The best festive markets and where to find Santa in Dubai

Dubai’s skyscrapers and pristine beaches aren’t immediately evocative of a Yuletide scene, but if you look a little deeper, you’ll find it is beginning to look, quite a lot, like Christmas.

We can’t be the only ones desperate for a bit of face-time with Santa, to plead with him in person, that we really have at least tried to be good this year. Surely there are others, like us, that are hankering for those festive markets, for pretzels, turkey bratwurst and last-minute artisanal stocking-fillers.

If you’re one of them, boy do we have a gift for you. A comprehensive guide to the best winter wonderlands Dubai has to offer. Enjoy.

Yas Winter Carnival

If you want to sleigh straight into a fresh carpet of winter feels, Yas Winter Carnival kicks off this Wednesday. The six-day event has everything we want for Christmas including a giant tree, fireworks, festive markets, a snow play zone, carnival rides, a funfair, magicians, choirs and non-stop live music and entertainment. Plus it’s FREE.

Register at www.wintercarnival.ae for free passes. 11th-16th December. Gateway Park South, Yas Island. 

Wafi

WAFI’s annual festive takeover represents a comprehensive tide of Yultide Vibe. Throughout the build-up to Christmas, adults and children can come and visit the Elf Village at Wafi. Will the hard-working elf unit be able to get all the toys finished before the Big Day? You’d have to be a cotton-headed ninny-muggins to bet against it.

If your little ones want to meet Father C, tickets for the grotto are just AED 70. Admission gets each child the gift of a soft toy and a framed photograph with Santa. Regardless of whether they’ve been naughty or nice. The ticket also entitles the children to a steamy indulgent cup of hot chocolate and a mince pie at Biella. Kids over 10 can take a hike up Elf Mountain and carve up the slopes with the thrilling ski simulator. It’s included in the cost of the grotto ticket, or a separate pass can be purchased for AED 20.

Visitors to WAFI’s own North Pole will also find an arts & crafts zone, an area where you can catch classic Christmas movies and a festive market courtesy of Carrefour.

AED 70. Wafi Mall, Oud Metha Rd. Until 24th December. Elf Adventures and Santa 8.30am–9.30pm daily. Arts and crafts 9.30am–9.30pm and Christmas markets 10am–9.30pm.

Souk Madinat

Souk Madinat sets the bar pretty high when it comes to festive markets. There’s a Santa Grotto (with free gifts for those that have spent AED 150 or more at the Madinat), abra trips, a German Christmas market-inspired selection of stalls offering quaint crafts and authentic festive food & drink. And of course their, now famous, LED-enhanced tree, the inaugural 2019 lighting of which takes place with much yuletide cheer at 6pm on Wednesday 9th December.

Free. Souk Madinat Jumeirah. 3pm-1am (Santa’s Grotto 4pm-8pm) daily, until Boxing Day. 

JBR

Yeah normal Santa is cool, but have you ever seen a breakdancing Santa? He’s just one of the line-up of holiday-themed characters that will be parading around Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) as part of the #WOWJBR festive street theatrics. You’ll also be able to catch The Grinch, nutcrackers and calamitous Home Alone crooks, The Sticky Bandits.

The star on top of the JBR Christmas tree has to be the synthetic ice rink. Because at this time of year, it’s about the skaters not the haters. It does have competition from the giant Rubik’s Cube and human claw machine – where participants are strapped in, raised up and then lowered over a pit of prizes from JBR’s lovely retailers.

Until 27th December. JBR. Ice Rink 4pm-9pm on weekdays and 5pm-10pm on weekends. Characters – every Thursday and Friday from 5th to 27th December, 6:30pm-10pm. Human Claw, Telephone Booth and Rubik’s Cube – every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5th to 27th December, 6pm-10pm.

Habtoor Palace

Habtoor Palace, LXR Hotels & Resorts’ annual Festive Garden is now open and it is jam-packed with Christmas cheer. Located in the resorts Versaille Gardens you’ll find a breezy buzzing hub of Yuletide activity. There’s truly impressive mammoth-sized tree, a myriad of market stalls offering seasonal food and beverages, a stage for live festive entertainment and a miniature toy down for the kiddlywinks. In it there’s a cute little train ride, mini golf, bouncy slides, carnival games and a dedicated Snow Fight zone.

AED 60 per child, per hour for kids zone. Daily 5pm-10pm. Habtoor Palace, LXR Hotels & Resorts, Business Bay.

Times Square Centre

We’re not sure how Santa gets round all those houses on the night before Christmas, but it’s definitely something to do with ‘Time.’ Which is why we’re unsurprised to see him at Times Square Centre. Shoppers spending more than AED 250 in the mall can get hold of a voucher (upon showing a receipt for the same day) to visit Christmas Town, a little bit of the North Pole in the desert. Santa’s franchised out a workshop there, and a grotto, there’s a festive cinema and a snow park too. Those spending AED 250 on their seasonal shopping also get entered into a prize draw to win exciting giveaways like mall vouchers or a trip to the Maldives.

Santa until 24th December. Snow zone until 4th January. Santa 2pm-6pm. Workshop, snow park, playzone and cinema 12pm-8am. Times Square Centre, Al Quoz. 

Box Park

Disclaimer: Santa is not here, but we included it because – gingerbread. That seasonal sweet and spicy snack that instantly puts your taste buds in a foot of fresh snow. Gingerbread Land invites kids to come and build gingerbread houses, and in a city so famed for its sweeeeeet construction, it feels right. Kiddos can top their biscuit villas with all sorts of candied goodness, gummies and sprinkles. The holiday fun also includes face-painting, karaoke, a prize wheel, and a Gingerbread Parade (on Thursdays and Fridays).

Parade 5pm, 7pm, 9pm. Gingerbread Land open from 19th-31st December, 5pm-10pm.

Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort and Spa

Fancy a little road trip? There’s a big ol’ Chrimbo market at Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort and Spa. Inside you’ll find those traditional merry munchables like panettone, stolen, shortbread, chocolate delights and more. We wonder if Santa uses the Zipline to get about in RAK?

6th December-7th January, 11am-11pm. Ras Al Khaimah, Al Maareedh St. 

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