Dubai, the remarkable capital of the UAE, glitters with marvels. Its palaces of pleasure come in many forms. In the last decade alone the wealth of the city has built the tallest building in the world, the biggest shopping centre and even created a hipster quarter.
A playground built from a sandpit, there are thousands of things to do. Take a tour of the crazy theme parks – themed around everything from Lego to Smurfs – with the family before retreating to a beachfront hotel on the Palm Jumeriah. If you booked flights to Dubai to be seduced by the desert, venture out to trace Bedouin culture under the vast skies. Enjoy Dubai’s lushness, too. You’ll be overwhelmed by the literal walls of flowers in the world’s largest flower garden and enjoy brunch buffets spilling over with delicacies. When you visit heritage centres, the Jumeriah Mosque and the city’s modern art galleries, you’ll see that this desert is far from a cultural vacuum.
The manmade island of Palm Jumeirah is a great place to visit, and ideal for luxury holidays. The luxury villas on the palm tree-shaped island’s ‘fronds’ exude exclusivity and offer captivating panoramas of Dubai’s glittering skyline. The islands also play host to a number of prestigious and opulent hotels, including the Fairmont The Palm, with private beaches and extravagant décor. Discover the aquarium and Aquaventure Water Park amid the island’s crowning glory – the breathtaking Atlantis The Palm, a palatial resort often voted the best hotel in the Middle East.
Soak up the year-round sunshine on Jumeirah’s beautiful ‘golden mile’, stretching from Palm Jumeirah to Deira. This area has everything you could wish for, from white-sand beaches to world-class restaurants. You can try adrenalin-fuelled water sports like wakeboarding or jet skiing, or for respite from the sun at the shopping malls. Sample international cuisine before heading off for an after-dinner cruise on a traditional dhow. Stay at the prestigious One&Only Royal Mirage, which has a kilometre-long private beach.
Ras al Khaimah is made up of beautiful beaches and relaxing, luxury resorts, ideal for a beach break in glorious year-round sunny conditions. Surrounded by the imposing Hajar Mountains, it’s a beautiful oasis in a scorching desert. The Al Qawasim Corniche is a popular promenade, with cafes and restaurants overlooking the bay. Outdoor lovers will enjoy the area, as you can hike mountains and go snorkelling in the same day. Stay at the Waldorf Astoria, a stunning resort whose traditional charm will bring you back time and time again.
This small area of the city is jam-packed with great bars and restaurants, alongside high-end shopping boutiques. Stroll down the bustling strip known as The Walk, where you can browse shops or grab a drink at the chic bars. Head over to the Marina to gaze in awe at the super-yachts of the super-rich – they are breathtaking. If you fancy a swim, head down to The Beach, which has great views of the Palm Jumeirah. Stay at the Ritz Carlton, on Jumeriah beach, which has superb views of the gulf.
These two emirates are north of Dubai, and both worth a visit if you want to escape the big city lifestyle. Sharjah has been the UNESCO Cultural Capital of the Arab World, and its old town is excellent for museums and heritage. There are also some great souqs and shops without the prices of Dubai’s supermalls. Ajman is ideal for a relaxing time by the beach, and where you’ll find the few remaining dhow building yards in the UAE. Stay at the luxurious Ajman Saray to enjoy white sand beaches and perhaps take a stroll to the nearby corniche for a barbecue with the locals.
Glistening like a jewel in the Arabian Desert, Dubai sits within a vast undulating landscape. Leave the metropolis behind and go on safari, where you can admire the rolling dunes from the lofty heights of a hot air balloon. Or take a more traditional route atop a camel across the flats, before sitting out under the stars for a romantic dinner. Alternatively, for an exhilarating time, try driving at breakneck speed in a dune buggy. The luxurious Al Maha Desert Resort’s tent-shaped suites allow you to live like a Bedouin.
Take yourself away from the sprawling cityscape of Dubai and immerse yourself in the traditional culture of Old Town. Soak up the sensory treats of the bustling souqs, where spicy aromas fill the air and precious metals catch your eye. Walk down to the Creek (dhor) 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, open to non-Muslims at certain times of day. The Fahidi Fort, the oldest building in Dubai, is here, as is the hotel Jumeirah Creekside, which is near the water.
Downtown Dubai is reminiscent of New York in the 1930s, full of shiny skyscrapers bidding to outshine each other. Not to be outshined though, is the iconic Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, which at 828-metres soars above the rest. The massive Dubai Mall, next to the awe-inspiring Dubai Fountain, has an underwater zoo and aquarium, and of course, 1200 stores. It is the largest retail and entertainment experience in the world, with over 50 million visitors a year.