Are you looking for a unique souvenir to bring to family and friends?
Do you want to give something special to a friend who is moving away? (and we all know how often that happens!)
Are you repatriating and looking for something meaningful to bring home to remind you of your time in the UAE?
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.
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.)
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.)
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.)
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 amazon.uk 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 Amazon.uk and bookstores in the UAE.
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 Amazon.uk and bookstores in the UAE.
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 amazon.uk. 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 Amazon.uk.
FOOD/GROCERY STORE GOODIES
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.
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.
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.
18. Camel Milk Chocolate: Available throughout Dubai. The products below were on sale at the Jumeirah Mosque.
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”
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!