A super quick guide to Dubai
No muss, no fuss, here’s where you need to eat, sleep and explore in the emirate
The desert paradise of Dubai might be known as a playground for the rich – and with its extravagant hotels and skyscrapers, fine dining restaurants, and souped-up nightlife, it certainly is – but there’s also plenty of laidback and affordable things to do as well. Sunbathe on the sandy beaches, browse the local souks, or get your thrills from an adrenaline-filled activity. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s our pick of the places you need to visit in Dubai.
Dubai is renowned for its proliferation of luxury hotels, such as the Burj Al Arab (so fancy it’s been dubbed the world’s only ‘seven-star hotel’), but it has plenty of options for those with a less inflated budget too. For something flashy without paying an obscene amount, try the Address Beach Resort, a five-star hotel by the Emaar Hospitality Group (whose parent company built the Burj Khalifa). It’s conveniently located at the Jumeirah Beach Residence, an energetic neighbourhood beloved by tourists, and is right on the beachfront. The best part, though, is the incredible infinity pool perched on the 77th floor. It’s only open to hotel guests, who can (if they dare) swim up to the edge and look out over the world’s tallest Ferris Wheel, the city’s skyscrapers, and the Arabian Gulf.
The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence
Brunch (particularly the bottomless kind) is a big deal in Dubai. Like, a really big deal. If you only have time for one, Zuma is the way to go. The award-winning Japanese restaurant’s brunches are legendary and often get booked out weeks in advance. At Dh595 (with soft drinks) and Dh795 (with bubbly), it’s certainly not cheap, but you’ll soon see it’s worth the price as parades of platters, heaving with oysters, gyoza, scallops umeboshi, and sushi, make their way to your table. Oh, and then you get a main. We’d recommend Zuma’s famous miso-marinated black cod.
Gate Village 06, Podium Level, Al Mustaqbal St
Visiting the city’s Souks is probably one of the most traditional experiences you can have – and a great way to find some good souvenirs. Head to Old Dubai, where you’ll find the Textile Souk, which sells a huge variety of cloths, accessories, and ready-to-wear clothes. Don’t be too shy to bargain with the local vendors – it’s expected. Then take an abra boat ride (only Dh1) across the creek to visit the Gold Souk, Spice Souk and Perfume Souk. You won’t get lost – the latter two are pretty easy to sniff out.
When in Dubai…go on a desert safari. The Arabian Desert is so close, it would be rude not to. You’ll speed through huge sand dunes in a jeep, quad bike, or similar (aka ‘dune bashing’), before stopping at a campsite for an Arabesque buffet under the stars, and activities such as henna and live entertainment (think fire breathers and belly dancers). There are a number of operators that offer these excursions, with various add-ons depending on budget. For a really special experience, for example, Platinum Heritage puts on eco-luxury safaris in vintage Land Rovers, with a night in an Arabic tent, a falconry display, a four-course meal, and an early morning hot air balloon ride above the sandy plains.
If there’s one dish you absolutely have to try when you’re in Dubai, it’s a good, old-fashioned shawarma. This beloved wrap is a classic Middle Eastern street food. It’s made using meat roasted on a spitfire, making it tender and juicy, and is accompanied by generous helpings of pickles, garlic sauce, and French fries. Relative newcomer to Dubai, Allo Beirut whips up a mean shawarma, with choices of chicken, beef and soujok (an Arabic sausage).
Hessa Street, Al Barsha 3
If you don’t post a photo of you inside the world’s tallest building, did you even go to Dubai? At The Top, the viewing deck inside the Burj Khalifa, offers mind-blowing views across the city, and has a glass wall sporting a pair of painted wings so you can stand against them for the ultimate Insta snap. If you want a winged shot with the exterior of the Burj Khalifa in the background, you can stand in front of the Wings of Mexico Statue, which is just a short distance away. And it’s also free.
1 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd, Downtown Dubai
In Dubai, even the museums are high-tech. The Museum of the Future opened in February 2022 and is already widely touted as one of the most beautiful buildings on Earth. It’s not all style over substance, though. Here, you can get a glimpse of what the world could be with the right technology. You’ll time travel to 2071 and experience an imagined future that includes using the moon as a renewable energy source and wellness centres for the human senses.
Sheikh Zayed Rd, Trade Centre
If you’re looking to meet the locals, go where the locals dine. You’ll find plenty of them at Time Out Market, which has 18 homegrown Dubai restaurants under one roof – and most of them even whip up extra special dishes exclusively for the market. It also has three bars, while the terrace affords some of the city’s best views of the Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Fountain.
Downtown, Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai
There are plenty of fun things for thrill seekers in Dubai – the XLine zipwires across the marina and the Dubai Fountain, and the world’s tallest indoor climbing wall at Clymb Dubai, to name a couple – but this is the newest nail-biting addition. Sky Views Dubai is some 220m above ground at the top of the Address Sky View Hotel. You can walk on air on the Sky Edge Walk, and teeter on the edge of the building on the hands-free Sky View Edge Walk, but our favourite part is the Sky Glass Slide. Visitors will plummet from level 53 to 52 in an entirely see-through tunnel. Gulp.
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashed Boulevard, Downtown Dubai
No visit to Dubai is complete without partaking in its great nightlife. A local favourite for revelry during the cooler months is Barasti Beach Bar, which often has a DJ, live entertainment, and the opportunity to party right on the sand. The prices are reasonable and there are seats for those who prefer sitting down with a drink rather than shaking their booty on the beach. Barasti is also open during the summer, albeit within a smaller, (thankfully) air-conditioned space. Warning: Do remember that being drunk and disorderly in public is illegal in Dubai, so if things start to look too blurry, it might be time to call it a night.
Le Meridien Mina Syahi Beach Resort & Marina, Dubai Marina