Well established as a base for international flight stopovers, the desert city of Dubai has become a popular tourist destination in its own right. During its summer months, hitting the pearl-white beaches is a favourite way to beat the formidable heat and humidity. The beaches are also frequented in winter as its ocean temperature never drops below 22°C.
Dubai hosts many cultural sights and activities that you would not want to miss. There is something to suit all tastes and interests, from world-class galleries and museums to theatres and live music venues.
The Palladium is a newly built performance venue, capable of seating up to 3000 and equipped with state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment. All sorts of events are put on there, from business conventions to operas and concerts.
At the beautiful Madinat Amphitheatre, you can relax under the stars and enjoy stunning views of the lagoon and the Burj al-Arab. The Madinat hosts a variety of concerts, performances and music festivals all the year round.
The gallery scene also thrives in Dubai. XVA Gallery is a local favourite, occupying a handful of rooms in a gorgeously restored Bastakia courtyard home. Contemporary paintings, sculpture and installations, by both regional and international artists, are on display. The XVA also hosts the annual Bastakiya Art Fair and art-house film screenings from November to April. There is a great cafe and a boutique hotel on site.
More than simply a gallery, the JamJar is a DIY art studio where visitors can explore their inner Picasso or Pollack. You can hire an easel, canvas, paint and paper to create your very own masterpiece should the mood strike you. Contemporary art by promising local and international artists is on exhibition.
The JamJar also hosts a bi-yearly independent film series, called the Mahmovies! It presents provocative and eclectic art house films organised by the award-winning director Mahmoud Kaabour.
Aside from the area’s many sporting events, concerts and art festivals, Dubai has become known for its annual Global Village fair. Dubai Land hosts the yearly event, which usually takes place from late November to the end of February. Nations from around the world come together on the outskirts of the city and set up small villages and pavilions that feature a replica of their country’s most famous landmark. Global Village is a kind of world-class flea market, where you can find great deals on authentic trinkets and souvenirs from around the globe, sample traditional foods, and even participate in a raffle for a car or a genuine gold bar.
Dubai’s growing status as an international tourist hot spot has encouraged the development of a thriving, vibrant after-hours scene. You never know what a party in Dubai will bring, and during the social gathering you could find yourself rubbing elbows with sport celebrities, A-list Hollywood starlets, or famous musicians.
The most celebrities-frequented club in the city is the Buddha Bar. The spectacular Asian-themed decor is impressive, with a wall of glass, magnificent chandeliers overhead, and a gigantic Buddha watching over all. Get there early to avoid a long queue; dinner reservations are a sure-fire way to guarantee your admission.
Known for his glam-tastic creations and outrageous style, the Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli has brought his signature flair to his Dubai hot spot, the Cavalli Club. The rich and glamorous gather there to drink champagne in an artificially constructed cave filled with glittering black quartz and Swarovski crystals. Patrons of the club are expected to ‘dress to impress’.
For a more traditional club scene, head over to Mix, Dubai’s first high-powered dance club. Each night features a different theme, but you can expect standard club favourites like hip-hop, house and R&B, as well as Arabic pop and international dance remixes. The dance floor is huge, the raised bar is great for people-watching, and the podium dancers really bring it alive. There is a cover charge at any time a DJ is working. The all-you-can-drink nights are a great deal.
1. Watch a camel race. One of Dubai’s more unusual attractions is the Camel Racetrack, which is open every Thursday and Friday during the winter. You can watch the races, visit the paddocks, and browse the vendor stalls, that sell just about anything you can imagine.
2. Go dune blasting or on a desert safari. Professional Desert Drivers will take you out on an SUV tour, where you will hurtle over sand dunes, watch a breathtaking desert sunset, and enjoy a sumptuous dinner complete with music and dancing. If you’re feeling bold, you can also hire your own 4x4 and participate in a newcomer’s course with one of Dubai’s many 4x4 clubs.
3. Cruise Dubai Creek. This is the foundation of everything Dubai once was and still is now. Dubai Creek was once a busy port for trading ships from India, Africa and all over the Middle East. Today, you can still see some remnants of that historic shipping culture, evidenced by the original buildings, custom houses and fortresses that line the creek banks. Dinner cruises amble up and down the creek almost nightly, or you can hire a private vessel for an hour-long trip up the creek and back.
4. Head to the beach. With some of the world’s most pristine beaches, Dubai is a water-sport lover’s paradise. The water is always lukewarm, there are few waves, and the strong winds are perfect for sailing, kite boarding, parasailing and more. There are great dive sites offshore, but the best locations require a rather lengthy boat trip to reach. You can also hire a car and take the 90-minute drive to Fujairah or Khor Fakkan for some top-notch coral reef diving.
5. Go shopping. A shopper's dream, Dubai's gargantuan air-conditioned malls are open until at least 10pm every day, offering every kind of indulgence imaginable. Mall of Emirates is one which offers an indoor skiing and snowboarding centre where temperatures are a chilly -4°C. For a more traditional Arabic shopping experience, however, enjoy the dazzling array of colours and textures on display at the Textile Souk (market).
Dubai is an ideal place if you are interested in culinary exploration. Not only can you sample traditional Arabic street food on nearly every corner, the city has also become home to some of the world’s top chefs.
A popular street food snack is shawarma, the Dubai equivalent to a burger. The meat is cooked on long skewers and is sliced thinly. It is served on pita bread with vegetables and sauce. There are Arabic, Lebanese, Iranian and Indian versions of shawarma - each are delicious and really cheap.
You will find plenty of American fast food chains in Dubai, such as Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC and TGI Fridays.
There is a great variety of Indian and vegetarian restaurants serving up traditional favourites like dosa, vada, samosa, chapaati and sabji. The food is good and cheap, though more upmarket places can be found in the Meena Bazaar area of Bur Dubai and in Karama. Most of the dining establishments stay open late.
Dubai’s rapid expansion and modernisation has led it to its present boost in the tourism industry. The city houses some of the most expensive hotel accommodation in the world. Although affordable priced alternatives can also be found, visitors coming to stay in a cheap Dubai hotel are expected to stretch their budget a bit.
In Dubai, luxurious accommodation is viewed as a form of art. One of which claims to be the only seven-star hotel in the world is the Burj al-Arab, where the shape of its structure is designed to mimic the sail of a ship. Even if the rooms are way out of your price range, you should consider paying one of those luxury hotels in Dubai a visit as it would certainly be an interesting place for afternoon tea.
Visitors to Dubai staying long term have the option of booking one of the growing number of serviced apartments in Dubai which are ideal for executive stays and expat family visits.
Keep in mind that the high travel season in Dubai is September to May where rates are expected to go up and room availabilities to go down.