Dubai is undeniably the most popular destination for layovers. Strategically located between the east and the west, Dubai has become the best place for travellers to sojourn before continuing their journey especially for flights that take more than 10 or 20 hours. But have you considered going into the city for a short day or two to check out what Dubai has to offer?
The city is brimming with luxury shopping malls, avant-garde architecture and lively nightlife. It is also home to beach clubs, parks and resorts as well as over-the-top luxury hotels including Palazzo Versace Dubai at Jaddaf Waterfront and the Atlantis in Palm Jumeirah Island. These overly pompous buildings may sometimes be a little too much for some but those who enjoy the company of butlers and gold threaded bathrobes would certainly feel comfortably at home.
Beyond the glitz and glamour, Dubai is really an accessible city for the modern day traveller. You can indulge in some of the world’s best fine dining restaurants and still get shawarma from the streets. You can tour the city in a helicopter and even ride on a camel to cross the desert – and also enjoy a feast in traditional bedouin tents while being entertained by local belly dancers.
All you need to do is step out from the airport.
Stay Close to the Metro
The metro is definitely the easiest and most convenient way to tour Dubai without wasting time in traffic (and the heat). If you’re planning to stay for a night or two, Novotel Dubai Al-Barsha is one that offers the best of both worlds – it is located in the centre of the city within near proximity to all key attractions including the Jumeirah Beach and Burj Khalifa. Its location also provides easy access to and from Dubai International Airport especially with the Sharaf DG Metro Station located just a few steps away from the hotel.
Stay in Kempinski Hotel or Sheraton Mall of Emirates Hotel if you like to be close to the shopping mall and still having the luxury of being within walking distance to the metro. Mall of the Emirates is one of the largest shopping malls in Dubai housing over 650 brands and also the first indoor ski resort and snow park in the Middle East. If you prefer some cultural immersion, The Habtoor Palace Dubai (previously The St. Regis Dubai) will leave you impressed with its classical Islamic architecture.
At night, take a stroll around the vicinity to check out the local dining spots offering some of the most authentic Emirati, Indian and Middle Eastern food. It’s best to come between December and March to enjoy the comfortable weather where you can walk freely during the day and night without having to worry about the scorching heat.
Experience the Tours
There are plenty of tours that are specially arranged to cater to the most demanding of travellers. Make early bookings, as there are only specific time slots in a day for each tour. The Desert Safari is always a fun choice as you traverse through the undulating desert on a camel – and even watch a herd of impalas if you’re lucky. If you’d like to splurge or impress someone special, book a hot air balloon for a change.
Dubai is also home to the largest Hollywood-inspired theme park in the Middle East with thrilling rides, unique cinematic experiences and thematic restaurants set in an immersive indoor environment — from the Smurfs Village and Hotel Transylvania to the Valley of Peace from Kung Fu Panda.
Architecture enthusiasts would also enjoy a visit to Dubai for its out-of-the-world architectural marvels especially with the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa standing at 830-metres tall. The design is inspired by the spider lily, which is a regional desert flower known for its long petals. Make your way up to Level 148 and look out to the man-made city from the world’s highest outdoor observation deck.
Surrounding the tower is The Dubai Fountain, one of the city’s most compelling attractions. Enjoy the captivating spectacle of water, music and light every evening at 6.00pm. After that, head over to Dubai Mall – the second largest mall in the world — for some food and shopping.
Take a brisk walk along Dubai Creek to enjoy a little bit of the old city in Al-Fahidi historical neighbourhood. There are over 150 restaurants and cafes along the creek but it is best to venture into the old district to look for hidden gems like the XVA Gallery and Café. Immerse in an art exhibition set inside a traditional arish house made using mud and straws. Your tour ends at the in-house café serving fresh vegetarian food.
Otherwise, dine at Bastakiya Restaurant al-fresco dining experience in the heritage mud house surrounded by creepers. Sample its Egyptian Breakfast Tray comprising fava beans, falafel, musaqaa, hummus and fresh tandoor bread or the Arabic Breakfast Tray that comes with zaatar, labneh, makdous, watermelon jam, eggs, cheese and mixed olives. You should also try the Emirati dishes especially the Saloona Laham (spicy lamb stew served with long-grain rice or bread) and Samak Machboos (king fish cooked with rice and gulf spices). If you feel adventurous, quench your thirst with a glass of cold camel’s milk for a change.
After your meal, continue to the various museums in the neighbourhood. We’d recommend the Coins House, Camel Museum, and the Dubai Museum that previously served as a ruler’s palace, a garrison and a prison. Your visit here should take no more than two hours.
If you have some time, take the abras (a traditional boat) across the creek to the old quarters where traditional souks and bustling markets offer a potpourri of spices, pashminas, gold and jewellery . But beware of being ‘too nice’ as these shop owners can be quite relentless and pushy at times.
Contrary to popular belief, Dubai is a vibrant place for flourishing flora and fauna with multiple animal sanctuaries and aquariums. It is not just a barren desert after all.
Visit the bio-dome at The Green Planet to immerse yourself in the tropics. The enclosed ecosystem recreates a tropical forest with over 3,000 plants and animals such as sloths, hornbills and sugar gliders. The entire ‘forest’ is built around the world’s largest indoor man-made and life-sustaining tree. At the bottom of the flooded rainforest is a giant aquarium filled with arapaimas, arowana and stingrays.
You can also head to The Lost Chambers Aquarium at Atlantis at The Palm, Dubai or Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo inside Dubai Mall to see some of the most mesmerising sea creatures like sea dragons, bichirs and pineapple fish.