What are the best things to do in Dubai?
1. Book ahead to climb the world’s tallest building: the Burj Khalifa. At a whopping 828 metres high, the ascent of this needle-sharp sky-scraper isn’t for the faint-hearted, and the observation platform sits half a kilometre up. High-focus telescopes give you a falcon’s-eye view of the city’s landmarks – shrouded as they are in the desert heat haze.
2. Set at Jumeriah Beach Hotel, in the shadow of the Burj al Arab, Wild Wadi Water Park, Dubai is a refreshing oasis in the city. It’s fantastic fun for kids: plummet, slide and splash down all the best rides. Try Tantrum Alley, Burj Surge, or just take in a few laps of the lazy river.
3. Looking to discover the real Middle East? Join this four-hour Dubai City Tour, exploring the contrast of old and new, as well as the city’s history and learn more about the culture of Dubai. From the Al Fahidi Fort, to the white sands of Jumeriah Beach, see it all.
4. A Dhow Dinner Cruise is a great way to see the city’s Old Town from a new perspective. Cast off on an evening cruise in a traditional wooden craft lit up with twinkling lights. The dhow makes its way leisurely along Dubai Creek, allowing ample time for photographs. Look out for the Rolex Towers, the Wind Towers at the Dubai Heritage Centre, and the minarets of mosques on the shore. The cruise includes a buffet meal.
5. Only got one day? Get to know the city by starting at its roots – at Dubai Creek you can delve into the heart of the old town and visit the Al Fahidi Historical District and the Bur Dubai Souq. The massive, impressive Jumeirah Mosque is an essential sight and you can easily visit it before a trip to the nearby Jumeirah Beach and a stroll along The Walk at JBR, a popular new hangout. Then it’s time for dinner, dancing fountains outside Burj al Arab, and a rooftop bar.
Where are the best places to stay in Dubai?
There are plenty of places that make great bases once you arrive in Dubai. The most popular locations are The Palm Jumeriah, Jumeriah Beach and Dubai Marina . With good reason – the hotels here often have private beaches and five stars to their name.
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.
North from The Palm, and coating the coast of the city, Dubai’s ‘golden mile’, Jumeriah Beach, 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
If you’re prepared to stay further out, you’ll be richly rewarded with gorgeous views and stunning resorts: head north to Sharja, Ajman and Ras al Khaimah.
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.
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.
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 luxury desert hotel that’s styled around a series of seriously luxurious Bedouin tents – there’s one for each resident.