himself, cutting out the middleman. Snap up produce from seven farmers from Al Ain, Liwa, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah, as well as fresh bread from Baker & Spice, which organises the event. The market will close for summer, with the date dependent on the crops, although it’s likely to be in mid-May.
Heat factor: If things get too sweaty, you can just nip into the air-conditioned souk.
Insider tip: Tropical fruits such as mangos and papayas are now in season and at their taste peak, as well as strawberries and sweetcorn.
Friday 10am-3pm until mid-May. Outside Baker & Spice, Souk Al Bahar (04 425 2240)
Dubai Flea Market, Safa Park
Best for: Finding treasures amid the trash
Venture to this perennially popular second-hand market to discover a world where people have no concept of queuing, where a complete stranger will haggle with you over Dhs1 and where some vendors will try to sell half-empty VCR box sets of ’90s TV shows featuring the ginger dude from CSI. But it’s also a place where you’ll find original artworks for less than Dhs200, the latest Grey’s Anatomy series for Dhs10 and retro costume jewellery that would rival your nan’s collection.
Heat factor: Get there early and you won’t have a problem – the market is positioned in a shady, leafy area, making for a pleasant browsing experience.
Insider tip: Sharpen your elbows and arrive when the gates open if you want to find anything of note. Just be prepared to queue, and make sure you’ve perfected your haggling skills.
Next market May 7, 8am-3pm. Gate 5, Safa Park, Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah, www.dubai-fleamarket.com
Covent Garden Market
Best for: A post-meal stroll
This beachfront venture features stalls that sell everything from Arabic-themed art and jewellery to fantastic toxin-free scented candles and Moroccan-style ceramics. Admittedly, you’ll have to hunt about a bit – some of the wares look as though they’ve come straight from Dragon Mart – but about half the stalls are worth checking out, selling things that are still unavailable in the malls.
Heat factor: It’s in the evening, which makes the temperature far more manageable. If you’re desperate to shop during the day, bring your beach gear so you can cool down in the ocean.
Insider tip: This is a fantastic place to pick up Arabic script and evil eye jewellery for a good price – perfect presents for friends back home.
Wed-Thu 5pm-midnight, Fri-Sat 10am-9pm until April 30. The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence (near Rimal), www.coventgardenmarket.ae
The stalwart Dubai souks are more than just tourist traps
Best for: Atmosphere
Built to resemble a traditional Middle Eastern market, Bastakiya offers more charm and character than the other souks in town. Here you’ll experience a buzzing community of Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Lebanese and Arabs selling everything from clothes, fabric, gifts and trinkets to Arabic shoes and Hindu prayer offerings. Hungry? Grab a mixed bag of samosas, aloo tikki, pakoras and bhajis for Dhs10 from outside Al Shaab Restaurant (near the abra station, 04 353 1465). Make sure you also visit the smaller lane at the end of the souk (near the heritage quarter), which offers its kitsch Hindu accessories and colourful flowers.
Heat factor: You’ll be in the shade most of the way, so it’s manageable.
Insider tip: Visit the wonderful Abdul Rahman Isaq Mohd Trading (04 226 1771), packed with Viking hats, rusty swords and African sculptures that the owner has collected while travelling around the Middle East.
Most shops open Sat-Thu 10am-1pm, 4pm-10pm; Fri 4pm-10pm. Al Fahidi Street (next to the abra station), Bur Dubai
Best for: Being dazzled
Yes, Gold and Diamond Park in Barsha is a great place to buy cheap jewels, but it’s nowhere near as fun to visit as its Old Dubai counterpart. With more than 300 stores that show off blinding window displays, this is without a doubt the most famous souk in Dubai. There are also stores that sell Arabian-style ‘antiques’, including jewelled daggers, coffee pots and chests.
Heat factor: There’s a covered walkway that can make it cooler during the daytime, but also a bit stifling when it’s busy. Visit in the early evening to avoid crowds.
Insider tip: Venture off the main strip down the side alleys, where you’ll find fantastic little juice bars.
Most shops open daily 10am-1pm, 4pm-10pm. Off Baniyas Road, near Deira abra station
Best for: Fresh-off-the-boat produce
From juicy Omani lobster to fresh pomfret, the Deira fish souk is a must for seafood lovers. Not only are the prices more affordable than at most big supermarkets, but you have the added sensory experience of fisherman unloading their catch before the fishmongers clean and gut the fish in preparation for sale. Just be prepared for the smell, which resembles a frat house that’s been inhabited by seals. Expect to pay Dhs60 for a hammour, which will produce around 500g of fillets, and don’t be afraid to ask them to fillet any of your purchases. Also in the area is a small fruit and veg section (where you can get 1kg of delicious mini bananas for about Dhs10) as well as six or seven butchers that are particularly good for lamb.
Heat factor: Get there by 6.30am to get the best catch and avoid the heat of the sun.
Insider tip: You’ll probably be offered a tour of the market or a helper to carry your purchases around in a wheelbarrow (which will cost Dhs10). We recommend walking around by yourself first before taking them up on the offer so you’re not rushed straight to one stall.
Open daily 4am-3pm (although timings are erratic, and early morning is the best). Opposite Hyatt Regency, Deira – follow your nose!
Best for: Cheap scents
Here you’ll find everything from cheap, questionably real designer perfumes to oil scents that smell like the big brands, as well as genuine cut-price wares and strong Arabic scents housed in ornate bottles. We prefer the incense to the oil perfumes as we find it less sickly.
Heat factor: Most stores are inside, so you just have to hop from one spot to the other.
Insider tip: Pay with cash to up your haggling power.
Most shops open daily 10am-1pm, 4pm-10pm. Sikkat Al Khail Road, Deira
Best for: Good-quality, low-priced fabric
More commonly known as Meena Bazaar, the souk boasts lush fabrics, silks and satins that line the streets and colour the alleys. There are more than a hundred stores and many also offer ready-made clothing, from tuxedos and suits to Arab dress. Most of the fabrics can’t be found elsewhere, as they are locally made.
Heat Factor: Go at 10am to avoid the heat, but don’t take the car – parking is a nightmare.
Insider Tip: Once you’ve bought your fabric, visit one of the professional tailors, who can knock up a bespoke dress in a few days.
Open daily 10am-1pm, 4pm to 10pm. Near Khalid Bin Waleed Street, Bur Dubai
The Mini Garden Souk
Best for: Flora and fauna
Nestled in the residential streets of Jumeirah is a small but perfectly formed outdoor garden store selling pots, indoor and outdoor plants, tools and fertilisers. On our last visit we picked up a good range of indoor palms, which they potted on the spot before deftly fitting them into our Tiida’s boot.
Heat factor: It’s warm, but a trip here needn’t exceed 15 minutes if you’re decisive.
Insider tip: The inside area houses plants that will live indoors during the summer.
Open daily 7am-10pm. Behind Spinneys, near Umm Al Sheif Road, Umm Suqeim (04 394 8009)
Stay away from mega malls and wander these neighbourhoods full of hidden gems
Best for: absolutely everything
Want your shoes repaired? Fancy buying delicious fresh bread from a street vendor at Dhs1 a pop? Need ribbon and novelty buttons for a fancy dress party? This is the place. Satwa is more than just Ravi’s – head here for an evening of wandering and you’ll find all sorts. We ventured there last weekend and picked up some cool keffiyeh scarves in neon colours for Dhs10 (in the sewing shops opposite the main mosque), then ventured to Plant Street to look at antique radios.
Heat factor: All the shops are open until at least 10pm, so escape the heat by heading here after dark. You can always cool off with a brew at Rydges Plaza after your shop – they accept casually dressed punters.
Insider tip: The best shopping areas are Plant Street (officially Al Hudaiba Road) and Al Satwa Road, near the bus station.
Most shops open daily 10am-1pm and 4pm-10pm. Near Iranian Hospital, Satwa
Best for: hardcore hardware
Like most colloquial street names in Dubai, this road isn’t actually named after PC hardware – it just sells a whole lot of it. Located on a strip of Bur Dubai’s Khalid Bin Al Waleed Road (aka Bank Street), just before the York Hotel roundabout, this is the place to go if you want a souped-up PC or laptop, or if you want to pimp your current machine. It doesn’t sell many lifestyle products – DVD players and the like – but it is the cheapest place in town for the truly geeky stuff, and the salesmen, unlike most in malls, really do know their stuff.
Heat factor: Many of the shops are in mini-mall plazas, so you can easily remain in the cooling embrace of falsely frosty air.
Insider tip: Computer Plaza at Al Ain Centre has some of the best deals and most reliable vendors.
Between York Hotel and Royal Ascot Hotel, Bur Dubai
Best for: More than just ‘Marc Fakobs’
Karama is actually one of the more diverse shopping areas in Dubai. Bypass the pleather bags at the Karama Shopping Complex and check out the cheap souvenir and pashmina stores, or visit the far more worthy Dubai Charity Centre (behind Choithrams, 04 337 8246), which sells men’s, women’s and kids’ clothes as well as shoes, books and homewares, with all proceeds going to Dubai Centre for Special Needs. Venture away from the centre and head towards Trade Centre Road, where there are a series of little malls and stores – we once found an entire store dedicated to holograms of religious figures.
Heat factor: It can be sweaty outdoors, but there are plenty of stores to duck into for some A/C relief.
Insider tip: Walk to Paratha King (about five minutes from the main shopping area, 04 397 9110) to sample a delicious stuffed paratha takeaway, which you can sit and eat in Karama Park.
Most stores open Sat-Thu 10am-1pm, 4pm-late, Fri 4pm-late. Near 33b Street, Karama
Indoor shops with an outdoor edge
The Grove, The Dubai Mall: One of the least-known parts of The Dubai Mall, The Grove is an open-air ‘street’ with a retractable roof that’s opened during the cooler months. The shop fronts have a quaint small-town feel, and stores focus on the sports side, with Nautica, Nike and the like. There are also several restaurants and cafés, plus a Seven For All Mankind denim store – our go-to spot for designer jeans.
The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 362 7500)
O’ de Rose: This is our favourite boutique in Dubai, partly thanks to its range of home and fashion designs by regional artisans, but also because it’s home to a super-cute garden where, after you’ve browsed, you can sip on the store’s signature rose water.
999 Al Wasl Road, Umm Suqeim (04 348 7990)
The Zoo: This slick design store is full of quirky T-shirts and homewares that are surprisingly well priced. It also boasts a garden where you’ll invariably find Dubai’s trendy set chilling out, discussing cool stuff.
Opposite Dubai Zoo, next to Sultan Garden Centre, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 349 5585)