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A small fishing commune perched on the edge of the Arabian Gulf, now one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities: Dubai, an oasis that consistently looks to the future without forgetting its past.
With some 150 nationalities calling this desert metropolis home, Dubai boasts incredibly diverse dining, record-breaking architecture, a thriving arts scene, larger-than-life shopping malls, golden beaches, and fabulous hotels and resorts.
Whether you’re travelling for business, passing through on a stopover or enjoying a long stay with the family, Dubai has plenty to keep everyone busy. Stop by Downtown and gaze at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, standing next to The Dubai Mall. Hop over to Dubai Creek and discover Dubai’s historic heart, with traditional marketplaces and street food abound.
Feel like slowing down the pace? Then spend a day soaking up the sun at one of Dubai’s public beaches or luxe beach clubs, before enjoying a treatment at one of the city’s world-class spas.
Families can enjoy the sun or snow, with Ski Dubai and Wild Wadi and Aquaventure water parks providing endless hours of fun. Then there are the sunset desert safaris, fascinating art galleries, incredible restaurants and nightspots with unforgettable views. You’ll be hard-pressed not to extend your stay for another day or two!
Eat with locals or take a gourmet tour of the world
As the sun sets into the Gulf, Dubai’s cafes, restaurants and bars prepare for busy evenings ahead with locals and tourists indulging in the city’s outstanding cuisine.
Restaurants vary from the simple street-side Arabic cuisine of Zaroob and legendary Pakistani hotspot, Ravi, to the celebrity chef outposts of Gordon Ramsay, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Marco Pierre White, Pierre Gagnaire, Heinz Beck and Sanjeev Kapoor. On Fridays, most restaurants across town open their doors for brunch – a Dubai institution where family and friends gather for a long lunch lasting several indulgent hours.
For many, the view is as important as the food – that means the Mercury Lounge for Downtown skyline views; 360º to gaze at the iconic Burj Al Arab; At.mosphere for a table in the clouds on Level 122 of the Burj Khalifa, and the Jetty Lounge for relaxed seaside and iconic Palm Jumeirah vistas.
Shopping in Dubai is so much more than retail therapy. Where else in the world can you take a break from your shopping to go for a quick ski session or swim with sharks?
With over 95 shopping malls (the largest of which is The Dubai Mall at more than 12 million square foot) Dubai’s shopping centres are more like mini metropolises.
Start with the exotic country-themed sections of Ibn Battuta Mall (named for the Moroccan explorer) then head across town to the Egyptian-themed Wafi Mall. Along the way, visit the King Penguins at Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates before taking photos of the stunning Waterfall and Aquarium at The Dubai Mall.
For bargain buys, look no further than DragonMart (in the shape of a dragon) in International City, as well as the old souqs. Textiles, spices and gold lie in wait in the narrow alleyways of Deira Old Souq, while more modern interpretations can be found at Souq Al Bahar and Madinat Jumeirah.
There is so much on offer for families of any age range and size, with a plethora of activities to appeal to every interest, from waterparks and aquariums to camel encounters and theme parks.
In the afternoon, take the family out on a desert safari across the dunes in a four-wheel drive. There will also be a chance to go sand boarding, ride a camel, handle a falcon and enjoy Emirati hospitality at a sumptuous buffet. Prefer to stay in town? Then nab a prime position along Burj Khalifa Lake to watch the record-breaking fountain show that kicks off every half hour from 6pm outside The Dubai Mall.
And when it’s time for a well-earned break, hotel kids’ clubs and theme parks such as KidZania in The Dubai Mall ensure that parents are guaranteed some quiet time knowing their little ones are in safe hands and off having the times of their lives.
Hurling oneself out of a plane at 13,000 feet is par for the course in Dubai, as is sand-boarding down a 300-foot dune; galloping across the desert on an Arabian thoroughbred; and teeing off on a floodlit golf course at midnight. Whatever adventure you seek, Dubai delivers.
Kick-start your day with a morning hot-air balloon ride over Dubai’s desert landscape. A similar – albeit faster – sky-high experience is also offered by Skydive Dubai from its desert campus at Margham.
Dubai is horse-mad with stables across the emirate. Head to an equestrian centre such as Al Sahra Desert Resort Equestrian Centre or Al Jiyad Stables to ride across the desert at sunset. A desert safari is another popular venture, as is sand boarding on the Big Red dune – Dubai’s ‘black run’.
For golfers, Dubai boasts 11 outstanding courses, the most famed of which is the Majlis course at the Emirates Golf Club. And cyclists aren’t forgotten either, with 140 kilometres of track in neighbourhoods such as Jumeirah and Bur Dubai.
The city is home to a melting pot of 200 nationalities, yet still manages to hold on to its Arabic roots. Emiratis are justifiably proud of their heritage – after all, it wasn’t too long ago when Dubai was little more than a fishing village.
Remnants of a simpler time remain in the Al Bastakiya district, with its traditional wind-tower houses that line narrow streets. Local culture is still evident in day-to-day, from the call to prayer that rings across the city five times daily to the falconry and camel-racing industries that continue to thrive out in the desert.
Make sense of it all with a visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU), where you can learn of local customs and enjoy a traditional Emirati meal. Afterwards, partake in a little bargaining at the souks around the old neighbourhood. Finish your cultural awakening with a ride across the Creek in a wooden abra (boat) and admire the traditional dhow fishing boats that line the waterway.
From sport to art, music and food, there’s always an event on in Dubai. The internationally renowned Dubai Rugby Sevens and the lavish Dubai World Cup Carnival are staple sporting events on the, while the Emirates Literature Festival, Dubai Art Season, Dubai International Film Festival and Dubai Jazz Festival round off the major arts offerings.
Epicureans should not miss the Dubai Food Festival, while fitness enthusiasts can partake in the annual Dubai Marathon or Cycle Challenge.
If your idea of sport involves a little retail therapy, then start your year with the Dubai Shopping Festival. Besides incredible bargains at all the malls across town, the festival offers a plethora of family activities to keep everyone entertained.
If you’re looking for an event only found in Dubai, try the spectacular Al Gaffal Traditional Dhow Sailing Race and of course, the New Year’s Eve fireworks that are set off from the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.
Dubai’s glorious sandy beaches, warm Arabian Gulf waters and year-round sunshine are the perfect ingredients for anyone who loves to be near the water.
Some of the world’s most stunning beach resorts can be found in Dubai. There is no more glamorous way to soak up the sun than by lazing on a cushioned lounge and making full use of the waiter service.
Breathe in the fresh coastal air with a walk along the new track that runs along Kite Beach to Sunset Beach, which is where you can capture the perfect shot of the Burj Al Arab. The Beach at Jumeirah Beach Residence offers a plethora of dining choices so you can stop to take in the sea views and people-watch along the bustling promenade.
Naturally, there is plenty of aquatic action to be had at Dubai’s two fantastic waterparks: Aquaventure at Atlantis (with a slide that cuts through the middle of a shark tank), and Wild Wadi at Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
With fast connections to anywhere in the city, world-class resorts and spas, and tax-free shopping, Dubai is perfect for a stop before carrying on to your final destination.
A whirlwind stopover might take you to the old town on dhow boat cruise and tour of the traditional souqs, followed by dinner overlooking the dancing fountains before the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa (conveniently located right in front of the world’s biggest shopping complex, The Dubai Mall).
If you have more time to spare, you might go out to the desert to experience a falconry demonstration, four-wheel drive touring across the dunes and camel racing if your timing is right. There’s also plenty for the kids to get over their jetlag at Dubai’s range of theme parks.
Dubai has the perfect antidote to stress – spas, for both him and her. Dubai is a city awash with spas offering heavenly treatments for the mind, body and soul – whether that be a cleansing session in a marble-clad hammam, an invigorating Thai massage or even a snake venom facial.
And what’s more, they are among the spa world’s cream of the crop, not only serving up the most serene surroundings but also using world-renowned beauty and medical elixirs and therapists.
In 2013 Jumeirah Zabeel Saray took the top trophy for being the world’s number one Leading Spa Resort. Its Talise Ottoman Spa offers 42 treatment rooms, eight hydrotherapy rooms, steam rooms, saunas, snow rooms, floating baths and two thalassotherapy pools with the centerpiece being its spectacular Turkish hammam. Indulge in a coffee peeling treatment, a black olive scrub or even a Dhs25, 000 24-carat gold facial.
Meanwhile, at the World Spa and Wellness Awards 2014, Atlantis’ ShuiQi Spa & Fitness took the prize for being the Middle East’s Hotel Spa of the Year. This award-winning spa offers therapies designed by skin care gurus Clarins and Shiseido, plus medi-spa services from teeth whitening to Botox.
When it comes to relaxing, the stress level is high among hotel spa operators, as each one makes it its mission to serve up the most invigorating and rejuvenating treatments for its guests. Here in Dubai the customer is king and, as such, our hotels make perfect palaces.