48 HOURS IN...

Dubai, UAE

Shop for spices, gold and perfume in the atmospheric souks or just lie back on the white beaches in this vibrant Gulf

Click here for 48 Hours In... Dubai map


The Gulf city promises sun, sand and shopping, of course, but there's so much more to Dubai. A city of the future, it also has a fascinating past - and combines a rich heritage with modern style.


The contenders from London Heathrow to Dubai are Bangladesh Biman, British Airways, Emirates, Royal Brunei and Virgin Atlantic; Emirates also flies from Birmingham, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester. Connecting fares are often cheaper: the lowest return fares through www.opodo.co.uk start at £158. The airport is only 4km from the city centre area of Deira; numerous buses serve various parts of the emirate, while a taxi to Bur Dubai takes 15 minutes for a fare of Dh35/£5 and to Jumeirah Beach 30 minutes for (Dh55/£8). Fares are lower going to the airport, because the Dh20 surcharge does not apply.


Dubai Creek bisects the city centre into Deira and Bur Dubai. The Shindagha heritage area is at the Creek's mouth, the atmospheric souks are on the Deira side, and the textile souk and Bastakiya quarter on the Bur Dubai side. Nothing is far away, except "New Dubai" which straggles out south-west towards Abu Dhabi; Jumeirah Beach is about 20 minutes along the busy Sheikh Zayed Road. Dubai's Department of Tourism has visitor information bureaux at the airport (open 24 hours), Baniyas Square and the big shopping malls.


The old wooden doors have just opened at the Orient Guest House (1), a restored courtyard house on Al-Fahidi Street (00 971 4 351 9111; www.arabiancourtyard.com) - and one of only two hotels in the historic Bastakiya quarter. There's nothing like hearing the call-to-prayer echo through the narrow streets from your four-poster bed in a traditionally decorated room; B&B from Dh720 (£101). If you yearn for five-star luxury, then the Taj Palace Hotel (2) on Al Riqqa Street in Deira (00 971 4 223 2222; www.taj.com) will deliver at around Dh1,600 (£225) a night, including breakfast: even if you are not staying there, glimpse the vast and lavish foyer.

In Bur Dubai, the Arabian Courtyard Hotel (3) (00 9714 351 9111; www.arabiancourtyard.com) is close to the souk action. Spacious doubles with mashrabiyya screens and other Arabic touches, overlooking the Creek, start from Dh650 (£93) excluding breakfast.


Stroll through the labyrinthine lanes of Bastakiya. The area's elegant courtyard houses were built by Persian merchants early in the 20th century; the wind-towers served as their air-conditioning. Today some are home to small museums and galleries. Knowledgeable staff at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (4), off Al-Fahidi Street (00 971 4 353 6666; www.cultures.ae) offer guided walks through the quarter for Dh50 (£7), sharing the little-documented history and pointing out architectural details you might otherwise miss. The centre opens 8am-3pm daily (9am-noon on Saturdays).


Refuel with a refreshing "Basta Special" (Dh16/£2), comprising fresh mint and lime juice and a big grilled haloumi cheese and asparagus salad (Dh28/£4) in the leafy courtyard of the Basta Art Café (5) on Al-Fahidi Street (00 971 4 353 5071). It opens 8am-10pm daily.


Take your pick from the restored wooden arcades of Bur Dubai souk (6), where you can shop for mosque alarm clocks, Bollywood DVDs and have a suit made, to the warren of lanes that comprise Deira Covered Souk (7). This is best visited early evening. You can find anything from kandooras to kitchenware. And don't forget the glittering Deira Gold Souk (8), the aromatic Deira Spice Souk (9), and the heady Perfume Souk (10).


You can work up quite a thirst in a desert city. Almost every hotel of any size has a bar - but some don't and you might want to check before you book. Many of these are furtively concealed; one that isn't is The Terrace at the Park Hyatt Hotel (11), overlooking the boats bobbing on the water on Dubai Creek, where a beer is a reasonable Dh28 (£4).


Eat Arabic at Bastakiah Nights (12) on the edge of the Bastakiya quarter (00 971 4 353 7772). This century-old mansion has breathtaking interior rooms set around a courtyard, with water views from the roof terrace. Feast on Middle Eastern meze, served with grace and attention.


Book ahead for a Sunday 10am guided visit to Dubai's splendid Jumeirah Mosque (13), run by the friendly guides from the Sheikh Mohammed Centre (4). The trip also operates at 10am Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, price Dh10 (£1.50). This is the only UAE mosque open to non-Muslims. The visit gives you a chance to see the interior and get an introduction to Islam. Most of the tour is taken up with a Q&A session, where you get to ask all the questions you've been dying to ask. Wear loose, long and modest clothes.


Dubai's most underrated park is the palm-filled Creekside Park (14), between the Maktoum and Garhoud bridges. Beachcombers will love its white sand beach, if the expansive lush green lawns aren't enticing enough. Tired of walking? A cable car spans the length of the park with fantastic views of the Creek. Admission is Dh5 (75p).


The wonderful Dubai Museum (15) in Al-Fahidi Fort (00 971 4 353 1862) has exhibits on Dubai's mind-boggling development from fishing village to post-modern metropolis. It opens 8.30am-8.30pm daily (Fridays from 2.30pm), admission Dh3 (50p). In the late afternoon, wander down to the Shindagha waterfront where several well-restored limestone, coral and gypsum buildings are now museums. The pick of the bunch is the elegant House of Sheikh Saeed al-Maktoum (16), once the headquarters of Dubai's rulers (00 971 4 393 7139) and former home to the grandfather of Dubai's current ruler, Sheikh Mohammed. Built in 1896, it's a museum of pre-oil times with fascinating photos of Dubai from the 1940s to 1960s. It opens 8.30am-8.30pm daily (Fridays 3-9pm, Saturdays 4.30-8.30pm, admission Dh2/30p). Next door, and with the same opening hours but free admission, the Heritage and Diving Village (17) (00 971 4 393 7151) is a recreation of old Dubai village with barasti (palm-frond) houses, Bedouin tents and camels.


Dubai's most vibrant waterside table is at Beit Wakeel (18) in Bur Dubai, once the former headquarters of the British East India company and now a casual eaterie with seating on a wooden deck over the water. Skip the food, order a fresh juice, and let the chaos of the Creek inspire you.


Dubai's bargain of an abra (water taxi) service criss-crosses the chaotic creek for only Dh1 (15p) each way; pay on board. There's a new route (making three set routes in total) from the brand-new Baniyas Abra Station (19), near Duba Municipality, crossing over to Al-Seef Abra Station (20) near the waterfront Al-Seef park. Now you can cross the Creek, walk up the Creek one way, cross the Creek, and walk back in the other direction. Otherwise, hire an abra for Dh100 (£14) for 60 minutes, and cruise where you wish.


The Emirates' national sport may be camel racing, but don't expect a seat in a grandstand. Locals drive their 4x4s erratically track-side as their beloved beasts of burden race around the track. If you're in Dubai during w inter, get an early wake-up call and head to Nad Al Sheba Camel Racetrack around 7am (00 971 4 338 8170; Oud Metha Road, free) to take in the crazy atmosphere. The rest of the year, head here around 5pm any day to watch the training.

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