Only in Dubai

By Eloise Barker

Photography by Najib Zouein / EyeEm

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May 2017

The city, the shore and the desert: combine all three for the perfect Dubai holiday. Have an outrageously good time in a city which builds its own beaches, turns brunch into a feat of endurance and constantly refreshes its skyline.

The gold souk drips with jewellery and the neighbouring spice souk has other yellow riches – from saffron to turmeric

Dubai’s attractions

Dubai Parks and Resorts has just opened – yet another shiny new spinning plate added to Dubai’s non-stop show. Of the parks, visit MOTIONGATE™ – where you can enjoy attractions brought to you by DreamWorks, the Smurfs™ village and Ghostbusters. A LEGOLOAND® park and water park, and a Bollywood park inspired by India’s film studios make the complex a real melting pot. With a mixture of indoor and outdoor attractions, there’s something to do even when the hot sun is at its zenith.

If you prefer your cultural references a little less mish-mashed, UAE has built water parks by the bucket load. Wild Wadi at Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the Aquaventure at Atlantis The Palm, are refreshing oases in the city. Aquaventure has Leap of Faith – the tube that shoots you through a shark aquarium. Wild Wadi Waterpark sits behind the iconic spinnaker-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel.

Where to stay: Atlantis The Palm, of course. Where else? One of the most iconic buildings in Dubai, it truly caters for the whole family. Alongside Aquaventure Waterpark there’s an aquarium and a huge spa. At night you can have a special dinner at Nobu.

  • One of Dubai’s top malls, Mall of the Emirates Photo credit: Mall of the Emirates.

    Not your average souvenir

    Enjoy the high end shops in the Mall of the Emirates and be bamboozled by its stats: 630 shops, 7900 parking spaces, over 100 restaurants and cafes and a 500-seat theatre.£389 pp

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Malls and more

Adding the prefix ‘indoor’ to outrageous activities seems to be a sport of its own in Dubai. Therefore, at popular shopping spot The Dubai Mall you have an indoor ice rink and an indoor aquarium (as well as over a thousand shops and Kidzania for children). At the Mall of the Emirates you have an indoor ski slope alongside its swanky Harvey Nichols. For even more interior madness, you can vend most anything from the humble vending machine: from gold bars to souvenirs.

If you don’t buy this version of modern Dubai, enjoy the souks instead. The gold souk drips with jewellery and the neighbouring spice souk has other yellow riches – from saffron to turmeric. Newly spice-laden, take an abra – a traditional wooden boat – to the textile souk across the Creek.

Where to stay: Hilton Garden Inn Mall of the Emirates is just metres away from the shops in one of Dubai’s best malls. The hotel’s natural décor, plants and bare wood make it feel like home.

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  • Atlantis, The Palm - Aquaventure Waterpark. Photo credit: Atlantis, The Palm.


    Leap of Faith doesn’t just drop you down a narrow slide, it also shoots you through a shark tank. Thank goodness for your protective tube. Word in the park is that you should try out Leap of Faith before tackling the park’s other superslide: Poseidon’s Revenge. I take it all back, Poseidon!.

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  • Dubai Opera House sign. Photo credit: Tian Williams / Alamy Stock Photo.

    Comes with subtitles

    Opera is only a small part of it. Dubai’s opera house shows West End shows from Jersey Boys to Evita. It can transform into an ice rink and also hosts major sports events.

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  • Textile souk, Bur Dubai, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo credit: Matteo Colombo.

    Souk of the day

    Bolts of silk and spangled camels: the souks have become more touristy in recent years. Buy your souvenirs under the beautiful restored arched roof of the Textile Souk.

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Beaches and deserts

When, in the early noughties, Dubai started reclaiming land to make three huge palm shaped archipelagos off its coast, the world watched in awe. The Jumeriah Palm, finished first, has fronds and fronds of hotels each with their own stretch of prime beach. Book a beachside hotel here. Staying elsewhere in Dubai? Hit Kite Beach, a busy public spot famous for water sports and food stands. Outside the city, travel just a little way north to the resorts of Ras al-Khaimah, one of the seven Emirates, for quieter beaches and drives into the Hajar mountains.

Catch your breath outside the city and visit the other of the UAE’s wonders – the empty (or nearly empty) desert. While you might run into others taking the same four-wheel drive safari, seeing the rolling sands in burnt caramel hues is a must. You can trek to the top for a dune with a view, and then sand board down again – it’s like snowboarding, but you have a far softer landing.

Where to stay: Jumeirah Al Naseem is on the beach at the Madinat Jumeirah resort. It has views out towards the Burj Al Arab and the bathrooms have fantastic walk-in showers.

  • Sunset on sand dunes in Dubai. Photo credit: fototrav.

    The colour of the sun

    Welcome to the desert: land of sand gazelle, oryx, falcons, camels and sand. And, if you take a tour, land of henna tattoos, shisha, belly dancers and dune-bashing. It’s peaceful, but it’s also playful.£389 pp

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Grand spectacles

The Dubai Opera, overlooking the Dubai fountains, is a new performing arts venue – not just for opera but for world-class touring theatre, musicals and ballet. The fountains outside – especially when viewed after dark – provide a free spectacle in a city where cash gets splashed. Let the fountains wave you a grand goodnight with flourishes of water. Speaking of flashing the cash, the marina is a bit of a hotspot if you want to eat mezze with a view over the teak decks of row after row of luxury yachts.

A desert heat haze can obscure your view of the city from the skyscrapers. If you really must, though, book ahead before you embark on a lift up the Burj Khalifa. It’s 828 metres high – and the highest observation platform is half a kilometre up and equipped with high-focus telescopes. For a more grounded view of Dubai and its past, head to the Al Fahidi. This carefully restored historic district will give you a taste of the Dubai in its pearl diving days.

Where to stay: Jumeirah Creekside is on Dubai’s Creek. Follow the river down to get to the historic centre and the souks. This hotel gives guests complimentary access to Wild Wadi Waterpark.

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