At the top of the Palm Tower, the Aura Skypool is something you won’t find anywhere else in the world: a 360º infinity pool 200m up in the air. As you swim round it, you’ll catch unmatched views of Palm Jumeirah, Burj Al Arab and the Arabian Gulf beyond. There are four three-hour sessions a day you can book, starting from sunrise at 6am. If you can find the will to move from the well-appointed day beds and sofas, there are also pool-deck yoga classes and a host of wellness experiences.
Ripe Market Dubai
It sounds like a fruit and veg market – and that’s what it was originally – but Ripe today is much more than that. Local artisans now host stalls showcasing their fashion, homewares and jewellery amid the stellar fresh and street food offerings. The market runs weekly at a variety of venues during Dubai’s cooler winter months.
Black Palace Beach
Make like the locals and head here if you fancy a beach day. Also known as the ‘secret beach’ – thanks to a hidden entrance behind a row of palm trees – this is a rare out-of-the-way spot between the Burj Al Arab and Palm Jumeirah island. Its shallow waters and shell-strewn sands offer respite for all and make it especially good for families.
Dubai’s Al Quoz Industrial zone has transformed into a cultural hub over the last couple of decades – and that’s in no small part thanks to the Courtyard. Around its central courtyard, there are ten buildings in different architectural styles. Inside you’ll find an art gallery, a theatre, a coffee and juice bar, photography studios and workshop spaces – as well as the excellent Caravana concept store (see our Shop section).
Head to post-industrial Alserkal Avenue to explore the cutting edge of the Gulf art scene. Over the last few years, a host of daring galleries and studios have taken over the area’s old warehouses. The centre of the action today is Concrete – an exhibition space designed by the great Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who once taught Zaha Hadid.
Al Seef Precinct
Before oil was struck in the 1960s, Dubai was a small trading post of fishermen, pearl divers and weavers. The centre of their activities was Dubai Creek, where the Al Seef promenade has been made over to give a sense of this history – even the local Starbucks now has a façade from a bygone era. The new-old alleyways and pedestrian streets around Al Seef also offer a cluster of shopping opportunities.
Museum of the Future
You won’t miss the Museum of the Future – its landmark new building is a curvaceous counterpoint to the vertical towers that dominate the Dubai skyline. Inside, the museum wrestles with a big question: what will life look like in 2071? Its answers span a space station and a digitally recreated rainforest. There’s also a dedicated Children’s World and exhibitions about the slightly nearer future.
Burj Al Arab
Burj Al Arab is the ‘seven star’ hotel that put Dubai on the map when it opened just before the turn of the millennium. If you don’t know the name, you’ll recognise its sail-shaped exterior, perched on a private artificial island. And if you’re not staying, booking a cabana at its SAL beach club – with oceanside terrace restaurant – is a great way to see what all the fuss is about.
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building on the planet by such a large margin that you wonder what the rest of the world has been doing. It’s getting on for three times taller than the Shard – and it’s also the building Tom Cruise scaled with suction gloves for a famous Mission Impossible stunt. For a smoother experience, take the lift. A standard trip takes you to the 125th floor, but there’s also the 148th-floor observation deck and, above that, the ‘World’s Highest Lounge’ – a luxe option with an outdoor terrace and complimentary bubbles.
Platinum Heritage Desert Safari
Want to get out into the desert? Platinum Heritage will take you there by camel or vintage Land Rover. Its guides can show you the wildlife of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, as well as falcon shows and Bedouin villages, where anything from coffee-making demonstrations to dinner beneath the stars can be laid on.
At one end of the Al Seef promenade, on the edge of Dubai Creek, Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood is an atmospheric – and genuinely older – place to explore, especially when the call to prayer goes out. Beyond its wooden porticoes, there are traders to haggle with and a textiles souk to get lost in. When you’re down, there’s the Arabian Tea House – or jump on a traditional abra boat to cross the creek and explore Deira, which is home to the gold, perfume and spice souks. Dubai Frame – a huge gold picture frame with a viewing platform – is also close by.
Nara offers another way to see the desert that lies just beyond Dubai’s city limits. It has a private camp within the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, surrounded by gazelles and other wildlife – book it out for showpiece events. It also has Sonora, a Bedouin-style restaurant offering activities like sandboarding and entertainment from live music to fire shows – which are best enjoyed after an afternoon’s dune bashing.