Dubai is like a barmy desert theme-park, crossed with an ambitious science-fiction movie set. All dizzying mega-architecture, man-made islands and a money-to-burn attitude.
Nasimi Beach, a boisterous beach strip on the Palm that is awash with the brash and bronzed by day. After sundown it’s a hub for the city’s nightlife, best DJs and the odd, crazy full-moon party.
You probably didn’t know
There’s so much construction in Dubai that 20 percent of the world’s cranes are at work in the city. Next up: ground is being broken on the multi-billion dirham Mohammad Bin Rashid City, which promises the world’s biggest mall, and a green space a third larger than London’s Hyde Park.
The Dog (Joseph O’Neill, 2014)
Things to do in Dubai
Raw Coffee Company
Raw Coffee Company is a specialist coffee boutique and roaster in a spacious, former warehouse in the gritty Al Quoz industrial district. The kind of caffeine joint that Willy Wonka might dream up; walls piled high with bags of exotic beans, and plenty of space for caffeine junkies to play on their MacBooks. It’s also properly off the beaten path – so don’t trust your taxi driver to know where it is.
The food-truck trend was slow to catch on in the UAE, but Jake’s upped the ante with its take on gourmet bagel burgers (from AED35). The Arabic twist comes with the toppings: Egyptian dukkah spice-mix and harissa, the fiery Moroccan pepper sauce. Track this food-truck down at Um Suqeim Beach, its main weekend hangout.
La Petite Maison and Zuma
La Petite Maison is a taste of the Cote d’Azur at the Dubai International Finance Centre. This Nicoise-inspired, family-friendly bistro is ludicrously popular for its Provencal treats, Gallic decor and sheer escapism from the chaos of towering Sheikh Zayed Road a block away. Nearby, the equally-lauded Japanese restaurant Zuma is run by the same team.
The Archive is housed, bizarrely, in a repurposed public-toilet clock in the centre of Safa Park. A mash-up of library, community centre and café, it’s the place to mingle with local hipsters at the weekend. Have brunch here on a Friday and pour over the ever-growing collection of design and art books.
Dubai does flash beach bars better than anywhere else, with scores lining Jumeirah, Dubai Marina and The Palm. The swaggering 360 Degrees at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel still has the best sunset views of the Arabian Gulf and close-ups of the Burj Al Arab next door.
Cielo Sky Lounge
For something with a dash more modesty, try the Cielo Sky Lounge at the Dubai Creek Yacht Club. It’s a tapas bar with sail-like canopies and plenty of nautical spirit.
Barasti Beach Bar
At Barasti Beach Bar you enter past the pool, slink past the outdoor day-beds and Caribbean beach huts, and before you know it are dancing on a golden strip of sand, rubbing shoulders with international partygoers. That’s the way this bar rolls at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina: it’s a Dubai institution and – whether you plan to or not – you’ll end up drinking an ice-cold beer here sooner than you think.
Shopping, some would say life, in Dubai revolves around the mall. Malls here are fantastical supersize structures, home to multiplex cinemas, bowling alleys, and shops as far as the eye can see.
The Dubai Mall
The first thing you’ll see in The Dubai Mall is an aquarium the size of the moon: 10 million litres of salt-water that was once home to the world’s only captive whale shark. This is the biggest mall by size and attracts more annual visitors than either New York or Los Angeles. There are 1,200 plus stores to check out, including the mind-bogglingly large Japanese bookstore Book World by Kinokuniya.
The Third Line
The UAE has a serious love affair with modern art. Cue its very own Louvre and Guggenheim Museums. But it was The Third Line, a non-profit gallery, that really set the pace when it opened. They showcase the most creative talents from Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and the new wave of calligraphers and photographers from across the Gulf Peninsula.
Superlative alert! Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest tower, a neck-breaking 148 floors high, and scene of Tom Cruise’s craziest stunt in “Mission Impossible”. It’s home to the highest open-air observation platform At The Top, and Atmosphere, a sister lounge and restaurant 26 levels below for those who can’t stomach the extreme heights or the entry fee (AED500 during peak hours for the At The Top Burj Khalifa SKY experience).
Events to look out for:
- Dubai Shopping Festival (January)
- Dubai Desert Classic Golf Tournament (January/February)
- Dubai Cycling Tour (February)
- Dubai Food Festival (February)
- Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (February)
- Dubai World Cup Carnival – the world’s richest horse race (March)
- Art Dubai (March)
- Ramadan (May/June)
- Dubai Summer Surprises (June/July/August)
- Arab Fashion Week/Fashion Week Dubai (November)
- Dubai International Film Festival (December)
- UAE National Day (December)
- Dubai Rugby Sevens (December)
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