This month, globetrotting travel journalist Lara Brunt gives us the low-down on the glitzy Gulf emirate.
I moved to Dubai in 2014 when I was offered a job at the region’s largest travel magazine. With year-round sunshine, luxury hotels and the world’s busiest international airport, the appeal was clear to see.
Famous for its audacious architecture and fleets of supercars, the ‘Manhattan of the Middle East’ can feel a little overwhelming for the first-time visitor. To get a feel for the old city, which sprang up around the Dubai Creek in the mid-1800s, head to the Al-Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood.
Wander along the atmospheric alleyways and admire the restored wind tower houses that are now filled with art galleries, teahouses and small museums (the Dubai Museum and Saruq Al-Hadid Archaeological Museum are must-visits). Stop by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which hosts traditional Emirati meals followed by a no-holds-barred Q&A session on local culture, then take an abra (traditional wooden boat) across the creek to the spice and gold souks of Deira for just one dirham each way.
Soaring 828 metres into the sky, the Burj Khalifa is one of Dubai’s biggest draws. A high-speed elevator delivers you to the observation decks at level 124 or level 148, and floor-to-ceiling glass provides 360-degree views of the sea of skyscrapers below. No matter how many times I visit, I’m always blown away by the futuristic city. Time your visit for sunset and be sure to pre-book tickets online and you’ll save yourself a third of the walk-in price.
With a keen focus on contemporary art, Dubai has a burgeoning art scene centred around the financial district of DIFC and the industrial area of Al Quoz. The former is home to a dozen spaces including The Empty Quarter, the city’s only gallery devoted exclusively to fine-art photography, while Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz has around 15 edgier galleries housed in converted warehouses. If you’re looking for some unique souvenirs, there are some hip indie boutiques too, including CHI-KA (for handpainted kimono abayas) and bean-to-bar chocolatier Mirzam. If your energy levels are flagging, stroll across the street to Boston Lane café, which is located in a cobbled courtyard alongside a handful of cool stores.
I also love taking visitors to Jumeirah Corniche, a nine-mile boardwalk that runs along the beachfront from near Jumeirah Mosque to the iconic Burj Al Arab. Stop for a dip at Kite Beach, named for its popularity with kite surfers, and treat yourself to a Waygu beef slider at the hugely popular Salt food truck.
Dubai is home to hundreds of different nationalities, so it’s little wonder that the emirate dishes up a veritable smorgasbord of fantastic cuisine from across the globe. My current hotspots include Carnival by Tresind, known for its playful Indian molecular gastronomy, and Play, helmed by ex-Zuma chef Reif Othman. And if you’re in town on a Friday – the first day of the weekend in Dubai – head to one of the city’s famously hedonistic brunches such as Coya at the Four Seasons hotel.
LARA BRUNT is an Australian-born, Dubai-based travel and lifestyle journalist. Her work appears regularly in online and print publications for the likes of Lonely Planet, The Telegraph, Condé Nast Traveller, Luxury Travel and South China Morning Post.