48 hours in Dubai

This tiny emirate combines Arabic tradition with stunning modernity - and offers five-star luxury at affordable prices
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The Independent Travel



The rulers of this tiny emirate have invested vast sums in infrastructure and tourism to ensure that Dubai continues to prosper. Guaranteed sunshine, shopping to rival any city in the world and a growing number of extremely well-priced flight-and-accommodation deals combine to make this the most accessible and tourist-friendly destination in the region. Adventure-seekers can enjoy four-wheel-drive desert "dune bashing" and sand-boarding, while those in need of pampering can indulge in a classic beach holiday, surrounded by five-star (or more) luxury.


The main airline flying from the UK is Emirates (0870 243 2222, www.emirates.com) which offers four departures daily from Heathrow, three daily from Gatwick, two a day from Manchester and one from both Birmingham and Glasgow. Other airlines fly from eathrow: BA (0870 850 9850, www.ba.com) flies three times daily, Royal Brunei (020-7584 0252, www.bruneiair.com) four times a week and Bangladesh Biman (020-7629 0161, www.bimanair.com) twice a week. Connecting flights from many UK airports are offered by a dozen or so airlines. Lowest fares are likely to be around £250 return, while packages including accommodation are available for about £500. It is worth noting that during Ramadan it is illegal to eat or drink in public between sunrise and sunset. During this period, flight and accommodation rates may fall, but so do your entertainment options. For 2004, Ramadan should last from 16 October to 13 November.


The liveliest and most compact part of town is Deira, which occupies the east bank of Dubai Creek; the west bank, known as Bur Dubai, is more spread out. Many of the big new hotels are west of here, along the Gulf coast. A tourist office faces you as you emerge from the customs hall at the new airport terminal. From the airport, a taxi to the centre of Deira costs around Dhs40 (£7), rising to Dhs100 (£17) for a ride to the Jumeirah Beach and Burj Al Arab hotels in the west. Bus 401 runs into Deira for Dhs3 (50p) every half-hour, but buses 4 and 11 are twice as frequent and half the fare. Note that "Deira City Centre" is a shopping mall near the airport, a long way from the real centre. Dubai Transport (00 971 208 0808) can get a car to anywhere in Dubai within 15 minutes. Minimum fare is Dhs3 (50p). Locations are best described by landmark buildings, rather than street address. Bus routes begin at either the Bur Dubai, or Deira Gold Souq bus stations.


Dubai's predominantly flat terrain leaves man-made landmarks vying for the most sublime views of town. The sedate surrounds of Vu's bar at the top of the Emirates Towers hotel (00 971 4330 0000, www.emiratestowershotel.com) west of the central financial district, is perhaps the best choice. The lift from the main lobby offers a vertiginous view through the hotel's glass frontage up to the 42nd floor. The final nine storeys are taken in an internal lift, which opens into the small but swanky bar, with floor-to-ceiling glass that offers a breathtaking vision across the city.


Start on the north side of Baniyas Square and head west along Al Maktoum Hospital Rd. After 100m, turn right into the electronics souq. Follow the L-shaped arcade and you emerge on to Al Sabkha Road. This is one of the liveliest souqs in Dubai, selling everything from clothes to cases to take them home in. Turn left into Sikkat Al Khail Street; after 100m, turn right into an alley marked 25b Street. Suddenly you are in a much older environment, with low, simple homes. Continue north across the next main road. You should spot a tall, gold-windowed building; this is where you are heading. Weave your way through to Gold Land, wander inside to enjoy the glitter. Head out the other side and follow the sign "Footbridge to Fish Market", where seafood, fresh fruit and vegetables are sold. From here, you can walk into the Gold Souq and be hassled by men flogging designer watches.


What Dubai does best is cheap regional cuisine. The Restaurant Beirut (00 971 4398 9822) is on Al Diyafa street in Satwa. It offers good meze, grilled meat and salads from around Dhs20 (£3) per dish.


The Dubai Museum (00 971 4353 1862) is open every day from 8.30am-7.30pm, except on Fridays when it opens at 1.30pm. For Dhs7 (£1) visitors can see displays of the history of Dubai's remarkable development from a small port for the pearl trade to the city of today. The museum is in the Al Fahidi fort, on the roundabout off Al Fahidi Street, on the route of bus number 19.


QD's at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club (00 971 4295 6000, www.dubaigolf.com) has seating on a breezy deck area that reaches out over the water. From here you can watch the Abras (waterbuses) as they ply their trade up and down the creek and see the inter-emirate seaplane as they take off for trips around the UAE.


Fatafeet (00 971 4397 9222), opposite the British Embassy on Al Seef Street, has outdoor seating that stretches 50 metres along the creek. And this restaurant is hugely popular with local families on weekends. The menu includes well-priced molkhia soup, ful and fish tajen stew. The restaurant is as well known for its sheeshas as its cuisine. For Dhs20 (£3) you get your own water pipe, hot coals and a pile of flavoured tobacco - options include strawberry, apple and cinnamon. Alcohol is not available.


The Holy Trinity (00 971 4337 0247) on Oud Metha Road, holds Anglican services at 8am and 7.30pm every Sunday. Just to the north of this is St Mary's Catholic Church (00 971 4337 0087, www.stmarydubai.com) with Mass every Sunday at 6.30am and 9am. Alternatively, the Jumeirah Mosque on Jumeirah Beach Road is open to non-Muslims at 10am on Thursday and Sunday mornings. Entrance is free and includes a brief tour and talk.


Catch bus 8 from the Gold Souq bus station or the Bur Dubai bus station. For Dhs2.50 (40p) it will take you 15km west of the Creek to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel (00 971 4348 000, www.jumeirahbeachhotel.com). Here they serve a grand breakfast buffet, from waffles to smoked salmon, that will fill you up for the rest of the day. It is available 6.30-10.30am daily, for Dhs82 (£14). Afterwards, you can take the lift to the 25th floor for a spectacular view of the surrounding area.


Safa Park (00 971 4349 2111) fills 60 hectares between Sheikh Zayed and Al Wasl roads at interchange 2 on the Bur Dubai side of the creek. It provides a pleasant respite from the concrete and sand that characterise the rest of the city. Entrance is Dhs3 (50p) and there is a children's play area, tennis court and barbecue pits. Some areas are restricted to women only.


The Creek offers the best opportunity to understand Dubai, both culturally and geographically. Dozens of dhows still bring spices, cloths and other goods from the Gulf. Smaller abras follow routes up and down the creek, lasting half-an-hour for as little as Dhs1 (15p). They embark from the abra dock.


The Satwa public beach, next to the Dubai Marine Beach Resort and Spa (00 971 4346 1111, www.dxbmarine.com) is free to enter and offers grand sunset views to inspire your scribbles home.


There can be few experiences more surreal or exhilarating in the luxuriant opulence of Dubai than chasing a racing camel along a dirt track in a four-wheel drive. The races take place every Friday between November and April from 6am at the Nad Al-Sheba camel track ( www.nadalshebaclub.com).


Dubai's accommodation options are plentiful. The upmarket Jumeirah Beach Hotel (see under "Out to Brunch" on page 20) is best known for its wave-like architecture - and for hosting the English football team en route to the 2002 football World Cup. Doubles cost from Dhs999 (£155) including breakfast. More reasonable are the Capitol Hotel in Satwa (00 971 4346 0111, www.capitol-hotel.com) at Dhs500 (£77) for a double, room only, and the centrally located Four Point Sheraton (00 971 4397 7444, www.fourpoints.com) at Dhs390 (£61) for a double, including breakfast. Many of Dubai's cheaper hotels are situated around the Deira area, on the eastern side of the creek, and tend to cater for the busy Indian tourist trade. The Dubai Benta (00 971 4221 2525) and Paris Hotel (00 971 4221 2181) are just a few doors apart and have small en suite doubles from Dhs160 (£25), room only. This is a good area to head to if you arrive without having booked your accommodation.


Dubai has pitched itself as something of a shopper's paradise in recent years, and has options for all budgets. The gold souq is a long, covered market offering good quality jewellery at excellent prices. If you want to buy, rather than simply gaze, ask for the day's gold price (normally around Dhs50/£8 per gram for 24 carat) and be prepared to haggle.

At the western exit of the souq, there are outlets selling fine Persian rugs and pashminas and silks. Turn left and follow your nose to the spice souq for an impressive array of flavours, scents and colour. Karama is the centre of Dubai's trade in brand names of dubious provenance, with a wide range of accessories bearing such labels as Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

The low-rise collection of shops adjacent to the car park opposite the LuLu store in the Karama shopping centre (00 971 4337 4499) offers the best choices. Deira City Centre (00 971 4295 1010, www.deiracitycentre.com) and Wafi Mall (00 971 4324 4555, www.waficity.com) are Western-style shopping centres with the genuine articles in stock. The airport has some of the best duty free shopping in the world.


Dubai offers eating opportunities for a vast range of tastes and pockets. Wafi Pyramids (00 971 4324 0000, www.waficity.com), in the complex at the Wafi Mall, sells good quality tapas at Seville's, Italian at Medzo and South-East Asian fusion at Thai-Chi. A three-course meal for two with wine at any of the above restaurants should cost you no more than Dhs350 (£54).

For those who are on a budget, Ravi's in Satwa offers perhaps the best option in Dubai. Set in the heart of the South Asian community, it sells filling Punjabi meals for around Dhs15 (£2). The nearby Istanbouli (00 971 4345 0123), meanwhile, has various regional specials available for around Dhs50 (£8).

Most hotels have a bar of some sort, but the Emirates Towers hotel (00 971 4330 0000, www.emiratestowershotel.com) has more than its fair share. Directly opposite each other on the ground floor are wine bars the Agency and Scarlett's, which offer a lively venue with DJs playing upstairs from Wednesday to Saturday. Harry Ghatto's, which is on the first floor, allows any frustrated Sinatras the opportunity to try their karaoke skills.

Those in search of a sweaty disco could do worse than visit Zinc at the Crowne Plaza (00 971 4331 1111, www.dubai.crowneplaza.com). The Cuban bar El Malecon at the Dubai Marine Beach Resort and Spa (00 971 4346 1111, www.dxbmarine.com) has live music at the weekends.