Making Sense of Dubai Mall Culture

Dubai is known as “the gateway between East and West.” It houses landmarks like Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and Palm Jumeirah, an island shaped like a palm tree. The coastline is part of the Arabian Gulf, and the weather is hot. What struck me during my visit, however, was the quantity and size of Dubai’s malls and shops. This is my dive into Dubai mall culture and why it is a thing.

Finding a Hotel 

If you are visiting the UAE, there are a lot of choices on where to stay in Dubai. I was advised by a friend who lives locally to stay near the mall — however, there are many malls! Location matters if you are looking to book a hotel in Dubai. A lot of Dubai’s attractions are found in and around the Dubai Mall, so I ended up staying by the Mall of the Emirates. With time to kill before my hotel room was ready, I headed over to see what all the fuss was about.

A Mall With Indoor Skiing?

Only in Dubai can you find a ski slope in the desert. The Mall of the Emirates is arguably best known for Ski Dubai — one of the world’s only indoor ski hills.

The mall itself houses a full range of brand-name stores and fast-food chains. The sheer volume of people is overwhelming. Sure, the UAE has no sales tax — but, I wondered, is it really that cheap? As I continued poking my head into stores, I found a section containing high-end shops like Burberry and Roberto Cavalli, offering clothing and accessories for babies and toddlers. Diamond-encrusted pacifier, anyone?

Near the Main Attractions

In my first two days in Dubai I spent more mall time than I had in the past two years. I couldn’t help it. Much like passing 10,000 slot machines before ever getting to your hotel room in Vegas, getting to sites of interest in Dubai means passing hundreds of stores, not least because many of the main sites are near the Dubai Mall. The Dubai Aquarium, the Burj Khalifa Tower, and the Dubai Fountain are all worth fighting the crowds for.

Inside the Dubai Aquarium tank
Inside the Dubai Aquarium tank
Enjoying the Dubai Mall Culture with 10,000 strangers
The Dubai Mall and fountain as seen from 124 floors up.

Why Are Malls Popular?

It was curious to see veiled women strolling the halls carrying shopping bags by Prada, Gucci, and Cartier. A local told us, “Around family and friends, in their own house, women wear other clothes.” In North America, this means sweatpants and a comfy shirt. In Dubai, it seems to mean Louis Vuitton and Prada. Aneal, a Dubai resident who left Toronto for a change in scenery, credits the popularity of malls to the heat. With summertime high temperatures averaging in the range of 104 degrees Fahrenheit, this is no shock. Who wouldn’t want to beat the heat in the comfort of an air-conditioned mall?

Local Markets

For a change of scene, I headed to the old(er) part of Dubai to visit outdoor markets and the Gold Souk. Seeing the large display of gold and the merchants trying to sway tourists into their shops was a welcome change from chain stores. Dubai’s reputation as one of the least expensive places in the world to buy gold gave me false hope of picking up a souvenir. Gold is still gold, though — one of the world’s most valued commodities.

I should also point out that you need to be extremely cautious about buying diamond jewellery at the Gold Souk and recommend that you simply soak in the atmosphere as a window shopper.

The Souk Madinat, another example of Dubai Mall Culture, is an outdoor promenade. It is a great place to enjoy a hookah as well as an evening stroll.

Just some casual window shopping.



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4 replies on “Making Sense of Dubai Mall Culture”
  1. Avatarsays: Haily Woodward

    I hear you Shaun, shopping is not what everyone is looking for in a holiday. That said I would totally be OK with spending my time in a mall in Dubai!

  2. Avatarsays: Aaron Kolle

    Tim Hortons in Dubai? So random. I know there is one in Afghanistan but that’s at a Canadian military base!

  3. Avatarsays: Rob Danza

    Yup it really is a Vegas in the Middle East minus the sleaze. Fake lakes, buildings, and money. The beaches are nice though if you can stand the heat!

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