Perfect Days and Nights
A Perfect Day Downtown
Dubai has only recently started thinking about highlighting its history, but the handful of attractions it does have give a clear view of what the city once was—before the economic frenzy took hold. They're set close together, making it possible to see them all in one day with plenty of time in between for refreshment stops, shopping, and a good lunch.
Start on the Deira side in the Al Ras district. Tour Heritage House, a historic home, for a glimpse into family life during the 1930s and Al-Ahmadiya School, one of Dubai's most renowned educational institutions. From here, it's only a five-minute walk to the Gold Souk where you can haggle for one of Dubai's best commodities—jewelry—though the atmosphere is better here in the evening. After visiting the souk, or market, walk to the creek front to the Spice Souk where you can buy supplies of frankincense and saffron. Cross the creek by abra (boat) to Bur Dubai and follow the route through the Textile Souk (left of the abra station) to visit Dubai Museum in Al-Fahidi Fort. It's a rendition of the trading center the city used to be.
By this time, it'll be late morning and the old districts of the city will be preparing for a siesta in the heat of the day. Enjoy a leisurely lunch, perhaps at the Fish Market at the Radisson SAS Hotel, which overlooks the creek on the Deira side. Or better yet, take a taxi to Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club where you can dine alfresco at Boardwalk restaurant.
In the late afternoon, return to Bur Dubai and visit Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House for its collection of photographs of the city during the mid-20th century and outstanding views across the lower creek. Have a drink at a creek-front café as you wait for the Heritage and Diving villages to come alive around nightfall. Then make your way to Bastakiya and explore the beautiful old quarter under the gentle light of street lamps. Enjoy dinner at Bastakiya Nights amidst genuine Arabic architecture, decor, and cuisine. Plus, the upstairs terraces have views of the activity on the north and south banks of the creek. At night Emirati and Indian families spend the evenings strolling in the cool air, so relax with an after-dinner walk soaking in the sights and sounds.
Cityscape Dubai. Considered the world's largest business-to-business property development and investment exhibition, Cityscape Dubai is where you learn of the emirate's real estate and megaproject plans. Sheikh Mohammed outlines his vision for future flagship developments in Dubai and around the Gulf region in state-of-the-art presentations. In 2007 nearly 52,000 investors, property developers, government agencies, architects, and designers from 136 countries attended the exhibition. Cityscape Dubai takes place in early October.
A Perfect Day of Retail Therapy
If you love to shop, Dubai is certainly the place for you. From massive air-conditioned malls, to historic shopping quarters, the city is alive with retail options, and warmly welcomes visitors who have an urge to splurge.
Malls open at 10 am, so fortify yourself with some caffeine and spend an hour or two at either of the supersized malls, Mall of the Emirates or Ibn Batutta Mall. However, if it's Friday or Saturday morning between October and April, postpone the mall excursion and head first to the art market in Dubai Marina. Vendor kiosks selling handmade art, handicrafts, and clothing line Marina Walk, and the setting on the water's edge surrounded by the high-rise towers is amazing. From Dubai Marina, it's an easy taxi ride to both malls.
If you'd rather have lunch at a mall with more pleasant views, take the 30-minute taxi ride to Festival City where you can have a quick snack or light lunch in one of the casual canal-side eateries. Or walk through the mall to the connecting InterContinental and Crowne-Plaza hotels and take in impressive views of the creek from the restaurant's terrace. After lunch, you can stroll around the mall.
Downtown souks usually close during the afternoon and open again around 4 pm. They really begin to bustle around 7 pm. Visit the Spice Souk for stocks of saffron, cinnamon, and frankincense, then walk a few minutes to the Gold Souk for a dazzling display of precious stones and metals.
If you have energy left to burn, head south to Madinat Jumeirah where you can complete your list of souvenirs at the modern souk's shops. Then relax over dinner or a drink at one of the waterside restaurants. Pierchic or Zheng He's are both highly recommended.
A Perfect Day at Play
Start early in this desert state, where visibility is best in the couple hours after sunrise. Better yet, head out before dawn in a hot-air balloon, where you'll see the sun's first rays break the horizon (only available during winter). You'll witness the whole exciting process—setting up the rig and inflating the huge canopy. Or if the balloons make you nervous, instead try zipping across the water and lifting off in a Cessna seaplane. The tours along the coast offer a bird's-eye view of Dubai's incredible offshore islands.
Later in the morning, hook up with a guide for an hour or two of bashing through the desert along a wadi (dry riverbed) or in the hills around Hatta in a gusty 4WD vehicle. It's an adrenaline-packed trip that takes you through some extreme landscapes.
After lunch, book a desert driving course. You'll need your utmost concentration to tackle the loosely packed dunes of the Empty Quarter and triumph over the sand. If you'd rather not get behind the wheel, try the more traditional camel safari. The "ship of the desert" carries you at a sedate pace and provides a perfect perch from which you can watch the sun drop and the desert sand take on a glowing rose hue.
From here, head back to Dubai for an hour on the piste at Ski Dubai where the black run will tax even the most experienced skier. Then you can finally relax over an evening cocktail knowing you gave it your all.
Nabati: Past and Present. Nabati, the traditional poetry of the desert, is a form of prose that uses the everyday language of the Bedouin people rather than elevated Arabic. Used as a type of oral history since the 16th century, Nabati communicates past events to future generations and strengthens family bonds by providing entertainment around the campfires on cold desert evenings. Various themes, including chivalry and wisdom, reach to the heart of the Bedouin character. Sheikh Mohammed loves the art form and writes his own Nabati tales. Examples can be seen on his Web site at
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