Although Dubai has its origins in cattle herding, pearling and fishing, its inhabitants’ obsession with expansion, both upwards and outward, has created a nascent cosmopolitan metropolis. Formed in 1971 as one of the seven United Arab Emirates, Dubai is home to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, sprawling malls outfitted with a ski slope and a dive-ready aquarium, and 2.8 million residents. The UAE is an Islamic nation, but its locals, Emiratis, constitute only 20 percent of the population. As the daily calls to prayer echo throughout the skyscraper filled skyline, expats mix and mingle, a veritable melting pot of food, language, and religion.
While its infrastructure is impressive, one could argue Dubai is still experiencing growing pains. Most places don’t have street addresses, alcohol permits are limited to hotel properties and gas is so inexpensive everyone has a car, leaving the city’s walkable regions and its public transportation lacking.
That said, Dubai is also at the forefront of inclusive experimentation. Female-only clubs and metro cars are sponsored by the government, giving women a safe and creative space. Neighborhoods throughout Dubai are diversifying; there’s an arts district (Alserkal Avenue), an old town (Bur Dubai/Deira) and a walkable marina (JBR). Western dress is welcomed and English serves as the universal language. Keep in mind, Dubai is a desert so regardless of when you go, it’s going to be warm.
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Below are our favorite places to stay, play, shop, Snap, eat and drink. WHERE TO STAY
Nikki Beach Pearl Jumeirah nikkibeach.com 04 376 6000
Come for the modern, minimalistic rooms, stay for the beach club. Nikki Beach opened its Dubai outpost in late 2016, and quickly became the city’s pool-lounge hotspot. Considering the arid conditions and sizzling temperatures, having a central pool (as well as a private pool if you opt for the beachside villas), is a must. The property also contains a spa and maintains a partnership with Surf House Dubai, a surf shop that provides rentals and lessons. nikkibeachdubai/instagram
Waldorf Astoria Crescent Rd., Palm Jumeirah waldorfastoria3.hilton.com 04 818 2222
When the royal family asked for a palm-tree-shaped archipelago, Dubai answered the call. Called Palm Jumeirah island, the Waldorf Astoria is located on its outer ring. Although the singular road on and off the island adds to any commute, the seaside rooms, dual pool/beach access and biking/running path just outside the hotel make it a great option for active families. Three-star Michelin Chef Heinz Beck also has a restaurant on property. waldorfdubai/instagram 1 of 2 Advertisement WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
At.mosphere At the Burj Khalifa 1 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd atmosphereburjkhalifa.com 04 888 3828
Instead of battling the crowds on the observation deck, just two floors above, drink in the sunset on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa. At.mosphere’s twilight cocktail is a gin and brandy delight with a spiced infusion that goes down as beautifully as the sun. A full menu is available, but a table by the window and a round of drinks is recommended. Take note however, reservations are essential and a minimum spend is required. atmospheredubai/instagram
SALT Kite Beach, 2C Street, Umm Suqeim find-salt.com
Although Salt began as Dubai’s first food truck, the laws are cloudy around the legality of “food trucks.” Amal Al Marri and Deem Albassam, the two women behind Salt, bill it as an “urban food experience.” Think Shake Shack with a beachy twist: an airstream with Edison lights, toes-in-the-sand seating and #findsalt merchandising. Salt’s simple but delicious offerings begin with gourmet burgers, including one that consists of fried chicken and Cheetos, shakes, soft serve and fries. Equal parts lunchtime and late night eats (the cereal latte is a bestseller), Salt’s last call is at 2 a.m. daily. findsalt/instagram 1 of 2 Advertisement WHERE TO SHOP
Native Villa #573, Jumeirah Beach Road, Umm Suqeim 1 nativedubai.com 04 852 3750
The shimmering gold and marble interior of House of Native perfectly complements its fine leather goods. Hand-painted python and printed calf hide handbags produced and manufactured in the United Arab Emirates line the walls, matching mules and strappy sandals at floor level. The rare and high-quality leathers used to create Native’s handbags echo the silhouettes of Chloe and Celine, but with more playful palettes. That’s thanks to the auburn-haired Rachna Malkani, Native’s creative director who was instrumental in establishing the UAE's first genuine leather manufacturing facility in 2007. Her leather goods are created, start to finish, using local artisans. nativedubai/instagram
The Gold and Spice Souks Al Ras, Deira
Dress conservatively and prepare to be heckled. Although that may sound intense, the rows of shimmering gold bangles and burlap sacks of spices enchant the senses. The winding marketplaces are filled with sellers, many of whom hand mix spices, creating floral chai tea blends or robust turmeric seasonings. Haggling is customary and expected, both locals and tourists alike engage in the ritual. Cotton scarves, lanterns, bejeweled pillowcases, and traditional clothing can also be found. Getty 1 of 2 Advertisement WHAT TO DO
The Dollhouse The Dubai Ladies Club, Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah 2 thedollhousedubai.com 04 385 4484
A full-service salon that specializes in eyelash extensions, hair treatments and nail services, the Dollhouse also offers a unique window into the women’s only offerings in Dubai. Located in the Dubai Ladies Club, a female-only beach escape, the Dollhouse promotes both simple and technical beauty regiments. Guiding and informing Emeriti and international women alike to find their correct routine, the Dollhouse is the brainchild of Iraqi-American Mona Kattan. The salon, which has multiple locations, also sells Kattan’s beauty line Huda Beauty, which she co-owns with her sister Huda Kattan. dollhousedubai/instagram
Spread across 500,000 square feet of industrial warehouses, Alserkal Avenue is home to Dubai’s burgeoning contemporary art and design scene. The creative arts hub also houses galleries, artists’ studios, and sets its own regional art programming. Within its numerically ordered streets are health-centric cafes like Wild & the Moon, specialty food shops like Mirzam Chocolate, working spaces like A4 as well as The Odd Piece and Ikonhouse, design shops culling from both regional and international artists. Tom Dulat/Getty
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve ddcr.org 04 388 4044
With every metropolis comes the need to escape. While locals bring their quads and camping gear, the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve works with a select number of tour operators to create desert-specific experiences. Camel riding, sandboarding, falconry, henna tattooing, and traditional Bedouin dinner and dancing are all recommended and can be achieved in a single afternoon/evening. An hour’s drive outside of Dubai, it’s a good idea to book a tour at dusk, when the alabaster sand dunes glisten and most animals are actively wandering about. MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty 1 of 3 Advertisement