Top Dubai Souvenirs and Gift Ideas

thAre you looking for a unique souvenir to bring to family and friends?


gift clip art

Do you want to give something special to a friend who is moving away? (and we all know how often that happens!)


plane clip art

Are you repatriating and looking for something meaningful to bring home to remind you of your time in the UAE?

christmas tree clip art
Are you doing early Christmas shopping and need ideas?


Think beyond the pashmina! Check out my list for some gift-giving, souvenir-buying inspiration:


1. Imprints at Home and Away – my etsy shop that features prints of the UAE and neighboring Gulf countries. Click here.

Bastakiya 5x7


2. I love the retro vibe of the posters of High Life Dubai and how they illustrate so many quintessential Dubai experiences. Even though I know they are tongue-in-cheek, some of the prints of those unsavory Dubai attitudes are hard for me to laugh at; however, most of them are funny and really unique. Chances are you’ll find one with your favorite Dubai activity or characteristic. (To read a CNN article about the prints and artist, click here.)


High Life Dubai by artist Clare Napper

3. Gallery One (with many branches located throughout the city) has lots of wall art options. My favorite was this montage of little camels, each cut out with different paper (most of which have an Arabic vibe to them). The variety of paper represents the diversity of Dubai, and the lone camel wandering off in the other direction reminds us that someone is always leaving. Perfect for a going away present. (If it’s not available at Gallery One anymore, check out the Peas in a Pod website for more info.)



4. I recently saw this bookshelf on Instagram and fell in love. It spells ‘read’ in Arabic.



5. Gulf Photos Plus offers prints for sale including some unique shots of the UAE. Check them out online here or at their location in Al Quoz. (note that not all prints featured are of the UAE. Browse through the listing to find them.)

Photography by Nima Moghimi. Print available at Gulf Photo Plus

Photography by Nima Moghimi. Print available at Gulf Photo Plus


I’m a coffee table book junkie. I probably have too many, but feel like I can never have enough. I really liked the following:

6. Forty Three Photographers. This book was printed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the UAE. It features the work of forty-three different photographers, as the title suggests, and includes a really broad pictorial representation of the UAE. The official description follows: “Following the region’s journey from the Trucial States to the UAE, this book captures the UAE’s land and people, its past and present, its harmonies and paradoxes, and above all, the quintessential Emirati spirit that lives within each of its people.”  The book is available online at Booksarabia and in bookstores in Dubai. (Note that the book was available with several different covers, so it may look different from the photo below.)

43 photographers image

7. Children of the Sun: Growing up in the Gulf (Parts 1 and 2) These books are written for children and include simple poems alongside beautiful pictures. Admittedly, it is a privileged childhood the books describe, but they feature a range of experiences from mundane to exciting. A few of the many topics covered are bringing home a new baby from the hospital, Christmastime in the desert, laborers and new construction, local holidays and traditions, after-school activities, dune-bashing, wildlife found in the region, etc. A great souvenir if you raised children in the city or have children back home to buy for. I bought my copies at Magrudy’s. Hopefully they are still available!



8. Stranger: A photography book by Magnum photographer Olivia Arthur. A fascinating and creative pictorial representation of Dubai, but definitely not the most beautiful or flattering. In her photos, Olivia Arthur imagines how a survivor of a 1961 shipwreck, returning to Dubai 50 years later, might interpret daily scenes from the city. The photos portray a futuristic and alienating city and express an interesting perspective of the rapid pace of development in the city. A signed copy is available in the Magnum bookshop online here.


9. The Flavours of Arabia: Cookery and Food in the Middle East. I’m sure Dubai food bloggers would have better recommendations for a cookbook, but I love this one because it would look just as beautiful on your coffee table as on your kitchen shelf. In addition to wonderful recipes, the book includes beautiful, enticing photos, a map, and very informative text about food traditions of each region featured. There are chapters devoted to Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Dubai, Jordan and Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. Available here on and in bookstores in Dubai.



10. Desperate in Dubai.  We’re not talking Pulitzer Prize winning literature here, but it’s a fun, light read, even if the actions and attitudes of the women (and men) in the book drive you nuts. Its former banned status makes the characters and story line all the more intriguing. Great gift for a girlfriend or book club buddy. Available on Amazon and and bookstores in the UAE.

Desperate in Dubai.indd

11. City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism.  I have to admit I haven’t finished reading this one yet. But so far, it’s an incredibly interesting account of the rise of Dubai from its very humble beginnings. I think it’s a must read for anyone who calls Dubai home. For those of you who groan at the thought of reading a non-fiction book, don’t worry, it’s written in a very engaging way. Available on Amazon and and bookstores in the UAE.

city of gold


12. The movie City of Life. So it might be a bit predictable at times with characters based on stereotypes, but I still love watching this movie. With an Emirati director and filmed in Dubai, it’s a gift that was truly made in the UAE, which can be hard to come by when looking for souvenirs. The film touches on so many true-to-life aspects of living in Dubai. It became tradition for me to make my visitors watch this movie at the end of their trip because they could recognize all the places they had visited. Available on It’s also available in some video stores in Dubai.



13: Camelspotting. I admit, I bought this CD long before I knew I’d be living in the Middle East, and no one singing on it (as far as I know) is from the UAE, but it’s a really fun collection of Arabic pop songs that will get you dancing. My kids and I love to listen to it when we are missing Dubai. Available here on Amazon and here on



14. When I travel, my favorite place to look for souvenirs is the grocery store.  I love checking out the unique products and trying different items. In Dubai, I usually stopped by my local store and stocked up on dates, date syrup and baklava gift sets before my visits home.


Also check out Sadaf Iranian Sweets and Spices on Maktoum Street or Samadi Sweets on Muraqqabat Street for packaged Arabic and Persian sweets and snacks.

15. For more of a statement, head to Bateel and pick up some of the beautifully wrapped and very delicious gourmet dates.

Dates are not the prettiest fruit around, but Bateel makes them look glamorous, and they taste amazing too!

Dates are not the prettiest fruit around, but Bateel makes them look glamorous, and they taste amazing too!

16. If you have more time, head to the spice souk and pick up some unique spices. Yes, these can be found in Carrefour too, but isn’t the experience of buying the gift part of what makes it meaningful? Most spices can be found everywhere these days, but I liked to buy saffron since it can be very expensive at home. I also find that dried lemons are still not all that common outside of the Middle East. Pick up a few and print out a recipe that features them in the dish for the foodie on your shopping list.

dubai spice souk (2)

17. Balqees Honey: available in kiosks in malls in the UAE, it’s a fun experience to buy this honey because they offer so many varieties. Sourced from beekeepers in Yemen, this honey is pure, unaltered and unpasteurized. Traditional methods that have been used for hundreds of years are used to collect this honey. Click here to learn more.

balquees honey

photo credit:

18. Camel Milk Chocolate: Available throughout Dubai. The products below were on sale at the Jumeirah Mosque.

chocolate made from camel's milk

chocolate made from camel’s milk

Other items

19. Perfume bottles. They come in different shapes and sizes and I always liked bringing several so people could pick their favorite. You can also have them filled with the perfume of your choice, but I never felt comfortable picking a fragrance for someone else, so I just gave them empty for display. There is a perfume souk near the creek, but my go-to place to buy them was in Beach Centre on Jumeirah Beach Road. Don’t pay full price!


20. Arabic Coffee Pots (Dallahs) Skip the big places like Al Jaber and look at smaller shops or at the Blue Souq in Sharjah for more authentic dallahs with individual characteristics that don’t look like they were mass produced in China. I got mine at the little shop next door to Park n’ Shop on Al Wasl Road. (see my blog post about dallahs here).



21. Jewelry: I’m not crazy about jewelry, but of course with the Gold Souk in town, there are limitless options for buying glittering earrings and shiny rings, and the sky is the limit in terms of price. If you want something that won’t break the bank and will remind you of Dubai, try getting something inscribed with your name in Arabic, like this necklace: (I got mine in Mercato Mall)


22. Carpet: Probably the most sought after “souvenir” for people who live in Dubai and know they will leave at some point. From Turkish kilims to coarsely knotted Bedouin rugs, you’ll likely find something that suits your taste in Dubai. To read about my experience buying our carpet and tips on what to look for, read my post “How Not to Buy a Persian Carpet”

carpets Dubai

And lastly, if you feel you need some of the other souvenirs commonly found in Dubai, visit the Antiques Museum in Al Quoz. Every imaginable UAE themed gift, along with countless other goodies from other countries, can be found here. Put aside a good amount of time to visit, it is truly an Aladdin’s cave with endless aisles of treasures.

Happy shopping everyone!


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Imprints At Home and Away

Even though the blog has been relatively quiet over the last few months, I’ve been working hard behind the scenes on my new project, my new etsy shop featuring travel photography. Its name is Imprints at Home and Away and it’s finally ready and open for business!

Living in Dubai made me think a lot about what makes a house on the other side of the globe feel like home. None of my friends was from Dubai and most had plans to leave at some point. With such a transient and diverse population, I really enjoyed seeing how people chose to decorate their home. Inevitably, people displayed little clues about where they were from and where they’d visited. I think even if a house is temporary, we all like to be surrounded by objects that remind us of the intangible imprints that meaningful places leave on us.

These thoughts and preparing the photos for my blog posts eventually led to the idea of opening the etsy shop. About half of the photographs featured are from the Middle East. The other half are from Europe and North America. There is a good mix of expected shots and less predictable shots, and a variety of subject matter: landscapes, street photography, architecture, a bit of food photography and lots of pretty doors. :)

I ship internationally and I’ll be adding more photos regularly. I hope you’ll check it out here and please consider sharing the shop or individual prints on social media. Thank you so much!

Below is a sample of photos in the shop. (The frames are provided for illustrative purposes only – I sell unmatted, unframed prints for easier shipping and to give the customer more flexibility in how they display the print.)

doha man


Dubai souk

abra creek


burj and cayan duo

camels closer

amman ruins 2

milan cathedral

verona more close up

liwa camel

New orleans door trio

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A Bit of TX and NOLA – A Photo Tour

I’ve been working on setting up an Etsy shop for some of my photos. Who knew it would be so time-consuming? It’s almost ready to open, but in the meantime, a few photos from recent adventures in Texas and Louisiana. (Some of these were taken with my phone and are on my instagram page.)

New Orleans

swamps en route to New Orleans

swamps en route to New Orleans


blue and yellow makes me smile

blue and yellow together make me smile

beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde. Had to visit 2 days in a row.

Beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde also make me smile. Had to visit 2 days in a row.

Mint green ironwork – beautiful!


finding love in New Orleans:

St. Charles streetcar in New Orleans - the oldest continually running streetcar in the world!

St. Charles streetcar – the oldest continually running streetcar in the world

Blue Dog!

Blue Dog!






If you look closely, you’ll find mardi gras beads hanging pretty much everywhere. The trees along St. Charles are dripping with them!



South Congress, Austin

South Congress

Gospel Brunch at Stubbs in Austin

Gospel Brunch at Stubbs

Delicious BBQ in Austin

Delicious BBQ in Austin

skyline, Austin


DSC_1368 DSC_1360

The Big D as seen through the museum windows

The Big D as seen through the museum windows

DSC_1318 DSC_1316

State Fair of Texas, Dallas

State Fair of Texas, Dallas

State Fair of Texas - Dallas

State Fair of Texas – Dallas

Big Tex welcoming visitors to the Texas State Fair. Ha!

Big Tex welcoming visitors to the Texas State Fair. Ha!

Yep, this pig sold for $14,000. He was right next to a beautiful steer that sold for $130,000! Raising livestock is serious business in Texas.

Yep, this pig sold for $14,000. He was right next to a beautiful steer that sold for $130,000! Raising livestock is serious business in Texas.


oak tree heaven, Houston Zoo

oak tree heaven, Houston Zoo


Mind boggling rocket boosters, Nasa

Mind boggling rocket boosters, Nasa

Chase Tower

Chase Tower

60th Floor Observation deck

60th Floor Observation deck

Pretty reflections on Wortham Center

Pretty reflections on Wortham Center

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Religious Tolerance in the UAE

When we lived in Dubai, I had planned to do a post about Christian churches in Dubai after visiting the Catholic church, St. Mary’s.  I thought many people may be surprised to know that there is a degree of religious tolerance in the UAE, and Christians (as well as people of many other non-Muslim religions) can and do worship openly. Unfortunately, the idea lingered in my drafts folder and I never got around to writing it or taking the photos.

When I went to St. Mary’s I was really surprised by how many people attended the church. Parking was difficult to come by and the courtyard was absolutely filled to the brim on a sweltering day with people from all over the world, although the majority seemed to be Filipino or South Asian. Only when the call to prayer came floating through the courtyard did I remember I was in the Middle East. St. Mary’s offers masses in English, Arabic, Tagalog, French, Konkani, Malayalam, Tamil, Sinhalese and Urdu. Confessions can be conducted in all the languages of the masses, plus Kannada, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, Italian and Hindi. The congregation of St. Mary’s certainly reflects Dubai’s diversity.

I may have never been able to bring my “Christian Churches in Dubai” post to fruition before we left, but I just came across an interesting article (linked below) that seems to do the job for me! In addition to what the author describes, other Christian groups such as Gateway Church or Redeemer Church of Dubai that don’t have their own dedicated space to worship will use hotel ballrooms as a meeting space.

Read the following BBC article to learn more about religious tolerance in the UAE.

Free to Pray, But Don’t Try to Convert Anyone.

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My sister asked me recently, “Don’t you miss Dubai?” My gut response was no, not because I didn’t enjoy my time there or appreciate many aspects of the city, but because I really love being home again. I tried to backtrack and list the things I did miss, but couldn’t think of much. It made me feel a little guilty because overall, Dubai was good to us. Our boys grew from toddlers into boys. Our little girl was born there. We traveled to interesting places, and made friends with some very special people. We lived five minutes from the beach in a nice house in a central part of the city. After I thought about it for a while, aside from the obvious of missing my  friends, there are a lot of reasons why I miss Dubai:

  • Diversity. Our neighborhood we live in now is also diverse, but much more segregated than Dubai, and even though the school has kids from all over world, it doesn’t measure up to the diversity of their Dubai classrooms.
my son's class

my son’s class in Dubai

  • Oddities. In Dubai you never know what you might encounter which made mundane errands interesting. One example (of so many) I came across: public napping.

Laborers napping in a shady patch of trees

Laborers napping in a shady patch of trees

The first time I saw this, I actually stopped the car in a panic thinking something terrible had happened to these guys until I realized they were just napping. (They reminded me of that strange cult who committed mass suicide, all covered with a purple shroud and wearing matching Nikes – not a pleasant thought.)

  • 7 Days: Dubai’s free daily newspaper delivered to your doorstep every morning. Not exactly the New York Times of the UAE, it was a guilty pleasure and daily companion to my morning coffee.
  • Travel opportunities. Wish we could have squeezed in more trips.
  • Gulf Photo Plus. Workshops, photo tours, and other events make this such a cool resource for aspiring (or established) photographers.
  • Dr. Kempf. It took a long time to find a decent pediatrician, but finally found a great one. It’s tough to leave good doctors behind.
  • The tax free salary
  • Being spoiled by Emirates Airlines. Emirates, thank you for making all those 16 hour flights more bearable. You really know how to pamper us travelers with your free booze, relatively comfy seats, generous baggage allowance, and the attention you give kids (specialized kids meals, a separate snack pack, activity pack and amazing entertainment options on ICE). In fact, ICE,  you almost deserve your own entry. The countless movies and TV shows you offer on demand rock! I’m not looking forward to my next flight on an American domestic airline.
  • Being spoiled by Dubai’s hotels. Spending time in hotels becomes a normal thing in Dubai since you find yourself eating at their restaurants. They are so beautiful and luxurious. Hotels here seem a bit dirty and substandard in comparison.
  • Being spoiled by not having to pump my gas
  • The boys’ school for a number of reasons, one of which includes the fact that swimming was part of the curriculum. It’s so nice to not have to worry about taking them to swimming lessons.
  • The handy and often used phrase “inshallah”
  • The unbelievably nice guys at the liquor store. Franklin and Dixon – you guys were the best!  Maybe it’s not a good sign when the liquor store workers know the names of your children, but my kids loved them too.
  • Never thought I’d say this – but the grocery stores. They often drove me nuts (super expensive food/products, unreliable supply of things) but now I miss lots of aspects like the diversity of the produce (lemongrass, why can’t you just live next to the fresh herbs like you used to?), the bread selection, and the pineapple guy who used that cool contraption to turn a fresh pineapple into perfectly cut slices of fruit in 5 seconds flat. The bread pic was taken at my local supermarket, the others at Carrefour, which is similar to a Walmart that also has groceries. Why can’t our Walmarts have nuts, olives and spices like that?

bread Dubai

I miss you pineapple guy!

I miss you, pineapple guy!

  • Mosquito free summers
  • The opaque, blue sky
  • Hearing the call to prayer. The melodic one I’d hear when I was out walking around and the warm breeze danced with the imam’s voice.
  • The little video store we used to go to. Remember the days of browsing at Blockbuster? We could do that there!
  • Pretty lanterns
  • Living 5 minutes from a beach with turquoise water
  • The beautiful desert
  • Celebrating different holidays like Diwali and Eid
  • Having three shopping centers in walking distance that included grocery stores, dry cleaners, restaurants, cafes, pharmacy, toy store, and many other useful shops
  • Mint lemonades
  • The overall sense of adventure of living abroad.

Don’t miss:

  • Doing math in my head or some type of conversion every time I wanted to cook something, check the weather, buy some shoes or clothes, set the thermostat, figure out what size diaper to buy (back when I was buying diapers), follow a recipe, etc. Yes, we lived there for four years and these things should have come natural to me… but they never did.
  • Traffic tickets that are sent via text message well after the alleged infraction
  • SAND – sand everywhere – the boys were sand magnets and it was constantly in the house, car, socks, shoes, ears and between toes. Blech.
  • The fear of inadvertently doing something wrong and being thrown in jail or deported
  • The fear of having a car accident with a local
  • Hearing the call to prayer (the one from the mosque 2 doors down that woke up my sleeping children countless times. No offence to anyone! I loved hearing it at other times.)
  • The weather. There are nice months, but it’s a solid five MONTHS of 100+ temperatures daily with plenty of humidity to go along with it. No thanks.
  • 16 hour flights home. I love to travel very much, but with all those hours of flying (especially with small children) I don’t want to see another plane for  a long, long time.
  • My husband’s crazy travel schedule. 15+ countries (some of which were not the safest) and 2 filled passports later, it’s nice to now have him home all the time.
  • Seeing countless buses of laborers with downcast eyes who had misery written all over them.
  • the chaotic and stressful school parking lot

Happy to be back to:

  • Freedom of speech
  • The optimism of the American Dream
  • Weekends that are on Saturday and Sunday
  • Celebrating American/Christian holidays properly instead of having to go to work/school.
  • Cheap pork. Bacon, sausage, pork chops, pork tenderloin, salami: it’s nice to have you back without breaking the bank.
  • Seeing lots of “life” in my neighborhood like the little duck families with ducklings waddling around after their mama, or the giant turtle that I just saw in the middle of the street. The kids can finally use their bug collecting set and find more than just ants.
  • Oak trees and the beautiful canopy they form over streets
  • Buying fall clothes and actually using them on a daily basis, not just for vacation
  • Being able to hold hands with my husband in public without feeling like I’m offending someone
  • Wearing sundresses and shorts without feeling like I’m offending someone
  • Being close to Mexico and New Orleans
  • Having countless delicious Mexican, BBQ, and Cajun food restaurants at my fingertips
  • Big Texas skies. There are pretty sunsets and sunrises in Dubai, of course. But outside of that, you can count on the sky being 1 of 2 ways: 1) a dark, opaque blue (which is very beautiful but strangely one-dimensional. It always reminded me of the Truman Show … that one day I might drive right into it and discover it was just a wall.) or 2) gray and filled with sand and haze. Since I’ve been back in Houston, I can’t get enough of the sky! Texas is known for having “big skies” but wow, I forgot how spectacular they can be. Sometimes I feel like I’m looking at daytime versions of Van Gogh’s Starry Night or a Magritte painting.

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  • Gyms that provide a place to drop off your kid while you work out
  • Being able to order a glass of wine, beer or margarita pretty much anywhere
  • Being able to pick up beer and wine with the rest of my groceries
  • Unpredictable weather. 20 degree temperature drops in 1 day.
  • Falling asleep to the sound of rain
  • Bagels, English muffins, breakfast tacos, decent eggs benedict, Shipley’s doughnuts
  • The culture of kindness here. Not always of course, but usually people wave or say hi when they walk by, people hold doors open for you, and often wave thank you if you let them in front of you while driving.
  • Feeling settled. As I mentioned, in Dubai I constantly felt the need to run away travel. Of course I still want to go new places, but it’s not eating away at me like it used to. I think someone should give this nesting phase of recent repatriation a name.
  • Dependable healthcare
  • Sane and orderly driving conditions
  • The ease with which my family and I can ride our bikes and play in the neighborhood without having to worry about speeding cars
  • US versions of washing machines and dryers (thank you Shannon for reminding me of this one!). I can do the entire family’s weekly laundry in 2-3 loads now whereas before I was literally running the washing machine every single day for hours.

I could continue, but will leave it there for now. Of course the best part of coming back to Texas is being close to family again. On today, my parent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, I feel especially grateful to be back home. Happy anniversary to my amazing parents. They set an example to strive for with their extraordinary integrity, generosity and commitment to each other and each of their five daughters. We all love you very much!


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