48 Hours In: Dubai

The searing heat of summer has mellowed in the Gulf states, making this Emirati city an appealing choice for some winter sun, says Nick Boulos

Why go now?

Best avoided in summer, when stifling temperatures regularly hit 45C, Dubai is an attractive prospect for winter sun. The balmy days are perfect to enjoy the family-friendly beaches, huge shopping complexes and atmospheric souqs. This month, the great and the good of the cinematic world descend for the eight-day Dubai International Film Festival (dubaifilmfest.com), from 9 December.

Touch down

Dubai is served from Heathrow by British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), Royal Brunei (020-7584 6360; rba.com.bn), Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 2770; virginatlantic.com) and Emirates (0844 800 2777; emirates.com), which also flies from Gatwick, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle. Cheaper fares can usually be had if you change planes en route, for example (at Amsterdam on KLM).

I travelled with Travelbag (0871 703 4240; travelbag.co.uk), which offers Emirates flights from Gatwick and three nights at the Atlantis The Palm (1) resort for £769pp.

Dubai’s airport is 4km north-east of the centre and can be reached on the city’s Metro (rta.ae) between 5.50am and midnight. Trains stop in the downtown area and along the coast near most hotels. Buy a red “No l” card for  4 dirhams (AED4/70p) and charge it with your chosen amount; a single journey costs from AED1.80 (30p). A taxi takes about 20 minutes and will cost you AED40 (£6).

Get your bearings

While not the capital of the United Arab Emirates – that’s Abu Dhabi – Dubai is the totem of this progressive nation. Located on the shores of the Gulf in the north-east, Dubai was little more than a fishing village 50 years ago. Today, clusters of sparkling skyscrapers rise from the barren desert as the city’s rapidly changing skyline confirms its position as the most forward-thinking city in the Middle East.

Old Dubai – the historic quarters of Bastakiya and Deira – can be found on the banks of the Dubai Creek in the city’s eastern part. To the west is the downtown district, the Burj al Arab (2) – the iconic sail-shaped hotel – and The Palm, a man-made archipelago of hotels and villas in the shape of a tree.

Several tourist information centres are dotted across the city including one at the airport (open 24 hours) and one on Baniyas Square (3) (00 971 4 352 0003; dubaitourism.ae; 10am to 11pm daily).

Check in

Standing at the top of The Palm is Atlantis (1) (00 971 4 426 2000; atlantisthepalm.com). Anything but understated, the vast resort has more than 20 restaurants, a waterpark and more than 1,500 rooms including underwater suites with views into a tank filled with 65,000 exotic fish. Doubles from AED1,820 (£309), room only.

The Melia Hotel (4) (00 971 4 386 8111; melia-dubai.com) at 23 Kuwait Street offers more affordable five-star treatment. The rooms have all the mod cons and there’s a spa and rooftop pool with views across the city. Doubles from AED698 (£117), room only.

The Orient Guest House (5) (00 971 4 351 9111; orientguesthouse.com) on Al Fahidi Street is a more intimate option with 10 Arabian-inspired rooms, each with a private lounge. Doubles from AED630 (£107), including breakfast.

Take a view

With its soaring spire and glossy glass façade, the Burj  Khalifa (6) at 1 Emaar Boulevard stands at 828m and became the world’s tallest building when it opened in 2010. The ear-popping lift whisks you to the At the Top (00 971 4 888 8124; atthetop.ae; AED100/£17) observation deck on the 124th floor for views over the sea, city and the desert beyond. Open 9am-midnight Fridays-Saturdays, other days vary.

Take a hike

Start where Dubai Creek meets the Gulf, at the Heritage and Diving Village (7), a faux-Bedouin museum and retail complex with displays of pottery, crafts and the history of pearl diving in the area. Open 8am-8.30pm daily (3.30-9.30pm on Fridays), free. West along the creek is the Sheikh Saeed al-Maktoum House (8) (00 971 4 393 7139; 8.30am-9pm daily, Fridays 3-10pm, AED2 (35p), a 19th-century structure with elegant wind towers that served as rudimentary air-conditioning. Continue through the maze of Bur Dubai souq and you emerge close to the Grand Mosque (9), on the doorstep of the Bastakiya quarter.

Lunch on the run

The Arabian Tea House (10) (00 971 4 353 5071) on the south-western corner of Bastakiya spills out from an early 20th-century wind-tower house into a shady courtyard. It was formerly known as the Basta Art Café, and there are paintings to admire while you tuck into a salad and fresh fruit juice.

Cultural afternoon

In the 18th-century Al Fahidi Fort, the Dubai Museum (11) (00 971 4 353 1862; 8.30am-8.30pm Saturday-Thursday, from 2.30pm Friday, AED3/50p) on Al Fahidi Street details the history of the city including archaeological discoveries and exhibits on how the earliest Bedouin settlers survived life in the desert. Next door are the ruins of the ancient Wall of Dubai (12), a 600m stretch of gypsum and coral stone that encircled the city in the 1800s. It was knocked down in the early 20th century as the city expanded.

An aperitif

Alcohol is available only in hotels. Calabar, located on the 5th floor of The Address Hotel (13) (00 971 4 436 8888; theaddress.com) on Emaar Boulevard serves South American-inspired cocktails for AED60 (£10). But its biggest selling point is the view of Burj Khalifa (6) and the fountains designed by the same team behind the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas that dance to Arabic music every 30 minutes between 7.30pm-midnight.

Dining with the locals

Located in the heart of the Dubai Marina, Reem Al Bawadi (14) (00 971 4 394 7444; reemalbawadi.com) on Marina Walk is a busy restaurant serving tasty Lebanese cuisine. There’s also an outdoor area for shisha, an Arabic waterpipe used to smoke fruit-flavoured tobacco. Mains, such as shish kebabs or peppered steak, are about AED40 (£7).

Al Bandar (15) (00 971 4 393 9001) at the Shindagha Heritage Village is another good option. Sit outside and watch dhows sailing along the creek while feasting on toshka arayes (warm bread stuffed with meat and cheese). Mains from AED39 (£7).

A walk in the park

A lush oasis of palm trees and neat lawns, Safa Park (16) is a rare patch of greenery in the desert. There’s a bird sanctuary and a small lake where rowing boats can be rented (AED40/£7 for 20 minutes). Open 8am-11pm Sunday-Wednesday, to 11.30pm other days; AED3 (50p).

Out to brunch

Most restaurants and hotels lay on lavish brunch spreads every Friday, the start of the weekend. Saffron at Atlantis (1) is one of the best, with 20 cooking stations serving an all-you-can-eat buffet with everything from Korean dumplings to roast beef and all the trimmings for AED435 (£73). From 12.30pm-4pm.

Sunday options are more limited, but More (17) (00 971 4 339 8934; morecafe.biz), an award-winning café inside the Dubai Mall, is a favourite spot with an eclectic menu that features Caesar salad, burgers, beef rendang and more. Mains from AED58 (£9). Open 8am-11.30pm, Sunday-Thursday, to midnight other days.

Window shopping

For retail therapy in air-conditioned luxury, stay put in the Dubai Mall (00 971 4 362 7500; thedubaimall.com), one of the world’s largest shopping centres, with an ice rink, aquarium and over 1,200 shops. Open 10am-10pm Sunday-Wednesdays, to midnight other days.For something a little more traditional, wander Deira’s gold souq (18) and fragrant spice souq (19) on Sikkat Al Khali Road.

Take a ride

One of the loveliest ways of getting around is aboard an abra. These motorised wooden boats ferry passengers along the Dubai Creek and depart every few minutes between 6am-midnight. Single fare  AED1 (16p). Get on at the Deira Old Souq Marine Station (20) and alight on the other side of the Creek (21).

Icing on the cake

Get an insight into Islamic customs at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (22) (00 971 4 353 6666; cultures.ae) at 26 Al Mussallah Road. As well as hosting traditional Emirati breakfasts and lunches (from AED60/£10), the centre offers one-hour guided tours of the Jumeirah Mosque (23) four times a week for AED10 (£2). Open 9am-5pm Sunday-Thursday, to 1pm Saturday.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing