8 Reasons the New Year Will Be Epic in Dubai

Dec 23, 2020

When you think about destinations that are one-of-a-kind, Dubai has to jump to the top of that list.

We're talking about a city that has the world's tallest building, a man-made island shaped like a palm tree that you can see from space and indoor skiing at the mall (where you can get your Gucci, Cartier and Christian Louboutins between runs). Five-star hotels weren't luxury enough—so they went ahead and built a 7-star hotel. Even the cops drive Bugattis here. On top of all that, it's also a city rich in authentic cultural experiences. So "epic" is kind of baked-in when you're talking about Dubai. 

Then take epic and combine it with easy. The national airline, Emirates, flies nonstop from 12 U.S. airports to Dubai. And, if flying one of the world's best airlines wasn't enough, Emirates will also cover your travel insurance.

Dubai is one place that seemed to figure COVID-19 out quickly. They've already conducted 10 million tests (there's only 1 million people in the city), and they've been safely receiving international visitors since July. To visit, get a negative PCR test within 4 days prior to arrival along with travel insurance. (See the full COVID-19 travel requirements here.) 

With that in mind, the upcoming year stands to be next-level epic—even for Dubai. Here's why it should be at the top of your list for a potential trip in 2021 to make up for those passport stamps you missed out on in 2020.

The year starts with a bang

Remember concerts? Atlantis, The Palm sent off 2020 in a big way, throwing the KISS 2020 Goodbye Live, which featured one of the world's most iconic rock bands performing in front of a massive pyrotechnics show. If you missed the event on live stream, here's a quick taste.

Every New Year's Eve, the Burj Khalifa—aka the world's tallest building—turns into a stunning half-mile-tall LED-illuminated facade, with a countdown at midnight and a fireworks show set to music. Much like New Year's Eve in Times Square, this celebration is one you need to experience live at least once in your lifetime. Now you know where you'll be on Dec. 31, 2021 ... or 2022 ... or 2023 ...


So many icons, so little time

The city of Dubai keeps adding to its one-of-a-kind skyline, so much so that even if you've been here before, there will be something new to see the next time. Next up: Ain Dubai, which will be the world's tallest Ferris wheel at over 800 feet (or 250 feet taller than the next closest -- the High Roller in Las Vegas). 

No matter when you visit, you'll want to make it to the Burj Khalifa, holder of seven world records, including world's highest restaurant and highest observation deck on the 124th, 125th and 148th floors. (Pro tip: Buy tickets in advance online; they sell out.) Even in a sea of skyscrapers, this 2,722-foot marvel of modern architecture stands tall.

But that's not all of the eye candy in Dubai, where a short drive will serve as a master class in architecture. There's the Palm Jumeirah, an island which didn't even exist 20 years ago. You can stay in high-end hotels (including Atlantis, The Palm), visit chic beach clubs or kayak in the calm waters between the palm fronds. For something over-the-top, try skydiving to see a bird's-eye view of the man-made wonder.

The Burj Al Arab Jumeirah is perched like a sail on the Dubai coastline, and remains one of the leading luxury hotels in the world since it opened in 1999. There's the fleet of Rolls Royces on the beck and call of hotel guests, the infinity pool terrace that extends 300 feet into the Gulf (day passes are available) and restaurants helmed by chefs (Al Mahara's Kim Joinié-Maurin and Al Muntaha's Francky Semblat) that have five Michelin stars between them.

One final icon that your Instagram feed will need: The Dubai Frame, which looks like an empty picture frame, but up close you'll find it's tough to take a bad picture. When looking north through the frame, you will see Old Dubai, with bustling souks and the Dubai Creek. The view south through the frame showcases the New Dubai, with its skyscrapers and modern wonders. You can journey to the top of the frame for 360-degree views of the city, even if you look straight down through the glass bridge nearly 500 feet in the air.


Shopping is a sport here

Retail therapy is alive and well in Dubai. Serious shoppers worldwide circle the dates of the annual Dubai Shopping Festival, held at the turn of every year (Dec. 17, 2020 to Jan. 30, 2021). Outdoor markets, boutique pop-up shops from posh designers, and, of course, the city's world-class malls are decked out with deals. The best part? You can get a VAT refund, so all of your fashion finds are tax-free. (Better pack an extra suitcase, or buy one when you get there.)

You may need to rethink your definition of going shopping, when the mall has an aquarium and an Olympic-sized ice rink (completed with falling snow) in addition to, you know, high-end shops like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci. The 12.1-million-square-foot Dubai Mall has all that and more, plus the added benefit of being connected to the Burj Khalifa. Pro tip: Book an outside table at a nearby restaurant to catch the water show at the Dubai Fountain (think the Bellagio Fountains, but bigger) every half hour from 6-11 p.m.

A souk is a traditional Arab marketplace, and several of these bazaars should be on your must-see list. As the name implies, the Gold Souk is where you'll find ornate gold jewelry, as well as bespoke hand-crafted designs. They are so serious about gold here, the tourism website even has a gold shopping guide.

Follow your nose next door to the Spice Souk to take in the rich aromas of spices, herbs and incense, or venture to the Perfume Souk, where you could even get a personal fragrance bottled for you. The key with all souks in Dubai is to barter—never accept the first price you’re given, but rather put your negotiation skills to the test.


You can do all that, and still hit the beach

You may not think of Dubai as a beach getaway, but with all that sun and sand set on the coastline of the azure Gulf waters, how could it not be? While you can choose to join the scene at beach clubs like Nikki Beach or Cove Beach, you'll also find several public beaches that are free to visit and a great way to relax.

Sunset Beach, or Umm Suqeim, is a quiet, spacious stretch of sand that offers up a prime view of the Burj Al Arab. Also near Jumeirah is Kite Beach, a perfect pick for more active beachgoers, who will find watersports like kite surfing and kayaking on offer. For a full range of options, pick a spot known just as The Beach, which has a resort feel including shops, activities (fancy a seaside camel ride?) and restaurants.


Go between modern and millennia-old culture

Dubai Creek has long played an essential role in the city's growth into a global center for commerce and tourism. Along its banks, you'll find the Al Shindagha Museum, which traces that history and heritage through an immersive multi-media experience. 

Take an abra (water taxi) down the Dubai Creek to Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood. This quarter is one of the best places to dive into the city's heritage, as you follow mazelike lanes and explore cafes, art galleries, shops and museums. Don't miss the chance to stop for tea or coffee, which plays a key role in Arabian culture.

Go from one district rooted in the past to a new area that has been transformed from industrial warehouses to a hotbed of creativity, Alserkal Avenue. This arts district is a place to see some of the region's emerging artists, in addition to contemporary Middle Eastern art housed in funky spaces.


The outdoor adventures are epic too

While the skyscrapers may get the headlines, getting out of the city for a few hours is definitely recommended.

Options range from relaxing (catching a sunset at Al Qudra Lakes or a balloon ride over the desert) to moderate (a 4x4 desert safari or camel rides) to adrenaline-pumping (quad-biking over Big Red, Dubai's most famous sand dune, or skydiving over Palm Jumeirah). If a few hours isn't enough, you can book an overnight Bedouin experience—where you'll dine under the stars, sleep in traditional tents and enjoy a demonstration with the falcon, the national bird of Dubai.

For a true "I never expected this here" experience, drive about 90 minutes through the desert to the mountain town of Hatta, where you can hike, mountain bike and kayak on the lake at the Hatta Dam.


Hospitality is baked into the culture

As Dubai has drawn more ex-pats and international visitors, its culinary scene has become more diverse, but it still remains rooted in the centuries-old tradition of Bedouin hospitality. In fact, many hotels and businesses still offer dates and coffee to guests.

Traditional Emirati food lends itself to hearty one-pot dishes of rice and either fish or meat, spiced with saffron, tumeric, cinnamon and other spices. You'll also find strong options for Indian and Pakistani cuisine, as well as a growing food-truck scene. Keep an eye out for the 2021 dates of the Dubai Food Festival, an annual culinary celebration where restaurants offer special menus and discounted prices.

One thing you don't want to miss is Friday brunch, as the weekend starts with an indulgent meal. Two things to know: first, Friday brunch is an afternoon meal (it's basically the only meal of the day), and second, if you want alcohol with your brunch, you're going to want to get a table at one of the hotel sumptuous brunches, as they have the city's only liquor licenses.


Expo 2020 will be worth the wait

World expos have a long history of bringing people from around the globe together to celebrate achievements, promote cultural understanding and look forward to a better future.

The first such event to be held in the Middle East, Expo 2020 will be bigger and better than ever—this is Dubai, after all. The COVID-19 pandemic forced a one-year postponement, but when the doors open to guests on Oct. 1, 2021, the six-month event will bring 190 nations together around themes of opportunity, mobility and sustainability. Expect this to be—in a word—epic.


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