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Sandy beaches, lavish lodgings and sumptuous malls will lure you here for sunshine, leisure and shopping, but a rich Emirati culture, effervescent arts scene and laidback local lifestyle should entice you to explore more

Sights and attractions

Sights and attractions in Dubai

While the historic sights that dot Dubai Creek, from Al Fahidi Fort to old Al Shindagha and Dubai Heritage Village, the site of Dubai’s early settlement, were enough to satisfy visitors once, these days they make a beeline for sights of ‘modern’ Dubai. Begin with the breath-taking architectural wonder of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, with jaw-dropping views of the city, then head to Burj Al Arab, the sail-shaped so-called ‘seven-star’ hotel that first held the title and still has awe-inspiring vistas of the coastline. Visiting Dubai is not so much about what you see these days, but how you see it. Helicopter, hot air balloon and seaplane offer the headiest views, while high-speed catamaran allows you to capture panoramic shots of an impressive seaside skyline. A word on sightseeing: although more liberal than other UAE cities, visitors of both sexes should follow a respectful dress code outside of their hotel, avoiding shorts and revealing or tight-fitting clothing, while women should bring a scarf if visiting places of worship (and all should avoid public displays of affection or drunkenness)

Art and culture

Art and culture in Dubai

A lot older than people think – archaeological digs turned up Bronze Age relics – Dubai offers a handful of superb museums where you can learn about its heritage and culture. Dubai Museum in Al Fahidi Fort, the city’s oldest building, displays traditional musical instruments alongside antique Bedouin jewellery and costumes, and has evocative life-size dioramas that recreate life before the discovery of oil. Dating to the 1890s, Al-Ahmadiya School (Dubai’s first) is an engrossing museum to education, while the adjoining Heritage House, a pearl merchant’s residence, provides an insight into everyday life. Dubai’s historic Persian quarter, formerly known as Bastakiya but renamed as Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, is as worth wandering for its winding lanes and courtyard residences, distinguished by wind towers, as it is for its art scene. The Majlis Gallery and XVA were Dubai’s first art galleries, while industrial Al Quoz is home to the city’s contemporary art scene with myriad spaces to absorb art, such as The Third Line and Alserkal Avenue.

Food and drink

Food and drink in Dubai

Dubai boasts some of the best eating on the Arabian Peninsula, from French haute cuisine at temples of gastronomy such as Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, one of France’s finest chefs, to celebrity-driven operations overseen by the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Jamie Oliver. While there are familiar global names such as Zuma, Hakkasan and Nobu, recent award-winners on Time Out Dubai’s Best Restaurants list are home grown, including creative Peruvian hotspot Coya, stunning ‘Meditterasian’ eatery Play and popular American ‘meatery’ The Hide. Equally enticing are Dubai’s old favourites, casual family eateries delivering authentic regional food such as Special Ostadi for fragrant Iranian kebabs, the Automatic chain for succulent Lebanese shwarma and the old-school Foodlands restaurants for spicy Indian biryanis. Sample Dubai’s best street food on Frying Pan Adventures tour. Then wash it all down with a glass of something chilled. Laws around alcohol mean most drinking spots are attached to hotels; favourite spots include the Barasti Beach Bar, the veranda at colonial-style Bahri Bar and the Oriental-chic Buddha Bar.

Shopping

Shopping in Dubai

For a quintessential Dubai shopping experience, get lost in the tangle of alleyways and slip under the covered lanes of Dubai’s souks. Haggle for shimmering fabrics and Aladdin-style slippers at Bur Dubai textile souk before cruising across the creek on an old abra to inhale heady aromas and buy frankincense and an Emirati incense burner at the Spice Souk. Lose yourself in the colourful lanes of Deira Souk, best for belly-dancing costumes and shisha pipes, en route to the gob-smacking displays of glittering jewellery at the Gold Souk. For air-con, big brand names and luxury items, hit one of the city’s sumptuous malls, such as Dubai Mall or Mall of the Emirates.

Unique to Dubai

Unique to Dubai in Dubai

Dubai may have built its reputation upon its luxurious accommodation, audacious architecture and bold building projects, but nothing defines the city like its laidback lifestyle, gritty backstreets and the gorgeous desert on its doorstep. Take a picnic to waterfront Creekside Park or sprawling Za’abeel Park, Dubai’s equivalent of Hyde or Central Park, to join families and groups of friends barbecuing and playing cricket on the weekend. Stretch your legs in the beachside suburbs of Jumeirah, where bougainvillea spills over villa walls and chickens scratch grassy lanes, and working class Satwa, where piping hot flat-breads are pulled from ovens at Afghani hole-in-the-wall bakeries. Hire a car for a desert drive along sand-swept highways where camels cross the road or join an organised ‘desert safari’ for a spot of dune-bashing, sand-boarding, camel-riding and belly-dancing.

Day trip

Day trip in Dubai

Rent a vehicle for a scenic 50-minute drive along a smooth highway to the desert oasis town of Al Ain, on the border with Oman. Stick to the outer lane if you want to stay within the speed limit (and you should), and keep a firm grip on the steering wheel when Emiratis whoosh by at speeds usually reserved for racetracks. Al Ain is home to shady date palm oases, splendid old forts, ancient tombs, lively souks and the handsome old palace of Sheikh Zayed, the founder and former president of UAE, who was responsible for unifying the seven emirates.

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