It’s almost like a scene out of The Stepford Wives, sans the wives. The lawns are manicured, the homes, pristine — not a soul where he shouldn’t be – the drive from Dubai International Airport to the JBR area (Jumeirah Beach Residence), was like being ferried through a suburban Utopia. And even as the row houses gave way to metallic buildings and complex high-rises, everything seemed perfect in Dubai – or at least functioning in a well-oiled, processed manner.
And coming from Mumbai, where (mostly) organised chaos takes centre stage — roads are littered with buildings with peeling paint and people are everywhere— on my first visit, the perfection of the city seemed almost too perfect, even after I witnessed the crowded malls on weekends and the “bad” Thursday night traffic. But on my third visit there, I had finally scratched its seemingly perfect surface and begun to feel a little more comfortable around its manufactured perfection. And while I’m grateful to Emirati city and the access it gives me to global favourites like Cheesecake Factory to iHop and the hoard of malls to appease every shopaholic, I found there’s a lot to do in Dubai beyond simply shopping. From exploring Bur Dubai, the historic district, located on the western side of the Creek and Diera to picnics at Zabeel Park (when the weather permits) to making the most of its luxe food and nightlife scene, I’ve rounded my favourite things to do and the places you must eat at – if you want to give more than just your credit card a spin in the Emirate. Fair warning: This is a luxury holiday destination… so be prepared to spend a little money, even if you’re skipping out on the shopping.
Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort created within the Mall of Emirates offers a bunch of snow sports and the chance for you to play in the snow, while technically still in the desert. My inner snow angel was particularly partial to the chubby penguins that we met there.
Officially opened in early 2018, The Dubai Frame at Zabeel Park, designed by Fernando Donis is made of glass, steel, aluminium, and reinforced concrete and stands in such a way that on one end the landmarks of the new part of the part of the city are visible, while the other end offers views of the old city—making it a great representation of a city that seems to change every time you visit.
In less than two years, the Dubai Opera has gained a steady fan following—with good reason. Located in the Opera district, in a stunning glass façade building, a trip to this 2,000-seat, multi-format, performing arts centre is the perfect way to spend an evening. We were partial to emotional classics like Romeo & Juliet.
The world’s largest choreographed fountain system set at the centre of the Downtown Dubai development, watch the fountains dance and swirl under the moonlit sky – it’s free and is lovely in the winter time.
La Perle by Dragone
Franco Dragone is well-known for his aqua-based shows and it was in late 2017 that this Emirate got a taste of the Cirque du Soleil veteran’s vision, with a resident show in a theatre built at Al Habtoor city. Think 65 super in-shape artists who range from dancers to Olympic athletes, performing gravity-defying acrobatic, aquatic and aerial stunts that made sure I kept my groggy eyes wide-open even after an entire day of touring through the city.
Want to sample traditional Emirati cuisine? Seven Sands, situated at the JBR walk, should be on your list – think shark sambousas (which apparently inspired the Indian samosa), several rice-based main courses and of course, hummus in all its glory.
The Cocoa Kitchen
We love all things chocolate – so when a café promises that each of its dishes will include an element of cocoa, we couldn’t wait to try it. We visited Cocoa Kitchen at Citywalk and that hot chocolate is something we won’t be forgetting for a long, long time.
J&G Steakhouse, St Regis
With candlelit tables and a gorgeous, endless stairwell leading to the restaurant, J&G is hardly your average steakhouse (though it is well known for its range of American classics). For those who aren’t a fan of the meat, we recommend their foie-grass stuffed chicken, paired with a delicate white wine, from their elegantly curated seafood and steak menu.
Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera
Nestled within the opera building, I almost didn’t notice the Burj Khalifa peeking down at me as I sat down at the rooftop terrace of Sean Connolly at the Opera for a winter-night meal. At the British-born chef’s first restaurant in the Middle East, a contemporary brasserie that opened its doors in late 2017, the menu features a range of seafood and steak, all impeccably cooked and plated. We loved the lobster burger and entrée of grilled white peaches, buffalo mozzarella and pistachio pesto.
Bleu Blanc by David Myers at Renaissance Downtown Hotel Dubai
Designed like a chic southern French farmhouse, a wood-fired grill takes centre stage at this in-hotel restaurant – we loved the roasted baby chicken and lamb kebabs! Morimoto Dubai is slated to open at the property soon – so stay tuned for the Japanese favourite!
Location: Dubai, UAE
Getting there: Easily accessible via air
Best time to visit: November to March
Other attractions: Burj Al Arab, Jumeira Beach, Palm Jumeira, Grand Mosque, Dubai Gold souk, Dubai Spice souk, Textile souk, Al Bastakiya
For amusement park fans: IMG Worlds of Adventure, Motiongate Dubai, Legoland Dubai, Bollywood Parks