In a place such as Dubai, that for most westerners is overwhelmingly exotic and over-the-top, it is difficult to decide what to do in order to fully experience the incredible things the city has to offer. Of course you’ve all heard of the most popular destinations: the Burj Al-Arab and it’s incredible restaurant, Al Mahara, or the Wild Wadi water park. But here are a few suggestions from someone with a lot of local friends that will make your trip unforgettable!
Dubai is renowned for its dozens of malls, all of which are done up extraordinarily well. A popular mall is the Mall of the Emirates, which is really the place to go for some intense shopping! It has fashion from everywhere in the world, ranging from popular and reasonably priced brands such as H&M and Mango, to high-end designers such as Dolce and Gabbana and Paul Smith. The Mall of the Emirates has an indoor ski-slope (which I personally believe is a bit overrated, but quite amusing as it is literally in the middle of the mall!) However, next to the ski-slope is a very good restaurant called Sezzam; it has an awesome variety of food including Chinese, Indian and Italian food, and features an open kitchen type of deal in the center of the restaurant, which looks very cool as well.
The Dubai Mall is also home to the Dubai Aquarium and Under Water Zoo, which is a fun thing to visit. Though I think the highlight of the Dubai Mall is that just outside of it, is the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa! There is a bridge connecting the Dubai Mall to the Souk Al Bahar (one of Dubai’s many indoor, air-conditioned traditional markets). The best thing to do is go on this bridge at night from 6-10PM during the week or 6-11PM on the weekends and watch the incredible light and water show which is synchronized with music and restarts every half hour. It is an awe-inspiring experience to watch this show in the shadow of the tallest building in the world! The nearby Souk Al Bahar is also worth a visit, but mostly for the visual experience as it is beautiful done up. The stores inside, however, tend to be very overpriced (if you do decide to shop here, remember haggling a bit is not out of the question!)
Mercato is also an interesting mall located in Jumeirah, which is done up in an Italian style. There is a nice movie theatre located inside (Grand Cinema) where you can order a crepe before watching your movie!
Wafi City Mall is a fun mall to visit, as it has an interesting Egyptian-theme throughout its architecture. There is a very good Indian restaurant here called Asha’s. You can order alcohol there as well which is something to note considering many restaurants are not licensed for alcohol in the UAE (hotels, however, often are).
Hookah and Restaurants
In addition to the malls, a traditional Middle Eastern activity is to go to a restaurant or café and smoke “sheesha” (hookah) which is flavored tobacco that is gaining popularity in cities throughout the US and Europe as well. Considering the popularity of the activity in the Middle East, almost every restaurant or café will offer sheesha. It’s not uncommon to see a local relaxing at his favorite sheesha spot, playing games on a personal touchscreen television located on the tables, or a group of twenty-somethings relaxing with friends while smoking casually. Here are some good places to try out!
The favorite sheesha place of the locals I’ve spoken to is, without dispute, Maxine Café Restaurant, located in Jumeira behind the Dubai Zoo. It has very good, smooth sheesha (try the grape mint!) and friendly staff as well as a relaxing and open atmosphere. For those not into smoking, the juices are quite good and very fresh, the milkshakes are delicious and there is an extensive menu of Lebanese cuisine as well as soups, salads, pizza, and other dishes.
Another good restaurant to try with some great sheesha is called Fudo, and located behind the Mercato Mall in Jumeira. The décor is beautiful (including in the bathrooms!) and both the sheesha and the variety of food is great!
Other things to note before you go:
– Smoking and drinking ages in Dubai are both 21, though it has been my experience that most sheesha places do not card for smoking. The policies on drinking, however, are general quite strict.
– If you’re going for an extended trip, it’s even worth checking out chains such as Starbucks, as they have some interesting variations in the food and drinks offered that are fun to try out!
– Dubai is a very chilled out city considering its location in the heart of the conservative Muslim Arab world; one can dress essentially however he or she pleases and enjoys many of the freedoms of any western city. However, it is polite to keep in mind that many locals are quite conservative, and it’s best to honor their requests of wearing reasonably unrevealing clothing and refraining from unnecessary Public Displays of Affection.
– Enjoy and explore! These are just a few places that I’ve found quite nice during my travels in this magnificent city mostly at the suggestion of friends who grew up there. But Dubai is an incredible place which is only growing by the day with exciting things to do and places to see!