Dubai is a place of excess and exuberance, where audacious architecture, eye-popping displays of opulence and unexpected attractions are the norm. With a crane-filled skyline constantly in flux and a hodgepodge population of expats hailing from almost every corner of the globe, this exciting city has vim to spare.
Dubai has a public transport network with metro and bus lines. Cash and credit aren’t accepted on these so buy a contactless Nol Card at the stations before your board. Taxis are ubiquitous and relatively affordable, while abras (water taxis) will carry you over the Dubai Creek. Renting your own car is simple enough once you have an international or temporary U.A.E. driver’s license.
Dubai was designed with tourists in mind, which means there are extravagant, purpose-built attractions at every turn. The list of things to do and see is slightly surreal. There is an indoor ski resort in the midst of the desert, underwater hotel suites where you can sleep among the creatures of the deep and a man-made island shaped like a palm tree. And that’s just for starters. You can also ride up 555 metres above street level to the observation deck of the world’s tallest building, stay in a seven-star hotel and spend a pretty penny at the whopping Dubai Mall or – if you’re feeling flashy – the Gold Souk.
Not everything in Dubai was designed to make headlines and some parts of the city, most notably Old Dubai, hark back to an era before oil. The bleached white Jumeirah mosque, one of only a few in the country to allow non-Muslim visitors (guided tours only), offers insight into Islamic culture. Another part of Dubai that has escaped rapid modernisation is the desert surrounding the city. Many visitors now take trips out here to visit Bedouin camps, camel safaris or to go sandboarding.
Cast aside any misconceptions, Dubai is by no means a cultural desert. In the industrial Al Quoz district of the city, warehouses are now occupied by cutting-edge galleries displaying contemporary works from up-and-coming artists from the region.
Most tourists hang by the pool and beach, but for a taste of everyday life in Dubai, swap the resorts for Safa Park. This green expanse is the city’s premier hangout spot with walkers, joggers and picnickers all converging here. Another little-advertised highlight is the sightseeing cable car at Creek Park, which offers great aerial views of Old Dubai.
Eating in Dubai is a masterclass on global food. There is a real jumble of nationalities, cultures and cuisines here meaning you’ll have no shortage of options when it comes to eating, whether you fancy Vietnamese pho, Lebanese mezzes or old-fashioned Cajun fare.
Michelin-star chefs, such as Gary Rhodes and Vikas Khanna, have opened outposts here hoping to capitalise on the influx of luxury tourists as well as the residents’ tax-free salaries. If you want to eat cheap, however, you won’t be stuck for options. Head to Al Dhiyafah Road for fantastic kebabs, tasty Pakistani curries and Middle Eastern delights all available at prices that won’t make your eyes water.