dubai city skyline

Dubai – the playground of riches and experiences.

Often claimed to be the world’s fastest-growing city, Dubai has grown into a cosmopolitan destination over the past four years. From a small Gulf trading centre to now one of the world’s most glamorous playgrounds, Dubai offers a unique nightlife with designer shopping and gourmet dining experiences. Incredible structures like the soaring Burj Khalifa and the beautiful Burj al Arab are a testament to the city’s desire to make it one of the must-see destinations of the twenty-first century.

Modern Dubai is often seen as a figure of consumerist luxury: a self-indulgent haven of wildly exotic hotels and extravagant malls, but Dubai has an old quarter too, mostly clustered around Al Satwa, Deira and Port Rashid.

Keep in mind that it will be hot no matter when you visit Dubai, though November-March are the milder months (think a comfortable 22 degrees). Try and avoid July-August when the heat can be unbearable as temperatures reach upwards to 40 degrees.

What to see

Burj Khalifa towers over Dubai
Image from Lester Al i / Dubai Tourism

Burj Khalifa

Downtown Dubai is where you’ll find the must-see Burj Khalifa. This stunning feat of architecture and engineering is the tallest skyscraper in the world at over 828 metres tall, and more than 160 stories high. It opened in January 2010, six years after construction began. There are two observation decks on the 124th and 148th floors, and a restaurant-bar on the 122nd. To avoid wait times or expensive fast-track prices, books online, as far as a month in advance.

The most popular ticket is the one for At the Top observation deck on the 124th floor (425m). You’ll fine high-powered telescopes (for an extra fee) to help bring even the distance parts of the city into focus. For a visit to the highest observation deck on the 148th floor (555m) you’ll need tickets for At the Top Sky. Here, things are set up like a VIP experience with refreshments, a guided tour and an interactive screen to take you to different landmarks around the city.

For more information, click here.

The Dubai Mall

Dubai is known for its shopping precincts, and if you’re devoted to shopping, there isn’t one better to visit than The Dubai Mall. Located at the foot of the Burj Khalifa, it is the largest shopping, entertainment and leisure destination in the world, stretching across 1.1 million square metres – it needs a whole day’s worth of exploring. There are over 1200 retail outlets, from Armani to Zara, as well as the Dubai Aquarium and the Dubai Ice Rink.

If you’re after haute couture, head down Fashion Avenue where you’ll find the latest collections from top designers like Versace, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney.

aqua venture waterpark

Aquaventure Waterpark

If you’re looking to get your adrenaline pumping, or want something to occupy the kids for a day, head to Aquaventure Waterpark. With record breaking slides, you can even get up close and personal with sharks, or relax on 700 metres of beautiful private beach. One of the ultimate thrill seeking experiences in Dubai, Aquaventure Waterpark is worthwhile for everybody.

Basic entry fee will cover admission into the waterpark, a towel, and a locker to hold your belongings, while the more expensive packages include food and souvenirs. You’ll also be given a waterproof wrist band connected to your credit card to allow you to easily make purchases.

The park opens everyday at 10am, and closes at sunset. Children under 13 must enter the park with an adult.

Al Fahidi Historic District

The restored heritage area formerly known as the Bastakiya Quarter is a labyrinthine of narrow walking lanes lined with sand-coloured houses. There are fifty buildings, and you’ll find museums, cultural exhibits, cafes, galleries and two boutique hotels.

Built in the early 1990s by merchants from the Persian town of Bastak, this historic quarter is a beautiful part of the Dubai to get lost in as the traffic and noise of the congested city is reduced to a quite hum.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque 

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Although in Abu Dhabi, this striking mosque is worth the travel. From Dubai, Abu Dhabi is only an hour and a half drive, and booking a private car or bus can be done easily by your hotel concierge.

After 11 years of construction, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was completed in 2007, and is one of the UAE’s most impressive structures. A house of grandeur, it boasts a thousand marble columns and the world’s largest chandelier made up of thousands of Swarovski crystals.  Despite its opulence, it still reamins a place of worshop so women are expected to wear a tradition abaya and headscarf before entering.

See the website here for a more thorough list of the dos and don’ts.

Dubai Gold Souk

Dubai is also known for its cheap gold – but you’re going to have to haggle for it. Even for those not looking to buy, a walk through the Gold Souk is a must. There are hundreds of retailers that also sell platinum, diamonds and less frequently, silver. Take your time to shop around, as something you spot in one store will likely be in another at a better price. The Government keeps tight control on the markets to ensure the quality of the stores are maintained, so you can rest assured that your purchases will be genuine (though this is certainly not the same for the street vendors outside selling ‘genuine fake’ watches and handbags).

Credit cards are accepted, however we do recommend taking cash along to get the best price.

Where to eat 

Pierchic

If you’re looking for some of Dubai’s best seafood and a romantic location, then make reservations (far in advance) at Pierchic. The menu is a foodie’s dream, with champagne ceviche to poached lobster. Perched on the end of a historic wooden pier jutting out into the Arabian Gulf, Pierchic offers a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of Dubai.

Nathan Outlaw At Al Mahara
Nathan Outlaw At Al Mahara

Nathan Outlaw At Al Mahara

An award winning chef from England, Nathan Outlaw brings his simple yet delicious flavours to Dubai at his restaurant Al Mahara. Located on the ground floor of the Burj Al Arab, a lift posing as a submarine will take you down a gold-leaf-clad tunnel to one of Dubai’s most extravagant restaurants where tables form around a circular floor-to-ceiling aquarium. Outlaw has a luxurious yet approachable menu which uses the areas finest seafood.

Note that there is a dress code. For lunch is it smart casual, dinner is smart elegant. There is also an age policy, children under four years are not allowed during lunch, and children under 12 years are not allowed for dinner, and to access the bar and veranda guests must be 21 years or older. More information on this can be found on the website here.

This is one dining experience that you won’t forget, but be sure to book well in advance as reservations are hard to come by.

Xclusive Cruise

Experience the beautiful sights of Dubai Marina by night on the Xcluisve Luxury Cruise. The Sunset Cruise boards at 4:30pm to depart at 5pm, and runs for two hours, while the Dinner Cruise boards at 8pm to depart at 8:30pm and also runs for two hours. Both offer a unique dinner experience along the Dubai Marina, and you’ll have a selection of food to choose from at the buffet which boasts international dishes, pasta stations and a variety of desserts.

To secure your place and to get first priority on the top deck, book well in advance.

Al Tawasol

For authentic Middle Eastern street food, take a step back from the opulence of Dubai and head to Al Tawasol. The food is Emirati, with elements of Yemeni cuisine, influence from Oman, but predominately food of the United Arab Emirates (something surprisingly difficult to come by on its own soil).

The best seats at Al Tawasol are on the carpeted floor of your private Bedouin-style tent. A must-try is the ‘mandi’ – a chicken and rice dish from Yemen that is traditionally eaten with your hands – though they will bring cutlery on request.

Where to stay 

Armani Hotel

Armani Hotel

If you’re looking for the ultimate experience when it comes to accommodation, look no further than the five star hotel and luxury residences at Armani Hotel. With the impeccable taste of Giorgio Armani, the Armani Hotel is innovative in design, style, form and function. This is also an ideal location if you’re time-poor or don’t want to venture too far as the hotel is connected to shopping malls through sophisticated tunnels.

Grant Hyatt

The Grant Hyatt is one of the most modern and luxurious hotels in Dubai. Its proximity to entertainment, financial districts and the international airport (only a 10-minute drive) makes it ideal for many travellers, especially those visiting for business.

At the hotel you can wander through the fifteen hectares of beautiful gardens, enjoy the award winning restaurants and bars and treat yourself to a spa treatment after a game of tennis. Also don’t forget to enjoy a swim in the pool and make the most of the fitness centre.

the front of the hotel on the water

Atlantis, The Palm

Atlantis, The Palm

At the apex of the Palm Jumeirah, Atlantis, The Palm was the first resort to be built on the island. With over 1500 rooms, this five-star destination includes attractions for adults and children (including Aquaventure Waterpark) and offers a huge retail space as well as a spa and fitness centre, meeting rooms and a conference centre. The resort is also home to over 20 restaurants.

For those seeking additional luxury and comfort, The Imperial Club is the perfect choice. A defining experience, for an additional price you can unlock an array of exclusive benefits such as private check-in and check-out, breakfast in the Imperial Club Lounge as well as a dedicated concierge team who can plan your entire stay.

Things to remember:

Language: Arabic

Electric: British-style three-pin wall sockets are standard.

Currency: United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED)

Visa: Entry requirements to the UAE are constantly changing, so double-check all information on their offical tourism website (www.dubaitourism.ae)

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