The iconic Dubai landmark: Burj al Arab
The lowdown: Famous the world over, the Burj al Arab stands on a plinth-like private island and is shaped like a billowing spinnaker sail topped with a helipad. Formerly the tallest hotel in the world (other Dubai hotels are now taller) its got amazing views from every single floor, so you can pop a yoga pose and see the city through your legs. In other rooms, the walls are plastered in gold leaf – not least at Gold on 27, its swanky cocktail bar. Elsewhere, you’ll find the suites especially plush, with gold-plated iPads, rippling marble all over the bathrooms and personal butler service. Celebrated English chef Nathan Outlaw devised the menu at Al Mahara, the hotel’s standout seafood restaurant. Look out for Cornish turbot, crab and caviar – and for fish swimming in the massive aquarium that glows in the centre of the room. At the back of the hotel, a gorgeous new terrace stretches 100m out to sea with a beautiful series of pools and clusters of cabanas.
Know this: Drop in for afternoon tea with long views over the city from the Skyview Bar.
When night falls, and the pools turn midnight blue and the lamps glow orange, dress up and have an evening of music in the Courtyards
All that glitters…
Can be found in the Burj al Arab, Dubai’s most famous hotel.£1775 ppBook a holiday
That once in a lifetime family holiday: Atlantis The Palm
The lowdown: Brace yourself for Atlantis the Palm. Styled like a lost city with its own adjacent waterpark, this extraordinary complex crowns the outer ring of The Palm. There’s a white beach that stretches on for nearly a mile and the hotel’s famous archway frames a perfectly turquoise ocean. The hotel is practically matchless in the city: providing the kind of spectacles not seen anywhere else on such a scale, like soaring glass aquariums and the service of 3,000 members of staff. Children will be rapt, and you won’t want to rein them, whether they’re petting dolphins, seeing sea lions or riding Poseidon’s Revenge: a slide at Aquaventure Water Park which propels you through a shark tank. Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street and the famous Nobu are just some of the recognisable restaurants on site, whilst the hotel also has its own shopping street, ‘The Avenues’, where you can drop in on Tiffany’s. Many of the rooms are designed with families in mind. The kid’s club has extensive activities and evening adventures with pizza, should you parents want a quiet dinner a deux.
Know this: If you’re staying over a Friday you must stick around for brunch at Saffron.
The one with a great beach: Jumeriah Al Naseem Madinat
The lowdown: Location, location, location: the understated, luxurious Jumeriah Al Naseem Madinat looks out towards the Burj al Arab and is within walking distance of the Wild Wadi Waterpark. It has a huge, wonderful private beach and a new turtle rehabilitation centre where you can see rescued loggerheads and hawksbills. Set in a complex with two other Madinat properties, the hotel is understated and luxurious, low-rise, with a pretty series of pools in its midst. The grounds are padded out with attractive gardens, and from here you can easily walk to an abra stop, the waterpark, or the restaurants. Between the three hotels on the complex there are myriad places to eat and there’s even a pocket-sized souk. Order a sharing mezzeh plate on the rooftop at Ambar and watch the sunset.
Know this: If you book half board at Jumeriah al Naseem Madinat, you can ‘dine around’ with access to a staggering 40 restaurants.
Be there at sunset
Look out for happy hour as the sun goes down on the roof terrace at the One&Only Royal Mirage.£991 ppBook a holiday
Draw back the curtain
On a poolside cabana. There are three gorgeous pools at Jumeriah Al Naseem.£991 ppBook a holiday
With portholes looking out on the massive Ambassador Lagoon, children will be wild-eyed at the chance to spot a passing shark.£661 ppBook a holiday
For just the two of you: One&Only Royal Mirage
The lowdown: Lying low and lazily among its gardens, the One&Only Royal Mirage doesn’t have tower blocks. Instead, you'll find low-rise buildings, winding boardwalks across limpid pools, cabanas slouching on the beach and gently lit arches above gorgeously symmetrical interiors. The hotel’s 1km of white beach runs along the underside of The Palm and your holiday snaps will have the mainland skyscrapers photobombing the background. There are eight superb restaurants, each with their own speciality cuisine – try Tagine for authentic Moroccan food, or modern dining on the beach at Eauzone. When night falls, and the pools turn midnight blue and the lamps glow orange, dress up and have an evening of music in the Courtyards, a cocktail at the Jetty Lounge or overlook the grounds from the plush luxury of the Rooftop Terrace. Service levels are unreal at this hotel and the spa is sumptuous.
Know this: Take the free shuttle boat at least once to One&Only The Palm, where you can have a very special dinner at renowned restaurant Stay.
For everything you need: JA Palm Tree Court
The lowdown: It’s Dubai, but not as you know it. The skyscrapers are far in the distance, but a free shuttle bus will whisk you there in just over 30 minutes. At JA Palm Tree Court you can lounge in space and style, thanks to a series of suites suitable for all guests and low rise buildings set among the gardens. What’s more, you’re only 20 minutes from Dubai Parks and Resorts. You’ll have plenty of privacy, whether for family time, a stroll along the beach or to play across a nine-hole golf course. Welcome drinks and daily newspapers are included in this bubble of luxury: the only thing that might pierce the peace is the cry of the resident peacocks. Pool, grass, beach and sea spread out beyond your lounger in a series of serene stripes. Buggies will whisk you to wherever you want to go on resort – and there are plenty of places to explore, since the hotel has its own stables and water sports. For dinner, the White Orchid restaurant shows off Asian cuisine with hoards of beautiful jewel-bright sushi. There’s a traditional Teppanyaki table – if you don’t sit here, you’ll have to endure the taunting sounds of sizzling meat drifting across the room.
Know this: Enjoy the activities on offer – a seaplane flight, or a crack at the clay pigeons on the shooting range. You might even take a horse for a swim in the sea. Yes, you read that correctly.
Desert for dessert
Take your dinner with a dune view, or high tea at the Hajar Terrace Bar.£1192 ppBook a holiday
A desert retreat: Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa
The lowdown: Serenity seekers: head for the sands. Though it’s just 45 minutes outside of Dubai, Al Maha Desert Resort really is in the middle of the desert. The tented suites in this resort afford plenty of privacy, peeking from the bushes over their own private infinity plunge pools and sundecks with the pale red sands beyond. The rooms are inviting and furnished with traditional home comforts, airy in the day but made cosy when the curtains are drawn come evening. For full board you get two desert activities a day, which means that you can go for a camel ride across the dunes in the still, cool morning. Next, go on an afternoon wildlife drive to spot gazelles picking their way across the corrugated sand dunes. Dinner is served at the restaurant or on your private deck, and local delicacies include camel’s milk and traditional Emirati pastries. Children under the age of 10 are not permitted on the property.
Know this: Experienced equestrians might be able to ride the stable’s spirited herd of thoroughbred and Arabian horses.
For the beach party: FIVE Palm Jumeriah
The lowdown: There’s no way to get around it: FIVE Palm Jumeriah is cool. New for 2017, it feels like Miami beach has gotten dressed up for Dubai. It looks amazing, but make no mistake, this design hotel wants to let down its hair and party. With a host of restaurants and lounges, there are bars from the pool all the way up to the rooftop of the 16th floor at the penthouse, and the pool deck gets lively with the help from a resident DJ. The beach is dominated by the beach club and there’s a classy spa and gym where you’ll end up feeling as good as the indoor pool looks. But it’s not all about being seen; at Italian restaurant Quattro Passi you can let your guard down and simply slurp up spaghetti in a comfortable restaurant. The hotel is usefully near the Golden Mile on The Palm, which is handy for shopping and essentials.
Know this: The gym offers free yoga, circuits and HIIT training classes in small eight-person groups.
For city explorers: Hilton Dubai Jumeriah Resort
The lowdown: An oldie, but a goodie, Hilton Dubai Jumeriah Resort in the Jumeriah beach area is set in a great part of town that just keeps getting better, thanks to the relatively recent development of The Walk at JBR. If there’s anywhere in Dubai that's best to explore on foot, it’s here. Joggers pass street art so new that the paint’s still wet and there are cafes and bars lining the strip. The Hilton makes it easy to explore, with free shuttles to the centre of Dubai and the malls and Wild Wadi Waterpark both nearby. The Hilton itself is a nice hotel with plenty of return visitors. Enjoy its private beach and the shady loungers around its temperature-controlled pool. The hotel also has a spa, gym and water sports.
Know this: When the sun sets, head to the sky bar, BiCE, which runs a buy-one-get-one-free happy hour every day.