You just double-tapped your friend’s selfie with Burj Khalifa on Instagram, your cousin tweeted her shopping experience at the Mall of the Emirates with the hashtag #mydubai and your mom’s discussing places to visit in Dubai for the upcoming family holiday. Yes, Dubai has unapologetically grabbed everyone’s attention as the one-stop destination for fun, entertainment and leisure offering any visitor the largest and most over-whelming experiences ever to take back home. And for the faint-hearted, nearby Dubai getaways like art museums, old coastal towns and monuments keeps one equally gratified and amazed as Middle Eastern hospitality meets modernism at every step.
Things to see and do in Dubai
Start your trip working up a sun-kissed tan under the Arabian Sun while you kitesurf along the Jumeirah beach stretch or jet-ski around Palm Jumeirah. Catch the high tea spread at the Al Fayrooz Lounge at Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah as you sink into colonial style armchairs overlooking the stunning Burj Al Arab from the outdoor terrace.
Cool off at Ski Dubai, the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East with activities like snowboarding, skiing or take it sipping hot chocolate at minus 4oC. For an all-inclusive family fun book your tickets for the Dubai Dolphinarium. Experience a spectacular action-packed live show with friendly dolphins at their acrobatic best or get your picture-perfect moment as you get a kiss from a dolphin at the meet and greet encounter. Take a late evening stroll along Dubai Marina and as the city dials up its nightlights, make your way to Dubai’s party stretch on Sheikh Zayed Road. Top picks are Cavalli club or The Act for its ambiance, experience and DJ lineups. The traditional finale to the night is a manakish (local Arabic bread baked with a topping) piping hot from a stone oven from Al Reef Bakery in Al Karama, one of the oldest Lebanese bakeries open 24/7.
Where to eat in Dubai
Hapi, Al QuozEat. Move. Play. Three simple philosophies to Dubai’s newest eatery concept. The cozy space combines food, wellness and movement by combining a restaurant, wellness studio and a Parkour space - all under one roof. The menu is extremely simple and honest. Trying the egg and bbq salmon pot along with homemade ice cream for breakfast is completely normal at Hapi.
SALT, Kite BeachStroll along Kite Beach and you can’t miss the long queues of patient patrons in front of a retro, airstream styled food truck. You can also track Salt food trucks around the city through the infamous hashtag #findsalt Instagram and Twitter. Famous for their Wagyu beef sliders and Cheese French fries – the crate style beach seating and funky lights is an Instragrammer’s haven.
Farzi Café, Al SafaA modern Indian bistro that brings spice and the cuisine back in-vogue. An alchemy of quirky décor, table theatrics and elements of molecular gastronomy promises a full-bodied sensory dining experience. Try the Dal Chawal Arancini and the Shawarma Biryani to get a sense of the #farzitwist visitors Instagram actively about. Finally, don’t let the beverage menu just pass you by. Farzi moves beyond the usual lassi’s and thandai’s to tempered curry leaves and popcorn flavoured drinks!
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU), BastakiyaExperience what it’s like to celebrate food like the locals through a guided cultural experience eating a traditional Emirati breakfast in the ambience of a traditional wind tower residence. The SMCCU, a non-profit organisation, aims to demystifying the local Arab culture, customs and religion of the UAE through guided activities by local volunteers.
Friend’s Avenue, Jumeirah Lake TowersThe passion and energy of three childhood friends culminates to making a warm, cozy and relaxed space attracting coffee connoisseurs and lovers of simply good food. Inspired by their travels around the world, they pick the vibes of Manhattan’s chilled-out back alleys to inspire the café concept. One glance at the menu and you know this young team weren’t kidding about some seriously thoughtful wholesome food.
Tom & Serg, Al QuozDubai’s most successful urban café concept draws people from all walks of life making it an absolute cool hangout. Tastefully crafted food, addictively great coffee and an overtly friendly service team, Tom & Serg is one of Dubai’s most-loved cafes. For first timers, the Grilled Chicken Satay is a sure heart-warmer!
Ting Irie, DowntownDubai’s first Jamaican restaurant and lounge isn’t shy to show it’s residents real Jamaican flavours and spice, imported all the way in from the Caribbean. Enjoy traditional Jerk Chicken and Lobster rolls accompanied with their signature flavoured Ting (Pina) Coladas in a bright and colourful space. Stay a little longer and you’ll be swaying to the reggae beats with the best DJ’s.
E11! Last Exit, Sheikh Zayed RoadTake the diversion at interchange 11 and get ready to experience the region’s first food truck park concept. Lined up are great options for dine-in or take-away, with each food truck offering an alternative culinary experience. Perfect for a long lazy afternoon as the park also offers entertainment and leisure activities for both kids and adults.
Where to shop in Dubai
Dubai is a shopaholic’s haven offering the glamourous malls and the tucked in shopping alleys alike. For the time poor, the first stop is Dubai Mall, the region’s largest mall hosting the world’s top brands in one destination. Gold shopping in Dubai is also an experience and we pick the Gold Souk, located in old Dubai. A dedicated souk area filled with tiny meandering lanes lined up with gold shops selling perhaps the widest variety of gold and precious stone jewellery under one roof. Just adjacent is the Spice Souk where you can’t miss the fragrant spiced atmosphere and historic architecture from shops holding strong from the 70’s. The stories of the city’s past unfold as you visit the little shops selling frankincense, spices, herbs and artifacts. Come out through the other side and you’ll find yourself at the brink of Dubai Creek, the oldest port still lined with abras, the traditional wooden ferryboats.
And if you want something more artisanal and homemade then stop by any of Dubai’s trendy and hip pop-up markets. Shop with a feel good conscious about purchases that are artisanal, local and original. One such market is ARTE where you’ll have to blink twice to believe paintings, fashion, trinkets, bakes and home décor are all handcrafted by the local artisans and enthusiasts. Truly a maker’s market, ARTE’s pop-up market is platform for hobbyists to showcase and sell their crafts. Finally, a place to test your haggling skills is the infamous Karama shopping market with shops lined up selling souvenirs, fashion and some darn good imitations of well-known brands.
Nearby Dubai getaways
If you’re crowd-shy and would like to explore beyond the eclectic city, then just under few hours by road Dubai has some great nearby getaways. Begin your day driving towards the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, an uber-luxurious hotel property sprawled with hectares of plush lawns and gardens. Indulge in the Palace Cappuccino known for its superior blend of coffee sprinkled with real 24-carat gold flakes. Next take a walking tour around the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque that will not fail to leave you overwhelmed with its architectural splendor, extravagant interiors and detailing. Abu Dhabi’s man-made Yas Island is destination adrenaline. An island at your disposal with pristine beaches, circuit track, Yas Waterworld, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and more, where true Arabian hospitality meets world-class entertainment. Located right in the heart of the next emirate is the Sharjah Arts Museum, with massive galleries hosting permanent and temporary exhibitions, a must-do for art enthusiasts. Drive eastwards towards Fujairah and you’ll soon see the landscape changing to mountain ranges and the picturesque coastal town of Khorfakkan. The white sand beaches and coral reefs attract divers or beach bums equally who appreciate a serene environment.
Where to stay in Dubai
The range of hotels in Dubai comfortably caters to even genre of reason and holiday purpose. From super-luxurious ‘7-star’ properties to boutique hotels, take a convenient pick to suit your budget and experience.
Manzil, Downtown DubaiJust a leisurely stroll away from the Burj Khalifa is a homegrown lifestyle boutique hotel located in the very heart of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Dubai’s largest retail and entertainment district. Right from the entrance, the property exuberates Arabian hospitality even in its exterior sand-hued facades and geometric motifs. Spacious deluxe king rooms with stunning views of the Burj, warm colour palettes of warm and cool tones that balances the best of both, urban and tradition, ambiance.
Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Palm JumeirahA five-star luxury hotel located on the west crescent of the iconic Pam Jumeirah is a stunning reflection of the imperial palace from the Ottoman era. From lavish rooms and suites with gorgeous ocean views to dining experiences, every detail reflects high quality, state-of-the-art service and hospitality. The outdoor infinity pool overlooking the Arabian Gulf is the cherry on the top during your stay.
Palazzo Versace, Culture VillageWith less than 15 minutes away from the airport and 10 minutes from Downtown’s Burj Khalifa, Palazzo Versace Dubai is located in the heart of the new Culture Village, located on a prime waterfront land with unobstructed views of the Dubai Creek. The 150 rooms and 65 suites are tastefully designed with the iconic Versace Home Collection and Italian artistry at its best.
XVA Hotel, Al BastakiyaHeritage and history amalgamate at this unique boutique art hotel located in Al Fahidi District, the oldest neighbourhood community in Dubai. With originally retained wind towers, open courtyards, art gallery spaces and a starry rooftop, the XVA hotel is Dubai’s best-kept secret perfect for solace-seeking guests.
6E and cheeky
So you’ve shopped till you dropped, danced the night away, eaten at the best restaurants and now what? Just when you think you’ve done it all, think again. For those who dare the alternative side to Dubai is surprising and equally eclectic. Al Serkal Avenue, Dubai’s art and cultural hub address, is the coolest hangout in the city nestled within the industrial quarter of Al Quoz. Spend a lazy afternoon gallery hopping and make a final stop at A4 Space, a co-working collaborative space, for some infectiously good coffee and creative vibes. Or perhaps walk around the Karama neighbourhood that has recently received a facelift by international graffiti artists by painting huge murals on the apartment buildings. This iconic old residential area is now the talk of the town with themes ranging from animals to abstract transforming the neighbourhood to the coolest graffiti spots in town. Slightly away from the city is the Al Qudra stretch of low-lying sand dunes is a popular outdoor site. Plenty of great camping pockets can be found slightly off road and as the sun sets bringing out the starry skies, you’ll just never know how close you are to civilization. As the temperature drops in the desert, set up the bonfire, bring out the picnic basket and get stargazing.
For daredevils, Skydive Dubai it is. Splurge a little extra on a tandem jump experience with professional instructors that offer the thrill of a free fall over Palm Jumeirah. The expressions and moments from the jump caught on digital camera are priceless. The evening can be a sit back and relax experience under the raw and live music scene of Dubai - acoustic, casual, lo-fi and pure talent. Attend a Freshly Ground Sounds event at one of Dubai’s community spaces and watch music enthusiasts sway to the rhythms of amateur artists performing away. Above all, a walk at the brand new Dubai Water Canal is the latest attraction on the block. An artificial canal that stretches over three kilometers will soon be home to plush public spaces, private marinas, hotels, restaurants and walkways. Check it out before it gets labeled touristy!