The ultimate guide to Dubai

Why this UAE state is the hottest place to be right now.

Dubai Marina at sunset. Image credit: RobertBreitpaul/iStock

Whoever thinks New York is the “city that never sleeps” hasn’t visited Dubai. This city moves at such a fast pace, it’s not unusual for Dubaiites to experience a change to the road layout between their commute to work and the drive home. This city thinks big – we mean really big. It is home to the tallest tower, the world’s biggest picture frame, and the world’s largest flower arrangement, which if you are interested, is a floral recreation of an Airbus A380.

The city has so many Guinness World Records, the Guinness World Records team opened an office there. Now the city is preparing for the Expo 2020, a World Expo in Dubai. Dubai’s leader Sheikh Mohammed promised Dubai would “astonish the world” when the falcon-inspired pavilion opens on 20 October 2020. But don’t wait to get to this emirate, it’s waiting to astonish you now.  

Where to eat

Any celebrity chef worth their salt has a restaurant in Dubai. From Akira Back to Massimo Bottura, Gordon Ramsay to Nobu Matsuhisa, all top chefs have chosen to open an eatery in the city. And as if to prove our point, even the season-sprinkling Salt Bae has a restaurant at the Four Seasons hotel. There are also more celebrity chefs coming – Heston Blumenthal is about to open Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the new Royal Atlantis hotel on the Jumeirah Palm, and Akira Back is about to open his second restaurant.

While you can eat at a different celebrity restaurant every night of the week, what Dubai is famous for is its brunches. These Friday free-flow lunch-time feasts leave every other city in the shade. If you have an afternoon to spare or lose, you should try one. Each hotel has its own unique cornucopia of riches – so you can choose your venue based on the scenery or your favorite tipple. One to book could be the French-inspired Traiteur Brunch at the Park Hyatt Dubai, which serves free flow vintage champagne by the Dubai Creek. It was given the accolade of the best brunch in the city at the recent Time Out Dubai awards.

The outdoor seating at Traiteur. Image credit: Traiteur
The outdoor seating at Traiteur. Image credit: Traiteur

But when in Dubai, you really need to try the Middle Eastern dishes. From grilled and marinated chicken shish taouk kebabs to the mixed leaf zesty fattoush salad with toasted pitta bread on top as well as plates of fresh mezze, these flavorsome dishes are worth the journey for alone. Try Reem Al Bawadi or Chandelier in Dubai Marina.

What to do

Aerial view of Dubai Palm Jumeirah islands, United Arab Emirates. Image credit: Delpixart/iStock

So much to do… so little time. Visitors have long enjoyed making a splash at the famed Aquaventure at Atlantis and Wild Wadi at Jumeirah waterparks, but now there are a host of other adrenaline-filled activities to enjoy too.

This includes the XDubai Human Slingshot, which will give you a bird’s eye view of the city as the ride launches you at a speed of up to 100km/hr over Kite Beach. If you manage to keep your eyes open this will give you the perfect view of Dubai, otherwise, you can visit the 828 meter-tall Burj Khalifa tower or The Dubai Frame, both of which comes with a viewing platform to enjoy panoramic views of the emirate.

While Dubai’s cerulean sea, golden sands, and cityscape are a huge attraction, so is the desert. You can join one of the adrenalin-filled 4WD dune-bashing rides, or if you are looking for a real adventure book a vintage Land Rover drive into the desert and spend the night in an Arabic tent. In the morning, take a hot air balloon ride across the dunes for a truly magical experience.

Spend a night under the stars in Dubai. Image credit: ferozeea/iStock
Spend a night under the stars in Dubai. Image credit: ferozeea/iStock

If it’s getting too hot for you out there, you can always return to Ski Dubai and practice your turns on the indoor ski slope made of snow, or sample a hot chocolate in it’s apres ski café.

Where to sleep

Whether you are looking for a city hotel, a beach getaway, or a desert hideaway, you can find a hotel that suits in Dubai, and each is the last word in luxury. There’s the Armani Hotel in Burj Khalifa, which is the world’s tallest tower, the glamorous One&Only on the beach, of which there are now actually four, and the original luxury glamping site Al Maha Desert Resort that’s set between the dunes.

Each year brings with it a new selection of places where you can rest your head. This year has already seen the launch of the Mandarin Oriental, which offers uninterrupted views of the Gulf from its beachside setting in Jumeirah, but 2019 will also see the launch of the Waldorf Astoria, which is set to open near the Dubai Financial Centre in August 2019 and the Paramount Hotel that promises to bring a little Hollywood pizzazz to the city along with a Paramount Screening Room when it opens in the fall.

The pool area at Mandarin Oriental. Image credit: Mandarin Oriental
The pool area at Mandarin Oriental. Image credit: Mandarin Oriental

Dubai nightlife

If you are looking to absorb some of the city’s culture or want to kick off your heels and dance the night away, there are plenty of options in Dubai. During the cooler months, you can check out one of the city’s famed beach clubs that offer endless sunshine and music. The sleekest is Nikki Beach Dubai Resort & Spa. The outpost of the famed Ibiza club has a DJ playing chilled out tunes to its guests who can be found catching some rays on the beach or cooling off on submerged pool loungers.

If you want to continue the party, you can visit the superclub Base, which sports a dizzying line up of acts including David Guetta, 50 Cent, French Montana, and Jennifer Lopez.

Otherwise, if you are looking for a more romantic evening, you could enjoy a dinner cruise on the Bateaux Dubai along the Creek or visit the Dubai Opera, where you can see ballet, comedy, theatre and of course, a warbling opera singer or two.

Or if you want to relax like the locals, partake in a shisha session at one of the cafes, order a plate of mouthwatering shish taouk, and just take in the stars – as they have done for centuries.


Claire Turrell

Freelance journalist Claire Turrell has lived and worked in London, Dubai, and Singapore. When she’s not busy writing, she is riding motorbikes off-road in Cambodia, diving in Oman or learning Muay Thai in Thailand.