Dubai is a diverse city with a range of things to see and do. Once you’ve had enough lazing by the beach or pool you’ll want to get out, explore the city and do some sightseeing. I’ve put together some Dubai must-dos which showcase five different characteristics of the city and its surroundings; nature, gastronomy, history, culture and, of course, shopping. So here are my top five – what to see and do in Dubai…
Nature (and a bit of adrenaline) – Escape the city and take a Desert Safari
‘I won’t stop until I get a reaction’ said our desert safari driver, Ramzi, from Alpha Tours. Marie-Claire remained unmoved and perfectly poised as we scaled yet another dune, crested the ridge and descended at break-neck speed. We climbed the next dune at what seemed like a 45 degree angle before swerving and racing back to the bottom kicking up sand behind us. A smile may have played around Marie-Claire’s lips at this point but I was too busy hanging on to notice. Ramzi shook his head and put his foot down and we were off again; dipping, diving and swerving and at last a small squeak escaped from Marie-Claire. Happy that he’d done his dune-bashing duty and got a ‘scream’ from everyone we continued into the desert.
The dunes rippled and rolled into infinity like apricot waves on a burnt orange ocean. We hopped out to take in the stunning views and soak up the moment. I climbed up to the ridge of a dune and the view at the top was one of those moments when you just stop and look and can’t believe how utterly beautiful our world is. We went further into the desert passing some camels and an Oryx casually watching us as we passed by.
Our destination was a carpeted desert camp where we rode camels, watched the sun go down and spent the evening sitting on plump cushions eating delicious Emirati fare. A belly dancer entertained while shisha smoke hung in the night air and hands were hennaed under a star-studded sky.
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Gastronomy – Friday Brunch at Ritz Carlton Dubai
What springs to mind when you hear the word brunch? Eggs Benedict and fresh coffee; scrambled eggs or beans on toast? Jog on because Friday brunch in Dubai is an institution with Dubai locals and the word ‘brunch’ really doesn’t do it justice. This is a full-blown feast which starts at lunchtime and goes on for hours. We enjoyed the fabulous Rotisserie Brunch at Ritz Carlton Dubai which was absolutely superb.
Brunch at Caravan in the Ritz Carlton is a farm to table experience. Local produce is sourced and a gastronomic adventure commences with cuisine from Arabia, India and the Mediterranean. Sip a glass or two of champagne or some of the hotel’s designer cocktails. The Bedouin Beauty made with fresh pomegranate was delicious and I may have enjoyed a delicate Pear Dew Cider or two. There are live cooking stations and carved meat selections from the flaming rotisserie oven. The fish selection is brimming with fresh oysters, lobster and shellfish and if sushi and sashimi’s your thing you’ll find that too. Big Rami’s Chicken Shawarma was an aromatic spicy hit and I loved the selection of hummus, slow-cooked couscous and roasted vegetables. Then came the sweet treats. I’ll let the pictures do the talking…
Shopping – Dubai Mall
The Burj Khalifa is right next to Dubai Mall so after you’ve spied Dubai from the sky a visit to Dubai Mall for a spot of shopping in Fashion Avenue is a must – even if it’s just to window-shop. Thousands of white paper butterflies flutter from the ceilings and a bright clear light filters through the glass ceilings onto row upon row of designer shops. You’re totally spoilt for choice. There are plenty of high-street stores too and the mall is home to the world’s largest shoe shop. And a girl can never have too many shoes…
There’s an ice rink and cinema in Dubai Mall but I decided to use my time to check out Dubai Mall’s Aquarium. You can see the fish through the huge glass window in the mall itself but I paid the UAD80 to go into the underwater zoo and walk through the aquarium’s tunnel.
It was fascinating to see sharks and rays swim over and around me just inches from my face. I found Nemo amongst the sea plants and was mesmerised by the undulating jellyfish in the underwater zoo. The aquarium is worth a look whether you have children with you or not.
History – Cross the Creek
If there’s one thing that will take you right back to Dubai’s roots it’s to explore like a local and take a trip across Dubai Creek in an Abra for just AED1. These little wooden vessels have been transporting people from Bur Dubai on the left bank to Deira on the right and back again since Dubai was just a small fishing port. Here you can almost feel the centuries of trading tradition as seagulls swoop and Abras criss-cross the creek.
Things haven’t changed much over the years on this stretch of Dubai water except the views. Nowadays the traditional Arabian dhows which line the banks of the creek have a backdrop of teetering sky-scrapers but you can still see the traditional architecture of Old Dubai. Go at sunset and get transported into another time as the call to prayer floats across the water and the sun sinks into the horizon casting a golden glow.
Culture – Go on a Frying Pan Adventure
If you want to explore the history, traditions and food heritage of Old Dubai then this is a tour you can’t miss. Arva or her sister Farida will take you on an adventure to the markets and souks, to the old quarter and possibly to one of the best street food stalls in the city – this tour justified a whole post to itself which you can find here. You’ll amble through alleyways and back-streets and find a piece of India in Hindi Lane. Meet traders, store-keepers and locals who’ll share their stories, their passions and their heritage – and if you’re lucky a taste of their wares.
Whichever Frying Pan Adventure you take you’ll feel the heartbeat of the city and discover its true spirit. I went on A Food Lover’s Early Morning March which was so good it justified a post all to itself.
So, those are my five top tips for what to see and do in Dubai although there is so much more to see. Have you been to Dubai? Please share your top ‘must-dos’ in the comments below…
An afternoon desert safari with Alpha Tours is £51 (AED 292) per person and includes dune bashing, buffet dinner and soft drinks.
Frying Pan Adventures – Food Lovers’ Morning March Tour (6 hours) £91 (AED 520) per person although there are a variety of different tours available at different costs and durations.
Disclosure: Many thanks to Dubai Tourism and The Ritz-Carlton Dubai who kindly hosted my visit to Dubai and to Alpha Tours for this complimentary Desert Safari. Opinions, views and insatiable wanderlust are, as always, entirely my own.