Shopping plays a big role in everyday life in this part of the world, whether you're looking for top designers, high-street stores, souks or supermarkets.
Depending on what you need to buy, or how you want to spend your day, the UAE has a place to shop that will match your mood. While the magnificent malls are fantastic places to be entertained, eat and buy from many top international stores, there are also smaller shopping centres, hypermarkets and souks to help you spend your dirhams.
The souks and markets offer a surprisingly authentic Middle Eastern shopping experience – bargaining can be fun and rewarding, and you never know what you might come home with, from fresh fish to Iranian plant pots. The hypermarkets, on the other hand, stock all manner of international brands and you can shop knowing what to expect.
Overall, don’t panic that you can’t head to your favourite organic grocery store or department store – you’re bound to have a new favourite in no time, and many of the chains you are used to are right here.
Western-style markets are becoming more and more popular in the UAE and are usually based around crafts or gourmet food and are often seasonal.
Unique and fresh produce
Modern markets, which may be permanent or pop up in public areas such as parks, shopping centres or along the beach, are less daunting than the souks and a good place to find unique items and fresh produce. Each of the emirates have fruit and vegetable, fish markets and often other, more specialist markets.
In Abu Dhabi, there is the large, permanent fish market at Mushrif Mall; and Yas Marina holds a regular weekly organic market, which is an excellent outing for the family. Or, head to Dubai to visit the Fish Market and the Fruit & Vegetable Market, which are bustling with traders and restaurateurs picking up fresh produce. The Ripe Market also sells organic food and farm produce, as well as crafts, in various locations in Dubai.
For a one-stop shop for almost anything you can think of, hypermarkets are the place to go.
With a range that goes far beyond food, most sell a range of electronics and home appliances at competitive prices, as well as toys, homewares, luggage, clothes, shoes, music and DVDs and much, much more. Most shops are open until 10pm every night and even later at the weekends. You'll find the names familiar – there are French brands Carrefour and Geant, as well as the locally headquartered international hypermarket chain Lulu. You can often do your grocery shopping till midnight.
Unlike hypermarkets, supermarkets concentrate solely on food and domestic necessities such as cleaning products and toiletries.
You may find that the prices between different brands of supermarket can vary quite dramatically, while the quality of some items like fruit and vegetables can be equally varied; this means it can pay to visit a couple of different supermarkets to get the best balance of quality and price when completing the grocery run. Supermarkets also tend to have their own kitchens that cook up freshly baked goods, with some larger stores offering quite an impressive range of pies, samosas and pasties. Some even have fish and meat counters for you to peruse.
A few of the major supermarkets are open 24 hours a day and you'll recognise international names such as Carrefour Market,Waitrose and Lulu supermarket, while products from UK supermarket Tesco can also be found in Spinneys.
Without the local presence of international online stores, knowing where to go online for what is perhaps a little trickier than at home, but there’s still plenty of choice locally, and delivery is available to your home or office.
More online stores are cropping up all the time, and the range is always improving. International websites are a popular option and, while not all companies ship to the UAE, there are several options for getting round this. Aramex provides a Shop & Ship service which sets up a mailbox in both the UK and US, great for dealing with sites which do not offer international shipping.
There are sites based in the UAE that will arrange for gifts to be delivered both here and internationally, and international sites such as moonpig.com and Interflora are great for sending cards and gifts within the delivery country, often with same or next day delivery.