Exploring Dubai’s neighbourhoods

Eloise Barker

Title photography by JOHN KELLERMAN / Alamy Stock Photo

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February 2018

It’s not all sand and skyscrapers. Discover Dubai’s neighbourhoods, from its tucked away street-side shawarmas to its best-located hotels. Visit the design district, go yacht-spotting at Dubai Marina and venture out to the northern reaches of Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah and the desert. We’ve gleaned this city for its hidden hotspots.

Palm Jumeriah

Dubai only went and built its own desert islands. Opened in 2009, The Palm Jumeriah made Dubai a holiday hotspot, adding miles and miles of beach with its stylised palm tree configuration. Now, its many ‘fronds’ are a surreal sight, but when you get to laze on their white sands, you’ll wonder why no one else thought of making their own islands.


Stay at Waldorf Astoria the Palm, where all the rooms have beautiful views of the skyline or The Palm itself. Take your afternoon tea in the light-flooded café, Peacock Alley.


Stick to the hotels for high-end dining. Nobu is a no-brainer: set on Atlantis The Palm, it doesn’t disappoint, serving sleek Asian fusion without the clichés. Try the fresh fish – in tacos, as tartar, or as light, crunchy tempura.


Make a splash at Aquaventure Waterpark. As water parks go, this one is pretty special. Set on the outermost frond of The Palm, it’s home to some of the world’s biggest waterslides, their sole purpose? To send you careering to the bottom as fast as possible.

Book a stay at Waldorf Astoria The Palm

Hipsters might want to look up D3, Dubai’s new up-and-coming design district, and Boxpark Dubai

  • Aquaventure Waterpark Dubai. ©Atlantis The Palm 2018.

    Hold on tight!

    Discover the slides atop the Tower of Poseidon and the Tower of Neptune at Aquaventure on The Palm

    Stay at Waldorf Astoria

Jumeriah Beach

North from The Palm, and coating the coast of the city, Dubai’s ‘golden mile’ is actually powder-white. This series of beaches has views of the billowing sail-shaped Burj al Arab. Many are hotel-owned, but JBR open beach and the Kite Beach are free to visit.


Styled like an Arabian palace, with pointed arches and ornate latticework, One & Only Royal Mirage – Arabian Court has sea-facing views and a kilometre of private beach.


For Emirati snacks, keep your eyes peeled for small cafes that might serve you a childhood favourite: the Chips Oman sandwich. This pimped-out version of a crisp sandwich has paratha (flatbread) with melted cheese, hot sauce and crisps. Just trust us and try it.


Jumeriah Beach Park has the Mercato Mall, plus the nearby Wild Wadi Waterpark is a great day out with the family. The public beaches are free and make for an ideal sunset stroll – with the obligatory shot of the Burj al Arab in the background.

Book a stay at One & Only Royal Mirage – Arabian Court

The beach, The Walk and the Marina

Jumeriah Beach Residence (nicknamed JBR) claims to be the biggest residential complex in the world, sitting outside one of the world’s biggest marinas. Whilst the super yachts moored up are impressive, the rest of the area is very visitor-friendly. Stroll along The Walk and enjoy the scene. There’s everything you need here, including two storey’s worth of shops all along the seafront. The new Dubai Eye, the world’s largest Ferris wheel, is currently cartwheeling into existence on nearby Bluewater Island.


Hilton Dubai The Walk is the perfect place for travellers who want a lively area on their doorstep, but the comfort of a Hilton to come home to afterwards. The hotel has a lovely sky lounge and you can make use of the pool and restaurants at the adjacent Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort.


There are plenty of pitstops for tourists in this area. But to take things up a notch, sit out overlooking the marina at Indego by Vineet. One of the highest-ranked restaurants in Dubai, it serves elegant Indian dishes. Try the popular butter chicken.


Stroll, socialise and check out Dubai’s own version of Covent Garden Market on The Walk.

Book a stay at Hilton Dubai The Walk

  • Private beach at the One&Only Royal Mirage, Residence & Spa. ©2017 One&Only Resorts.

    Seaside chic

    A backdrop of yachts and a pale blue sea. Head to Jumeriah Beach for some of the best beach hotels.

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  • Fairmont Gold Junior Suite at the Fairmont Dubai. ©2018 AccorHotels.

    Iconic skyscrapers

    Spot the Emirates Towers in Downtown Dubai from the Fairmont

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  • Traditional Abra water ferries crossing The Creek at Deira in Dubai. ©Iain Masterton / Alamy Stock Photo.


    It's the easiest and most authentic way to cross The Creek. The abra ferries travellers between two water stations on either bank. Stay at the Grand Hyatt near the Old Town

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Dubai Creek and Old Town

Where it all began: Dubai creek is the gatekeeper of the city’s origins. Here you can walk down to The Creek to see the longshoremen at work, or take an abra down the coast for a few Dirham. The historic Al Bastakiya neighbourhood hosts the stunning Jumeirah Mosque and the oldest building in Dubai, the Fahidi Fort.


Stay at the Grand Hyatt Dubai. The façade of this modern gem curves like an IMAX cinema. Uniform on the outside, the hotel has a real mix of restaurants within, including a lovely jazz bar.


The creek is a hotspot for authentic food joints. Try Turkish pizza (different toppings, same delicious concept), and look out for bakeries selling hand-stretched roti.


Take an abra across the creek – and back again. This traditional craft captures the essence of the historic area.

Book a stay at Grand Hyatt Dubai


It’s away from the seafront, but in Downtown Dubai you’ll be distracted by skyscrapers instead of seagulls. The fountains at the base of the Burj Khalifa and the monstrous malls are the biggest tourist attractions, but hipsters might want to look up D3, Dubai’s new up-and-coming design district, and Boxpark Dubai.


The Fairmont Dubai is well located in the heart of the action and is linked directly to a metro stop. But more than this, it plays host to one of Dubai’s most famous party places, the chandelier-strewn Cavalli Club.


Off the beaten track, try Koshari Point. Unassuming and hip, it serves delicious Egyptian street food.


Accidentally spend your whole day in the Dubai Mall, thanks to its aquarium, 1,200 shops and Sega republic: an arcade featuring eons of neon lighting – and Guitar Hero.

Book a stay at Fairmont Dubai

  • Dubai Mall, the largest shopping mall in the world, Dubai. ©Gavin Hellier / Alamy Stock Photo.

    A mall for all

    There's something for everyone at the Dubai Mall

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Sharjah and Ajman

Sharjah and Ajman are two northern emirates that are perhaps closer to the ‘authentic’ UAE experience, though they’ve still got great beaches too. Safe and sunny, each has its own souks, own Sheikh and own Corniche. In Ajman, the Dhow Yard has an impressive row of carefully crafted wooden boats. In Sharjah, visit two wonderful museums: Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization and the Sharjah Art Museum.


Oberoi Al Zorah is modern and elegant. This low-lying beach-facing resort has excellent views. It lies between a sea of mangrove forest and an 18-hole golf course. The rooms have great design throughout.


Try The Hideout in Ajman, near the university, for iced coffee. Look out for karak (traditional tea) and chaat (Indian snacks) from small shops on the roadsides.


In these two areas beaches, souks and mangroves abound and there are two authentic fish markets. Note that you won't find alcohol served in public areas in either of these regions.

Book the Oberoi Al Zorah

Ras al Khaimah

Head north out of Dubai and cross into this emirate, where there are plenty of popular beach resorts and a crowd of expats looking to party on the weekends. Development here has come more slowly in Dubai and its main draws are still natural spectacles. The Hajar mountains are close enough for a hike in the morning – and you can be back in time to snorkel before sunset. Hire a car with Avis to explore more.


Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah looks like a palace. Mirage-like in the desert, it boasts extravagant architecture, amazing restaurants, great golf and the beach to end all beaches.


The Lexington Grill, Waldorf Astoria always wins awards for its massive steaks, whilst Marjan, its Middle Eastern offering, gets repeat visits from the Sheikh himself.


Drive the Jabal Jais mountain pass, a new road that opened in 2015 and takes you close to the top of the region's highest peak. Welcome to the wilderness.

Book the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah

The desert

Spotted from a few miles out, Dubai looks extraordinary – a glittering hoard of skyscrapers above the desert. It’s so easy to visit the surrounding dunes. The emirates are each said to have a different coloured sand – and Dubai’s are a pleasing pale red. You can visit on a day trip, or stargaze into the evening on an overnight camp.


The Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi Desert is a new luxury desert hotel that’s styled around a series of seriously luxurious Bedouin tents – there’s one for each resident.


Try camel milk yoghurt sweetened with dates, and snack on traditional Emirati pastries. Just try to keep the sand off.


Nature spotting in the mornings, picnic lunches in the shade in winter, and dune bashing in 4x4s and quad bikes if it gets too peaceful.

Book The Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi Desert

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