In our 5 Shops series, we'll point you in the direction of our favorite independent shops across some of the world's best cities. From food markets to bookshops, vintage and homegrown design, we've found a diverse and exciting mix of local retailers where you can pick up one-of-a-kind pieces.
As one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, the richness of Dubai’s diversity truly shines through in its contemporary shopping scene, just as it once did in the souks of yesteryear.
Looking to loosen your purse strings? Take a cue from the city’s designers, artists and creatives to do so at Dubai’s homegrown brands and independent boutiques, nestled in little-known creative neighborhoods. It’s where you’ll find all sorts of modern-day treasures: handcrafted jewelry, ethical fashion, vintage clothing, gourmet artisanal produce, eclectic furniture and often, a strong sense of community.
As a travel writer, design-lover and proud Dubai local, I've chosen some favorites that truly represent my hometown’s multiculturalism, creativity and love of the avant-garde.
Best for souvenirs: Al Nassma Camel Milk Chocolate Shop
Walk past dazzling window displays of gold necklaces and diamond rings at the Gold Souq to shop for a souvenir of a different kind at Al Nassma Camel Milk Chocolate Shop. Opened in 2021, the store sells camel milk chocolate made in the UAE in the world’s first camel milk chocolate factory. That extra bit of local flavor comes from real honey, bourbon vanilla, nuts and dates.
Dark, milk, and white, with almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts and dates, there are plenty of options – just ask for a taste. The shelves are lined with elegant boxes of assorted pralines, gold foil-wrapped chocolate camels and chocolate bars that are all perfect for gifting.
Martin Van Almsick, who co-founded Al Nassma with his wife Hanan Ahmed nearly 15 years ago, explained, “Camel milk, which is extremely expensive, is low in fat and high in minerals which results in a quite different mouthfeel and texture.” He recommends the white chocolate with pistachios (35 AED / $10 for a 70g bar), but I also like the cocoa 70% camel milk chocolate with dates (29 AED / $8 per bar).
Best for local design: Kave
Founded by Palestinian sisters Rania and Zaina Kana'an, Kave is a fair trade shop, upcycled cafe, custom bicycle shop and community space in Alserkal Avenue (a hub of art galleries, indie theaters and boutiques). A treasure trove of sorts, here you’ll find vivacious designs with a bold contemporary Arab identity by the region’s emerging designers and curators.
At Heba’s Closet, pretty Sadu pouches (traditional weaving by Bedouin women), enamel evil-eye rings and hand-painted purses by Joudesign (seen on Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan) jostle for your attention. On the racks hang patterned capes (200 AED / $54) by Kayani that repurpose dead stock textiles. Handmade beaded bags, embroidered camera straps and ruby-studded silver jewelry by RetrolaneUAE sit next to vintage watches and cameras.
Beyond their ethical practices, the brands at Kave draw inspiration from the vibrant pop culture of the region. On a recent visit, I was lucky to catch Kave’s occasional weekend market where I discovered colorful cotton dresses by Nunchi, socially-conscious hand-painted tees by Ragmatazz and gorgeous embroidered denim jackets by Rosali Collection.
Best for vintage/thrifting: Thrift For Good
Dubai’s vintage and thrift shopping scene, while nascent, has certainly caught on with the city’s trendsetters. Founded by Jennifer Sault, Thrift For Good on Palm Jumeirah donates all profits to children’s projects undertaken by local charity Gulf for Good.
While clothes from high-street brands like Zara and Mango dominate the women's section, the store also offers a selection of menswear. I recently spotted a vintage dress with a beautiful print and gold trim detailing for 30 AED ($8) and a colorful shift dress by London-based vintage brand Traffic People for 70 AED. A vintage chocolate-coloured Marlboro Classics jacket was priced at 450 AED ($122).
On my last visit, volunteer Iyare Uwagboe explained how the store was supported by volunteers, in addition to some full-time staff. “As you know, we donate everything to projects around the world,” he said, as he pointed to posters of smiling children in rural Kyrgyzstan, Ladakh and Peru, where Thrift For Good has funded community and education projects since 2020.
Best for food: Wafi Gourmet
At Lebanese gourmet store and restaurant Wafi Gourmet, you’ll find quality produce sourced from the Gulf and Levant regions. From under glass countertops, pistachio-stuffed dates, walnut-stuffed apricots, figs and crispy golden baklava, some looking like little bird nests, beckon for a taste.
You can’t go wrong with the Turkish pistachios and Lebanese jumbo cashews. The friendly staff is happy to let you sample and buy smaller quantities. Boxes of freshly baked za’atar rolls, shortbread cookies and jam-filled petit fours make for excellent tea time snacks.
I’m always drawn to the colorful varieties of crispy nougat and soft, chewy malban (a traditional sweet), made with apricot, pistachios and dried rose petals. Elsewhere, jars of olives and fig jam, packets of Damascus rose tea, and bottles of olive oil are excellent gifts to take back home. If all this stirs up your appetite, cold mezze like yalangi (rice-stuffed grape leaves) from the deli or a slice of warm kunafa (warm, syrupy pastry) should help.
Best for books: Book Hero
Bookstore and cafe Book Hero opened in Umm Suqeim Park on Jumeirah Beach after operating for many years as unmanned stores around Dubai and a mobile book truck run on an honesty system. Inside, shelves are full of English-language books of every genre; from comics and young adult fiction to biographies, travel and international Booker Prize–winning titles. Both new and pre-loved, they are priced either 10 or 20 AED (approximately $3 to $6), denoted by green and yellow stickers respectively.
Founded by Spanish expat Montserrat Martin and Emirati entrepreneur Mohammed Al Qubaisi, Book Hero (with six locations currently) has made reading more accessible than ever in Dubai. Book Hero also organizes free educational book swaps, stray animal sterilization campaigns and donates books to communities abroad.
The variety and affordability makes this spot my go-to for diverse titles. On my last visit, I bought a copy of An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie (20 AED). Once you’ve picked a title, get a table on the terrace to read over ice cream, banana bread and views of families building sandcastles on the beach.