Don’t fret we haven’t given up on our UK City Guides, however when long time reader Krysia offered to take us on a tour of the largest city in the United Arab Emirates we were only too happy to take her up on the offer. A few of my friends are using Dubai as a stopover location for long haul flights this summer so I know they’ll appreciate a quick tour. Over to Krysia…
Dubai is one of those love it or hate it places. Whilst many people love this sun drenched Emirate on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula, others loathe the excess it has come to exude. I’ve been an expat here for six years now and I still love the city. Whilst expat life can at times be frustrating I think Dubai is one of the best cities in the world and definitely worth a visit. Even if you think you might fall into the ‘hate it’ camp, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Al Fahidi District & Deira
Al Fahidi (formerly known as Bastakiya) is the old part of Dubai that a lot of tourists don’t end up seeing if they stick to the hotel – mall – hotel holiday formula. The twisting lanes of this district housing quirky shops, cafes and art galleries are a sharp contrast to the rest of the city with its gleaming sky scrapers and 5 star hotels. You’ll also find the only remaining original wind towers, a primitive form of air conditioning designed to capture any passing wind and funnel it down into the house. Nearby is the Textile Souk selling all manner of pashminas, scarves and other cotton goods. Take an Abra across the Creek to Deira, the former commercial centre of Dubai, to find the Spice and Gold souks.
New Dubai is where a lot of expats end up living. If you’ve got friends in Dubai and you’re thinking of visiting them, chances are it’ll be somewhere in this area you’ll be staying. Dubai Marina is probably the most popular of all the New Dubai communities and you’ll find some of the coolest restaurants and bars in this area. My favourites include Marina Social, Jason Atherton’s new opening, Siddharta Lounge at Grosvenor House, a cool spot for pre dinner drinks and Pier 7 with a range of restaurants from high end Atelier M to laid back and casual Fümé.
Also worth checking out is Palm Jumeriah, the man-made island just off the Dubai coastline connected via bridges. Lining the ‘trunk’ of the palm are several beach clubs with restaurants and bars. Newly opened Sun& is a great spot for sundowners and the famous Atlantis hotel can be found at the end of the Palm on the crescent.
The tallest building in the world, The Burj Khalifa, is a stunning construction however you view it. Whether from a distance, at the base looking up or from 555 metres up in the sky on the world’s highest outdoor observation deck it’s an absolute must see.
Access to the Burj Khalifa is via the world’s largest (everything in Dubai must be a superlative) Dubai Mall. If you’re here to shop this is the place to be. You’ll find pretty much every store you could wish for here and there’s plenty of non UK stores to pique your interest as well as a plethora of restaurants, food courts and cafes. Stroll over to Souk Al Bahar, connected to the Mall via a walkway for a wander round more shops and make sure you grab an outside table in time for the Fountain displays.
Dubai International Financial Centre or DIFC as it’s more commonly known houses some of the city’s best restaurants including the awesome La Petite Maison, as well as Zuma and Gaucho.
Further down Sheikh Zayed Road is arguably the coolest bar in Dubai, 40Kong, at the top of the H Hotel. Head there for amazing views, funky tunes and beautiful people.
In Umm Sequim along the coast you’ll find some of Dubai’s most iconic hotels, notably the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the Burj Al Arab hotel as well as the Madinat Jumeirah Hotels, full of bars, restaurants and shops. If you’re here on holiday these are definitely worth a visit and are also great if you’ve got littles in tow.
No visit to Dubai would be complete without a trip to the desert. As a visitor the best way to experience this fascinating landscape is a desert safari which usually includes dune bashing in a 4×4, camel rides and dinner in a Bedouin style camp.
There’s so much more to Dubai than many people think and whilst it does have its drawbacks like any city, I personally think it’s an amazing place to visit and even better to live! Just a word of warning, don’t even think about visiting in summer. There’s a reason those flights and hotels are so cheap, it’s 45 degrees centigrade plus outside and feels like sitting in a hairdryer on full blast. Come anytime October-May and you’ll have a fantastic time.