An insider’s guide to Dubai

All that glitters is probably actual gold in glamorous Dubai, but aside from sprawling shopping malls, luxurious spa treatments and extravagant hotels, there are plenty of other things to discover on a Secret Escape to one of the world’s most luxurious cities.

Dubai Marina (Thinkstock)

Dubai Marina. Image: Thinkstock

Where to eat

Friday brunch in Dubai is a must and one of the best and most extravagant is still at Al Quasr, where you’ll find every food and drink under the sun spread across this luxurious hotel’s ground floor. Think lobsters, ice-sculptures holding sushi plates, a cheese room and all the Moet you can drink.

For something completely different, vodka shots, borscht and feathers, tights and tassels abound at Russian restaurant Troyka in Dubai’s Ascot Hotel. You’ll be talking about the bizarre live entertainment for weeks. Dine in a classic car in The Garage (Ramee International Hotel, Deira), or head to the Cuban inspired Malecon – one of Dubai’s best budget hotspots for live Latino music, drinking and dancing all week long (Dubai Marina Beach Resort & Spa).

Jumeirah Beach (Thinkstock)

Jumeirah Beach. Image: Thinkstock

Where to drink

Contrary to popular belief, drinking is not only allowed, it’s practically encouraged in Dubai. The flowery-shirt wearing staff in the Madinat Jumeirah’s Trader Vic’s will keep spirits high, literally, with their Tiki Tiki cocktails, and if you have a craving for karaoke, the cosy confines of Harry Gattos in Emirates Towers won’t disappoint.

Ladies are spoilt for choice on Tuesday nights, when drinks are cheap and sometimes even free. Rock Bottom, Double Decker and Longs Bar are expat favourites but for something a little classier and less likely to make your shoes stick to the floor, ladies drink for free on Tuesdays at Amika, half price on Tuesdays at Caramel, and for free on Fridays at Margaux. Check the internet for updates before you go.

Beaches and parks

Most of the parks in Dubai are either free or extremely cheap to visit. Jumeirah Beach Park and Al Mamzar Beach Park cost just 5 AED to enter and both have great facilities. Safa Park in Jumeirah, or Creek Park along the Dubai Creek are good for a picnic or a kick around with a ball if it’s not too scorching outside.

Horse riding through the desert or even a forest is possible too, if you head to the Equestrian & Polo Club at Mushrif Park (90 mins, 300 AED). Zabeel Park has a nice boating lake to help you catch some rays in style, or get fit with the free running track and outdoor gym equipment at Al Barsha Pond Park.


High glamour at Rixos The Palm (Image: Rixos The Palm)

How to get around

A day pass for Dubai’s speedy and modern Metro will cost you 14 AED for all zones, although it’s better to get a taxi for short distances as they’re quite cheap compared to in other cities.

When to go

The best time to visit Dubai is from October to April when humidity is lower and you can make the most of outdoor activities. Many restaurants will be undercover and air-conditioned for the rest of the year, although in spite of the heat Dubai offers blue-sky, sunny holiday weather year-round.

Separating fact from fiction

Some people think that romance is banned in Dubai, but whereas holding hands and kissing in public is frowned upon, the luxury and glamour you can experience behind closed doors is reason enough for lovers to visit.

It’s true that covering up is advised in Dubai. There’s no need to wear an abaya (it’s not as strict as Abu Dhabi up the road) but exposing your bare legs, cleavage or arms in a shopping mall is not advised. Bikinis are permitted on the beach.

Whereas alcohol is abundant for tourists in Dubai, it’s true that being drunk in public is a punishable offense. Always take a taxi if you’ve had one too many.

Dubai. Image: Daniel Cheong

Dubai. Image: Daniel Cheong

And what to absolutely not miss:

1. Gaze at the glittering skyline from an abra on Dubai Creek and shop for souvenirs in the spice and gold souks

2. Take in the view from the observatory on level 124 of the Burj Khalifa – the highest viewing platform in the world

3. Learn to ski in the desert at Ski Dubai – the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East. Don’t miss some cheese fondue in Apres at the bottom, as you watch everyone falling over in the fake snow

4. Get wet and wild at Wild Wadi, the water park at the foot of the Burj Al Arab. With 30 rides and attractions it’s often less crowded than the other one at Atlantis, on the Palm Jumeirah

5. Check out the Dubai Fountains – designed by the creators of the Fountains of Bellagio in Vegas. Watch as water shoots as high as 500 feet and crashes back into the 30-acre Burj Khalifa Lake

6. Take a desert safari in a dune buggy and stay for dinner with a belly dancing show, delicious kebabs and some henna tattoos, all in the sandy wilderness of the desert.

Words by Becky Wicks. Cover image by Daniel Cheong.

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  1. i really love Dubai and when i gaze at the beautiful captions shot in most of its extravagant sights,it gives me soo many reasons why its a ‘must visit place!!’

  2. Peter Banbury says:

    Went to the Sheraton (only a four star and cheap by Dubai standards). At the pool a beef and a water cost £17!!
    In the restaurant, the cheapest red wine they had was £192. Played scrabble in bar one evening. Had 3 small bottle (33 cl) of beer each. Total cost £75.
    In one week spent over £1,000 on food and drink.

  3. Dubai is for most people a wonderful place to live.
    Dubai does have a reputation for being bold and brash – it likes to have the biggest and best of everything.
    There are plenty of glitzy clubs and outrageously expensive restaurants, and people do dress up to the extreme, but there are also loads of low-key hidden corners, eclectic nightlife options and bars to satisfy the grungiest hippy.
    Life here is not just about showing off; it’s not obligatory to get a flash 4WD and a Rolex, live on the Palm, and to dine in the Burj Khalifa every weekend– but there’s far more to the city than that.

  4. Sounds like a beautiful place to be. I love natural surroundings and this definitely fits the description.

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