Beaches, birds, parties and more reasons to love the Winter in Dubai
Winter fever is here! Other continents may call it ‘spring zing’, but they both describe the same thing: freshness, optimism, the birth of new life and better moods all round. It’s a certain energy and post-summer relief that sweeps the city, as more international events start to stop over, more residents settle here, new bars and restaurants open, and business generally picks up all round. Heck, even different species of bird and sea life arrive in Dubai to get in on the action. He (or she) who claims that Dubai has one season – ‘hot’ and then ‘more hot’ – clearly hasn’t been in the city long enough to understand the subtleties of its climate calendar.
In October each year, the temperature finally lowers: we bid farewell to August’s average maximum highs of 41.3°C and September’s 38.9°C, to instead welcome 35.4°C at worst. While we don’t quite escape the suffocating clutches of humidity – it actually increases slightly in October and November – general conditions are far more pleasant. Want to catch winter fever yourself? Read on for our tried-and-tested tips and experiences, while trying not to gloat about what winter means in many other parts of the world… well, not too much.
I love… splashing cash in the sunshine
Nyree Barrett, Shopping & Style editor Even though I’m Time Out’s Shopping editor, I understand why some hate the art of consuming here: malls can be terrifying places, changing rooms can feel like sweaty torture chambers and a day in artificial light does bad things to all. Move shopping into the outside world, however, and it becomes my favourite thing in the world. Bar none. When I first moved to Dubai four years ago I lamented the lack of non-food-related (and genuine) markets – nowadays I have nothing to complain about. Fancy rifling through other’s trash to find some genuine treasure?
Hit up Safa Park’s monthly flea market (www.dubai-fleamarket.com), with the next taking place on November 6. I was sceptical about the venture at first, but now it’s on my monthly to-do list – I’ve picked up DVD box sets, art, jewellery and more. Alternatively, try Covent Garden Market along JBR The Walk (Wed-Sat, www.coventgardenmarket.ae). This one’s a classy affair full of great gift ideas, such as hand of Fatima and Arabic script gold jewellery. In fact, I’m currently sporting a unique eel-leather wallet from the very place. Finally, the arty part of me draws me to the Majlis Market in Bastakiya every month (www.themajlisgallery.com) – the next is scheduled for November 6. Wandering through the windy lanes of Bastakiya is always a pleasure, heightened by baked goods, RAW coffee and local artisans’ wares.
I love… sea swimming
Jade Bremner, Community, Time In & Travel editor Half the world won’t agree, but if you hail from cooler climes, dipping your foot into a hot ocean in the middle of summer is unnerving. It feels as though someone’s left the warm tap running or, worse, the old man paddling next to you has just answered the call of nature. Most people are also blissfully unaware that we still sweat in water, meaning hot seas are more likely to create dehydration, heatstroke and sunburn. Nice. And what else comes with summer’s warm water? Nasty little critters including sea snakes (which bite, sometimes leaving teeth in the wound) scorpion fish (with poisonous venom) and, of course, the dangerous kind of sharks. Yes, we’re far happier having a refreshing, safe swim in the cooler winter water, which, in October, averages 29.9°C. We recommend Umm Suqeim bay for a quiet swim (follow the signs from Beach Road; it’s the first right after the library), or Al Ghantoot (02 562 9100) for a host of activities including waterskiing and boating (note – there’s a Dhs100 entry fee).
I love… barbecuing seasonal catch
Oliver Robinson, Eating Out & Sport editor For me, winter’s cooler climes mean the chance to dine outdoors. This may seems like seem like a pretty obvious winter pastime, but whether you’re having a quick bite for lunch, brunching with friends or feasting on dinner, eating al fresco makes your dining experience that little bit more enjoyable. Obviously there are countless places in Dubai that offer outdoor seating and great views, but why not try something a little bit different? Head down to the barbecue stations at Safa Park (Dhs5 entry; open daily 8am-11pm) or Za’abeel Park (Dhs5 entry; open Sat-Thu 9am-11pm, Fri 9am-11.30pm). While both boast dedicated barbecue stations, Time Out found that the park staff can be a little finicky about where you can barbie. To avoid the bother, pack a picnic and set up camp in the park’s many shady spots.
That’s the venue sorted, but then there’s the small matter of what to pack in your picnic. Luckily for us, winter doesn’t just mean better weather, but also a host of new options in our supermarkets. Galeries Lafayette’s new gourmet deli (04 339 9933) is hot on seasonal food and will be stocking all sorts of autumnal treats. Alternatively, you can catch your lunch on a Marine Concept fishing trip, which will set you back Dhs3,500 for four hours (04 432 9496). Cooler water temperatures in the Arabian Gulf mean more kingfish, long-tail tuna, bonito, Spanish mackerel, giant trevally, cobia and barracuda, which in turn means a better chance of catching something. We recommend cooking up your catch on the beach. Disposable barbecues, coolboxes, cups and other picnic accoutrements can be bought at Al Maya (04 432 7191) and Waitrose (04 434 0700).
I love… quad biking
Carly Blair, editorial intern Quad biking is one of the most fun things to do in the Arabian Peninsula. A sweeping statement, maybe, but the UAE’s wide open spaces and huge sloping sand banks were made for it (probably). Let’s be honest, a flat tarmac track elsewhere just doesn’t have the same charm. Bouncing up and down over dunes while racing your mates not only adds a much-needed adrenaline rush to any lazy weekend, but enables you to drive far more recklessly than on public roads – up to a limit (although, having experienced Dubai’s roads, you may beg to differ).
While quad biking is still a viable option in summer, sensible souls wait until winter to save themselves from heatstroke. Heat exhaustion, to state the obvious, is definitely not cool. Many tour operators provide quad biking in Dubai, but the location I usually choose and can recommend is Big Red.
This gargantuan 300ft high dune is only half an hour out of Dubai along Hatta Road, and there are numerous places along the roadside where you can rent a bike – Desert Rangers (04 357 2200) offers quad biking excursions for Dhs325 for 45 minutes, or Dhs425 for an hour. Prices vary, so get your haggling hat on – don’t accept the first price you’re offered without a debate. And remember to either bring plenty of water or plenty of money to buy drinks from the on-site shop.
I love… the light
Becky Lucas, deputy editor This may sound a little vague. But in fact, it’s all about sharpness. Everyone in the city, whether subconsciously or not, notices the improved clarity of the light at this time of year. During summer, if you step off a plane in another country, you’ll immediately notice how clear everything is, because you’ve become so used to Dubai’s eternal haze. Come October, however, the fog finally lifts, meaning it’s certainly the best time of year to photograph the city. ‘After summer’s high humidity season, the light in Dubai improves dramatically,’ says Sevag Davidian, director of photography at ITP Publishing. ‘The sky becomes more bluish, and visibility increases.’ And the best time of day? ‘After sunrise and in the late afternoon – or, if we’re lucky enough to get rain, straight after a shower.’ See our FotoWeekend feature on page 14 for photo tips and workshops.
We love… birdwatching
Dubai’s birdwatching fans! We asked readers whether they notice any different types of bird during the cooler months and were overwhelmed with the fast and enthusiastic response from those recommending a trip to Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary (04 606 6822, www.wildlife.ae). ‘Now that winter is approaching, Ras Al Khor will come to life again with hundreds of greater flamingos and other migratory birds,’ explains birdwatching enthusiast Sven Polter. ‘It has excellent bird hides and is definitely worth a visit, even if you’re not a birder.’ You don’t need a permit to visit the sanctuary (unless you’re part of a large tour group), and it’s open 9am-4pm every day except Fridays. Unfortunately the sanctuary doesn’t offer guided tours, but head there, or to Safa Park’s bird garden, and look out for hoopoes, flamingoes, bee-eaters, kingfishers, Indian rollers and booted warblers, among others.
I love… the winter surf
Carl de Villiers, Surf School UAE The surf goes from hot and flat in the summer months to rideable in October, with intermittent good and bad days. It’s a great time for beginner surfers to learn because the waves tend to be small. The mornings are cooler with almost no wind, so it’s still ideal for stand-up paddleboarding, too. The water also obviously cools down. We like warm water, but not too hot – in summer our wax literally melts off the boards! The water in the peak of winter tends to be a little chilly, meaning we need to wear wetsuits, so just before and after summer is best for us. But what I like best about this time of the year is that people are suddenly active – it’s like they have just come out of hibernation. The vibe is fantastic and there’s a lot of energy in the water. It’s a great time of the year to get outdoors, go camping or surfing and just enjoy the best things about the UAE. Want to join in? Get in touch with Surf School UAE (050 940 3487, www.surfschooluae.com).
I love… playing football outside
Mariam Yakan, Arabian Escapes football team Football is brilliant once the summer is over. There’s nothing worse than running around Safa Park in 40°C heat. Once October arrives, football becomes fun again and the Dubai Women’s Football league (www.dubaiwfa.com) starts in Jebel Ali. We have matches once a week. I play football because I hate being in a gym; I love being outdoors, running around, and escaping the A/C. Our team is slowly growing in size: we lost a few players over the summer, which is always sad, but we’ve managed to grow the team again – we’re sponsored by Arabian Escapes, a home maintenance company, so it’s important we keep the team numbers up as we don’t want to let our sponsor down. There is always a buzz. We didn’t do particularly well last season, but we trained hard over the summer, and so are hoping to do better this year – although we already lost the first game!
I love… the bigger, better parties
Holly Sands, Music and Nightlife editor All summer we’ve been confined to poky clubs and smoky bars, minus great music, but the arrival of winter means there are suddenly twice as many venues and gigs to choose from. What’s not to love about dancing under the stars? It’s one of the reasons we all moved to Dubai. For new grooves, up-and-coming British rapper Professor Green plays Chi Garden on October 28. If it’s retro favourites you’re after, join the crowd for The Christians at the Irish Village on October 22. As for those who a prefer soul and hip-hop classics, Trilogy’s Rooftop will host the legendary Norman Jay, a man synonymous with Notting Hill Carnival, on November 12. Just want to kick back with a movie? Go to Wafi Rooftop, which has started screening Movies under the Stars again: see Ghost on October 24, or Shutter Island on October 31. And five things we don’t particularly like about winter… 1 The shorter days. The sun goes down at 6pm in October and 5.30pm in November, making it more difficult to get out of the office in time for sunset picnics. As you do. 2 The cooler weather brings the tourists – there have already been four million hotel guests this year, reflecting a nine per cent increase on last year. And they use all our taxis! 3 The mosquitoes descend. Apparently the little critters prefer temperatures between 18°C and 33°C. 4 We have to turn the water heater back on, although we do save on A/C bills. 5 We need to wear a full wetsuit when diving (okay, so we’re struggling to think of a fifth…).