We all know Dubai is a rich man's playground, oozing wealth from every pore and generally just dazzling the world with its in-your-face, "let's go bigger" attitude. I'm talking about the city's über-luxurious hotels, such as the Burj Al Arab, its 300 manmade islands designed to look like the world when seen from the air, and Dubailand, the constantly growing entertainment complex.
Clearly, Dubai is designed to impress, and thanks to high temperatures, it's fine to visit all year long. But what can you actually do there besides stand and gawk?
Well, for starters, have you ever heard of "dune bashing"? It's a fancy term for off-roading in the desert. A quick Google search reveals a host of options for these desert safaris, full of dune bashing, quad biking and sand skiing, not to mention some shisha (hookah) and belly-dancing entertainment. Typically, dune-bashing expeditions last three to four hours. Your driver will take a group of up to four of you into the dunes. And if the heat gets a bit much, there's always the Mall of the Emirates, with its indoor ski slope, featuring real snow.
If you've brought the family, there's the Wild Wadi Waterpark with its 30 rides and attractions, such as racing slides and wave riders. At the Dubai Mall, there's an award-winning entertainment centre called KidZania, where kids can dress up in the garb of different professions -- not just your standard ones but also roles like customs inspector, biscuit manufacturer, comic-book artist, and radio and television host.
Speaking of malls, Dubai is more than happy to oblige if shopping is on your mind. While the actual luxury-brand shops won't differ too much from those you might find in Paris or New York, it's the way in which they entice you that will raise eyebrows. The Souk Madinat, for example, has a series of waterways set up from the Madinat Jumeirah Hotel to its shops and restaurants to prevent weary feet and keep your wallet open. The Mall of Arabia, one of the world's largest retail outlets, has more than 1000 stores.
For a different kind of shopping experience, you can visit the Gold Souk, which is crammed with hundreds of shops offering a selection of jewellery, bracelets and trinkets. Considering there is an estimated 10 tonnes of gold present at any time, it’s a great place to pick up a bargain, particularly if you are prepared to haggle. It’s located off and around Sikkat Al-Khail Rd, Deira, and is open until 10pm from Tuesday to Friday.
Tiring of being on your feet all day? Champagne brunch doesn’t come cheap, but it’s a Dubai institution, a treat and experience in its own right. Many of the hotels offer lavish feasts lasting several hours with unlimited champagne throughout. Usually set up as a huge buffet, the food is premium quality and includes treats such as lobster, wagyu beef, sushi and chocolate fountains. Expect to pay around £60-£100 per head, and 25% less if you don’t drink alcohol. We recommend the Friday brunch at Al Qasr. You probably won’t need to eat for days afterwards.
Finally, it would seem a shame not to go to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, while you’re in this land of excess. At 828 metres, it’s nearly three times the size of The Shard in London and home to the highest outdoor observation deck in the world. You’ll get about an hour at the top. Tickets are cheaper (£22/125AED) if you pre-book -- be warned it’s £71 if you buy tickets for immediate entry.
While it is a bit of a fantasy land, there are harsh consequences for breaking the rules of this Muslim city, so be sure to read up on them before head out.
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Annemarie Kropf also contributed to this blog