Don your darkest shades and prepare to be dazzled by Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates. And it’s not just the glaring desert light or gleaming skyscrapers. Sure, you’ve seen the glossy images in the media: swish shopping malls, towering construction, and manmade palm-shaped islands (visible from outer space). But this Arabian Gulf metropolis is much more than a string of superlatives. Literally and metaphorically at the crossroads between East and West, the fastest-growing city on earth has skyrocketed from somnolent fishing village to a hot spot of global trade, transport, and finance.
Author Lara Dunston Photography Dave Lauridsen
DAY TWO / Dress modestly today in trousers and sleeves for him, a long, loose dress for her (and, for later, take along a headscarf ). After breakfast on the hotel terrace overlooking a tranquil garden of fountains and swaying palm trees, take a taxi to Jumeirah Mosque. Cover up with your scarf before joining the tour into the elegant mosque for an enlightening introduction to Islam by the friendly staff of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.
Afterward, dodge the traffic on busy Jumeirah Beach Road to Open Beach for a spot of peoplewatching. Here, the cream-colored sand attracts a multicultural mix of locals, expats, and visitors. It’s also known as Russian Beach because of its popularity among the Russian community.
Hail a cab on Jumeirah Beach Road to Jumeirah Emirates Towers on Sheikh Zayed Road. These striking twin towers house offices in one building and a stylish hotel, bars, and restaurants in the other. Browse the exclusive designer stores, being sure to check out Villa
Moda, owned by Majed al-Sabah, Kuwait’s “Sheikh of Chic,” and the unique contemporary jewelery by Egyptian Azza Fahmy. Have lunch at Dubai’s best casual Lebanese restaurant, Al Nafoorah, where Sheikh Mohammed sometimes eats.
Take a taxi to kitschy, Egypt-inspired, pyramidshaped Wafi City, one of Dubai’s oldest shopping centers and a local favorite despite the influx of bigger and better malls. Make a beeline for hip Amzaan, one of Dubai’s few boutiques to stock local designers. Also here is Cleopatra’s Spa, Dubai’s oldest (the specialty treatment is a milk bath based on Cleopatra’s own recipe). At Wafi Gourmet, buy juicy Lebanese olives, pickles, and hummous to snack on later.
Slide into another cab (during cooler months you can walk) to Creekside Park. Boasting manicured emerald lawns, palm trees, and slim, sandy beaches, this oasis is beloved by locals and is a popular weekend picnic spot.
Saunter along the waterfront to savor the sublime views; then engage an abra to glide you to the Dhow Wharves on the Deira side of the creek. Alight near the Sheraton and wander these fascinating docks to take in the frenetic creek action and views of the Bastakiya. Note the extraordinary cargo being loaded on and off the dhows (bound for Persian Gulf destinations); you’ll see plasma TVs, kitchen sinks, and just about everything else.
Cross the road to explore Deira Souqs (Middle Eastern–style bazaars)—for many, the quintessential Dubai shopping experience. The souqs have existed on the creek for several hundred years, selling everyday goods. Aside from the Spice Souq’s shops, which are sadly stocking more souvenirs these days than herbs, spices, and frankincense, the sprawling Deira Covered Souq remains authentic. Here, locals haggle over items that make up their national dress (white dishdasha for men, black abaya and shaylah for women), sandals, sheesha pipes, and kitchen pans. Lose yourself in the ramshackle lanes as you make your way to the glittering Gold Souq, where Arabs, Indians, and Pakistanis shop for elaborate jewelery for their daughters’ dowries.
Head back to the hotel to dress for dinner, but before your meal take a cab to the Park Hyatt and The Terrace. After the chaotic souq and Dubai’s unavoidable traffic, there’s no more relaxing place to unwind than this creekside bar, where you can listen to the boats bobbing on the water and watch the city lights while you sip bubbly. It’s only a five-minute cab ride to the dramatic InterContinental Hotel Dubai-Festival City, where you’ll enjoy the revelatory dining experience that is Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire,
the glamorous temple to gastronomy from one of France’s greatest chefs, the Michelin-starred Gagnaire. The must-try dish? The Club Dubai, a multisensory experience that blends unexpected tastes and textures.