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 THREE / Have a light breakfast, and then hop on the hotel shuttle to nearby Mall of the Emirates, Dubai’s colossal and most opulent shopping center. All marble floors and enormous skylights, it boasts the city’s best range of shops under one roof; you’ll find the chic Harvey Nichols department store and Spanish fashion store Zara, a theater, art galleries, cinemas, eateries, bars, and Ski Dubai. If you haven’t burned enough calories trekking the mall, swoosh down the slopes at this indoor snow park. For bragging rights alone, it’s worth it. Who doesn’t want to say they’ve skied Arabia?
Refuel on authentic Italian pasta at sleek Emporio Armani Caffé, a popular spot with fashion-conscious Emirati women; then head next door to atmospheric Almaz by Momo to kick-start the afternoon with a Turkish coffee or Moroccan mint tea and pastries.
Cab it to Al Quoz, an industrial area and burgeoning arts district where contemporary galleries such as The Third Line have made a home among Dubai’s warehouses and factories. You won’t find a more original souvenir than a work of art by a young Emirati artist. Gallery staff will call a cab to take you to Souk Madinat Jumeirah, a modern air-conditioned Arabian souq. The wooden arcades are a wonderful place to shop for the exotic delights that Dubai is famous for: Persian carpets, Kashmiri pashminas, silver Bedouin jewelery,
and Eastern lamps.
Saunter along the manmade waterways over to Mina A’Salam Hotel and Bahri Bar. Sink back into a rattan sofa on the wooden veranda at the colonial-style bar for a sundowner while you listen to the waves along the shore and appreciate the sleek, white, sail-shaped exterior of the Burj Al Arab hotel. You don’t have far to go to your hotel, so enjoy the sunset before taking a cab back to the One & Only to change.
At sophisticated Grosvenor House, start with champagne cocktails at Bar 44 while enjoying vistas of the sparkling lights of Dubai Marina, where a seemingly endless city of skyscrapers has sprung up in a few years. Dine at British chef Gary Rhodes’ Mezzanine. A meal here is as memorable as the playful Damien Hirst–like décor. Afterward, sip a spicy cocktail as you take in the cosmopolitan vibe at the Asian-themed Buddha Bar in Grosvenor House. It’s better than the Paris original, and there’s no better place to toast your three perfect days in Dubai.
Lara Dunston lives in Dubai and, with husband Terry Carter, has written a half-dozen books on Dubai and the UAE for DK and Lonely Planet.
January is cool, with heavy rain possible, but festivals and sporting events make it a lively time to visit. Highs are in the mid-70s, and lows dip into the upper 50s (so throw on a pashmina at night). Spring and fall are dry with less extreme temperatures
than summer, when it’s typically 102 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (39 to 40 degrees Celsius) in the shade. Locals evacuate for cooler climes, so this is the quietest and least expensive time to visit.
Weather information is provided by The Weather Channel. For more Dubai climatological details, visit weather.com.
Dubai has no metro system, and local buses aren’t really aimed at tourists. Use the plentiful cabs until the new metro and light rail system opens. Only the brave rent cars, but if you fit into that category, that’s the way to go. Keep in mind that you need an international driver’s license and that the tolerance for drinking and driving is zero. From Dubai airport to the Jumeirah Beach hotels,
a taxi costs AED50–AED75 (US$14–US$20) and takes from 20 to 40 minutes (if possible, avoid peak travel times, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7. p.m.). Hotel doormen will organize taxis for sightseeing. Insist on a “normal” taxi; no matter what anyone tells you, the unmarked cars do cost more. Don’t worry about street addresses; give drivers landmarks. In the old center, use abras (water taxis) to cross Dubai Creek for AED1 (less than 30 U.S. cents).
A Wild Wadi (wildwadi.com) White-knuckle water rides at an Arabian-themed park
B Dubai Kartdrome(dubaiautodrome.com)
A Formula One–standard track that offers kids’ rides Ibn CBattuta Mall (ibnbattutamall.com) Magic carpet rides, stories, and traditional dancing at a mall inspired by the adventures of traveler Ibn Battuta