The gateway to the Middle East
Dubai. Call it the Las Vegas of the Middle East, Pearl of the Persian Gulf, City of Gold… the list is pretty long. When you hear the word ‘Dubai’ you probably think of spectacular skyscrapers, sunshine and beaches all year round, the biggest shopping malls in the world, or simply a stopover on your way to Europe.
The desert city is closer to Hong Kong than you think (only a 7-hour direct flight) and for anyone who has never set foot in the Emirates before, Dubai offers quite a glam introduction to the region.
Check out our guide to Dubai for tips on where to eat, where to stay, and what to do in one of the most tourist-friendly destinations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)!
What to do
If you think Dubai is just about the sun, shopping and ultramodern architecture, then you’re wrong. A trip to Dubai is incomplete without a visit to the desert and experience what the Arabic culture has to offer.
If you are a camel lover (who isn’t?), a special ‘Camel Excursion With Bubbly’ at JA Al Sahra Desert Resort is not to be missed. Venture into the magnificent Arabian desert on camelback until you settle down on plush Arabic carpets and cushions laid out in the soft desert sand. Simply relax, take a sip, enjoy the perfect sunset moment and getting a few, or a few hundred (guilty), shots for your Instagram feed.
If you ask us about Dubai’s glitz and glam (you knew this would come at some point), we’d say there’s no better way to see them than from the sky. The Seawings Dubai flight experience is a must-do if you fancy capturing a panoramic view of the desert city from the air. The aerial excursion begins with a thrilling water takeoff and flying across Dubai’s iconic landmarks like the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, World Islands, Palm Jumeirah, to name a few. From an altitude of about 1500 feet, you will find yourself snapping the most picturesque sights of Dubai’s skylines in different angles every second (no joke) as the seaplane moves around.
For those want to take a peek at local life and step back in time to get a glimpse of what Dubai was like way before all the high-rises, Old Dubai will take you through the historical district of the city for a taste of Arabic culture. Explore this part of Dubai starting from the Gold Souk in Deira, a traditional Arabian market place with over 300 jewelry shops. Even if you’re not a jewelry lover, you have to pay a visit to realise how true the talk about this being a city of gold and riches is by taking a walk into the Gold Souk (Tip: dress conservatively in this part of town. We’d suggest bringing a sarong with you to keep your shoulders covered, and where necessary your head.).
About five minutes away from the Gold Souk is the Spice Souk, a vibrant bazaar that will make all foodie hearts flutter with possibly all the spices, dried fruits, teas, and nuts you could imagine. And if you could tear yourself away from the incredible selection of exotic spices and fragrances, there are also shops that sell Arabian textile and footwear at wholesale prices. Be prepared to spend a few hours at this souvenir stop!
Where to stay
As one of the most extravagant cities in the world, Dubai is never lack of choices of luxury accommodations for visitors to choose from. Located on a scenic palm-fringed private beach, JA Resorts & Hotels’ JA Palm Tree Court offers beachfront suites with private terraces overlooking the Arabian Gulf. Rooms are sleek and spacious, and when you step outside you can walk past streams, waterfalls and ponds – all enclosed in the lush gardens.
For adventurers, nature and outdoor lovers, Hatta is a must-visit if you could spare a day or two from your trip in Dubai. Just over an hour away from central Dubai, Hatta possess some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the UAE. You can trek along the winding wadis (valley in Arabic) at the foothills of the mountains near the border with Oman, tackle the teal waters by kayak or simply explore the cultural town by foot.
You won’t have to sacrifice on comfort during your visit to Hatta – the charming JA Hatta Fort Hotel nestled in the historic and majestic Hajar Mountains offers recently refurbished, stylish chalet-style rooms with a private balcony that overlooks the dramatic scenery and oasis. Be sure to check out their rock feature swimming pools (amazing view for sunset) and their leisure and entertainment choices, including tennis, mini-golf, archery and more. (Tip: Ask the staff where the jogging trail is. Wear running shoes/ hiking shoes as the track is quite rocky but it is a beginner level route. Absolutely stunning – early morning and sunset are the best times to go)
What to eat
You can always justify being a bit fancier when visiting Dubai. Cruising down Dubai Creek in the evening is a truly special experience to see the historic old neighbourhoods, traditional wind towers, old souks and wooden boats. Dubai’s creek offers a plethora of choices when it comes to cruising, but Bateaux Dubai is one cruise line that stands apart for its beauty, luxury, service and elegance.
Imagine you could enjoy a gourmet dining experience (everything freshly prepared onboard) in an air-conditioned, glass enclosed vessel with modern decor, and enjoy the fresh air and night view of Dubai Creek from the decks (with a glass of wine in your hand) between courses. The ultimate sightseeing adventure onboard for those looking for something different.
Here are the two Middle Eastern dishes that you MUST try:
The mezze platter is an absolute must as far as appetizers at a Middle Eastern restaurant go. It usually consists of delicious beetroot hummus, falafel, yoghurt, sarma (sour cabbage rolls), kibbeh (minced meat balls) and flatbread.
This traditional Egyptian dessert is the heavenly combination of creamy bread pudding and cinnamon nut stuffed baklava. You can find this in many Arabic restaurants in Dubai, and to fully enjoy this delightful dessert with Arabian hospitality, try the Al Sahra Desert Dining Experience to feast on a tasty, three-course buffet under the stars. With sparkling performance of exotic belly dancers, traditional Emirati hair dance, fire dancers and more, this is more than just an authentic dining experience!
Tips & Tricks
– Best time to visit Dubai is during October to April, when temperatures are cool. Summer is the cheapest time to visit Dubai, but get ready to burn! Temperatures can easily go over 50 degrees Celsius in July and August.
– Uber is hands down the easiest way to get around in Dubai, so get the app ready for a hassle-free trip.