Once a small fishing community clinging to the coast of the Arabian Gulf, Dubai has transformed over the past 50 years into a thriving metropolis. Superlatives abound when it comes to describing this urban oasis – the newest, biggest, best – but that’s not to say the Emirati city has forgotten its traditional roots.
The captivating call to prayer coils through the air each day, gliding over the domes and minarets of mosques and weaving between glimmering skyscrapers. Traditional dhows, boats once home to pearl divers, still line the shores of the Creek, and the Al-Fahidi Historic Neighbourhood is brimming with cultural diversions. It is the perfect place to enjoy a Dubai stop-over holiday.
Festivals fill the calendar year-round, so there’s always something exciting on, no matter when you arrive. Cuisine lovers should stop by during February’s month-long Food Festival, the Dubai Arts Season hosts numerous creative events each March and the Dubai Motor Festival roars into life in October. And if you love shopping, tax haven Dubai is a must-visit city.
Luxurious hotels sit between porcelain beaches and expansive desert, where opportunities for adventure shouldn’t be overlooked, and travellers seeking something even more exotic can even stay on the frond of a giant palm-shaped island. No matter if you are seeking relaxation, adventure activities, sightseeing or shopping,
Dubai is a place sure to impress hence why so many travellers visit the city each year. It’s also continually evolving. It’s a city you can return to again, and again, and still discover countless new experiences. Those who delve into this world of monolithic towers will find plenty of reward. Take the time to explore Dubai.
Dubai is undoubtedly contemporary, but between the luxury and arresting architecture that make this city a glamorous international hub, there’s a flourishing local culture. Art galleries have popped up all around the city, in courtyards and warehouses, showcasing the region’s talent. Many cluster in the Al Quoz district, and Alserkal Avenue alone boasts more than 15 galleries, as well other creative spaces like The Cartel, which hosts exhibitions and presents unique pieces from more than 60 designers. The talent doesn’t disappear with the daylight, either. What better way to finish an evening of fine dining than with a show? Venues offering entertainment are splashed all around the city, but for something with an air of Arabia try the gorgeous Madinat Theatre tucked away in a twist of lanes, which offers everything from operas to acts fresh from Broadway. Innumerable bars and lounges are open late, so there are plenty of places to wind down if you’re a night owl.
For something with more of a local bent, stop by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding to learn more about local customs. For a truly authentic experience head to a racecourse and watch camels, the ‘ships of the desert’ thunder down the track. Delve into city’s past with a trip to the Al Bastakiya district, where wind-towers – a traditional form of air conditioning – line the narrow streets. An afternoon is well spent at the fascinating Dubai Museum, which demonstrates, through life-size dioramas, what life was like back when Bedouin tribes and fishermen were the only inhabitants on this stretch of land.
Dubai is a melting pot of cultures. With more than 200 nationalities calling this city home, it’s no surprise that the food here is outstanding. From the unbelievably decadent, down to humble and flavoursome fare dished up at street stalls, you’ll find cuisine to tantalise every palate.
Spend a night dining at Zuma or Le Petite Maison, which are considered among the best restaurants in the world. If you’re seeking outstanding Middle Eastern cuisine, head to Qbara, where you’ll order from a modern Arabic menu created by Zuma’s executive chef. For an extraordinary experience, enjoy a meal at Ossiano, with sharks and rays swimming in a vast aquarium just metres away.
Casual eating options abound too, and there’s no better place to sample excellent local cuisine than in the cafes along Jumeirah Beach Road and fresh seafood at a beach shack. Be sure to start your day with kunafa, an Emirati-take on a cheese Danish, at least once, and sample rgaag sandwiches, made with crispy, waif thin Arabian bread as well as the local-style shawarma.
High tea has captivated the city, and there are numerous places to go to sup on dainty sandwiches, pastries and cakes. For utter decadence try Sahn Eddar Restaurant in the Burj al Arab, Dubai’s seven-star hotel, or take in sky-high views as you sample brews from all around the world at At.mosphere on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. For something with a local twist, tuck into the camel milk pistachio crème brûlée and saffron and cardamom scones at the opulent Palace Downtown Hotel.
You’ll be able to find just about anything you wish to buy in the innumerable shops around the city. Step back in time at the city’s many souqs, or find all the latest designs at an ultra-modern shopping centre.
Run your hands over intricate, soft fabrics at the Textiles Market, breathe deeply amid the aromatic produce at the Spice Souq, lay eyes on unfathomable quantities of precious metal at a bazaar dedicated to gold and barter for silk in the alleyways of Deira Old Souq.
If it’s designer wares you’re after, the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest mall, is bursting with eye-catching pieces. There’s nothing more special than taking home a beautiful garment, exotic jewellery or a selection of art, and you’ll find your mementos keep your holiday memories long lasting.
When adventure calls, a natural playground waits just beyond the glimmering towers. Take to Dubai’s famous golden sands on a desert safari, where you’ll feast on a BBQ and learn the cultural importance of falconry. You might even get the chance to handle one of these majestic birds yourself.
When you’re among the sweeping landscape, dune bashing – scaling sand dunes in a 4WD and gliding down their valleys – is a must, and it won’t take you long to see why this thrilling experience is a firm favourite with many expats and locals. Overnight glamping options are available, introducing you to a Bedouin way of life, albeit with modern conveniences and lashing of luxury, if you desire.
There’s something about the way the rising and setting sun flushes the dunes with colour that is truly unforgettable. Saddle up on a camel and sway over the rolling hills as the sunset transforms them into a sea of rusty red. They’re just as impressive from afar too, and a hot-air balloon ride high over the landscape is a way to experience daybreak unlike any other. Just like the city, Dubai’s desert must be experienced to be believed.
Slipping into refreshing water is a temptation hard to resist with Dubai’s warm climes and sun shining year-round. The temperate waves of the Gulf lap at the shore and luxury hotels offer poolside cabanas and private beach clubs. Hours can be spent lounging on day beds, before moving to a bar for a sundowner with spectacular views, followed by live music after sunset. Fancy a night swim? Gaze up at the velvet sky or down at the Marina’s thriving nightlife from the cool embrace of the rooftop pool at the Address Dubai Marina.
If you’re in the mood for pampering you need not look far – the city is brimming with options. Try a cleansing treatment at a hammam, like those offered beneath a stunning mosaic ceiling at One&Only Oriental Hammam. Unwind with a massage at one of the many spas, or indulge in pure luxury with a 24-carat-gold facial or Arabian honey facemask.
It’s not just relaxation that Dubai does so well; there’s plenty to keep active travellers entertained. An afternoon at Aquaventure can be as tranquil – think cruising around on an inflatable doughnut – or as adrenaline-pumping as you desire. Those who have talent with a golf club, or simply enjoy a day on the green, can try their swing at 11 outstanding courses. For a very different take on chilling out, spend a day at Ski Dubai, where you can hit the slopes, meet penguins or simply frolic in the snow. And in true Dubai style there’s a whole range of icy options, so if you’d rather strap on some skates than skis, there’s even an Olympic-size ice rink.