This amazing city reminds me of Shanghai a few years back in that there is building work going on everywhere that doesn’t spoil your visit but means every 2-3 years it will become a very different place. Only when you look down from the highest floors of the Burj Khalifah, do you realise how much space for new buildings there actually is within the existing footprint.
Getting there is easy, with daily direct flights from all major airports and indirect services from many local airports. Emirates are the home airline and usually provide great value prices and the comfort level is also very good with better legroom and food than most airlines these days. Dubai is fairly close to Abu Dhabi, so it is possible to fly in to or out of there and with the Louvre opening, could provide an option to experience both cities in one trip. This would also open up many other flight options, including Etihad.
Dubai is a much more modern thinking and cosmopolitan City than many think, although it is important to respect the local laws and regulations, especially around alcohol and dress code. This didn’t really seem to impinge on anyone we saw or met. Talking to foreign workers and tourists, especially females, the general feedback was that they feel very safe and comfortable to walk alone and go around their business without risk.
This a place that has something for everyone from the beach lover, to the city livers!
When to go
Dubai is generally busier during UK holiday periods, although is popular with Russian tourists also. Friday is the Holy Day in Dubai with locals going to the Mosques in the morning and shops not opening until later in the day. This means Saturday or Sunday to Thursday is a popular visiting time. Be aware of the timing of Ramadan, as there may be some restrictions, especially around alcohol consumption.
Where to stay
The main areas to stay; Downtown, The Creek, The Marina, The Beach and the world famous Palm. There are a range of hotels and prices at each of the locations, though none of them would really be considered cheap!
We stayed at the 5* Jumeirah Zabeel Saray on The Palm. What an absolutely outstanding hotel, built in Ottoman palatial style with the room having the biggest hotel bath in I have ever seen, though we didn’t have time to wait for it to fill up to experience it! The hotel featured in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol with the private cinema providing the location for one of the scenes that was meant to be India! The outdoor pool, looking out on to the beach of the inner palm provides a relaxing daytime location, as does the outstanding spa, with its Sauna, Snow (yes, snow) room, steam room, Jacuzzi, salt water pool and hot stone beds plus an array of treatment options. There are also private villas at this hotel that range from £1,400 to £14,000+ per night but you do get a private butler in that!!!
The Palm is suited to people who want to relax or stay in privacy; a romantic break for couples, business people who want to be out of the city, or families who want a quieter waterside base to spend day or evenings at. For something a little more exciting, there is the famous Atlantis with its waterpark and aquarium. There are a number of other alternatives too.
Another area popular with couples and business travellers, is the Marina, providing a cosmopolitan backdrop with many waterside restaurants, although for alcohol, you need to find a hotel restaurant bar, or go to the Pier 7.
Jumeirah Beach provides a great option for most travellers, being within easy reach of the city, Palm, Marina and other attractions. Beachfront hotels, mostly with pools, provide a great location for that ‘day in’ after dashing around.
Downtown provides a huge choice of hotels, to suit everyone, probably with the exception beach lovers. Another option here is to stay at The Creek area.
Most hotels offer room only, or other options including B&B, Half Board or Full Board. Some hotels offer a Club Room, which provides varying levels of alcohol in the package. Be sure to check the exact offering at the hotels you are looking at and consider whether you will get full value from the higher board packages if you are going to be exploring a lot.
Eating out is around what you would expect in cities like London for food, however, alcoholic drinks are significantly more expensive; expect to pay £8-10 for a bottle or pint of beer. Pier 7, next to the mall on the Marina has a selection of bars and restaurants with Fume on Level 1 offering a special lunch deal and a happy hour most days 4-8pm.
Most places are relatively calm and quiet, however, there are more lively venues and hotel bars. Check the Timeout magazine in most hotels for current offers and recommendations.
Things to do
A visit to Dubai wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. This magnificent building reaches high above its surrounding skyscrapers and hotel towers and is well worth the experience of going to the 124/ 125th floor. For an even higher thrill, there are tickets for the 148th floor and options to include dining or high tea during the experience.
The best ‘surprise’ experience we had was the Desert Safari. Being driven out in to the Desert in a 4×4, the thrill of this was incredible and really showed the steep dunes off and the skills of the driver, who assured me he had never rolled his car in 15 years! This was followed by a Bedouin camp, where, after a Camel ride and Sandboarding, there was unlimited food; a mix of starters, including the by now familiar Shawarma wrap, followed by a delicious BBQ, salads and accompaniments and desserts for those who still had room! There was also unlimited alcohol, where we did our best to balance out for the prices we were paying elsewhere! The traditional Belly dancer entertained everyone to finish the evening off before heading back to the hotel with a few ZZZ’s along the way. It is possible to just go for the Dune safari, however, the value of the full evening is well worth it and next time, we really want to do the overnight stay in the desert!
Shopping! There are at least 3 major malls in Dubai; Dubai Mall, Emirates Mall and Marina Mall. All of these are of significant size and array of shops, though mostly we saw prices not dissimilar to the UK – I am told the gold and diamonds are much cheaper than home but we resisted looking!