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Discover a different Dubai


There’s far more to Dubai than skyscrapers and shopping malls. These six insider experiences will give you a new perspective on the city you think you know

Dubai creek

Take a short abra (water taxi) and ride across Dubai Creek

Mention Dubai, and most people picture a glistening jewel in the desert, where oil barons have conquered the elements to build manmade islands, luxury hotels and the world’s tallest tower. It’s a reasonable assessment of the city, but there’s so much more to this unique destination than just a millionaire’s playground. Whether you’ve been before or are planning your first visit, check out our guide for six ways to see Dubai differently.



Explore the Old Town

Dubai has boomed since the 1970s, but a settlement has existed here for at least a thousand years. Many first-time visitors are surprised to learn that the city has an Old Town, but that’s exactly what the Bastakiya Quarter is. Originally the home of 19th-century textile and pearl traders from Iran, the area is named after that country’s city of Bastak and echoes its traditional Persian architecture with beautifully carved doors and latticework. Today, it’s a cultural hub, and a visit here (which can be done on the Emirati Cultural Encounter tour) will reveal a host of art galleries and museums. Don’t miss the fascinating Dubai Museum in the Al Fahidi Fort, believed to be the oldest building in Dubai, and make time for the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, where you can meet local residents in a relaxed setting and learn more about everyday life away from the tourist scene.



Take to the desert

As a sea-facing city, Dubai’s ever-shifting inland sands can escape the attention of many travellers. In fact, the urban core is so well appointed with irrigated gardens and air-conditioned malls that you might even forget you’re in the desert! But Arabian adventure awaits those who seek it, in the form of four-wheel-drive safaris, sandboarding and even camel-riding. Join the 4WD Desert Safari shore excursion and you can experience all three in the space of a few hours. An expert desert driver will steer you safely through gravity-defying dune climbs and rollercoaster-style drops, en route to a traditional Arabian camp. This is where you can try out a different kind of bumpy ride on the back of a camel, or surf the dunes on the sand equivalent of a snowboard.



Shop through the centuries

Dubai is famous for its shopping malls, and rightly so, with more than 60 centres vying for your attention. But while their extraordinary attractions should not be missed (the Mall of the Emirates boasts its own ski slope with real snow, while the Dubai Mall encompasses a virtual-reality theme park), nothing beats the old-fashioned bustle and buzz of a traditional specialist souk. Today, a visit to the Textile Souk is much the same as it would have been 100 years ago, with locals and visitors haggling over affordable, quality fabrics sold by merchants from across the world. Grab a bargain here, then take a short abra (water taxi) ride across Dubai Creek to the equally vibrant Gold Souk and neighbouring Spice Souk. Here, you can try out your bargaining skills as you sample some exotic flavours, and marvel at the largest and most affordable array of gold jewellery you’re ever likely to see. The Spice Souk and the Gold Souk can both be visited on the Dubai, The Golden City shore excursion.



Eat like a local

Ideally placed to draw influences from many nearby countries, Dubai offers a veritable tasting menu of the best cuisine from across the region. Join the Middle Eastern Food Trail tour and you can sample soup and fish from Iraq, slow-cooked chicken mandhi from Yemen and cheese manakish from Syria (think herby mini pizza), all washed down with delicious spiced Arabic coffee. For dessert, don’t miss the remarkable booza ice cream, which (somewhat miraculously) doesn’t melt in the heat. Alternatively, if you find yourself in the city on Friday, be sure to join in with the weekend tradition of a lavish buffet brunch. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is legal (for those aged 21 and over) in Dubai in licensed premises such as hotels. Sip a glass of Champagne at one of the local brunch hotspots, such as the revolving Al Dawaar restaurant in the Hyatt Regency Hotel.



Soak up the water sights

Despite its Arabian Desert location, Dubai is far from dry. The city has no natural rivers but meets all its water needs from the sea, courtesy of modern technology – using desalination for drinking water and efficient recycling to feed fountains, gardens and more. Make the most of Dubai’s coastal location by bathing in the warm waters at Jumeirah Beach (which can be visited on the Free Time at 3 Sites shore excursion), taking a trip on board a traditional wooden dhow, or simply soaking up the atmosphere along Dubai Marina, where restaurants and cafés line the promenade. Then see how even a world-class aquarium can thrive in the desert at Lost Chambers, part of the Atlantis, The Palm hotel complex. Saltwater and freshwater species all thrive here, not least in the 11-million-litre Ambassador Lagoon – one of the largest aquarium exhibits in the world. End the day at the Burj Khalifa Lake where, every evening, a five-minute fountain show features 83,000 litres of water dancing in time to music.


Fly higher than the Burj Khalifa

Dubai’s most famous landmark is undoubtedly the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest skyscraper at 828m. There can’t be many visitors who don’t take the opportunity to speed up its 10m-per-second lift to the 124th-floor observation deck – but did you know you can go one better by looking down on the Burj Khalifa from a private plane? The Seaplane Over Dubai tour gives you a bird’s-eye view of this extraordinary city – not only taking in the skyscrapers, but also the glittering yachts of Dubai Marina, the white-sand sweep of Jumeirah Beach, and the artificial islands of Palm Jumeirah and ‘The World’ (which are designed to be best appreciated from above). You’ll also spot the Dubai Frame – ‘the world’s biggest picture frame’ – two slender 150m towers linked by a 90m observation deck. If your flight doesn’t sate your hunger for heights, why not stop off here afterwards for a walk along its 48-storey-high glass-bottomed walkway?


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