Things to do in Dubai: the VIP list
If you’re planning a Dubai holiday and want some serious bragging rights, we’ve got just the activities for you.
We spoke to luxury travel journalist Danae Mercer about the most decadent things to try in the glittering UAE city – plus some more wallet-friendly alternatives. Here’s what she said…
Dubai’s most luxurious desert trip
There’s a wild beauty about Dubai’s desert, where rolling sand dunes sink into the horizon and oryx run past.
See all of this in style with Platinum Heritage, a premium tour operator that offers some seriously upmarket experiences. Imagine heading out into the desert in a vintage Land Rover, dining on a 4-course traditional meal by candlelight under the stars as Emirati music plays, then sinking into a luxury tent. In the morning, you’ll wake up before sunrise to ride in a hot air balloon over protected nature reserves (from $570 per person).
Affordable option: Arabian Adventures has a reputation for quality safaris with Arabic meals, traditional dancing, camel rides, henna and quality guides, all at mid-range prices ($62 per person).
Dubai’s most decadent spa
Stepping through the heavy turquoise doors of Talise Ottoman Spa at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray is like travelling back in time. The entire space is done in mosaics, lined with grand columns and elaborate paintings. Guests (separated by gender) relax in a lounge pool after moving through steam rooms, saunas, snow rooms and showers. Others lay on cushions behind curtained alcoves, nibbling dates and cashew nuts.
Book into Talise’s traditional hammam. This 45-minute treatment involves an intense exfoliation and a foam massage, resulting in the softest skin you’ll ever feel.
Affordable option: Head to Tips & Toes or N’Style for one of their wallet-friendly but still fantastic 30-minute head/back/neck massages. Or visit the newly opened Rossano Ferretti salon for an upmarket mani/pedi that includes massage elements.
Most extravagant cultural immersion
Historically the Bedouins, Dubai’s nomadic people, used falcons to hunt and survive. Today falconry continues to be an integral part of the UAE’s culture – so much so that the falcon can be found on Dubai’s currency.
For a hands-on falcon experience, book a morning falconry safari with Royal Shaheen. After travelling into the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, an expert falconer will demonstrate handling, feeding and flying falcons, hawks and owls. Then it’s your turn. The trip includes stops at the camel racetrack and the falcon souk, as well as a luxury breakfast (from $284 per person).
Affordable option: Visit the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital to learn how experts help sick and injured falcons, watch falcons in flight and possibly even hold a falcon on your arm (from $46 per person).
Most over-the-top gin
With Bentley chauffeurs, oceanfront pools and four different themed penthouse-style suites, the Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach has plenty that’s gloriously decadent. Its approach to gin is no different.
Inside Hendricks Bar gin is taken to the next level. This dimly lit venue, all dark woods and leathers, evokes the Roaring Twenties. There’s a cigar lounge, but the real draw here is the gin. This bar has gins that you don’t even know exist – and a “build your own drink” menu that features endless combinations of infused gins, mixers, ice cubes, glass types, accents and everything in between.
If things get too overwhelming, just wait for the gin trolley. This little flourish brings the bar – and the bartender’s drink-mixing guidance – table-side.
Affordable option: Keep an eye on Dubai’s ladies nights (and its growing number of men’s nights). While the free drinks won’t be of the same bespoke quality, their price is hard to beat.
Most incredible view in Dubai
The Dubai Fountain, the world’s largest choreographed fountain, draws throngs of visitors every night. They gather around to watch some 6,600 lights, 25 coloured projectors and 22,000 gallons of airborne water move through 1,000 different ‘water expressions’, all against a backdrop of changing songs.
The view from the ground is free but the crowds get chaotic. A much more exclusive show is available at the Armani Hotel, a 5-star hotel in the Burj Khalifa (aka the world’s tallest tower). Suites at this elegant fashion-inspired property feature floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the entire Dubai Fountain. An in-room sound system allows you to hear the accompanying songs – all while sipping complimentary drinks from the private bar.
Affordable option: The entire Dubai Fountain show is free, but for amazing views without the jostling crowds, book into a restaurant at the adjoining Souk Al Bahar. Baker and Spice has great organic salads and breads, while Bice Mare does incredible fish.
Most indulgent drink
Gold on 27 is big on bling. This super-luxury bar sits on the 27th floor of Dubai’s “7-star” sail-shaped Burj Al Arab. You’ll have to walk past dancing fountains, cross marble floors and step into a gold lift to reach it. The bar itself is an explosion of gold, ranging from gold chairs to gold lights to metallic gold accents.
The drinks menu is all about statement cocktails with flashy flourishes. “Scent Of The Souk” comes served with an Arabic lamp puffing bits of smoke. “Rub’ Al Khali” involves rum aged in a goat skin bag. Then there’s “Light Sweet Crude”, a slippery drink that mixes foie gras, whiskey and charcoal-infused truffle oil.
Affordable option: To enjoy all the glitter of Gold on 27 without drinking your funds away, try Dubai’s Gold & Diamond Park. Less touristy than the Gold Souk, this market is a great spot to grab great deals.
Most extravagant ride
Whether you’re after a Lamborghini or a luxury chopper, Dubai has high-end transport for all.
You can rent a supercar for the day from VIP Luxury, a group that offers Maseratis, Ferraris, Rolls-Royces and more. Alternatively, channel your inner leisure traveller with a private yacht that will take you around the Gulf. Xclusive Yachts has a good reputation and fully crewed luxury boats ideal for those decadent days out.
When boats and cars become boring, head to the skies. Uber offers chopper tours around the glittering city.
Affordable option: The Dubai Metro is slick, clean, efficient and reliable. Tickets are cheap and take you to some of the big destinations, like the malls and the marina.