If you want the best shopping in Dubai, take your taxi to Dubai Mall. Allow half a day. Or half the night.
The Dubai Mall is the best shopping centre in the city, and on the ground floor you can find lady shoe heaven, with Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Dior, Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci, Kate Spade, Louise Vuitton, Paul Smith, Prada, Repetto, Roger Vivier, Saint Laurent and Valentino laid out before you. It’s called the Level Shoe District. I’ve only mentioned some of the brands. Actually, the entire mall is Shoe City. Spend a little or a lot.
This is also the place to buy food from the cult British supermarket Waitrose. Marks and Spencer’s underwear. In short, it’s where the expats shop. Be warned, though, you will need comfortable walking shoes, because if you get distracted by everything, you’ll be covering kilometres. Hot outside, air-conditioned inside. It’s another world.
SHOPPING UNTIL MIDNIGHT IN THE DUBAI MALL
The Dubai Mall shopping hours run from Thursday to Saturday from 10.00am until 12.00 midnight. Yes, you read that correctly – until midnight. From Sunday-Wednesday, Dubai Mall closes at 11.00pm, but that’s still a good way to fix jet-lag.
The Dubai Mall also has free Wi-Fi and storage lockers. Just outside, you’ll find alcohol-licensed restaurants, cafes and bars which is also a rarity in this city. If you only have an hour to shop in Dubai, you will need a military strategy, because Dubai Mall sprawls. Hit the website or app and have a plan. I felt very tempted to make like Hansel and Gretel and leave a trail of bread behind me, when I was trying to make my way back to Laduree from the ATM bank machine and ladies’ loo on the ground floor.
LET’S GET LOST IN DUBAI
Most people come here to get happily lost for half a day – or a whole day. There’s an ice-rink, a cinema, an aquarium and a blue dinosaur. There’s a little bit of London, New York and Paris too, with cut-down versions of department stores like Galeries Lafayette and Bloomingdale’s.
Try to find a cluster of shops and cafes, all together and work your way around that. You’ll find Laduree near Kate Spade and Repetto, for example. Once you’ve had a pot of Darjeeling and a salted caramel macaroon on a pale green plate, you can drool over…everything.
Look down to the next floor, underneath Laduree – and you’ll see Sephora underneath you, so you can get your bearings then run down the escalators to shop for every known cosmetic in the world.
THE BEST OF FRANCE – HERMES, LONGHAMPS, DIPTYQUE, LAGERFELD, CHANEL
Not interested in dainty afternoon tea at Laduree? If you want cheap and cheerful then try the takeaway Thai, Chinese, Indian or Japanese food (plate on a tray) inside the Food Hall. It’s a walk. But then, everything in this mall is a walk! It’s plastic tray stuff – but it’s affordable and fast. You can spend your savings on a Diptyque candle, non?
Make no mistake, this place is a shopping commitment. There are five Starbucks. There are 17 places to get a pair of glasses. The world’s biggest and best book and magazine shop is here too. It’s called Kinokuniya and you could roller-skate around it.
Dedicated shops in Dubai Mall include the best of France – Chanel, Hermes, Longchamps, Diptyque, Lagerfeld. You can also pretend you’re in London, in the air-conditioned interior, and shop at Neal’s Yard or Jo Malone. If you don’t have an app, ask the staff (usually wearing black and standing outside shops) for the nearest information desk and grab a brochure, or hit the screens on each floor and try to figure things out that way.
BASIC NEEDS – TAXI RANK, TOILETS, BANK MACHINES, SUPERMARKET
How about a woman’s basic needs? To find taxis, lavatories, the best supermarket in Dubai (Waitrose) and bank machines all in one spot, head down to the Lower Ground Floor and follow the sign saying Supermarket. The taxi rank is on the other end of a corridor opposite Waitrose, directing you to the restrooms. Remember – taxi/food/bank/loo go together.
To find the serious glass of wine you will all need after running around Dubai Mall all day, follow the signs to The Dubai Fountain, in the sunshine, outside.
You’ll find yourself staring at an artificial turquoise lake, a musical fountain, the impossibly high skyscraper known as Burj (to your right) and a footbridge. There are tons of restaurants and cafes dotted around the waterfront, including Fortnum and Mason’s, but none of them have wine. What you want is the place on the other side of the footbridge.
Cross that and you’ll end up at the Souk Al Bahar which is an indoor collection of rather pricey and formal restaurants inside a little air-conditioned building. For a relaxed, outdoor vibe, find your way to Claw Terrace up the escalators.
Claw Terrace has a Trip Advisor award in the window and looks like a bizarre version of Hard Rock Café, but don’t let that put you off. Wander in, plonk yourself down outside – and order some crab, or some steamed mussels (though our bill said they were Steamed Muzzles, which was hilarious). The umbrellas (pictured below) hide the sun and you can put your pile of shopping bags to one side and relax here. At last.
I saw an Italian family come in for lunch and the father exclaimed ‘Bella, bella, bella!’ at the top of his voice and embrace the air, giving it a big gooey kiss. Claw Terrace really is the vino oasis in the Dubai desert. Retrace your steps back across the footbridge, through the Mall and back to Waitrose for your taxi. It’s Prince Charles’ supermarket of choice, you know, and part of the Dubai experience is watching seriously rich, glamorous American women with their assistants in tow, popping down for an organic apple, flown in from Britain.