The hustle and bustle of downtown Dubai at night. (Photo: Gordon/Flickr)
Welcome to Dubai, the crown jewel of the Middle East, where you can watch the future being built right before your eyes. It’s hard to believe how far this city — this country, really — has come in the 43 years since its founding in 1971, but it is demanding our attention like no other, and rightfully so. Dubai is like a 21-year-old that won the lottery and is always one-upping itself with the biggest, the best, and the most elaborate creations man can make, from the world’s tallest building to the world’s first underwater villas.
If you dream it, Dubai can do it.
Expats from every corner of the globe make up more than 90 percent of the population living in Dubai, creating an eclectic intersection of cultures and a phenomenal restaurant scene, where you can embark on a culinary adventure that will bring you from Egypt to Peru.
Just as flavorful is the city’s nightlife. Though you won’t find stores selling alcohol in Dubai, you can still drink like a fish at high-end, exclusive clubs, glamorous rooftop bars, or casual beach haunts around town.
What’s more is that Thursday is officially the start of the weekend in Dubai, as the UAE workweek runs from Sunday to Thursday. You can party all night and recover come Friday with one of the city’s famous brunches, making it a win-win start for the weekend.
Taxis will be your best bet to get around from place to place, as everything is incredibly spread out (even the metro only takes you so close to certain places), though you should expect and plan for traffic.
Fasten your seatbelts, because when in Dubai, you’re in for the ride of your life.
The DoubleTree’s beach and pool area is perfect for families along Jumeirah Beach. (Photo: Hilton)
Start the evening in the mile-long Jumeirah Beach Residence area, which bustles every night, whether you’re strolling along the beachfront with the rest of the Dubai or grabbing sundowner drinks over the water. Pure Sky Lounge at the Hilton along The Walk and 360 Bar at Jumeirah Beach Hotel are champion choices for red sky mixed in with your cocktails. Jumeirah Beach Residence is a great part of town to call home during your holiday, as it is ideally located to hit up the city come nightfall, then unwind the next day at the beach. There are plenty of hotels to choose from, including Hilton properties, Sofitel properties, Wyndham properties, and AirBnB stays mixed in between. Our choice: the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Dubai is a beautiful and newly opened hotel with suites bigger than most New York City apartments. It’s located at the end of Jumeirah Beach Road, which means it’s quiet enough to relax, but still a stone’s throw from the action. There are options to go jet skiing, play beach volleyball, or just hang out by the ocean or pool to get your tan on.
The Jumeirah Beach area will also serve as the gateway to Dubai’s next man-made island, Bluewaters Island, where you’ll find the Dubai Eye, scheduled to open in 2017 and expected to be the world’s largest ferris wheel, among other major entertainment and tourism draws.Where to Stay:
Check out the view from the top of the world’s tallest building. You’ve never seen anything like it. (Photo: Simon Bierwald/Flickr)
No trip to Dubai is complete without a visit to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Book tickets in advance online or purchase them at the entrance, located at the ground floor of the Dubai Mall. Snake your way through the queue and hop in an elevator that will launch you to the main observation deck on the 124th floor in a minute flat. The view is a dizzying swirl of city meets desert, a reminder that below all the concrete slabs and towering skyscrapers, Dubai is nothing but sand. In no other place can you witness yesterday, today, and tomorrow merge like you can from the top of the Burj.
At the mall, but don’t feel like shopping? No problem! You can go ice skating or check out the aquarium and underwater zoo! (Photo: Shawn Baldwin/Corbis)
Back down on the ground, get lost in the maze that is the palatial Dubai Mall, an absolute playground for the local Emirati. You’ll see them in action all day long — and well until midnight, when everything closes and forces them to call it quits. There are 1,200 stores here, enough to satisfy a lifetime of shopping, as well as an aquarium and underwater zoo, where you can go diving with sharks or an indoor ice skating rink. When you’re all malled out, venture outside to the Dubai Fountain to catch the beloved evening light show that runs every 30 minutes from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m (10 p.m. on weeknights). Set on the man-made lake just in front of the Burj, the Dubai Fountain show is a Bellagio-esque spectacle where fountains dance in a synchronized rhythm to bright lights and dramatic Arabic and international music. Though it is only five minutes long, the performance will surely cast you under the Middle East’s magical spell.
Head to the Souk Al Bahar and dine at the Mango Tree, where you can watch the beautiful fountain show while you eat. (Photo: Mango Tree/Facebook)
The world is your oyster when it comes to restaurants, and dining out in Dubai is a national hobby. Feeling like you haven’t gotten enough of the Burj? Then the restaurants in Souk al Bahar are just what Dubai ordered. Set on the opposite side of the lake from the Dubai Mall, the Souk al Bahar is an Arabic-style shopping and dining destination center designed to be a modern interpretation of old world souks, or markets, that Middle Eastern and Northern African countries are known for. Gaze at the magnificent architecture — high vaulted archways, long and low-lit stone hallways — and peek into the speciality shops carrying jewelry, antiques, crafts, souvenirs, and other traditional items. The big allure is dining in one of the Souk Al Bahar’s many international restaurants just beside the fountain and in the shadows of the Burj Khalifa. Book a table at the Mango Tree, a Thai restaurant located on the second floor of the Souk with an outside terrace for a front row seat to the fountain show away from the throngs of people below.
Looking to get more of a feel for the city’s pulse? Make your way over to the Financial District (DIFC) area, where everyone is out to ring in the weekend. For dinner and drinks, Zuma is a top spot. This uber-chic and generously sized Japanese restaurant stretches across two floors, and reservations are a must, especially for Thursday night. The lower level is home to more formal dining area, and you can try your luck as a walk-in here by snagging a seat at the traditional sushi counter. Upstairs, you’ll find a packed bar, a DJ, and more lounge-style seating toward the back of the restaurant. Food is served to share, so you can be sure to try a bit of everything.
You can also visit the Souq Madinat Jumeirah on Jumeirah Beach Road, part of the massive five-star resort complex Madinat Jumeirah. At the Souq, you can go from dinner to drinks to the club, making it a one-stop shop with few taxis required. Book a reservation at Pierchic, a stunningly romantic seafood restaurant located at the end of a long pier with swoon-worthy views of the iconic sail-shaped Burj al Arab, Dubai’s famous seven-star resort.
Enjoy a few drinks and the views at 40 Kong. (Photo: Facebook)
With a city as electrifying as Dubai, it’s all about the rooftop bars come nightfall. Take two elevators to reach 40 Kong — hipster-dom at its finest on the 40th floor of the H Hotel — and soak in the 360-degree views of the city’s fiery lights. Locals love it not just for the exceptional and creative cocktails, sky-high seating, or the intimate vibe (a rarity in a city that’s always looking to do the biggest and the best of everything), but also for the epic playlists that has them Shazam-ing every song.
Another option is the equally popular Iris. This rooftop venue on the 27th floor of the Oberoi Hotel offers indoor/outdoor seating that makes it a prime location come the warmer summer months. Whet your whistle with an array of tasty cocktails while you drink in Downtown Dubai swirling below you. There’s even live music, making for a great atmosphere infused with an energy so contagious that you will want to relocate to Dubai and live the life of an expat in the Middle East.
If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, then the Agency is a terrific little wine bar in Souq Madinat Jumeirah, where you can have some after-dinner drinks or share a bottle of wine. The selection of wines is extensive, the prices are affordable, the atmosphere is trendy and stylish, and the views of the Burj al Arab are glowing as ever.
The dance floor at Pacha. (Photo: Pacha/Facebook)
Now it’s time to hit the clubs, and in Dubai, you should look no further than Pacha. At its rooftop bar you can sit with a drink and some shish while you take in the impressive views of the Burj al Arab sail lighting up the sky. When you’re ready to start dancing, go down to the Main Room, located at the ground level exploding with the most popular house music performed by international DJs and fantastic live shows that the Pacha brand is known for.
Also popular is Zero Gravity, a beachside club that features a handful of international DJ’s where you can dance your socks off until 3 a.m. with the skyscrapers towering all around you. There’s a massive dance floor, a couple of bars, and a more chilled-out area for people looking to smoke some shisha while enjoying the theatrics and shows put on by DJs.
Paint the town red until things come to a halt at 3 a.m., and Dubai closes its eyes to get some beauty sleep before another day of mischief in the Middle East begins.
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