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A shopper’s guide to Dubai

Dubai loves to shop. The city has just about perfected the art of the mall, which is the de facto air-conditioned ‘town commons’, the place to go with the family, hang out with friends and take in some entertainment. So what kind of goods should you look for? We’ve got the lowdown.

But before we go shopping, just a quick note. When people talk about Dubai being tax-free, they’re referring to personal income tax on wages. There are, however, import duties. If you’re shopping for mid- and low-cost goods, depending on your home currency, you may not see much difference. But you will notice the difference on luxury goods. If you’re in the market for, say, a new Rolex, you’ll save a bundle in Dubai. Otherwise don’t be lulled by the tax-free promise!

Carpets

Dubai is a carpet lover’s paradise. Fine Persian carpets, colourful Turkish and Kurdish kilims, and rough-knotted Bedouin rugs are all widely available. Dubai has a reputation in the region for having the highest-quality carpets at the best prices. Bargaining is the norm.

A rug’s quality depends entirely on how the wool was processed. It doesn’t matter if the rug was hand-knotted if the wool is lousy. The best comes from sheep at high altitudes, which produce impenetrably thick, long-staple fleece, heavy with lanolin. No acids should ever be applied; otherwise the lanolin washes away. Lanolin yields naturally stain-resistant, lustrous fibre that doesn’t shed. The dye should be vegetal-based pigment. This guarantees saturated, rich colour tones with a depth and vibrancy unattainable with chemicals. The dyed wool is hand-spun into thread, which by nature has occasional lumps and challenges the craftsmanship of the weavers, forcing them to compensate for the lumps by occasionally changing the shape, size or position of a knot. These subtle variations in a finished carpet’s pattern – visible only upon close inspection – give the carpet its character, and actually make the rug more valuable.

Dealers will hype knot density, weave quality and country of origin, but really, they don’t matter. The crucial thing to find out is how the wool was treated. A rug made with acid-treated wool will never look as good as it did the day you bought it. Conversely, a properly made rug will grow more lustrous in colour over time and will last centuries. Here’s a quick test. Stand atop the rug with rubber-soled shoes and do the twist. Grind the fibres underfoot. If they shed, it’s lousy wool. You can also spill water onto the rug. See how fast it absorbs. Ideally it should puddle for an instant, indicating a high presence of lanolin. Best of all, red wine will not stain lanolin-rich wool. Look through books before you leave home to get a sense of what you like. Once in the stores, plan to linger long with dealers, slowly sipping tea while they unfurl dozens of carpets. The process is great fun. Just don’t get too enthusiastic or the dealer won’t as readily bargain.

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Assuming you don’t buy at its peak, you’ll feel smug once it’s valued back home.

Khanjars

Visit the Al-Ain camel market or the bullfights at Fujairah and you’ll see old Emirati men wearing khanjars (traditional curved daggers) over their dishdashas (men’s shirt-dresses). Traditionally, khanjar handles were made from rhino horn; today, they are often made of wood. Regular khanjars have two rings where the belt is attached, and their scabbards are decorated with thin silver wire. The intricacy of the wire-thread pattern and its workmanship determine value.

Sayidi khanjars have five rings and are often covered entirely in silver sheet, with little or no wire, and their quality is assessed by weight and craftsmanship. A khanjar ought to feel heavy when you pick it up. Don’t believe anyone who tells you a specific khanjar is ‘very old’ – few will be more than 30 to 40 years old.

Perfume

No tax means French brands are cheaper than in Paris, but check the packaging to make sure they’re authentic. With Arabian attars (perfumes) you can be confident no other woman in the room will be wearing the same scent. Shopping for perfume can wear out your sense of smell. If you’re in the market for Arabian scents, do what top perfumiers do to neutralise their olfactory palate: close your mouth and make three forceful exhalations through your nose. Blast the air hard, in short bursts, using your diaphragm.

Pashminas

Fakes are found all over the world, but in Dubai you’ll find bargains on real, silky-soft 100% pashmina shawls.Women around the world adore pashminas, those feather-light cashmere shawls worn by the Middle East’s best-dressed ladies. If you’re shopping for a girlfriend or your mother, you can never go wrong with a pashmina. They come in hundreds of colours and styles, some beaded and embroidered, others with pompom edging – you’ll have no trouble finding one you like.

But aside from setting it alight to make sure it doesn’t melt (as polyester does), how can you be sure it’s real? Here’s the trick. Hold the fabric at its corner. Loop your index finger around it and squeeze hard. Now pull the fabric through. If it’s polyester, it won’t budge. If it’s cashmere, it’ll pull through – though the friction may give you a mild case of rope burn. Try it at home with a thin piece of polyester before you hit the shops; then try it with cashmere. You’ll never be fooled again.

Bateel dates

The de rigeur gift for any proper gourmet, Bateel dates are the ultimate luxury food of Arabia. At first glance, Bateel looks like a jewellery store, with polished-glass display cases and halogen pin spots illuminating the goods. A closer look reveals perfectly aligned pyramids of dates – thousands of them. Bateel plays to its audience with gorgeous packaging that might leave the recipient of your gift expecting gold or silver within: the fancy boxes of lacquered hardwood are worth far more than their contents. Alas, they’re manufactured in China, but not the dates. These come from Saudi Arabia, which has the ideal growing conditions: sandy, alkaline soil and extreme heat. Quality control is tight: Bateel has its own farms and production equipment. The dates sold here are big and fat, with gooey-moist centers.

Because they have a 70% sugar content, dates technically have unlimited shelf life, but you’ll find they taste best around the autumn harvest. If agwa dates are available during your visit, buy them – you may not have another opportunity. Agwa trees only yield every few years, so they’re considered a delicacy. Look for them in September; other varieties arrive in November.

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Indie shopping in Dubai

Dubai may be home to the biggest mall in the world and consumerism might possibly be in the city’s very DNA, but there are alternatives to chain store shopping for luxury labels. The city has a growing independent shopping scene, hidden in detached villas or smaller community malls, that will ensure you go home with something more exciting than the ubiquitous Gucci, Prada or Chanel items.

These independent boutiques, which have sprung up over the last decade, are owned by both expats and Emiratis who are keen to bring smaller designer labels to the city or to launch local talent. If you want to discover Dubai’s more creative side, here are the stand outs:

For vintage: Bambah and The Zoo

Taking the ‘his-and-hers’ concept literally, Bambah and The Zoo are two separate stores in one chic villa opposite the rather sad Dubai Zoo. Bambah is a beautifully decorated vintage clothing store, with women’s clothes and accessories helpfully grouped by decade and artfully arranged on the owner’s grandmother’s furniture. The Zoo is home to funky men’s T-shirts, quirky gadgets and nostalgic memorabilia like retro telephones.

For furniture: O Concept

A crazy pop art/industrial warehouse full of furniture, accessories and the odd rack of clothes, O Concept is the brainchild of Emirati-owner Omar Bin Khediya. Luxury just got that little bit weirder here with Ferrari-branded neo-classical chairs next to kitsch pop art and futuristic-looking furniture. It is not cheap, but if you are looking for a statement piece, this is the right place.

For fashionistas: S*uce

S*uce, which has blazed the trail for local designers and stocks hard-to-find, of-the-moment global names, is the mother of all independent boutiques. Although its main store is now in the Dubai Mall, the original is still in the smaller Village Mall in the Jumeirah area. Find the latest neon handbags from Fyunka, eye-popping bracelets and achingly hip dresses from Zahan Ghandour, as well as limited collections from up-and-coming UAE talents like Dima Amad. These designers live, breathe and work the latest looks, so you had better keep an eye on your credit card in here.

For homewares: O De Rose

A one-stop-shop for interiors, home accessories and some fashion too, O De Rose is the place to head for an upmarket ethnic feel. All of its pieces have a free-spirited sense of style, from Moroccan glass tea cups to bold African patterned cushions, while Arabic calligraphy-inspired canvases hang next to colourful depictions of Indian deities. Also housed in a villa, O De Rose takes advantage of the homely set up: feel free to sit for a while in the rose-scented garden with its cooling fountain.

For presents: Antiques Museum

Do not believe either word in the title, this dusty warehouse (Al Quoz, behind Times Square Mall; 971-4-347-9935) in the industrial Al Quoz area is not a museum, nor does it sell antiques. It is, however, a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of Arabic trinkets, from glass mosaic hanging candle holders, to tagine dishes and carved wooden furniture. You can lose hours in the massive warehouse where everything is piled high in narrow corridors, but keep browsing and the staff will bring you cups of tea and water to keep you going.

For art: Pro Art gallery

Pretty much the only gallery in the UAE to regularly show street art, the small, unpretentious Pro Art gallery is the place to pick up a print of some of the finest handlers of spray paint, like Banksy, Blek le Rat or Shepard Fairey. Keep an eye on the website for future exhibitions; 2012 has already played host to a ‘Street Art Legends’ retrospective and currently there is a focus on modern Indian art.

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Top 10 ways to experience Dubai on a budget

With five-star hotels dominating the skyline and shopping driving the headlines, Dubai is a playground for the rich and famous. However, a sprinkling of local knowledge opens up plenty of budget-friendly experiences. Many of them can be found on either side of the Creek, in Bur Dubai and Deira, where the original small trading port of Dubai began. Want free drinks, almost-free boat rides and the best views right across town? Here’s how.

Gourmet grub for next to nothing

Dubai’s melting pot culture means every cuisine in the world is represented here, with budget versions – if you know where to look. Ravi in Al Satwa is a local legend, which serves huge bowls of Pakistani curry and tea-tray size naan breads for between Dhs30-40. For traditional Levant street food, like the shawarma (chicken wrap with tahini), head to Zaroob (www.zaroob.com) or Zaatar Z Weit (www.zaatarwzeit.net) for budget belly-busters.

The Metro, a cheap alternative to getting around Dubai. Image by Fabio Achilli / CC BY 2.0

Forget taxis and plump for the Metro instead. Dubai’s two-line driverless trains offer some of the cheapest public transport trips in the world. Buy a Nol card and top it up (www.nol.ae), from Dhs1.8 for a short hop to Dhs5.8 for a longer trip (it’s shut Friday morning and after midnight). You can even go VIP and travel Gold Class, which has free Wi-fi. This is Dubai after all.

On your bike

Dubai’s recently invested in a couple of rental bike schemes. Either on Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Boulevard (which encircles Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall) or along the Dubai Marina promenade, you can rent sturdy bikes from Dhs15 for 30 minutes (www.bykystations.com). In the last few years Dubai’s become increasingly pedestrian-friendly with cafes, restaurants and so on popping up along what would previously have been barren streets. Take in some of the city’s best views from the saddle, from the neon lights of Dubai Marina at night, to the neck-aching sight of Burj Khalifa.

Drinks are on Dubai

Dubai’s infamous expensive bars do throw a thirsty traveller a bone or two in the shape of weekly ladies’ or gents’ nights, where a selection of drinks are free. Almost every bar in the city will have a ladies’ night (often a Tuesday or Wednesday); gents’ nights are a little rarer but they do exist. For a view over the Dubai Marina and the beach, try Maya at Le Royal Meridien on a Sunday or for a busy girlie night out, there’s perennial downtown favourite Left Bank on Wednesdays.

Old-fashioned retail therapy

Spice shopping in the traditional souks, Dubai. Image by Elroy Serrao / CC BY-SA 2.0

Dubai Mall might be the biggest in the world, but it’s pretty pricey. Head to the Creek to shop like it was 100 years ago in the traditional souks. Buy gold, frankincense, or spices such as saffron and cinnamon on the Deira side, while over on the Bur Dubai bank, snap up pashminas and Arabian style slippers. Remember to haggle hard for a bargain. Take an abra (a small Arabic boat) to get across the Creek for Dhs1.

See inside a mosque

Step inside Jumeirah Mosque, Dubai’s largest, for a free tour. Image by Paul Hart / CC BY 2.0

Jumeirah Mosque is the city’s largest mosque. Daily tours (except Fridays) take place at 10am for free, run by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. The tours run for 75 minutes and visitors are encouraged to ask any questions they might have about Islam and Emirati culture. There are some lovely cafes nearby. Modest dress (ie covering knees and shoulders) is required inside the mosque.

Life’s a beach

Jumeirah Beach is full of amenities for families, but won’t leave your wallet empty. Image by David Jones / CC BY 2.0

Dubai has over 40km of golden sand coastline but much of it has been land-grabbed by five-star hotels that charge an expensive daily rate for access. Jumeirah Beach Park is a family-style, life-guarded public park with a beach that has sunloungers, umbrellas and roving ice cream sellers, as well as shady, grassy areas, photogenic palm trees and a small fast food café. It costs Dhs5 per person for entry.

Enjoy a spot of park life

You could be forgiven for thinking that Dubai is all skyscrapers and six lane highways. Hidden away opposite Business Bay is Al Safa Park, built at a time when two-storey villas were all that could be seen from here. This landscaped park is home to plenty of free barbeque pits, families with their entire kitchen decamp here every weekend. It costs Dhs3 to enter and is also home to a weekly flea market and its own community centre-café, The Archive (facebook.com/TheArchiveDubai), that promotes Middle Eastern culture.

Get a dose of contemporary culture

The Dubai International Finance Centre’s galleries have free monthly art nights. Image by Nabil Abbas / CC BY-SA 2.0

Yes, there’s more to Dubai than shopping! The city is a hub for Middle Eastern artists working over a number of disciplines. For edgier galleries, head to Al Serkal Avenue in Al Quoz (www.alserkalavenue.ae), a cul de sac of creativity in an industrial neighbourhood. For more classic exhibitions, Dubai International Finance Centre’s (DIFC) clutch of galleries have free monthly art nights, where the city’s hipsters mingle (www.difc.ae/art-nights-gate-village).

Get a free history lesson at Dubai Museum

Explore the Dubai Museum in Al Fahadi Fort, the oldest building in Dubai, for free. Image by Fabio Achilli / CC BY 2.0

Life in Dubai was wildly different 50 years ago. The city has grown from a small pearl diving and trading community based around the Creek to what you see today in only just over 40 years. Discover what Dubai was like for the Bedouins and Emiratis at the Dubai Museum in the Al Fahidi Fort for free. It won’t win any awards for modernity but it’s an interesting portrayal of a way of life that’s changed beyond recognition.

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Top tips for travelling during Ramadan

Ramadan Mubarak! The Islamic holy month of Ramadan runs from the end of June to the end of July this year – and if you’re planning on travelling to a Muslim-majority region during this time, you’re in for an utterly fascinating experience. In many places, including the UAE, Morocco, Tunisia, Indonesia and Egypt, daily life changes dramatically this month, giving visitors a chance to see a whole new side to these regions.

1. Know the basics

Ramadan is a lunar month dedicated to sawm, or fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam. From sun-up to sun-down, the faithful abstain from food, drink, tobacco and sex to concentrate on spiritual renewal. After sunset, there’s a euphoric iftar (sunset meal that breaks the fast), followed by a very late-night suhoor (the pre-dawn meal). Yet Ramadan isn’t all daytime discipline and nightly parties: it’s a time of generosity and zakat, or charity, another of the five pillars of Islam. Fasting isn’t easy, so everyone slows down during the day – but you’ll also notice people going out of their way to extend small kindnesses.

2. Plan ahead

Like any holiday, Ramadan affects business as usual and this definitely isn’t the best time to attempt a whistle-stop sightseeing marathon. Many venues operate with limited hours and staff, so try to book accommodation, transport and tours before you arrive. Plan your daytime meals in advance – international hotels will often carry on serving food, as will a limited number of restaurants (you’ll probably need to reserve a table). Packed lunches are also a good option, although you’ll need to make sure you have somewhere private to eat them. Always bring a bottle of water with you when you’re out and about, but be careful about where you swig from it. Finally, remember that alcohol will not be widely available, even in the evenings.

3. Shift your schedule

It’s all about the nightly festivities during Ramadan. Traditions vary from region to region, but everyone breaks fast with iftar at sundown, then there’s often a long night ahead of socialising with family and friends, followed by the late suhoor meal. In Morocco, streets come alive with light displays, music and offers of sweets at every intersection. While life pretty much goes on as usual in Turkey during Ramadan (or Ramazan as it’s known here), look out for the iftar tents where people flock to break their fasts; these are often subsidised by the local municipality, offering cheap or free food and covering parks and pavements with tables. In the Gulf states, the often very glamorous Ramadan Tents are popular places to spend the night snacking, smoking shisha and playing games. Wherever you are, non-Muslims are almost always welcome to join iftar or hang out in the tents until the small hours.

4. Know the local law and customs

Check the laws of the country you’re travelling in before you arrive, as some places are much stricter than others about public observance of the fast. Non-Muslims aren’t expected to keep the fast themselves – according to tradition, even Muslim travellers are exempt. But at best, eating or drinking in front of people who are probably fasting is bad form, and at worst you can find yourself slapped with a hefty fine. It’s a good idea to dress more conservatively than you would normally, too.

5. Get in the Ramadan swing

This month is traditionally a time of great hospitality and generosity, so go ahead and accept Ramadan sweets or invitations to feasts, parties and family gatherings. You can always return the favour with gift boxes of food or by practising zakat, and giving to a local charity. It might take a while for your body clock to adapt to the local rhythms of quiet days and staying up all night, but you’ll have a far more pleasant and interesting experience if you go with the flow. Twitter can help you stay on top of Ramadan timings this year. If you tweet pan-Arab news network @AlArabiya with the hashtag #iftar followed by the hashtagged name of your city (ie #Dubai), you’ll get an instant reply with your local iftar time.

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Dubai’s hottest new nightlife

From glamorous bars to off-the-hook clubs and a spread of fashionable restaurants, Dubai, as always, has a whole host of brand new nightlife openings. So if you’re planning a wild night out, a celebratory meal, or just want to revel in Dubai’s unique brand of glitz during your holidays, look no further – these are the newest places to party right now.

Above

Sitting on high in the Sofitel Downtown, Above lives up to its name when it comes to most things, but demonstrably not so when looking across to the towering Burj Khalifa. This rooftop lounge is quite literally in the shadow of the world’s tallest building, and Above has decided to make a virtue of the mega-structure, enjoying a vantage point that most people will never see. This will be particularly spectacular come New Year’s Eve when the Burj is transformed into a NASA-style launching pad for one of the best firework shows anywhere in the world.
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Mercury Lounge

The new Four Seasons Resort is home to the just-launched Mercury Lounge. A Tattinger champagne bar in the shape of a huge bubble sits in the middle of the huge, open space, over which impossible good-looking staff and ethereal (at least at the start of the night) punters glide. Largely an al-fresco lounge, it’s perfect for sundowners and bound to be massively popular all the way up to summer.
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Zengo

Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort is one of the more established hotels down in Dubai’s ever-evolving Marina, but it treated itself this year to a new venue in the form of Zengo. Parts bar, restaurant and lounge, like several other establishments around the city it pitches itself as somewhere you can spend your entire night without having to move on. The three bars – Mist, Fire and Smoke certainly help with that – they’re the kinds of places that you can hang out if for nothing than to people watch. Here you can grab a potent cocktail and see everyone from the sublime to the ridiculous to the more ridiculous.|
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The Scene

As the wider world begins to accept that perhaps British food isn’t all roast-dinners and fry-ups and may actually be worth trying, The Scene seems to have arrive at a good time in Dubai. This is British chef Simon Rimmer’s first project in the city, but it’s already been winning rave reviews for the quality and variety of its fare. You won’t find many other places in town serving fantastic Welsh rarebit, or whitebait. Also boasting a great location in Pier 7 in the heart of the Marina.
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CUT

Michelin-starred chef Wolfgang Puck has restaurants from LA to Singapore and this year finally expanded into the UAE with CUT. It’s unlikely to get any stars in its own right – at least until the French guide finally makes its way to Dubai – but it’s been impressing carnivores since it opened in summer. Its lavish brunch is also gaining a stellar reputation, boasting everything from grilled Japanese salmon to Austrian veal schnitzel.
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District 47

The Warwick Hotel on Dubai’s main artery, Sheikh Zayed Road, officially opened in April, but many of its amenities and venues took a bit longer to get up and running. Now the focus is very much on altitude, with the very impressive District 47. Officially the “highest rooftop club in Dubai”, it has trendy hip-hop and R&B nights through the week. If you’re the sort of person who goes clubbing for the cityscape views, then this is definitely the one for you.
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The Food Truck

If you’re tired of dressing up for posh restaurants and swanky bars, you could always try and find Jake’s food truck instead. A new concept for this part of the world, the free-to-roam truck – the sort of thing you find at music festivals around the world – changes location each day, but serves fantastic food until 8pm wherever it goes. Their bagel burgers are a thing of wonder. To find their latest location, check-out their Instagram account: @thefoodtruckdubai

 

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Taste of Dubai: the city’s best Emirati eats

While Dubai has plenty of intriguing cuisines on offer, from Pakistani and Peruvian to Ethiopian and Iranian, it’s always been a little trickier to find authentic UAE fare in the city.

Traditionally, these dishes have just been served in homes or at major celebrations, but that’s finally starting to change as a decent selection of Emirati restaurants crop up across town.

So what exactly is Emirati cuisine? Hearty meat dishes born in the desert and seafood from the Arabian Gulf usually served with flatbread and rice. Bezar, a blend of roasted and ground spices including coriander, cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon, is added to practically everything, while centuries-old trading partners such as Iran and India have also left their mark on the cuisine. Many of the newer restaurants aren’t just sticking to a traditional menu though: camel sliders and chicken tikka-stuffed bread are just a couple of the unexpected Emirati-fusion treats on offer. Here’s where to get your fill.

Contemporary cooking at Aseelah

With dishes like date-stuffed chicken roulade and juicy camel sliders, Aseelah at Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek serves up the city’s most adventurous and accomplished take on local cuisine. Old-school favourites are not forgotten; chef Uwe Micheel has spent years visiting Emirati families to master recipes like prawns marinated in bezar and aseeda bobar (pumpkin pudding). This stylish spot is the only Emirati restaurant that serves booze, with creative cocktails and a well-priced wine list.

Authentic flavours at Al Fanar

Al Fanar is a kitsch, fun spot, with food and décor harking back to the pre-oil days. Don’t let the Festival City Mall location put you off; designed like an old courtyard house, the restaurant is hugely atmospheric (just ignore the dodgy waxworks). First-timers are encouraged to try chicken machboos (a bezar-spiced rice dish) and tender naghar mashwi (grilled squid). There’s a second branch at Town Centre Jumeriah.

Home-style cooking at Al Tawasol

Locals have been flocking to the family-run Al Tawasol in Deira for food-like-Grandma-used-to-make since 1999. Take a seat on a corner of carpet in the main dining area or in one of the private tented majlis, then scoop up succulent lamb machboos and spicy salona (curry) with your hands. Al Tawasol also does a mean mandi, a Yemeni dish that’s been adopted across the Arabian Peninsula: meat slow-cooked in a tandoor and served over aromatic rice.

Camel milk treats at The Majlis

With intricate mashrabiya and a blue-tiled fountain, The Majlis (themajlisdubai.com) at Dubai Mall specialises in coffee, cakes, shakes and ice cream made from camel milk. A staple of the Bedouin diet until the mid-20th century, it’s lower in fat, and higher in vitamins and minerals, than the cow equivalent. Try a camelccino made with the café’s own blend of Ethiopian beans, paired with a pistachio-glazed éclair made with – you guessed it – camel milk.

Trendy-meets-traditional at Seven Sands

Spread over two floors at The Beach at JBR, Seven Sands (sevensandsrestaurant.com) features sleek Arabesque interiors and a breezy terrace overlooking the sea. Blending traditional with trendy, the menu is full of Emirati classics, but you’ll also see dishes from the wider region such as velvety hummus and crumbly kibbeh. Dishes to try? Sambousas – similar to Indian samosas but given a bezar spice twist – and prawn fouga flavoured with bezar, saffron and dry limes.

Creative khameer at Logma

Located in trendy BoxPark, Logma (logma.ae) is a hip eatery with modern interiors – think funky camel motifs and hanging kerosene lamps – and casual, contemporary Emirati fare. It’s a top spot for lunch with soft khameer flatbread stuffed with fillings such as chicken tikka, or smothered in more traditional cream cheese and dibs. Order with a side of Logma’s famous fries seasoned with Khaleeji spices.

Cultural meals at Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

For a crash course in both Emirati cuisine and culture, visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in a renovated wind-tower house in the historic Al Fahidi district. Dishes such as chicken machboos and lip-smackingly sweet luqaimat (donuts) drizzled in dibs (date syrup) are served while sitting cross-legged on carpets and cushions on the floor. Hosted by young Emirati volunteers, visitors are encouraged to ask questions about local culture, with no topic off-limits.

Comfort food at Al Barza

Below a kandora shop on Jumeirah Beach Road, a block back from the beach and 500 metres north of Mercato Mall, Al Barza features sandy interiors with dark latticework and an outdoor terrace. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, feel-good favourites include balaleet (scrambled eggs with cardamom-scented vermicelli noodles) and creamy harees (wheat porridge with shredded lamb). More adventurous diners can try tahtah malleh, a salt-cured fish and rice dish that is something of an acquired taste.

 

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Daredevil Dubai: top adventure sports

It might be tempting to spend your Dubai break sprawled on a sun lounger, but this corner of the world is packed with high-octane, adrenaline-charged activities. There are outdoors adventures to be had in the sand, sea and snow (yes, you read that right), and all are within a short taxi ride of each other. Got a need for speed? Go wakeboarding, skiing, sliding or racing F1-style – Dubai’s got it all.

Sandboarding

Beyond the city’s architectural giants are vast desert dunes of various colours and shapes. The UAE’s stunt riders head out to Big Red, an area packed with thousands of sandy mounds, where you can watch pro quadbikers, 4×4 drivers and sandboarders launching themselves off ledges and peaks. Fancy a go yourself? Adventure companies will drive willing participants to suitably high dunes, strap them to a board and send them hurtling down the slopes. Most companies will throw in some belly-flipping dune bashing for free too. It doesn’t hurt when you tumble, but be prepared to get a workout climbing back up the sandy hills. After a session, stick around to watch the desert sunset, where bright pinks, oranges, yellows and mauves combine, as gazelles dart off into the horizon.

Do it: Prices start from Dh292 (US$80) for an afternoon desert safari (request sandboarding when you book). Book a driver and gear with Alpha Tours, www.alphatoursdubai.com (+971 4 294 9888).

Skiing and snowboarding

In the centre of Dubai sits a huge refrigerator, containing one of the largest man-made ski slopes on the planet. Inside Ski Dubai, visitors will find 6000 tons of powdery snow and a 400-metre slope. With temperatures between -2°C and -9°C, you can pretend you’re in the Swiss Alps rather than a sweltering desert. While it’s not somewhere to try speed skiing (although you may find a few teenagers whizzing around), is its the ideal environment to hone your technique or learn the basics. Other snow-based activities include riding an indoor sub-zero zip line and a meeting a small penguin colony. A ‘VIP Peng-Friend encounter’ offers the chance to meet the sub-Arctic creatures in a private room, pet them, and watch them in a training session.

Do it: Dh200 (US$55) for a snow park pass. A VIP penguin-meeting session costs Dh850 ($232).

Wakeboarding

Zooming across the water at speeds of 40mph, with the warm Persian Gulf air against your face, wakeboarding gives you the rush of snowboarding but doesn’t hurt when you fall off. In Dubai’s Jebel Ali area, daredevils will find the perfect secluded spot, with optimum conditions for the sport. Unlike surfing or kiteboarding, wakeboarding is best done in calm conditions when the water is glassy and still. Just offshore from the Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa, the crest of the nearby Palm Jebel Ali creates a tranquil lagoon where visitors can slice through the duck egg blue aqua, while holding onto a cable attached to a 150 break horse power boat. Whether you are a beginner, learning to do your first jump over the frothy wake, or can expertly land 360s and backflips, the adrenaline factor never wears off.

Do it: A 20-minute wakeboarding lesson costs Dh250 (US$68) including board hire. Wetsuit hire starts from Dh50 (US$13), Watercooled, Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa, enter via Club Joumana, www.watercooleddubai.com (+971 4 887 6771).

F1 driving

The single-seater experience at Dubai Autodrome is as close as a novice can get to being Lewis Hamilton for the day. After a quick classroom lesson, the racetrack instructors will strap rookie gearheads into an ultra lightweight 180bhp car and set them loose on a mile-long circuit. Following a specially tuned Audi TTS, drivers will experience 0-100kph in four seconds, the roar of the engine and the smell of rubber as they crank the car around the 17 technical turns. Pounding along the track, beginners will feel how vulnerable Formula One drivers really are; one false move could send you spinning into another car, with nothing but fiberglass bodywork to protect you.

Do it: Dh875 (US$238). Instructors will kit you out in racing gear and a helmet, brief you, and line you up to race for 20 minutes on the track.

Aquaventure Waterpark

Bound down 1.6m of rapids, catapult yourself past a shark tank at 60mph or stand on a 75ft high trapdoor that opens beneath your feet and sends you hurtling through a double looped flume – it’s just another day at Aquaventure at Atlantis, The Palm. Rides dart out from ancient Middle Eastern themed buildings and the views from the waterpark, over the Palm Jumeirah, calm turquoise sea and the city’s skyscrapers beyond, are nothing short of stunning (and a nice distraction as you queue for your impending doom). Other activities on site include swimming with dolphins, meeting sea lions and the longest zip-line circuit in the Middle East.

 

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Dubai’s hippest, hottest hotel coming soon

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Top 10 things to know before visiting Dubai

Dubai is one of the most visited destinations in the world and home to a number of record-breakers, from the world’s tallest tower to the busiest international airport on the planet. Yet for all the city’s accolades, there are still plenty of misconceptions about the glitzy Gulf emirate. Here are 10 things you’ll want to know before you arrive.

1.You don’t have to be a millionaire

It’s regularly named one of the world’s most expensive cities, but you can enjoy Dubai on a budget. As the city gears up to host Expo 2020, millennial-friendly mid-market hotel chains such as Rove and Hilton Garden Inn are booming. Metered taxis are cheap by international standards, and you can ride the metro for as little as Dh3. The city is brimming with cheap eats too, especially around Al Muraqqabat Road and Al Rigga Road in Deira.

2.There is culture

Contrary to popular stereotypes, there’s more to Dubai than shopping and skyscrapers. Look beyond the bling, and you’ll discover a rich cultural heritage that blends Bedouin, Arab and Islamic traditions. For a quick history lesson, visit the Etihad Museum and Dubai Museum and then head to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre of Cultural Understandingfor a no-holds-barred Q&A session on Emirati culture. Meanwhile, explore the burgeoning contemporary art scene at Alserkal Avenue and catch a performance at the dhow-shaped Dubai Opera.

3.Dubai is not Dry

Think you can’t get a drink? Alcohol is available in licensed bars and restaurants, which are generally attached to hotels (although exceptions include some high-end eateries in Dubai International Financial Centreand City Walk). Most bars have happy hours – Nola has one of the best– and the legal drinking age is 21, so take your photo ID. Ladies’ night, usually on Tuesdays, means women can enjoy free drinks, while all-you-can-eat-and-drink Friday brunches are a Dubai institution.

4.Dubai’s a top spot for foodies

With Michelin tipped to launch a guide to Dubai in the near future, dining out in the city has never tasted so good. Dubai’s multicultural mix means you can feast on everything from budget-friendly ethnic eatsand traditional Emirati cuisine to French fine-dining and molecular gastronomy. Hip homegrown eateries like The Sum of Us and Salt are leading the shift away from international chains, while Frying Pan Adventures offers fantastic foodie tours of old Dubai.

5.Skip the burkini

Dubai is a cosmopolitan city, with expats making up almost 85% of the population. There’s no need to cover your hair; shorts and t-shirts are fine in many places, and you can wear a bikini at the beach or by the pool. It’s a glamorous city too, so dress to impress at brunch and out clubbing. In the malls, mosques and souqs, you should respect local Islamic culture by dressing modestly, which means shoulders and knees covered.

6.It’s incredibly forward-looking

Forget notions of a city fuelled solely by black gold; Dubai has successfully diversified its economy away from oil to become a thriving hub for transport, trade, finance and tourism. What’s more, the government is working with high-tech companies to develop self-driving cars, flying drone taxis and 3D organ printing. One of the most exciting partnerships is with Hyperloop One, which is developing a supersonic transport system that could link Dubai with Abu Dhabi in 12 minutes.

7.The weekend is Friday and Saturday

Most people have Friday off work, when Muslims gather for congregational prayers. Dubai Metro services start at 10am on Fridays, and businesses are traditionally closed for a few hours in the afternoon, although many now remain open throughout the day. If you’re looking to party, the busiest nights of the week are Thursdays and Fridays, while malls are also packed with shoppers until midnight.

8.Dubai wants to rival Orlando

Florida’s theme-park capital faces a new challenger, with four major theme parks opened in Dubai in 2016. They include IMG Worlds of Adventure, the world’s largest indoor theme park with dedicated Marvel and Cartoon Network zones, and the Hollywood-inspired Motiongate, with rides based on blockbusters such as Madagascar and Ghostbusters. Slated to open in late 2019, Six Flags Dubai is set to have the largest rollercoaster on the planet.

9.It’s probably safer than your home city

Despite unrest in the region, the UAE is the second safest country in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. Dubai is very safe compared with other large cities across the globe, and street crime is rare. It’s safe to take taxis at night, and walking around on your own is fine in most areas. The biggest dangers are reckless driving and crossing the street, with many motorists ignoring pedestrian crossings.

10.There’s a new super-tall tower in town

Dubai is a city that loves a superlative. Not content with the world’s tallest tower, the 828m Burj Khalifa, the emirate is building another epic skyscraper. Located at Dubai Creek Harbour, The Tower will stand at 928m when completed in 2020 and house a 360-degree observation platform, along with a hotel, restaurants and vertical gardens. It’s got competition for the ‘world’s tallest’ title though, with Saudi Arabia’s kilometre-high Jeddah Tower also set to open in 2020.