SD › Dubai Travel
Updated: September 6, 2020
The 100 best hotels, restaurants, shops, cocktail bars, craft breweries, cafes, museums, markets, tours, neighborhoods, and things to do in Dubai.
1. Al Seef Heritage Hotel • Al Seef • $$
Rare historical charm with compact rooms and larger suites lovingly designed in an old Arabian style. Part of a massive complex of shops and cafés within a reconstructed village souk (market) alongside Dubai Creek and close to the metro. Guests can use one of Dubai’s finest rooftop pools at the sister hotel, Zabeel House. • Map • +971 (0)4 707 7077
2. Burj Al Arab • Jumeirah • $$$$
Award-winning and iconic landmark seemingly ‘floating’ on an exclusive, man-made island. Often classified as a 7-star, the 200+ suites are ultra-opulent throughout. Also, Michelin-starred restaurants, genuinely private beach, unique views, 4 pools, and one of the world’s most luxurious spas. If the rates are sky-high, come for the famous High Tea (but book way ahead). • Map • +971 (0)4 301 7777
3. One&Only Royal Mirage • Mina Seyahi Beach • $$$$
Fit for royalty. Vast grounds with towering palms, an immaculate beach, and a gigantic pool dotted with ‘islands’ of palms. Yet, the design throughout is exquisitely Arabian and it’s very convenient to amenities and public transport. Kids’ club, 3 pools, several tennis courts, and a water sports center, making it fabulous for families. • Map • +971 (0)4 399 9999
4. Bvlgari Resort, Dubai • Jumeirah Bay Island (20km from the airport) • $$$$
Dominating an artificial island shaped like a sea-horse and extremely exclusive and fashionable. Within 7 separate buildings alongside a yacht club and facing a marina, all the bright and airy rooms and suites face the water, while magnificent pool villas overlook the curved sandy beach lined with cabanas. • Map • +971 (0)4 777 5555
5. Atlantis, The Palm • Palm Jumeirah Island • $$$$
Colossal Vegas-style resort in a prime spot at the top of the remarkable palm-shaped island. Because of the location, reputation, attached waterpark, and award-winning restaurants, it’s a major tourist attraction in its own right. Some suites directly face an aquarium. • Map • +971 (0)4 426 2000
6. The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai • Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) • $$$$
Offers such rarities: low-level buildings, extensive gardens, Arabian design throughout, and all accommodations facing the sea – and it also exudes a lovable old-world charm. Terrific for families – playground, kids’ club, 5 pool, and special rooms – as well as a pool only for adults. Fronts a lovely beach and is convenient to a mall and the tram service. • Map • +971 (0)4 399 4000
7. Grosvenor House, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Dubai • Dubai Marina • $$$$
Two striking towers of rooms, suites, and self-contained apartments (featuring up to 3 bedrooms). Opulent throughout and fabulous amenities – from butler service to the bar on the 44th floor and gorgeous pools. Free shuttle bus to the sister hotel along a superb beach and walkable to the metro and numerous facilities around the exotic marina. • Map • +971 (0)4 399 8888
8. Taj Dubai • Downtown • $$$$
Soars skywards within the main business district but still features a resort-style pool with ‘waterfalls’ and ‘islands’ of palms. All amenities are just as impressive and the rooms and suites are especially plush, spacious, and fashionable. (Many also suitable for families.) Surrounded by places to eat and an easy walk to the very useful metro. • Map • +971 (0)4 438 3100
9. The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina • Mina Seyahi Beach • $$$$
Sprawling tropical resort with a palatial design, extensive lawns, and fabulous beach, yet so convenient to the metro and facilities along Dubai Marina. World-class amenities include 5 pools, water-sports center, and tennis courts – and with a children’s pool, kids’ club, and special rooms, it’s one of Dubai’s finest for families. • Map • +971 (0)4 399 4141
10. Habtoor Grand Resort, Autograph Collection • Dubai Marina • $$$
Twin towers among massive grounds alongside an excellent beach and the wide range of accommodations offer extensive views. Families would love the trio of tropical-style pools, tennis courts, waterslide, kids’ club, and water sports. Short stroll to a mall and the excellent tram service. • Map • +971 (0)4 399 5000
11. Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina • Mina Seyahi Beach • $$$$
More personable and laidback than rivals but still very stylish and luxurious. Spacious lawns, fab pool, and flawless beach. For families – tennis courts, kids’ club, activities, water sports, and shaded children’s pool. Guests can also use all the facilities at the adjoining Westin resort (see #9). Brief walk to the tram and all the amenities at Dubai Marina. • Map • +971 (0)4 399 3333
12. The Oberoi, Dubai • Business Bay • $$$$
Ultra-sleek design with massive rooms and suites (with up to 3 bedrooms) all featuring contemporary art, stylish furniture, and full-length windows. Business-oriented but family activities and resort-style pool also offered. Plenty of cafés and shops in the area. Walkable to the handy metro and free hotel shuttle buses to the malls and beaches. • Map • +971 (0)4 444 1444
13. XVA Art Hotel • Al Fahidi • $$
Adorable guesthouse along a meandering traffic-free lane within Dubai’s oldest neighborhood (which has been substantially reconstructed). Facing a trio of shady courtyards, the beautifully and individually decorated rooms ooze so much history and charm. Very quiet but not far from Dubai Creek and the metro. • Map • +971 (0)4 353 5383
14. Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa • Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) • $$$$
Perfect for families. Most rooms, suites, and apartments can accommodate up to 4, and amenities include water sports, kids’ club, 2 children’s pools, and engaging activities for all. Also, an enormous Bali-style pool surrounded by shady palms and alongside a spotless beach. Brief stroll to a mall and the useful tram. • Map • +971 (0)4 399 5555
15. Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites • Dubai Marina • $$$$
Over 50 floors of luxurious and very spacious suites and apartments, all with full-sized kitchens and up to 3 bedrooms. On a quiet corner, so views are exceptional. Surrounded by bistros, bars, and nightclubs in Dubai’s poshest area and a 5-minute walk to the handy tram. • Map • +971 (0)4 319 4000
16. Ossiano • Palm Jumeirah Island • $$$$
Unique setting within the Vegas-style Atlantis resort (see #5) and directly alongside an aquarium – for watching, not choosing seafood. Multi-course tasting menus with Mediterranean influences for dinner and family-friendly lunch on Friday/Saturday. Live music most nights. • Map • +971 (0)4 426 2626
17. At.mosphere Burj Khalifa • Downtown • $$$$
On the 122nd floor (440m) of the world’s tallest building (see #54), this is the highest restaurant and bar on the planet. Focus on seafood but also popular for the (very) High Teas each afternoon. Check the ‘minimum spend’ if money matters. Dress up and book way ahead. • Map • +971 (0)4 888 3828
18. BASTA! by David Myers • Downtown • $$$$
Some stay in this commercial district just to be close to this classy bistro. Meaning ‘that’s enough!’ in Italian, the mouth-watering steaks, home-style pasta, and wood-fired pizzas are too large to finish for most. Service is even more memorable than the food. In the Renaissance Downtown Hotel. • Map • +971 (0)4 512 5522
19. Al Mahara • Jumeirah • $$$$
In the remarkable Burj Al Arab hotel (see #2) – and just as extravagant and opulent. On the 1st floor, this is not about the views, but, instead, is surrounded by an aquarium. (Species in the tanks are for admiring, not eating.) Michelin-rated, so dress smart, and bookings essential to get past security. • Map • +971 (0)4 301 7600
20. Villamoré • Palm Jumeirah Island • $$$$
Within the amazing and opulent Emerald Palace Kempinski hotel, the food is world-class and views of the beach are even more impressive. Menu with Mediterranean inspiration, chic décor, enchanting outdoor setting, and silver service. Laidback at lunch; more sophisticated after dark. • Map • +971 (0)4 248 8890
21. Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Café • Al Fahidi • $$
Adorable, authentic, and on the edge of the historic district (see #55). Beautifully converted mud-brick home with a courtyard of bougainvillea and blue-and-white benches outside. Menu is Middle Eastern and inexpensive considering it’s so popular, especially for coffee and breakfast. • Map • +971 (0)4 353 5071
22. Mazina Restaurant • Address Dubai Marina • $$$
In the Address Dubai Marina hotel. Open all day and is most popular for the seemingly endless choices for Saturday evening buffets and family-friendly Friday brunches with bouncy castle, face painting, and children’s movies. Views across the marina are spectacular at any time. • Map • +971 (0)4 888 3444
23. Pai Thai • Madinat Jumeirah • $$$
Gorgeous setting alongside a ‘canal’ within the remarkable ‘old Arab village’ (see #57) and only accessible by a traditional abra boat. With lavish décor and flourishing gardens, it’s award-winning and intimate, and offers a wide range of Asian cuisine, not just Thai. Book early for the romantic candlelit tables next to the water’s edge. • Map • +971 (0)80 066 6353
24. Mama Zonia • Dubai Marina •$$$
Trendy but casual, it’s also lively and popular for the jungle-style décor, Brazilian music, seafood, and views across the marina. Guests also rave about the service, cocktails, and desserts. Book ahead for Friday brunch. • Map • +971 (0)4 240 4747
25. Bastakiah Nights Restaurant • Al Fahidi • $$$
Arabian and Persian cuisine in a setting infinitely more authentic and atmospheric than malls and most resorts. Tables around the courtyard and on the rooftop for wonderful views, deep within the historic Al Fahidi district (see #55). • Map • +971 (0)50 644 5636
26. The Boardwalk • Dubai Creek • $$$
Uniquely positioned on a wooden deck overlooking the marina along Dubai Creek (which actually resembles a river). Award-winning Mediterranean cuisine, it’s particularly romantic after dark and family-friendly all the time – e.g. kids can make their own pizzas. Part of the Dubai Creek Golf Club (see #85). • Map • +971 (0)4 295 6000
27. Table 9 • Dubai Creek • $$$
In the Hilton Dubai Creek hotel, the setting is laidback but service is world-class and prices are reasonable. With an innovative menu lovingly crafted by soon-to-be-famous chefs, it’s a firm favourite among savvy locals. Evenings only. • Map • +971 (0)4 227 1111
28. Floating Restaurants and Dinner Cruises
Far more impressive than the name suggests, Dubai Creek is lined with traditional dhow boats that offer evening meals while berthed. More inviting, however, are those that cruise the waterways from sunset and feature buffet dinners and, often, live performances of music and/or belly dancing. Particularly good are: Al Mansour Dhow and JA Bateaux Dubai.
Dubai Souks (Markets)
29. Bur Dubai Souk/Textile Souk/Grand Souk/Old Souk • Bur Dubai
The oldest and most popular among tourists for its locally-made souvenirs. Early mornings, it’s more photogenic and not as crowded or hot, and Friday evenings are lovably frenetic. Bargain hard and don’t expect any receipts or guarantees. Add to the experience by visiting the nearby Dubai Museum (see #56) and taking an abra water-taxi across Dubai Creek. • Map
30. Gold Souk • Deira
The world’s largest gold market offers hundreds of similar-looking stalls selling all things gold, and many also branch out into diamonds, pearls, and jewelry. Government regulated, so all items are authentic, but prices are negotiable – and bargain hard. Avoid the heat and tour groups by visiting during the cooler evenings. A genuine experience, not just for shoppers. • Map
31. Dubai Spice Souk • Deira
Countless bags of turmeric, cinnamon, and saffron, as well as numerous other spices sometimes unknown to tourists (e.g. frankincense and myrrh) – all likely to overwhelm the senses. Covered and compact, it’s most exciting to arrive/depart on a traditional abra water-taxi across Dubai Creek. • Map
32. Ripe Market • Jumeriah
Less crowded than traditional markets, traders sell handicrafts Fridays and Saturdays, and locally-grown fruit, honey, nuts, and coffee are sold at their shops throughout the week. Market locations vary, so check the website.
33. Souk Al Bahar • Downtown
Best of both worlds: Arabian-style market alongside the colossal Dubai Mall (see #34). More expensive than traditional markets and popular for handicraft stalls, eateries, and bars facing the dazzling Dubai Fountain (see #59). • Map
34. The Dubai Mall • Downtown
Debatable whether it’s actually the world’s largest, but there are over 1,000 stores. As well as the usual cinemas, games arcades, and food courts, it also offers the unexpected: ice-skating rink, traditional-style souk (market), triple-level aquarium (see #73), and even a genuine full-sized dinosaur skeleton. • Map • 800 3822 46255 (local call only)
35. Mall of the Emirates • Al Barsha (8km from Mina Seyahi Beach)
Dubai’s second-largest mall offers 700+ places to spend, including a vast array of luxury-brand boutiques. As well as a multi-screen cinema, people flock here for the surreal Ski Dubai with its ‘snow-filled slopes’, Magic Planet family-focused entertainment complex, and several luxury hotels, including a Sheraton and Kempinski. • Map • +971 (0)4 409 9000
36. BurJuman • Bur Juman
Probably the most convenient mall for many, especially with a junction of both metro lines underneath. First opened in 1992, it constantly upgrades and re-invents itself. Now with designer boutiques, massive supermarket, superb cinema complex, and attractive food court. • Map • +971 (0)4 352 0222
37. Al Ghurair Centre • Deira
Built way back in 1988, Dubai’s oldest has been updated and redesigned regularly since. Substantial, without being overwhelmingly oversized. The food court is inviting and multi-screen cinema complex popular. The Swissôtel hotel is perched above. • Map • +971 (0)4 205 3555
38. Boxpark • Al Wasl (near Downtown)
Much more chic and intriguing than the usual malls, it’s designed with box-shapes, often shipping containers, with hip bistros and funky boutiques inside. Also, a cinema offering plush seats and arty movies. Very colorful and loads of fun. • Map • +971 (0)4 317 3999
39. WAFI • Dubai Healthcare City (near Bur Juman)
Trying hard to be oh-so different, this mall is themed around ancient Egypt, complete with hieroglyphics and statues of pharaohs. Loveably kitsch, it’s also worth visiting for the indoor souk (traditional market) and evening sound and light show (September to May). Even home to the pyramid-shaped Raffles Dubai hotel. • Map • +971 (0)4 324 4555
Dubai Nightclubs, Bars, and Beach Clubs
40. Gold on 27 • Jumeirah
On the 27th floor of the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel (see #2), it’s obviously very swish and extremely pricey. Gold theme throughout, even in some of the cocktails. Mind-blowing views and decadence, it’s an experience, but bookings are essential to get past security. • Map • 800 4653 6627 (local call only)
41. Bahri Bar • Madinat Jumeirah
Within the remarkable ‘old Arab village’ (see #57), it is popular for its sublime views of the canals and the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel (see #2). Although trendy, the décor is pleasingly old-style in keeping with the location, and live jazz is more appreciated by the older set. • Map • +971 (0)4 432 3232
42. The Jetty Lounge • Mina Seyahi Beach
In the super-swish One&Only resort (see #3), come here if only to appreciate the gorgeous gardens and lovely beachside setting. With beanbags and sofas sprinkled across the sand, it’s agreeably laidback. Happy hours, hip DJs, and Ladies Nights (with free drinks). • Map • +971 (0)4 399 9999
43. Zero Gravity Dubai • Dubai Marina
Appropriately named because it’s part of Skydive Dubai (for parachuting), and regarded by many expats as the best among a growing number of beach clubs. Popular for pizza and pasta and open early for breakfast. Book way ahead for ‘Tropical Brunch’ (Fridays only). • Map • +971 (0)4 399 0009
44. Iris Dubai • near Downtown
In the grandstand of the Meydan Racecourse (see #86), the views are exceptional and cocktails particularly exotic. Live music, meals until late, and very happy hours. • Map • +971 (0) 56 951 1442
45. Barasti Beach Bar • Mina Seyahi Beach
In Le Méridien hotel (see #11), this bar has (like the city itself) grown from a hut on the sand to a premier beach club. Enjoy big-screen TV sports, happy hours, and live music from inviting sunbeds. Plenty of water-sports. • Map • +971 (0)4 318 1313
Dubai Tours & Safaris
46. Desert Safaris
A world away from the mega-malls and artificial beaches, safaris usually include camel rides and ‘dune bashing’ on 4WD vehicles, often finishing with a buffet and displays of Arab culture (e.g. henna painting and falconry). Rayna Tours offer a number of safaris, while eco-friendly Platinum Heritage and experienced Arabian Adventures are both allowed in more interesting conservation areas.
47. Hot Air Balloons
These offer unique views of the desert and city at a distance not remotely possible from ground level, often timed for sunrise. Two well-established companies very focused on safety are Balloon Adventures Dubai (operating since 2005, also camel rides and desert safaris) and Hot Air Balloon Dubai (highly professional and family-friendly).
48. Helicopter Tours
To truly appreciate the breadth of the city and height of its skyscrapers, these tours are awesome – but very expensive and rather short (up to an hour). Long-standing and very safe are AeroGulf Services (based at the airport) and Emirates Helicopter Tours (based at the Atlantis resort, Palm Jumeirah Island).
49. Day Tours
Full or half-day tours focus on the traditional (e.g. markets, mosques, and Dubai Creek) and/or the modern (e.g. Burj Khalifa tower, Burj Al Arab hotel, and Palm Jumeirah Island). Others are more specific, e.g. desert safaris (see #46) or dinner cruises (see #28), or venture further to Abu Dhabi (see #81) and Sharjah (see #80). Especially good value and well regarded are Gray Line (impressive range and comfortable buses), Wonder Bus Tours (includes trips along the water using an amphibious craft), and Orient Tours (classy and informative, with tours across the UAE).
50. Boat Trips
Superb way to admire Dubai from along the extended Dubai Creek (which resembles a river), the exotic Dubai Marina, and beach areas. At night, dinner cruises are also offered (see #28). Boat trips are available from Xclusive Yachts (which also offers fishing trips and charters/rentals) and Tour Dubai (for trips beyond the city). Far cheaper and still loads of fun are the Dubai Ferry along the creek and Water Bus around Dubai Marina. Or simply charter a traditional abra water-taxi along Dubai Creek.
51. Big Bus Hop on Hop off Bus Tours
Fabulous way to get around in air-conditioned comfort or open-air top deck. Part of an internationally known company and with commentary in multiple languages, it offers 3 routes with a total of 30+ stops at the major attractions, mega-malls, and most inviting public beaches.
52. Frying Pan Adventures
Highly regarded tours around the older parts of Dubai focusing on food, markets, and eateries, while also incorporating local culture and history. Great fun, family-friendly, and run by passionate guides. • Map • +971 (0)56 471 8244
53. Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding • Al Fahidi
Non-profit organization offering authentic walking tours along the historic districts of Al Fahidi (see #55) and Dubai Creek. While it is tempting to explore these areas independently, tours also provide the chance to meet a local family and visit markets and mosques (not possible unless a Muslim). Also operates tours of Jumeirah Mosque (see #62). • Map • +971 (0)4 353 6666
Things to See in Dubai
54. Burj Khalifa • Downtown
The world’s tallest building (829m) is, in fact, hard not to see. The statistics are staggering: the world’s highest observation deck (555m), loftiest restaurant/bar (440m – see #17), most number of floors (211), and thankfully, fastest elevator. Observation decks are on the 124th and 148th floors. Avoid weekends (Friday/Saturday) and book (up to 30 days ahead) for a visit at sunset. • Map • +971 (0)4 888 8888
55. Al Fahidi
Dubai’s oldest and most enchanting district is wonderfully devoid of vehicles. Although heavily reconstructed, it’s certainly worth admiring the traditional architecture (e.g. ingenious wind towers), stopping at a gorgeous courtyard café (see #21), and visiting one of the galleries or museums. Better still, stay in a guesthouse (see #13). Walking tours can be arranged through the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (see #53). • Map
56. Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort • Bur Dubai
Within the lovingly-restored 230-year-old fort, the museum chronicles Dubai’s remarkable transformation from a sleepy fishing and pearl-farming village to one of the world’s most developed cities. Well labeled in English, it features films and dioramas about Arab life as well as a traditional dhow boat, reconstructed oasis and souk (market), and archaeological relics. Great for the family. • Map • +971 (0)4 515 5000
57. Madinat Jumeirah • Jumeirah
Beautifully recreated ‘old Arab village’ alongside the beach with a souk (market) and maze of ‘canals’ only accessible by traditional abra boats. Plenty of shops, cafés, and bars, it’s especially appealing (and cooler) after dark. There are even 3 luxury hotels: Mina A’Salam, Al Naseem, and Al Qasr. • Map • +971 (0)4 366 8888
58. Al Seef • Al Seef
Amazing rebuilt ‘old village souk’ (market) packed with shops and cafés crafted from mud bricks. The position alongside Dubai Creek adds to the immense appeal. Allow plenty of time to explore and to eat at one of the cafés or ‘floating restaurants’. Better still, stay at the magnificent Al Seef Heritage Hotel (see #1). • Map • +971 (0)4 371 3999
59. The Dubai Fountain • Downtown
Alongside The Dubai Mall (the world’s largest – see #34), and Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building – see #54), Dubai Fountain is – of course – the world’s biggest. Best known for its free shows every evening and most afternoons when water spouts across the lake and over 100m skywards. Most spectacular after dark when the choreographed lights and music impresses even the most jaded visitor. • Map • +971 (0)4 567 2030
60. The Dubai Frame • Bur Dubai
Shaped like a colossal picture frame and standing 150m above Zabeel Park (see #90), it dominates the inner-city skyline. One of Dubai’s newest attractions is more than just an observation deck: the exhibitions about Dubai – old, current-day, and future – are especially fascinating. • Map • +971 (0)4 800 900
61. Camel Racing
Dubai hosts the world’s richest (of course) cup for horse-racing, but more authentic camel races are held at Al Marmoom Camel Race Track, about 36km southeast of Downtown. Held very early and, more often, during the cooler months (October-March), come beforehand to wander among the camels outside. Even better during the Al Marmoom Heritage Festival (see #77). • Map • +971 (0)4 832 6526
62. Jumeirah Mosque • Jumeirah
Only 30 or so years old, it’s the only one in Dubai open to non-Muslims (but still dress and behave appropriately, of course). Accessible only on guided tours operated by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (see #53). Tours are very informative and highly interactive – as much about Islam as the mosque itself. • Map
63. The Walk at JBR and The Beach • Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR)
A delightful combination: the former is new, trendy, and understandably popular for its extended selection of outdoor bistros and boutiques along a street nearly 2km long. Nearby, the latter stretches for about 1km and offers an open-air mall alongside the exquisite beach. • Map
Dubai’s Best Beaches
64. Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) • Jumeirah
Mostly commandeered by massive resorts, this area offers white sand, blue water, lifeguards, and plenty of water-sports. (Beware of rip tides, however.) More than just a beach, the seaside path (see #63) and nearby street (see #63) are packed with particularly inviting places to eat, drink, and shop, and the parks and playgrounds are popular with locals. Handy to the trams that loop around the marina and beach areas and connect to the citywide metro. • Map
65. Jumeirah Open Beach • Jumeirah
This section of the extended coastline, confusingly called Jumeirah, is open to all but is rarely too crowded. It offers a beachside path popular with cyclists and joggers, and more shade than other public beaches – also, pleasingly clean. Boardwalk and playground add to the appeal but beware of rip tides and always swim between the flags where lifeguards are usually positioned. • Map
66. Mina Seyahi Beach • Mina Seyahi
Small section of glorious beach between the bridge to Palm Jumeirah Island and Dubai Marina. Mostly faced by massive resorts, the sand is often shady and plenty of water-sports are available. Accessible by the useful tram that loops around the marina and beach areas and connects to the citywide metro. • Map
67. Kite Beach • Jumeirah (near Downtown)
Free public beach as picturesque and clean as any facing a resort. Popular among locals, so it’s often busy and certainly atmospheric. Plenty of food stalls and activities like kite-surfing and beach volleyball, and as well as gym equipment and an extra-long jogging track. • Map
68. Al Sufouh Beach (Secret/Black Palace Beach) • Jumeirah (near Palm Jumeriah Island)
Free and convenient public beach but hard to find – in fact, apart from weekends (Fridays/Saturdays), it may be deserted during the day. Safe for children and inexperienced swimmers but no lifeguards and virtually zero facilities. Take a taxi. • Map
Family Fun in Dubai
69. Aquaventure Waterpark • Palm Jumeirah Island
Attached to the gigantic Vegas-style Atlantis resort (see #5), it offers another of the ‘world’s largest’ – in this case, the waterslide. Also, about 30 rides and slides among ‘rapids’ and ‘waterfalls’ for all ages (including adults), as well as a private beach and shark feeding. Next to the Lost Chambers Aquarium. • Map • +971 (0)4 426 2000
70. IMG Worlds of Adventure • Al Barari (about 26km southeast of Downtown)
Regarded as the world’s largest indoor theme park. Within the 4 ‘adventure zones’ are so many rides and other fun activities mostly based around superheroes from the Marvel comics and movies. Contact them about free shuttle bus transfers. • Map • +971 (0)4 403 8888
71. OliOli • Al Quoz (about 6km southwest of Downtown)
Not as renowned, expensive, or crowded as other theme parks, it rightly describes itself as a ‘children’s museum’. Indoors and air-conditioned, it is award-winning, interactive, and educational. Oodles of fun for all children over 1 year. • Map • +971 (0)4 702 7300
72. LEGOLAND Dubai with LEGOLAND Water Park • near Palm Jebel Ali (about 50km southwest of Downtown)
Two separate but adjoining theme parks for one entrance fee on the fringes of Dubai. Children aged 2 to 12 can sail in ‘boats’, drive in ‘cars’, or even go inside a ‘submarine’ – all made of Lego. Plenty of rides, performances, light shows, and waterslides to occupy a day or two. • Map • +971 (0)4 820 3123
73. Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo • Downtown
Thousands of creatures from 250+ species including sharks, crocodiles, and stingrays, as well as an artificial reef that be explored by ‘night snorkeling’. Spread across 3 floors in the middle of The Dubai Mall (see #34), it’s free to look at from the outside but it costs to enter, for example, the walk-through tunnel. • Map • 800 38224 6255 (local call only)
74. The Green Planet • Al Wasl (about 2.5km northwest of Downtown)
Admirably different and pleasingly educational compared to the usual theme parks. Indoor tropical rainforest and botanical gardens filled with thousands of things that creep and crawl as well as turtles, bats, sloths, and butterflies. Informative labels, passionate guides, and indoors. Opposite The VOID (see below). • Map • +971 (0)4 317 3999
75. The VOID • Al Wasl (about 2.5km northwest of Downtown)
For those too old or too cool for waterparks, with virtual reality games, laser skirmishes, 4D movies, and wall-climbing. Will keep most kids (and some adults) occupied all day. Opposite The Green Planet (see above). • Map • +971 (385) 323 0090
Festivals and Events in Dubai
76. Dubai Jazz Festival – (Changeable, late February)
For 3 days at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, featuring top acts from across the globe. Also some major internationally-known pop and R&B groups.
77. Al Marmoom Heritage Festival (Changeable, March/April)
Four weeks of action and fun including exhibitions about local culture, food, music, and lifestyle, as well as camel racing (see #61). Check the website for free shuttle buses. At Al Marmoom Heritage Village, a tourist attraction about 37km southeast of Downtown.
78. Dubai Shopping Festival (4-5 weeks from 26 December)
Sales galore across many malls and markets as well as plenty of live music, fireworks, and other entertainment for the family.
79. Islamic Festivals (All dates vary each year)
These very rarely interfere with tourism – even most bars and clubs remain open during Ramadan (when Muslims are required to not eat/drink during daylight hours). Other religious festivals (and public holidays) are Eid Al Fitr (end of Ramadan), Hijri (Islamic New Year), Eid Mulid-un-Nabi (Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday), and Eid Al Adha.
Short Trips from Dubai
80. Sharjah • About 15km northeast of Dubai airport
Closer to the Dubai airport than most of Dubai, Sharjah offers plenty of mosques, malls, markets, and museums to visit. Get there by public bus, rented car, taxi, or Dubai Ferry. Perhaps, best on a bus tour by Gray Line.
81. Abu Dhabi • About 150km southwest of Dubai airport
The capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is worth visiting (even for a few days) to see one of the region’s most beautiful mosques, the corniche (esplanade), and the Louvre Abu Dhabi art gallery. Accessible by public bus, rented car, taxi, or day trip with Gray Line or Rayna Tours.
82. Hatta • About 135km southeast of Downtown in Dubai
There isn’t much sign of life (human or animal) outside the city, except at Hatta near the border with Oman. Based around an oasis, it contrasts so starkly with modern-day Dubai. Admire the wildlife among mountains, swim in rock pools, and visit the Hatta Heritage Village, with exhibits about desert life and history. An easy daytrip by rented car or taxi. Stay a while at the JA Hatta Fort Hotel.
83. Al Ain • About 145km south of Downtown in Dubai
The country’s largest inland town is quiet and attractively built along a string of oases. Renowned for its cluster of forts, camel market, and palace museum, it’s accessible by pubic bus, rented car, or taxi. The Al Ain Rotana hotel is certainly worth staying.
Outdoor Activities and Sports in Dubai
84. Dune Buggies and Quad Bikes
Popular among the more adventurous, these utilize the desert environs close to Dubai, but take care because accidents are possible and can be serious. Companies that are very focused on safety and offer guided trips across the dunes and mountains are Dune Buggy Adventures and Big Red Quad Bike Rental.
Plenty of sand for bunkers, but also grassy fairways (and floodlights) at several convenient courses: Emirates Golf Club (36 holes and international championship tournaments), Dubai Creek Golf Club (riverside setting and distinctive clubhouse), and Jumeirah Golf Estates.
86. Horse Racing & Horse Riding
Spurred on by ancient traditions and affluent residents, horse races (including the world’s richest) are held from October to April at the Meydan Racecourse (near Downtown), where enthusiasts can also arrange stable tours. The Dubai Equestrian Club runs specialized events, while rides can be arranged through the Emirates Equestrian Centre.
87. Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
Those keen on underwater exploration can arrange tours, rent equipment, and attend certified courses at world-class agencies such as Bermuda Diving Center, Nemo Diving Center, and Al Boom Diving. However, reefs and marine life are limited, and the few shipwrecks are only accessible by boat.
Parks & Gardens in Dubai
88. Creekside/Creek Park • Bur Dubai
Stretching along Dubai Creek for over 3km, this pretty inner-city ‘oasis’ is popular among families for its swimming pool, shady lawns, botanical gardens, play areas, bicycle rentals, and cable car. The amphitheater is used for outdoor festivals, while Children’s City is a series of brightly-colored buildings housing a planetarium and offering exhibits and workshops.
89. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary • Ras Al Khor
Who would have thought this would exist in the city center – and be free? At the end of Dubai Creek, this natural wetland is home to up to 15,000 birds, including pink flamingos. Raised viewing platforms with binoculars and explanation boards provide surreal bird-watching with a skyscraper skyline.
90. Zabeel Park • Bur Dubai
Conveniently located between the older and newer parts of the city, this park is ideal for people-watching. With rare gardens featuring shady palms, a pretty lake, and playground, it’s completely dominated by the incredible Dubai Frame (see #60). Also, bicycle and boat rentals and occasional markets and performances.
91. Al Mamzar Beach Park • Al Mamzar (near Deira)
The only major park in the older part of the city is at the end of a peninsula. Safe swimming with lifeguards, play areas, and paths for rented bicycles. It’s clean and, often, busy. A tiny train circles around the huge area.
92. Dubai Marina
One of the city’s poshest addresses, the exotic Dubai Marina is (over)crowded with high-rise apartments and hotels facing an artificial stretch of water lined with particularly inviting bistros, nightclubs, and bars. Trams conveniently loop around the area and the cafés and shops along Jumeirah Beach Residence and connect to the metro that stretches across Dubai as far as the airport.
Best Stuff: Grosvenor House, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Dubai • Habtoor Grand Resort, Autograph Collection • Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites • Address Dubai Marina hotel (convenient and good value) • Mazina Restaurant • MAMA ZONIA bistro • Buddha Bar (stunning décor, hip DJs, and rooftop views) • Zero Gravity Dubai beach club • Skydive Dubai (parachuting) • Wonder Bus Tours • Water Bus • Big Bus Hop on Hop off Bus Tours
93. Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR)
Jumeirah is the name of a very long stretch of city coastline that includes the public Jumeirah Open Beach, remarkable Madinat Jumeirah ‘old Arab village’, and very upmarket Jumeirah Beach Residence area. (Adding to the confusion, Jumeirah is also the name of a local chain of 5-star hotels.) Along a man-made island created by the Dubai Marina, JBR offers shimmering white sands and glassy blue waters as well as water sports, fabulous bistros and boutiques, and several top-class hotels and resorts – many ideal for families. Trams loop around the area, also connecting to Dubai Marina and the metro for the rest of the city and airport.
Best Stuff: The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai • Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa • Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach (luxurious high-rise so close to beach and amenities) • Rixos Premium Dubai JBR (waterfront, fab views, and infinity pool) • Rosso (stylish Italian cuisine and sea views) • Lock, Stock & Barrel JBR nightclub (chic and popular, with live music) • Pure Sky Lounge & Dining (rooftop for sunsets and happy hours) • The Walk at JBR and The Beach cafes, bars, and shops • Water sports • Parks • Playgrounds
94. Palm Jumeirah
This internationally-famous and man-made island sprawls across the water in the shape of a palm tree. It offers some of the swishest and priciest hotels and resorts on the planet, but few other facilities. It may, however, disappoint some: much of the island is dusty clusters of high-rises among construction sites and the unique design is impossible to appreciate from ground level – only on a helicopter tour (see #48) and, to a lesser degree, by the monorail which shuttles down the ‘trunk’ of the ‘palm’ but not along its ‘fronds’.
Best Stuff: Atlantis, The Palm • Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai • One&Only The Palm Dubai • W Dubai – The Palm • Ossiano restaurant • Villamoré restaurant • Cinque (refined, and walkable across the bridge) • Maui Beach Restaurant & Bar (relaxed, affordable, and live music) • Emirates Helicopter Tours • Aquaventure Waterpark • Lost Chambers Aquarium • Bus tours • Water sports
95. Mina Seyahi Beach and Dubai Media City
Near the upscale Dubai Marina and monorail station for Palm Jumeirah Island, Mina Seyahi is a delightful expanse of calm waters and white sands lined with world-class resorts. As well as areas just inland with less exotic names like Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City, this part of Dubai is less crowded than the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) area and Dubai Marina, but still connected to both areas by tram. (These trams also link with the handy metro that connects to the rest of Dubai and the airport.)
Best Stuff: One&Only Royal Mirage resort • The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina • Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina • Arjaan by Rotana – Dubai Media City • Tagine (sophisticated décor and Moroccan cuisine) • Eauzone (trendy bar alongside the beach and pool with an Asian menu) • Fish Beach Taverna (seaside and romantic) • The Jetty Lounge beach club • Barasti Beach Bar • Water sports
96. Business Bay and Downtown
Business Bay is clustered with office blocks, apartment buildings, and luxury hotels within an area called Downtown – probably because it’s about halfway along Dubai, although there is no real city center. Conveniently between old and new Dubai, Downtown is dominated by the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa), walkable to The Dubai Mall (arguably the planet’s largest), and bisected by the new Dubai Canal which connects to Dubai Creek. Downtown is also particularly easy to reach by the metro that spreads across Dubai as far as the airport.
Best Stuff: Taj Dubai • The Oberoi, Dubai • Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Dubai (convenient, sumptuous, and alongside the canal) • Address Dubai Mall Hotel (so convenient to several amenities) • At.mosphere Burj Khalifa restaurant/bar • BASTA! by David Myers bistro • Karma Kafé Restaurant and Lounge (award-winning Asian cuisine and fab views) • Vault bar (72nd floor for unique views and signature cocktails) • Treehouse bistro/bar (laidback vibe and terrace setting) • Souk Al Bahar • The Dubai Mall • Burj Khalifa observation decks • The Dubai Fountain • Dubai Aquarium & Underwater
97. Dubai Creek
Wide enough to resemble a major river rather than a creek, it’s actually neither: just an outlet of the sea. One of the most historic and atmospheric districts, Dubai Creek is plied by abra water-taxis and lined with ‘floating restaurants’. The few hotels along the water’s edge offer some of the city’s most varied outlooks, while others may be just across the main road from the wharf of traditional dhow boats. Less than 15 minutes from the airport, this is the best option if staying a short while between flights. Also connected by the excellent metro to the airport and all the beaches and malls across Dubai.
Best Stuff: Hilton Dubai Creek • Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek • Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers • Marriott Executive Apartments Dubai Creek • The Boardwalk bistro • Table 9 • Cielo Sky Lounge (open-air, relaxed, and water views) • Abra traditional water-taxis • Floating restaurants • Dinner cruises • Boat trips • Bus tours • Dubai Ferry • Dubai Creek Golf Club • Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
98. Al Fahidi and Al Seef
Al Fahidi is the city’s oldest neighborhood. Despite being substantially reconstructed, it maintains a lovable charm where guesthouses, cafés, galleries, and museums within mud-brick houses are dotted along meandering lanes nicely distant from traffic. Al Seef is an amazing, rebuilt old Arab village souk (market) packed with shops and cafés also crafted from mud bricks. Both areas are wonderfully positioned alongside Dubai Creek: close to genuine old-style markets, about 1km from the excellent metro with connections across Dubai and the airport, and handy to the bus station for services across the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Best Stuff: Al Seef Heritage Hotel • XVA Art Hotel • Canopy by Hilton Dubai Al Seef • Arabian Courtyard Hotel & Spa (elegant, charming, and historic) • Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Café • Bastakiah Nights Restaurant • Skafos (gorgeous, well-priced bistro/bar above the water) • Big Bus Hop on Hop off Bus Tours • Walking tours • Art galleries • Museums • Abra traditional water-taxis • Floating restaurants • Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
Likable and convenient residential area pleasantly distant from the overbuilt and overpriced districts further down the coast. More than enough amenities for tourists – but more locally-run supermarkets than malls – as well as souks (markets) dedicated to gold and spices. Populated overwhelmingly by Emiratis and resident workers rather than tourists and expats, Deira is crossed by both lines of the excellent metro that stretches the length of Dubai and links the airport. With plenty of budget-priced hotels, and a few more upmarket options, this area is less than 15 minutes from the airport, so it’s terrific for short stays between flights.
Best Stuff: Swissôtel Al Ghurair • Crowne Plaza Dubai – Deira • Hyatt Place Dubai Al Rigga • Hyatt Place Dubai Wasl District • Shayan Restaurant (casual and stylish, serving Persian cuisine) • Focus (open-plan kitchen, children’s menu, and affordable prices) • Harry’s Bar (big screen sports, live dance, and pub meals) • Gold Souk • Dubai Spice Souk • Al Ghurair Centre mall • Day tours • Big Bus Hop on Hop off Bus Tours
100. Bur Dubai and Bur Juman
These two areas still retain some history and charm before ‘High-Rise Dubai’ takes over further down the coast. Bur Dubai is home to numerous mosques, several traditional markets, and the fascinating Dubai Museum within the 230-year-old fort. Adjacent and often ignored, Bur Juman offers a range of good-value hotels and familiar fast-food outlets, as well as a superb mall. Both areas are connected by the very useful metro that stretches to the beaches, malls, and airport, and are within a short taxi trip of the major bus station for services across the country.
Best Stuff: Four Points by Sheraton Downtown Dubai • Grand Excelsior Hotel – Bur Dubai • Park Regis Kris Kin Hotel • Jacob’s Garden Hotel • Bur Dubai Souk/Textile Souk/Grand Souk/Old Souk • Antique Bazaar (ornate décor and award-winning Indian cuisine) • Yesterday Restaurant & Pub (TV sports and pub-style food) • BurJuman mall • Big Bus Hop on Hop off Bus Tours • Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort • The Dubai Frame • Creekside/Creek Park • Zabeel Park
- Best Hotels in Dubai
- Best Hotels for Families in Dubai
- Best Budget Hotels in Dubai
- Where to Stay in Dubai
- Best Time to Visit Dubai
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