Visiting Dubai: Shopping and sightseeing

Part four of five installments

Neither Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, Chicago’s Magnificent Mile nor Honolulu’s Ala Moana Blvd. have anything on Dubai when it comes to opportunities for retail therapy.

Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates
Dubai is home to two of the world’s largest shopping malls: The Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates. The Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world by total area and houses 1,200 stores including the Dubai Ice Rink. The Mall of the Emirates, which is slightly smaller with more than 700 stores and 11 anchor tenants, is home to Ski Dubai, the Middle East’s first indoor ski resort and snow park.

Both malls have a broad cross-section of upmarket shopping. The Dubai Mall features an outlet of the British retailer Fortnum & Mason’s while the Mall of the Emirates has a three-story outlet of British fashion retailer Harvey Nichols. Both have a broad selection of fast-food as well as fine-dining establishments for those times when one just has to get off their feet.

Dubai Ice Rink in The Dubai Mall
Located adjacent to the Dubai Mall Dubai is the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. Opened in Jan. 2010, its thin spire reaches 2,922 feet, towers above the rest of the skyline and can be seen for miles. At the foot of the tower is the Dubai Fountain with jets and lights choreographed to music.

A ticket to the tower’s observation deck or a seat in the At.Mosphere restaurant on the 122 nd floor are among the most popular tickets in town and don’t come cheap.

The Burj, as it is called by locals, offers visitors the opportunity to visit two different levels of the building: At The Top at level 124, and At The Top Sky at levels 125 and 148. Visits to At The Top are available during non-prime hours of 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and again from 6:30 p.m. until closing at a cost of AED 125 for adults. During prime hours, the price climbs to AED 200 for adults using General Admission or AED 300 for Immediate Entry admission.

Going to At The Top Sky, from opening until 6:00 p.m. will cost AED 500 for adults. From 7:00 p.m. until closing, the price drops to AED 350.

Hookahs at the Souk
At today’s exchange rates of about AED 3.67 to the U.S. dollar, that means getting anywhere near the top of the world’s tallest building will cost between $35 and about $135. While that is not prohibitive if traveling alone or as a couple, taking the entire family could get rather pricey.

As if high-end shopping wasn't enough, in a rather amazing display of ostentation the Mall of the Emirates has an ATM that dispenses ... gold! Gold-dispensing ATMs, part of the Gold to Go network, are also located in the Burj Khalifa, the Atlantis Palm Resort, Galleries Lafayette and the InterContinental Hotel.

More traditional shopping opportunities are available at the Souk Madineh Jumeriah, located near the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Unlike the large malls, which are similar to many malls in the West, the Souk Madineh Jumeriah is more a traditional marketplace and guests are expected to conduct themselves accordingly, including adhering to guidelines mandating “sensible dress” and the avoidance of wearing beach wear.

The Souk Madineh Jumeriah is most easily reached by taxi. Visitors who catch a taxi in the Dubai Marina district may find themselves being driven along Al Sufouh Rd. which, between the marina and the souk, is lined by plain walls approximately eight feet high, dotted from place to place by entrance portals. My taxi driver told me that behind those walls are residences for members of the royal family. Whether that is accurate or not, the entire span of Persian Gulf beach along that stretch is clearly designated “Private Beach” and the area is home to several upmarket hotels, resorts and dining venues.

Atlantis Palm Resort
Some resorts have their own shopping areas. Atlantis The Palm Resort, at the end of the Palm Jumeriah, is such a resort. Reached by bus, car, or by a monorail from the Jumeriah Palm tram station in the Dubai Marina area, the Atlantis has a range of high-end shops including Lacoste, Porsche Designs, Rodeo Drive, Via Rodeo, Longines and Omega watches, jewelry by Chopard and Tiffany and Co., and a variety of smaller boutiques.

Located on a palm-shaped, man-made island, The Atlantis has its own water park, a range of restaurants and other activities and attractions. In my estimation, such a resort must appeal most to people who want to say they have been to Dubai but who do not actually want to experience Dubai.

Cayan Tower
While The Atlantis is similar in design to its sister property in the Bahamas, other buildings in Dubai reflect the country’s embracing of avant-garde architecture. The Cayan Tower in the Marina area appears to twist 90 degrees between its top and bottom floors. The Burj Al Arab hotel on the shores of the Persian Gulf was designed to resemble a ship’s sail. A building off Sheikh Zayed Road resembles the tower that houses London’s legendary Big Ben while a pair of buildings nearby resemble Rev. Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral.

New buildings currently under construction – and they are everywhere – will continue to push the architectural envelope. If architects have their way, a planned structure patterned after the Eiffel Tower will surpass the Burj Khalifa, and likely in time for Expo 2020, which Dubai is hosting.

If you are planning to visit Dubai, appropriate attire is crucial, though not for the reasons you may think. More on that in my final installment.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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