This is Dubai, but different
Editor’s note: The Travel section of the Advisory will bring you wonderful and trustworthy (lord knows we need them!) recommendations from our partner Urbanaut once a month. FYI: Urbanaut is a travel tech start-up that curates experiences with the help of creative locals in different cities.
Ask a Dubai local right now and they’ll tell you they’ve never seen so much traffic on their roads. It’s true—Dubai seems to be on everyone’s radar (we’re here too!) and the city is chock-full of offerings if you know where to look. Of course, we highly recommend ignoring those whatsapp messages with endless restaurant recommendations or the ‘Top 5 Dubai highlights’ and instead follow our tips? And Dubai readers of Splainer—if you discover something new in your own city, do us a solid and get our app? Let’s get to it.
Before your trip: Figuring out where to stay
If you want to be near the beach, then Jumeirah Beach Residence, Dubai Marina (close but not right on the beach), the Palm and the broad area around Kite Beach is a good bet. For those who want to be in the midst of all the action, then downtown Dubai is the place, and if you’re determined to seek out a more soulful side to the glittering city, then old Dubai (the creek area or the Bastakiya quarter) is where you should go.
There are way too many hotels in Dubai to list—so we stick to our personal preferences—boutique and/or design forward. Some of these include: 25Hours Hotel, XVA Art Hotel, Mazmi Casa and Park Regis Boutique.
Note: There are a LOT of areas named ‘Jumeirah’.
Things to do: Sifting through the paradox of choice that is Dubai
Do the choices ever end for things to do in Dubai? We’ll spare you the Trip Advisor top 10 and share some of our more alternative recommendations with you. TLDR: Skip the malls—prices in Dubai are outrageous even if they try to tell you otherwise.
To begin with, get acquainted with the original and most charming part of Dubai—the Al Bastakiya quarter and Al Fahidi district by the Dubai creek. Get on an abra for Dhs 1(!), catch a cup of coffee at Arabian Tea House, Make Art Cafe or Mazmi Cafe, walk around and duck into the textile souk and soak in the Dubai of old. The Jameel Arts Centre is also worth a visit. A few hours in and around Dubai Creek and you’ll see why this area will always be our most favourite part of the city.
Another (close) favourite within Dubai is Alserkal Avenue. A hub of world-class galleries, home to the wonderful Cinema Akil, dotted with delightful little concept coffee and tea shops (a recent hit is Pekoe) and with a decidedly down-to-earth yet oh-so-stylish vibe this is a great place to spend a couple of hours.
There are also some futuristic and immersive destinations that should feature on your to-do list. The exceptional Museum of the Future is not only a jaw-dropping building but filled with eye-opening exhibits—perfect for curious young adults. Infinity des Lumieres is a digital art museum in the Dubai Mall that promises to impress and be great for all ages.
For those with a little more time, a visit to Hatta is highly recommended. Kayaking, mountain biking and more in this starkly beautiful area of Dubai—if you have a night to spare, consider sleeping in their very interesting accommodation options that are often booked out well in advance. Alternatively, Sharjah has many things to offer as well. Buhais Geology Park, which is very close to Mleiha Archeological Centre, are both extremely unique structures in the desert and bear testament to this ancient region. Rain Room at The Sharjah Art Foundation is very cool and great for the ‘gram—especially if you’re looking to delight your little ones.
Eating and drinking in the city of options
There’s something for every budget in Dubai. Some of the local spots are exceptional and are classic haunts for locals and tourists alike. There’s of course the ultra high-end, glamorous beyond all expectations dining destinations (Salt Bae, anyone?) but for the purposes of this advisory we’re mostly sticking to high-quality insider favourites.
First up is Kinoya, the awesome ramen bar opened by Chef Neha Mishra, who fed 6000+ diners at her dining table supper club before opening up Kinoya and earning a Michelin Bib Gourmand within her first year of ops! Tea cocktails, slurp-till-the-last-drop ramen and an easy going vibe makes this a great spot for discerning diners. 3fils—an absolute classic with the most delicious asian inspired food shouldn’t be missed—and their dessert bar next door is exceptional too.
21 grams bistro is another cult favourite with locals in the know—serving Balkan soul food and fantastic coffee close to the beach. For multiple dining options and Dubai fountain views, head to Time Out Market in Souk Al Bahar. Masti—in La Mer is a licensed stand-alone bar with great gin cocktails and a fun vibe. There are other beach bar options for the party-hungry, with Koko Bay at Palm West Beach a popular spot. For dinner and a show, KOYO Dubai is a very unique experience. And fine—Coya, Zuma, Nusr-Et are classic, popular, expensive and worth a spot on your list if you’ve got the bucks.
There’s plenty we haven’t covered—and you know where to go if we’ve piqued your interest and you’d like more.
What’s up @ Urbanaut: Ok, it’s time for introductions—so you know who we are. Urbanaut curates bookable experiences and authentic recommendations from those who know best—creative, discerning locals in different cities. 30,000+ travellers use our app just in case you were wondering! We’re an early-stage travel tech startup (fancy lingo for the win!), female-founded, and with dreams of being in cities and countries around the world. The discerning traveller is having their moment, and we’re here for it—and we sure as hell plan to be a part of it!