Some places need to be seen to be believed, and Dubai is one of them. Rising out of the desert, this shining metropolis makes a stunning first impression – and its great beaches and year-round sun keep people coming back. With expats making up over three quarters of the population, Dubai is a city which you can really make your own.
If you’re visiting Dubai this autumn, then be sure to visit the newly-opened Museum of Illusions. Set on Dubai Creek, it’s already a hit destination if you’re looking for a quirky holiday photo. Out in November? Look out for some great deals on your souvenirs. Black Friday, once an American tradition, is now a fully-global phenomenon, and Dubai’s malls will participate in the sales.
What's on in winter?
If you’re visiting Dubai this winter and want to hit the malls, then look out for the Dubai Shopping Festival. This month-long series of discounts starts in late December. Elsewhere in the city Zabeel Park will reopen its popular after-dark attraction, Dubai Garden Glow. Walk around a series of colourful illuminated sculptures with the family – for a beautiful bedtime treat.
If you’re visiting Dubai this spring, look out for the Dubai World Cup, where the well-heeled and well-shod come together for ‘the world’s richest horse race’. Held on the last Saturday in March, there’s $12 million of prize money up for grabs. If you prefer restaurants to racing, then head to Taste of Dubai. Bring a hearty appetite along to this three-day food festival and enjoy cookery, competitions and, of course, plenty of food stalls.
If you’re visiting Dubai in summer, don’t fear the heat. Head to Sports World at the Dubai World Trade Centre and you can enjoy activities with air-con. Every year, this massive venue hosts all manner of sports tournaments – so you can play five-a-side, or even take on a pop-up obstacle course. Afterward, cool down at an evening pool party – these fun-filled events pop up all over the city in summer.
Decide which area of the city is right for you with our break-down of the top five Dubai neighbourhoods. From tucked away street-side shawarmas to the best-located hotels, it’s not all sand and skyscrapers out here.
The Palm Jumeirah is hotel central. Opened in 2009, this manmade island made Dubai a holiday hotspot, adding miles and miles of beach to the city. When you’re lazing on its white sand, you’ll wonder why no one else thought of making their own archipelagos.
Eat: Stick to the hotels for high-end dining. Nobu, set on Atlantis The Palm, doesn’t disappoint – serving sleek Asian fusion without the clichés. Try the fresh fish – in tacos, as tartar, or as light, crunchy tempura.
Do: 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.
Jumeirah Beach is north of the Palm, on Dubai’s ‘golden mile’. This series of powdery white sands has views of the billowing sail-shaped Burj al Arab. Many of them are hotel-owned, but JBR open beach and the Kite Beach are free to visit.
Eat: Keep your eyes peeled for the Chips Oman sandwich. This jazzed-up version of a crisp sandwich is made of paratha (flatbread) with melted cheese, hot sauce and crisps.
Do: Wild Wadi Waterpark is close at hand. The public beaches are free and make for an ideal sunset stroll – with the obligatory shot of the Burj al Arab in the background.
The beach & The Walk
Jumeirah Beach Residence (nicknamed JBR) claims to be the biggest residential complex in the world and sits outside one of the world’s biggest marinas. Whilst the moored-up super yachts are impressive, the rest of the area is very visitor-friendly.
Stay: Hilton Dubai The Walk has a lovely sky lounge and you can make use of the pool and restaurants at the adjacent Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort.
Eat: There are plenty of food pitstops in the area – including Indego by Vineet, which is one of the highest-ranked restaurants in Dubai. You’ll find elegant Indian dishes on the menu.
Do: Stroll and socialise in one of the most walkable areas of the city. The Walk, as it’s known, has street art, shopping and dining hotspots.
Dubai Creek and Old Town
Dubai Creek is the city’s historic centre. Here you can 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:Grand Hyatt Dubai – the façade of this modern gem curves like an IMAX cinema. The hotel has a real mix of restaurants within, including a lovely jazz bar.
Eat: The creek is a hotspot for authentic food joints. Keep an eye out for Turkish pizza (different toppings, same delicious concept), and bakeries selling hand-stretched roti.
Do: Take an abra across the creek – and back again – for a gentle introduction to the area.
The fountains at the base of the Burj Khalifa and the monstrous malls are the biggest tourist attractions in Downtown Dubai, but hipsters might want to look up D3, Dubai’s new up-and-coming design district.
Stay:Fairmont Dubai is well located in the heart of the action and is linked directly to a metro stop. It also plays host to one of Dubai’s most famous party pads: the chandelier-strewn Cavalli Club.
Eat: Na3Na3 is a smart restaurant in Dubai Mall. Look out for its seafood brunch on weekends.
Do: Accidentally spend your whole day in the Dubai Mall, thanks to its aquarium, 1,200 shops, ice rink and Candylicious, one of the largest sweet shops in the world.
Dubai Travel Essentials
Travelling by taxi
Dubai isn’t a walkable city, and you’d be better off taking taxis. Big companies like Uber, Dubai Taxi and Careem make it easy to grab a cab. Traffic is a real problem in the city, where a big workforce heads out on their twice-daily commutes. Try and travel outside rush hour if you’re in a hurry.
Dubai’s metro is the cheapest way to get around the city and can even take you to and from the airport. For traversing The Palm, take the Monorail, which completes the journey in 12 minutes. From the end of the monorail you can connect to the tram, which is slow, but most people’s choice to get to JBR in the Marina area.
Find hotels with the best brunches in Dubai
If you’re in Dubai on a weekend, then you need to go for brunch. It all begins on Friday, when everyone in the city gets up late and heads straight out to their closest buffet. Stay ahead of the game by booking in to a hotel that’s already known for its brunch, and you won’t have to go far for a feast.
Bubbalicious Brunch at the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi
One of the city’s most popular events, the Bubbalicious Brunch is a fixed-price buffet with limitless cocktails, fizz and food – plus family entertainment, including acrobats. It’s brought to you by three of Dubai’s best restaurants at The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi. Blue Orange has live cooking shows, Spice Emporium is ideal for sushi and Asian delicacies, and Hunters Room delivers perfectly-cooked steaks. Look out for exquisite rows of rainbow patisserie, chocolate fountains, oysters on ice and sushi by the stack.
This Mexican-inspired brunch is perfect if you’re planning a quiet day, as it includes all-day access to the spectacular pools of Le Royal Meridien. Lounge at the private beach or sip tequila cocktails by the pool, then go back to sampling an exquisite modern take on Mexican classics – like homemade huarache, guacamole and succulent rib-eye steak fajitas. Make sure to save room for dessert; the banana-filled crepes with toffee, sherbet and ice cream is possibly the most indulgent sweet in Dubai.
Saffron serves brunch with a party at Atlantis The Palm, for guests aged 21 and over. Head over on Friday and Saturday for a nightclub vibe in the day: think bottomless cocktails and a DJ mixing chart hits on the deck. There’ll be lots of delicious food at your fingertips: more than 220 delicacies are dished up at each sitting. Try sashimi chilling on ice, fat burgers and steak cooked to order. The bar is always busy serving shots in pipettes, boozy fruit and streams of champagne.
Legend has it that this was the first brunch in the UAE. The brunch that started it all. Mammoth in size, three restaurants combine their kitchens to create the Jumeirah Al Qasr extravaganza. With 280 dishes and 35 live cooking stations, people often get lost navigating their way back to their table. Look out for bamboo steamers crammed with dim sum, ice sculptures sparkling above fish platters and candy-laden cookies for afters.
The Secret Garden Brunch at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai takes place in the Mezzerie, and it’s lighter and less extravagant than other brunches in Dubai. There’s a smaller selection, but the dishes are thoughtfully assembled, including ingredients from the hotel’s gardens. Look out for the classic Waldorf salad and local oysters. All in all, it’s a civilised affair, with acoustic guitar music and gardens instead of club beats and brimming benches. Kids are entertained in their own section with plenty of activities on hand.