Best alternative Christmas gifts in the UAE

Our guide to unusual presents that will excite your loved ones

Best alternative Christmas gifts in the UAE

Bye-bye, bubble bath gift pack. Farewell, four-pack of underpants. So long, scented candle. The festive period is no longer a time to race through the mall throwing any old junk into shopping trolleys for loved ones to unwrap while forcing a smile before returning the empty gesture. Whether you want to spend a fortune on your love, or find a thoughtful gift for a friend, look no further.

A cool Dubai Opera show
If you’ve not yet been to Dubai Opera, shame on you. It’s time to get classy with your gift-giving and send a loved one to see a fantastic show from the 2018 line-up. How about the classic Evita from Monday January 22 to Saturday February 3, or the spectacular kung fu show Shaolin Warriors from Saturday February 27 to Saturday March 3?
Prices and times vary. Downtown Dubai, (04 440 8888).

Afternoon tea at the Palace
Want to treat your loved one like royalty? Then book the Royal Afternoon Tea Affair at Le Café in Emirates Palace. Not only did this spot bag our Best Afternoon Tea award for 2017, but the spread actually includes 24-karat gold-dusted salmon pinwheel sandwiches, and mille-feuille of foie gras sprinkled with 23-karat gold and mighty fine chocolate. Naturally, it’s in high demand, so you’ll have to book in advance.
Dhs400+++ for two. Daily 2pm-6pm. Emirates Palace, West Corniche Road (02 690 7999).

Avatar Cirque du Soleil show in Dubai
If you know someone who is a huge a fan of James Cameron’s CGI spectacular, this gift is a no-brainer. Toruk – The First Flight will be an immersive experience comprising cutting-edge visuals, puppetry and stagecraft along with the film’s memorable score, set thousands of years before the events from the movie.
Dhs295-2,495; Thu Jan 4 to Wed Jan 17, Dubai World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, (04 24 23 542).

Buy their morning coffee for a month

Before our first coffee of the day, Time Out Towers is not a welcoming haven of warmth and conviviality, so we understand the challenge of trying to function without that essential injection of caffeine and sugar. But for someone who works 260 days a year, a Dhs10 cup of joe on the way to the office every morning adds up to Dhs2,600 per annum (take that, maths!). While you might not want to stretch to that amount, charging a Starbucks loyalty card for a month’s worth of java might be better-received than socks or slippers. Pop into any store to pick up a gift card.
Various times and locations,

Cruise through the mangroves
Tour one of the capital’s most popular sites day or night with a cruise voucher from Captain Tony’s. The 90-minute trips leave from Yas Marina and take in verdant Samaliyah Island, where voyagers could spot gazelles among the mangroves, and Al Raha Beach.
Dhs500. Capt Tony’s, Yas Marina, Yas Island, (02 650 7175).

Dive in with a PADI course
Splash out (bad pun intended) with this pricey gift that someone who has long dreamed of experiencing the beauty of the deep will surely appreciate. Al Mahara Diving Centre’s PADI Open Water course is spread over five sessions of training, including classroom instruction, pool dives and the open water dives. The PADI Open Water course is the world’s most widely recognised, with millions of divers around the world certified through it.
Dhs2,350. Al Mahara Diving Centre, Zayed Port, (026 437 3770).

Fly with a friend in a seaplane
Show a close friend a bird’s-eye view of Abu Dhabi in all its magnificence. Make a splash with a water take-off and landing from either Emirates Palace or Yas Island. Then get clear, panoramic views of the city’s most stunning landmarks.
From Dhs895. Departs from Yas Marina. For more info email (04 807 0708).

Get creative with your gift
We’ve all received a pot or plate so hideous we have hidden it in the back of the cupboard – or allowed it to “accidentally” slip from our hands onto a tiled floor. Instead of risking a present someone may hate, why not allow them to design it themselves? Book a class over at Abu Dhabi Pottery, where there are sessions and workshops for kids, adults and families, and have fun making a “work of art” together. Alternatively, you could organise a commission and have something special and bespoke made that reflects your relationship.
Open Sat-Thu 9am-1pm, 4.30pm-9pm. 16th Street, Khalidiyah, (02 666 7079).

Get shirty with your beloved
Those soppy nicknames you call your partner in private (go on, admit it…) are banned from being uttered in public – so why not emblazon them on their torso? For Dhs65, Tshirtfly, which delivers all over the UAE, will print T-shirts bearing sickly slogans that will bring a smile to the face of your Mrs (Always) Right or Mr (Not Quite) Perfect.
Open Sat-Thu 9am-6pm. Fortune Executive Tower, Cluster T, JLT, Dubai, (04 558 7292).

Get them dinner with a legendary chef
If you know a foodie, this is a real treat. Dubai’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is hosting dinner with top chefs to enjoy while you have a natter with them. Come Dal with Me will see Madhur Jaffrey, “Queen of Curries” whip up a four-course meal, during which you can quiz her about how she made it, while My Stir-Fried Life will see you taste three courses from Asian culinary legend Ken Hom, who will also be talking about his journey to stardom.
Dinner with Madhur Jaffrey: Dhs350. Fri Mar 2, 7.30pm-9.30pm; Dinner with Ken Hom: Dhs350. Fri Mar 9, 7.30pm-9pm. InterContinental Dubai Festival City, Dubai,

Give a fast-track festive gift
Do you have a friend who fancies themselves as the next Lewis Hamilton? It’s time for them to prove it with a high-speed spin around Abu Dhabi’s famous F1 track. Pick your vehicle – from a Supersport SST for a reasonable Dhs440 to a Ferrari 458 GT for a whopping Dhs4,000 – and put the pedal to the metal. We’ll be the ones wearing a full tuxedo behind the wheel of the Aston Martin.
Dhs440-4,000. Open daily 9am-6pm, Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island, (800 927).

Go paintguns blazing
Show someone you care by shooting at them during a trip to the largest paintball field in the Middle East. The 500,000 sq ft Battle Park UAE in Ghantoot allows you to pick a theme from Desert Storm, Castle Siege, Junkyard Raid and more and begin your mission. Of course, the best present you could give is letting your loved one win, but you’re braver than us if you’re willing to take a bullet (sorry, pellet) for them.
From Dhs80. Open Mon-Fri 8am-10pm; Sat 8am-midnight; Sun 8am-2pm. Battle Park UAE, Ghantoot, (056 406 2999).

Go small to show you care
Money can be tight over the festive period, so rather than splashing huge wads of cash on someone close to you, why not show them you’ve been paying attention by wrapping a selection of their favourite everyday things?
A food hamper with their top choice of cheese, best-loved biscuits and preferred potato snack, or beauty basket featuring their regular soaps, hand-washes and lotions, is a thoughtful gift that won’t cost the earth. Go from shop to shop to show someone you’ve taken some time on them, or take the shortcut (and pay a bit more) by getting it all at Marks & Spencer.
Open daily 10am-midnight. Yas Mall (02 565 0012).

Offer pearls of wisdom…
If you don’t want to splash out on jewellery for your loved one, why not send them out to learn where the pearls that pepper their bling come from while also giving them a proper UAE history lesson? This Abu Dhabi Pearl journey on a jalboot through the Eastern Mangroves includes traditional songs sung by pearl divers and oyster shucking that could reveal one of the gemstones. Trips last from an hour to 90 minutes.
Dhs500. Daily 9am-7pm. Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa By Anantara, Abu Dhabi,, (02 641 9914).

…or shell out for the easier option
Yas Waterworld’s pearl diving experience allows your friend or family member to experience the excitement of diving for their own oysters. Guests are also taught how to open the molluscs and can take home a pearl, plus they can even have them set into custom jewellery. Sessions are accompanied by dive instructors and last an hour.
From Dhs250. Open daily 10am-6pm. Yas Waterworld, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, (02 414 2000).

Ride the world’s longest zip line
What better present for a daredevil than the chance to be one of the first to experience the world’s longest zip line, planned to open in December in Ras Al Khaimah? The multi-million-dirham project is being developed around Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest point. The mountain is also in the development stages of a huge observation deck.
Prices to be announced. Visit for more information.

Sponsor a pooch for your loved one…
There are too many stray dogs in the UAE, left behind by owners who have emigrated or just no longer want their pet, putting huge strain on animal charities. The nation is also full of animal-lovers, but not all of them can own a pet. If you know someone who fits this description, why not sponsor an animal in their name? Dubai charity K9 Friends allows you to sponsor a dog for a year for Dhs350, which gets you a certificate and picture of your dog, a profile of the pooch’s likes and dislikes and – best of all – the opportunity to visit your lucky new friend. Check out their website (but good luck if you don’t want to fall instantly in love with Bauble or Happy).
Open Sat-Thu 9am-1pm. (04 887 8739).

…scrap that, adopt a turtle – or shark!
If a dog is too fluffy for your gift recipient’s tastes, help a turtle in their name instead. The Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF has packages that allow you to help the shelled reptiles and take home a fluffy facsimile for Dhs150, available at Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi. If you want to sponsor an animal with a few more teeth, sign up your loved one to the international WWF’s Adopt A Great White Shark programme ( After years of being hunted for its fins, jaws and teeth, Jaws needs your help. For US$100 (around Dhs367), you’ll get a stuffed shark toy, framed certificate and photo, species card and gift box.
Open Sat-Thu 8am-5pm. EWS-WWF, Sustainable City, (02 634 7117).

Show off with a shoot-out

The sporting type would surely enjoy a day on Al Forsan International Sports Resort’s shooting range. They can try out their aim with pistols, a sniper rifle, or the two of you could just have fun busting sporting clays with a shotgun. You can make a whole day of it, too, as Al Forsan has all sorts on offer, from archery to horse riding and paintballing. After all that activity, you can also retire to one of the food outlets for a spot of lunch and a well-deserved thirst-quencher.
Shooting packages from Dhs350. Available daily 2pm-11pm. Al Forsan International Sports Resort, Khalifa City A (02 556 8555).

Skydive over the Palm Jumeirah
Give the ultimate UAE bucket list experience – the chance for a friend or family member to throw themselves out of a moving plane and watch the breathtaking Palm Jumeirah get ever closer. Tandem skydives with Skydive Dubai require no previous experience and include photos and a professionally edited video of the experience. Visit to buy a gift certificate.
Dhs1,999. Open daily 10am-6pm. Dubai Marina, Dubai (04 377 8888).

Send them home
When you’ve had a prosperous year or managed to clear your credit card, it is tempting to wow your beloved with a rare treat that gets the receipt roll spinning at the checkout. If you love someone enough to flourish thousands of dirhams on them, consider an alternative to a 4K Ultra HD TV, designer leather shoes or monogrammed silk shirt. A flight home is a huge expense that hits most Abu Dhabi residents at least once a year, so save them the stress of shelling out for their next trip with a travel gift card from that allows them to pick their own journey date, destination and airline.
Various prices,

Wrap a wand for a Harry Potter fan
Enthusiasts of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world would no doubt love to grip the very instrument through which the eponymous young sorcerer conducts his spells. Virgin Megastore stocks a range of Harry Potter collectables, including our favourite characters’ wands, a wizarding chess set and even the horcrux locket (for the Slytherin in your life). You can also check out The Noble Collection’s magical selection of merchandise on, which stretches to the Elder Wand and Marauder’s Map. We solemnly swear you are up to no good. and

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