The ultimate guide to Dubai for all budgets
Whether you’re tightening your belt or going all out, we have all the options covered for a memorable trip to Dubai to soak up some winter sun
Dubbed the ‘City of Gold’, Dubai may be best known for its futuristic architecture, five-star hotels and fast cars (yes, the Dubai police really do have Bugattis and Lamborghinis in their fleet), but a holiday here doesn’t have to blow the budget. Dubai-based Sarah Gamboni explains how to get the most out of this popular destination, whether that means splurging, scrimping, or doing a bit of both
Go large: With its record-breaking skyscrapers and 14-lane highway, it’s hard to believe Dubai was a sleepy pearl-fishing village 50 years ago. Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood offers a fascinating snapshot of Old Dubai. Begin with a Cultural Breakfast at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, where you can learn about the history of the region while sharing an authentic Emirati meal. Afterwards, pop to the XVA Gallery nearby to browse works by regional artists.
Spend less: For a wallet-friendly morning in Old Dubai, take a stroll through Al Fahidi’s alleyways, lined with restored wind-tower houses and artisans’ workshops. Pay a visit to the Dubai Coffee Museum, or recharge with tea, coffee and syrup-soaked pastries at Arabian Tea House. Then catch a traditional abra across Dubai Creek to explore the spice and gold souks. The boat ride will set you back one dirham (23p).
Go large: Kick off your Dubai weekend with a blowout Saturday brunch. Try the pisco-fuelled affair at Coya, or the Gatsby-inspired Secret Brunch at the Ritz-Carlton, with free-flowing drinks and an array of dishes served à la carte. By night, indulge in cutting-edge Indian cuisine at Michelin-starred Trèsind Studio, an intimate restaurant serving an exceptional tasting menu.
Spend less: Ask ten Dubai residents where to get the best chicken shawarma, and you’ll likely get ten different answers. A late-night staple, the shawarma sandwich is a pita wrap filled with spit-roasted chicken, pickles and toum (garlic sauce), with optional hot chips. Head to the bustling Deira district, north of Dubai Creek, for bargain-priced shawarma at Shiraz Nights and Hatam Al Tai, a steal at just seven dirhams (£1.60) a serve.
Go large: Make the most of Dubai’s endless sunshine with a day at one of the city’s glamorous beach clubs. Join A-listers and the Insta-famous for a festive brunch at Nikki Beach or a New Year party at Cove Beach, where you can enjoy temperature-controlled swimming pools, DJ tunes and drinks served straight to your sun-lounger.
Spend less: Dubai’s public beaches are free for all to use, with clean white sands and water temperatures ranging from 21°C in winter (December-January) to a toasty 33°C in summer (July-August). Visit Kite Beach to watch the kite surfers at play, or head to Sunset Beach in the late afternoon to capture stunning photos as the sun dips behind the Burj Al Arab.
Go large: Dubai is justifiably renowned for its shopping malls – and you could do some serious damage to your credit card in Mall of the Emirates or Dubai Mall’s glitzy Fashion Avenue. For pieces you can’t find just anywhere, seek out Comptoir 102 and Georges of Dubai concept stores, stocked with covetable clothing, jewellery and homewares.
Spend less: Looking for high fashion on a high street budget? If you have a few days in town, pay a visit to the tailors and fabric stores of Satwa. Bring along photographs or items you’d like copied, and the skilled tailors will create dresses, suits and children’s clothes using fabrics of your choosing. Reputable names include Dream Girl Tailors, Coventry Tailoring and Stitch in Time.
Go large: Get a bird’s eye view of Palm Jumeirah and the Arabian Sea during a tandem skydiving session with Skydive Dubai. For sky-high thrills that don’t require an airplane, strap in for the zipline ride in Dubai Marina. Reach speeds of up to 80km/h as you zoom down the world’s longest urban zipline.
Spend less: Lose yourself in one of Dubai’s natural wonders, the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, home to thousands of flamingos and other birds, which you can spot from three hides along the water’s edge. It’s free to visit during daylight hours. Or hit the cycling tracks at Al Qudra Lakes in the Dubai desert for the chance to spot wild oryx and gazelles among the dunes.
Go large: Dubai is a wonderland for families. Children and adults alike will get a thrill out of Aquaventure Waterpark at Atlantis The Palm, boasting some of the world’s fastest water slides, including one that shoots you through a shark tank. Need a break from the sun? Hit the slopes at Ski Dubai, an indoor snow park that offers skiing, snowboarding and ziplining.
Spend less: Little ones will delight in the Dubai Fountain’s nightly music, light and water show. The choreographed spectacle takes place in front of the Burj Khalifa every evening between 6pm and 11pm, with performances every 30 minutes.