Dubai is a feast for the senses. It is an agile metropolis with staggering skylines and gorgeous architecture – a forward-thinking global city. But it is also a place with a rich past and cultural heritage unknown to many.
In a post-pandemic world, Dubai has reinforced its status as one of the world’s most open cities with the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice 2022 report naming it as the world’s most popular travel destination besides selecting Dubai as the top destination for “city lovers” and the fourth best place on the planet for “food lovers”.
The beauty of Dubai is that it has a bit of everything in good measure
The awe-inspiring Burj Khalifa remains one of Dubai’s greatest attractionsNiloy Nag
What is it that Dubai gets right every time? Is it the towering Burj Khalifa that draws tourists from all over the world, or the beautiful Jumeirah beach with the seven-star Burj Al Arab, where Roger Federer once played Andre Agassi on the helipad? Or is it the vast stretches of the light desert terrain dotted with camel farms and occasional Bedouin camps?
The beauty of Dubai is that it has a bit of everything in good measure. It ticks all the boxes for all age groups and categories of travellers — families, the solo wanderers, sports enthusiasts, history buffs, adrenaline junkies, water babies, foodies and even the senior citizens.
Dubai is the “second home” for Niloy Nag, who divides his time between the City of Gold and the City of JoyNiloy Nag
And Dubai makes everything super easy. From meet-and-greet services at the airport that can be booked easily to super-quick transit and tourist visas, from a smart airport that lets you get through immigration like a breeze to helpful cabbies, nothing is too slow, chaotic or confusing in Dubai.
Dubai has many hearts and there are many ways to love it. And the beauty of it all is that the hearts beat as one to make the city the gem it truly is. However, the best way to experience the city is to divide it into the old and the new. Or the desert and the sea. The canal and the creek.
Al Fahidi… Spice Souk… Centre for Cultural Understanding
Old Dubai is the best place to understand the city’s enduring cuisine and cultureUnsplash
To deep dive into the city’s past and get a taste of Emirati culture and cuisine, spend a day at the Al Fahidi neighbourhood by the historic Dubai Creek. Explore the old pearl traders’ homes with wind towers, the winding alleys selling oud, frankincense and spices and drink some good Arabica coffee or tea at the Arabian Tea House.
Allow the old-world charm of Dubai to ensnare and embrace you as you try a Machboos Dejaaj, a delicately prepared chicken and rice dish with flavourful spices, at one of the popular local restaurants. A trip to old Dubai isn’t complete until you take a dhow ride and visit the Spice Souk in Deira – a colourful, aromatic and truly sensory experience. From herbs and tea to nuts, oils and saffron, this is a treasure trove that will leave you wanting to come back for more.
To understand and appreciate the Emirati culture, spend an afternoon at the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding. A few steps away from this place is the Coffee Museum that will charm you with its oriental architecture and a variety of Arabic coffee, as well as the Coins Museum built with coral, stones, plaster and sandalwood.
Cocktail on the 122nd floor of Burj Khalifa… Black Cab Speciality Coffee at La Mer
Dubai has a pulsating nightlife, not least due its legendary nightclubsNiloy Nag
For those who wouldn’t like to venture outside the glamorous Dubai Downtown, or the Marina, the cool things to do in the evening would be to watch the magical fountains, go up the Burj Khalifa and sip a cocktail on its 122nd floor. At the Marina, rent a yacht and make a memorable evening out of it, before proceeding to enjoy the pulsating nightlife at some of the city’s legendary nightclubs.
Jumeirah is the place to be in Dubai if one wishes to relax by the beachUnsplash
The neighbourhood of Jumeirah offers some really beautiful beaches, such as Kite Beach, the Secret Beach and the famous La Mer. Besides relaxing in the azure waters, you can try water sports such as banana boat, jet skiing and water slides or visit the Laguna Waterpark. At La Mer, there are lots of restaurants to try from, like Aprons and Hammers (famous for their crabs), HQ’S 459 (an amazing waffle and pancake house) and Kaftan (for Lebanese cuisine). And before you leave La Mer, make sure you have tried at least one of these: a Black Cab Speciality Coffee or a Keventers’ Bubblegum Milkshake or a Turkish ice cream.
Gordon Ramsay’s culinary delights and Naji the resident dolphin
The Atlantis is the hotel of choice for most families wishing to explore DubaiNiloy Nag
As one of the safest cities in the world, Dubai is the perfect place for families to relax and have a good time. From desert safaris and camps that let you enjoy a night under the stars to visiting the culturally rich Global Village fair ground, Miracle Gardens and water parks, families around the world love Dubai. The Atlantis in Palm Jumeirah is an eternal favourite where families check in to enjoy legendary chef Gordon Ramsay’s culinary delights and spend some time with Naji, the resident dolphin at this wonderfully family-friendly resort.
Dubai has no shortage of thrilling adventures, both on the ground and underwaterNiloy Nag
Wild Wadi to Deep Dive Dubai to Bollywood Parks
Dubai is a huge draw for adventure seekers. You’ll love the chance to skydive besides enjoying the hair-raising rides at the water parks, such as Aquaventure at Atlantis or Wild Wadi in Jumeirah. If that is not enough of an adrenaline rush, try dune bashing in the desert or even dive underwater for a thrilling adventure at the world’s deepest pool – Deep Dive Dubai. For the most exciting roller coasters, visit Motiongate. For a more starry-eyed experience, check out the Bollywood Parks.
Grilled kebabs at Ravi’s in Satwa to 'knafeh' at Al Hallab
Dubai’s delectable ‘chebab’, a local dessert that is a favourite on the menu at the Arabian Tea HouseUnsplash
Dubai’s story remains incomplete without a mention of its love for international cuisine. Be it local eateries that have become part of the cultural ethos of the city or Michelin star restaurants, you’ll never have to repeat your meals if you don’t want to. My favourites are grilled kebabs at Ravi’s in Satwa, chicken shawarma at Aroos Damascus in Deira and Al Mallah in Dhiyafah, chebab (pancakes) with dibs (date molasses) at the Arabian Tea House, parotta and a Styrofoam cup of karak chai at one of the roadside cafes and knafeh (a traditional dessert) at Al Hallab.
A shopper’s delight
Shopping sprees in Dubai have become an inseparable part of the city’s lifestyleUnsplash
Dubai has two big shopping carnivals every year – the Dubai Summer Surprises during the summer months and the Dubai Shopping Festival at the end of the year. Great discounts on top luxury brands, crazy deals and fantastic prizes mark these occasions. But even beyond that there are several iconic malls, such as the Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Nakheel Mall, Festival City and Ibn Battuta, to name just a few, where you can shop around the year, from bespoke to high street fashion.
Ultimately, Dubai is a place that grows on you, as you move through its different neighbourhoods, enjoy the sea and surf, walk on the desert barefoot, sleep under the stars, mingle in the crowd and play with the dolphins.
Don’t box this beautiful city inside a four-nights-and-five-days package tour. Live it, explore it and cherish the experience.