Have you ever been to Al Ain? We reckon that for the majority of Dubai residents, Al Ain has hardly blipped on radars for a weekend away. But it should. Especially now that the year-long Al Ain Cultural Programme has launched. Trust us, by the time you’re done reading our Al Ain guide, you’ll be chomping at the bit to programme the destination into your GPS for your next weekend drive…
Al Ain Oasis We’re starting with the big guns. A heritage site. And not just any heritage site – the Al Ain Oasis is the UAE’s first Unesco World Heritage Site. The Tourism and Culture Authority-run site holds a network of shaded walking trails that cut through 1,200 hectares of lush grounds. More than 147,000 date palm trees are scattered throughout, producing more than 100 varieties of the fruit that plays such a significant role in the region.
Walking along the trails provides great insight into the traditional practises of the oasis. The area is probably best-known for its amazing aflaj irrigation system – a grid of narrow waterways channel fresh spring water down from the Hajar Mountains and into the oasis. The practise dates back to more than 3,000 years ago, but was only modernised with the introduction of water pumps in the 20th century.
Recently, the TCA has spearheaded a host of developments for the protected site, such as the Eco-Centre, a drop-in educational centre where visitors can learn about the region’s self-sufficient eco-system, and conservation actions underway to protect the area’s natural beauty. The Al Ain Oasis Plaza, which includes restaurants and shops, and the Miniature Oasis, an interactive display that breaks down the workings of the oasis, are two new features that are now open to the public. With so much green space to explore, and the perfect weather to do so, it’s time to dust off your walking shoes and get exploring. Free entry. Open daily 9am-6pm (World Heritage Site), noon-9pm (shops and restaurants). Al Mutawaa, Al Ain.
Al Ain Zoo Another feather in the city’s cap is its well-maintained zoo. A couple of years off from celebrating its golden anniversary, the zoo is home to 180 different species – 30 percent of which are considered endangered – and more than 4,000 animals. From leopards wolves to monkeys, tigers, rhinos, gorillas and crocodiles, you’re sure to spot your favourite. Animal-lovers will be pleased to know that there’s an emphasis on safety, space and comfort for all the animals.
The zoo’s newly designed safari experience takes you out in a Jeep and brings you face-to-face with a host of native African animals – a variety of antelope, zebras and lions. Make sure to stop to feed the giraffes. It’s great fun (until your hand gets covered in their dribble).
But it isn’t just about having an up-close and personal experience with these majestic beasts. Al Ain Zoo runs various conservation programmes, workshops and volunteer experiences to educate the public. A trip to the zoo is a great learning experience, not just for the kids, but for us grown-ups, too. From Dhs30 (adult), Dhs10 (children aged three to 12), free entry for children under three. Open Sat-Tue 8am-9pm, Wed 8am-9pm (from 3pm is ladies only), Thu-Fri 9am-10pm. Nahyan The First Street, www.alainzoo.ae (800 966).
Al Jahili Fort Standing firm and overlooking the city since 1891 is the sandy-hued Al Jahili Fort. As one of Al Ain’s most recognisable landmarks, you’ve probably already seen it in picture postcards of the city. Built to defend the city from attacking forces, it also served as the headquarters of the Oman Trucial Scouts, who were saddled with maintaining internal-tribal peace for decades. Over the years, the fort has gone through a few restoration phases. (Understandably, seeing as it has been around for more than 125 years.) Visitors are free to explore the grounds at their leisure, and are even permitted to climb to the top for a great view of the surrounding palm groves.
History buffs should drop by the permanent exhibition dedicated to Sir Wilfred Thesiger.
An English explorer and travel writer, he traversed the vast Rub’ al Khali desert (The Empty Quarter) with a group of Bedouin people back in the 1940s, on his journey from Salalah (in the south of Oman), to Abu Dhabi. The exhibition includes the photographs that he took to document the journey and some of the treasured possessions that he travelled with. Open Sun-Sat, 9am-5pm, Fri, 3pm-5pm, closed on Mon. Al Mutawaa area, close to Al Ain Rotana.
Green Mubazzarah Park Located at the foothills of the grand Jebel Hafeet Mountain, Green Mubazzarah Park is just another reason why Al Ain deserves its title of The Garden City. Its sprawling lawns make it an ideal picnic and barbecue location. And if your feet need a little perk-up from the drive over, you could always dip your toes into the hot springs, as you breathe in the cool mountain air. Just make sure to test the water first, as temperatures can get quite hot. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, splash and soak the day away in one of the segregated pools nearby. You could even pitch a tent in the designated area and spend a night at the base of Jebel Hafeet. Free. Jebel Hafeet.
Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium Okay, so it isn’t Camp Nou or Wembley Stadium, but Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium is considered to be one of the most advanced and sophisticated sporting venues in the region, yet took just 17 months to complete.
The home of the mighty Al Ain FC, its tiers of seating can fit in about 25,000 cheering fans. Who, let’s face it, have plenty to cheer about at the moment. The team has won 33 titles, making them the most successful club in the UAE.
The stadium’s unique outer façade has been inspired by, you guessed it, the humble trunk of the palm tree. It’s fitted with LED lights that, when fully illuminated, provide quite the photo opportunity. But its architectural prowess doesn’t stop there. It’s the only stadium in the world with a roof that’s able to provide shelter to every spectator in it – something that is much-needed in this part of the world.
While Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium does not conduct regular tours, the venue is still open to organising company events, school trips and large-scale private visits on days when there aren’t matches scheduled. But we suggest you don the purple and white scarf and drive down for match day. Unless, of course, you root for Al Jazira FC or Al Wahda FC. Dhs10 (match ticket). Timings vary. Al Tawia, www.hbzstadium.ae.
Hili Fun City Affectionately referred to as the Disneyland of the region, Hili Fun City first opened its doors in 1985. The original theme park of the GCC, a quick flip through its guestbook will reveal many famous visitors – from royalty to local celebrities.
In 2009, it had a bit of a face-lift, re-opening with new and improved rides and plenty of activities for one and all. Its attractions can be split into three broad categories – kid-friendly, family-friendly and those for thrill-seekers.
The family theme park also includes an Olympic-sized skating rink, which allows hopefuls to live out their Michelle Kwan dreams. And when it’s time to refuel, you can head over to the various on-site eateries for a meal. Dhs50 per person (adults), free (kids under 0.89 metres). Fri and Sat 4pm-10pm; Mon-Thu 5pm-10pm. Wed (ladies only). Ardh Al Jaw Street, www.hilifuncity.ae (03 784 5542).
Jebel Hafeet The UAE isn’t all just desert and sandy dunes, you know. In addition to its many oases, it’s also home to some lofty peaks. Measuring in at 1,240 metres, Jebel Hafeet stands tall as the country’s second-highest peak, straddling the boundaries between the UAE and Oman, and accessible from both countries.
There are a few ways to reach the top of the mountain. The easiest and most common is to navigate the winding 11-kilometre road by car. The drive is smooth sailing, as long as you’re confident enough to steer around the curvy bends. Many fitness freaks have been known to cycle up the rocky limestone mountain.
(We, ahem, do not fall into that category.) Needless to say, the view from the top is simply breathtaking. And if you make it there in time for sunset, make sure your camera’s battery is fully charged. Then, stick around for a few moments and watch the zig-zagging road beneath light up. Free. Jebel Hafeet.
Qasr Al Muwaiji Qasr Al Muwaiji was built in 1946 and was the birth-home of the late His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first President of the UAE and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and his family. It was also the base from which he governed, as well as resided. After the family moved to Abu Dhabi in 1966, the condition of the empty building deteriorated. But, over the years, it was restored to its former glory, before being reopened for public tours. A permanent exhibition is now on display, telling the tale of life in the palace, and the stories behind its construction. It serves as great insight into the history of the founding family. Free. Open Tue-Thu 9am-7pm, Fri 3pm-7pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Mon closed. Qasr Al Muwaiji, E22 Road, Sharet Al Muwaiji area (03 767 4444).
Souq Al Qattara No visit to any Emirate would be complete without visiting a souk. Souq Al Qattara dates back to the mid-20th century, and although it was recently renovated, it has managed to successfully preserve UAE culture. Step into its weekend bazaars and watch local artisans spin away at their potter’s wheel or weave beautiful rugs. Be sure to browse the wide array of traditional items such as cooking tools, spices, incense, coffee and local dates. The souk is connected to the Al Qattara Arts Centre, which serves as a space for locals and tourists to learn about the country’s rich history and culture. Free. Open daily 8am-1pm, 4pm-10pm. Friday markets: Thu-Sat 10am-1pm, 4pm-10pm until May.
Wadi Adventure Everything is bigger and better in the UAE, with Wadi Adventure being testimony to that fact. The adrenaline-pumping waterpark boasts the world’s longest man-made white-water channels, as well as claiming the world’s largest surf pool. In addition to trying some record-breakers, visitors can also surf or wakeboard down the wave-river, paddle with your mates in a raft, or go solo in a kayak. The park has even packed in a family swimming pool and kids’ splash pool, which are heated in winter and cooled during the warmer months. Wadi Adventure has more than water activities on offer, too, with the Air Park seeing visitors sliding across a zip-line, rock-climbing and swinging through mid-air on Donâ, the giant swing over the lakes. We suggest you mark out a whole day to make the most of this fun centre. Dhs50 per adult, Dhs25 for kids under 1.2 metres. Open Sat-Thu 11am-8pm; Fri 10am-8pm. Select activities can be booked in advance. Jabel Al Hafeet Street, Jebel Hafeet. www.wadiadventure.ae (03 781 8422).
A calendar of culture
Our pick of upcoming events in Al Ain to mark the dates in your diaries for
World Heritage Day Mark the occasion of World Heritage Day with family workshops, seminars and talks to celebrate Emirati heritage. Free. Apr 20-21, 5pm. Al Ain Palace Museum.
Travel through our Traditions This event will bring different nationalities together and allow guests to experience Emirati culture first-hand. Visitors will spend time with Emirati women in their homes and on their farms to discuss their way of life. Free. May 3 and 10. Various locations across Al Ain.
Abu Dhabi classics Enjoy a classical recital from the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse with Tugan Sokhiev and Edgar Moreau. The inspiration for this show comes from the stories of 1001 Nights. The concerts will include pieces from French composer Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns, Danish musician Carl Nielsen and Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. From Dhs30. May 3, 8pm. UAE University Great Hall, Crescent Building, Al Ain, www.ticketmaster.ae.
World museum week Fans of all things old will love this week-long event detailing the history of museums in the UAE, which is taking place in collaboration with museums from across the Emirates. Free. May 16-18. Various locations across Al Ain.
Comic Art Exhibition If you love illustrations, animation and pop art, this is your chance to have your work displayed at a community exhibition. Free. May 22-July 29, 5pm-9pm. Al Qattara Arts Centre.
Not even the birth of a first child can be more thrilling than when a fork glides effortlessly through a 50-hour cooked beef short rib that’s so soft and juicy it threatens to slide right off the plate. And it’s exactly what you’ll find at this fancy French haunt in Downtown. When paired with a side of gloriously creamy gratin dauphinois, it’s absolutely show- (and possibly heart-) stopping, and worth every dirham. Dhs295. Open daily noon-3.15pm, 7pm-11.15pm. Vida Downtown Dubai (04 428 6969).
Beef wellington at Bread Street Kitchen This king of dishes is done better at Bread Street Kitchen than anywhere else in the city. The beef remains pink in the centre and it’s encased by rich duxelles and perfectly golden pastry. The truffle mash it comes with is pretty special, too. Dhs260. Open Sat-Thu noon-4pm; Fri 12.30pm-4pm (brunch); Sat-Wed 6pm-10.30pm; Thu-Fri 6.30pm-11.30pm. Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).
Black cod at Nobu
Not an unexpected entry, but we’d be remiss to leave it off any list of “worth-the-expense” eats. The black cod is a legendary dish at this popular global brand for a reason; it’s really, really good. The meaty fish is soaked in a miso marinade, leaving it rich, buttery and decadent. It’s definitely one for your “must-eat” list. Dhs220. Open Sat-Wed 7pm-11.30pm; Thu-Fri 7pm-12.30pm. Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).
Carbonara Barrel at PLAY Restaurant & lounge
A huge wheel of 24-month-aged Parmesan being ferried to the side of your table heralds the arrival of this deliciously rich dish. Steaming spaghetti and crispy veal pancetta are swirled around, melting a layer of cheese from within. It’s scooped into a bowl and topped with a slow-cooked egg boasting a beautiful, custard-like yoke. Come hungry. Dhs258 (minimum of two people). Open Sat-Wed 7pm-2am; Thu-Fri 7pm-3am. The H Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 336 4444).
Chilean sea bass at Billionaire Mansion
Sea bass is a fish on trend, and although this one comes with a heftier price tag than most, you’d expect nothing less from a restaurant with the word “Billionaire” in its name. It’s a classy, grown-up dish with delicate flavours. The Chilean sea bass fillet sits atop a bed of roasted cherry tomatoes and olives. The sweetness of the tomatoes works perfectly with the tangy olives and the flaky white fish, which will have you eating it slowly to savour each mouthful (and your dirhams). Dhs342. Open daily 5pm-3am. Taj Dubai, Business Bay (04 510 3100).
Crab masala bhuna at Rang Mahal
Just saying the name of this dish out loud makes us want to eat it. Pricey it may be, but there’s an impressive amount of meaty crab crammed into this dish. It looks and tastes as great as it sounds, too. Dhs240. Open daily 6pm-11.30pm. JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai (04 414 3000).
Hot seafood platter at Ossiano
Served in a giant copper cooking pot, this sharing platter is one of the best seafood dishes we’ve had the fortune of eating in Dubai. Coming in at a sizeable Dhs950 (for two), it’s certainly worth it for a treat in this elegant venue, which recently won Best Romantic restaurant and took home the Highly Commended gong in the Seafood category at last month’s Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards. The floor-to-ceiling aquarium adds to the sense of occasion, which will only increase when the pan’s lid is lifted, revealing scallops, prawns, lobster and plenty of fresh fish. It’s served alongside vegetables and a petite side dish of light and tasty asparagus risotto. The portion size is generous, so you won’t feel cheated, either. Dhs950. Open Sun-Thu 6.30pm-11.30pm; Fri 7pm-11.30pm. Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).
Langosta al Josper at Coya
Crowned Time Out Dubai’s Best Latin American restaurant this year – and among the city’s best restaurants generally – it’s little surprise that a dish from Coya made it onto this list. A beautifully balanced plate of food, sweet, tender crustacean is partnered with a savoury, tangy chimichurri – a real palate-pleasing pairing. While there are certainly more affordable dishes on the menu (not to mention many more extravagant ones), you’ll be glad you splashed out on this. Dhs390. Open Sat-Thu 12.30pm-3.30pm, 7pm-midnight, Fri 12.30pm-4pm, 5pm-12.30am. Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 316 9600).
Linguini au Homard Épicées at Bagatelle Dubai
Or, whole Josper-roasted spicy lobster, served with bottarga and linguini, cooked in cream and lobster stock. Sounds pretty special and is. Get it to share between two (if you can face giving half of it up). Dhs420. Open daily 8pm-11pm. Fairmont Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 354 5035).
Lobster tempura maki rolls at Novikov We love tempura. We love maki rolls. And we really love lobster. So this dish, in our eyes, is a strong all-rounder. An interesting and fun sushi dish, it’s not hard to see why it takes pride of place on a famously eclectic Asian menu. Possibly the most expensive sushi you’ll ever eat, in a good way. Dhs270. Sun-Thu noon-3pm, 6pm-2am, Fri-Sat noon-2am. Sheraton Grand Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 388 8744).
Osso bucco at Roberto’s The Italian classic is treated with the respect it deserves at this classy DIFC eatery. The veal shank here is from Canada and is braised slowly until the meat falls off the bone. Serving it with fragrant saffron risotto and a vibrant gremolata is just perfect. Dhs215. Open daily noon-2am. Gate Village 1, DIFC (04 386 0066).
Peking duck with Beluga caviar at Hakkasan This is not your average crispy duck, and certainly not your average price tag. The signature Peking duck at this famous worldwide chain is roasted whole and served up with 16 pancakes and a choice of sauces, including black bean, ginger and spring onion or XO (a spicy Chinese sauce). Oh, and 30g of beluga caviar, for good measure. Don’t fancy the caviar? A regular Peking duck is a mere snip at Dhs910. Dhs1,960. Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 384 8484).
Roasted langoustine at STAY by Yannick Alléno
As with most of Alléno’s dishes, this is a work of art. The starter comes in at Dhs220 but for those who appreciate the finer things in life, or those who can afford them regardless, it will be worth it. The French mastermind serves the sweet langoustine on a crisp tartlet and finished with decadent caviar and gold flakes. Dhs220. Open daily 7pm-11pm. One&Only The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 440 1030).
Seared king scallop and foie gras at Pierchic Dubai diners love a bit of foie gras, so it’s fitting that this unique take on surf and turf is served at one of the most popular romantic (and expensive) seafood restaurants in the city. The meaty pan-seared scallops work perfectly alongside a rich, indulgent foie gras. It also comes with the additional flavours of butternut squash, golden raisins and liquorice, for a sweet/savoury twist. So good it will almost distract you from the stunning sea views (and, quite possibly, your date). Dhs210. Open daily noon-3pm; Sun-Wed 6pm-11pm; Thu-Fri 6pm-11.30pm; Sat noon-11pm. Jumeirah Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim (04 432 3232).
Surf & Turf at The MAINE Oyster Bar & Grill
This long-standing classic combo is always a winner in our eyes, especially when it’s served up at this super-cool US-style oyster bar. Highly Commended in the Seafood category at the recent Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards, you know the Caribbean rock lobster tail is going to be top quality. Pair it with a 200g Australian Angus fillet and you’re going to be one happy diner (albeit with a lighter wallet). Dhs395. Open Sat-Wed noon-midnight; Thu-Fri noon-1am. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Dubai – Jumeirah Beach, The Walk, JBR (04 457 6719).
USDA Prime tenderloin (240g) at J&G Steakhouse Nowhere near the most expensive cut of meat on the menu (that accolade goes to the massive Dhs1,250, 1.2kg tomahawk) but about as perfect as a steak can get. There’s no need for any sauce, this fillet is so tasty, and cooked perfectly by the chef. Dhs245. Open daily 6.30pm-midnight. The St. Regis Dubai, Al Habtoor City (04 435 5577).
Whole king crab leg at La Cantine du Faubourg It should come as no surprise to find one of the most elegant dishes on this list in one of the most elegant restaurants in town. Head to this chic French haunt in Dubai’s Jumeirah Emirates Towers to try a beautifully simple plate of whole king crab leg, served only with sides of aioli and spicy mayonnaise as optional dips. Skip the dips and let the meat’s natural sweetness sing. Dhs285 (one leg), Dhs510 (two legs). Open daily noon-1am. Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 352 7105).
No cash to splash?
Check out Dubai’s ten best budget restaurants, where Dhs150 will get you a meal for two
Ayubowan From hoppers to rice and curry, try classic Sri Lankan dishes at this JLT spot. Open daily 10am-11pm. Lake Point Tower, Cluster N, JLT (04 452 1007).
Betawi cafÉ You’ll be hard-pressed to find more authentic Malaysian eats anywhere in Dubai. Open daily noon-10pm. Lake Terrace Tower, Cluster D, JLT (04 454 2329). Other location: Karama (056 759 8118).
Bu Qtair Expect freshly caught fish served with rice or paratha and a fragrant sauce. Open daily noon-11.30pm. Street 4D, near Burj Al Arab (055 705 2130).
Busaba Eathai Tuck into classic Thai dishes, from fish cakes to green mango salad. Open daily noon-midnight. The Beach, JBR (04 428 1421).
CafÉ isan Brilliant Thai dishes from the Isan region. Expect a fragrant, flavourful feast. Open daily noon-11pm. Cluster M, JLT (04 513 5289).
Calicut Paragon A stalwart on Karama’s famed Indian food scene, don’t miss the crab curries. Open Sat-Thu 7am-12.30am; Fri 7am-11am, 1pm-12.30am. Karama (04 335 8700).
Raju Omelet This spot specialises in eggs done Indian-style. A brilliant place for breakfast. Open daily 8am-11.30pm. Al Quoz (04 388 3355); Karama (04 388 5522).
Ravi Restaurant Whether you go dhal, butter chicken, tandoori or jalfrezi, it’s hard to go wrong at this legendary Satwa spot. Open daily 5am-2.30am. Satwa Road, Satwa (04 331 5353).
Yalla Momos Sink your teeth into Nepalese dumplings (momos), with fillings from cheese to shrimp. Open daily noon-midnight. Karama (04 385 2233).
Zaroob Moreish mezze, fantastic feteer and more Middle Eastern street foods await. Various locations including Sheikh Zayed Road (800 927 662).
There are old town spots that everyone knows. Ravi’s, The Irish Village and XVA Gallery to name just a few. There are plenty more places, however, that probably aren’t on your radar, but definitely should be. We love all of the tried-and-tested, age-old frontiers, but there are golden oldies that have faded off the map in light of a slew of new openings, but that remain as worth-visiting as they ever were. Shop, visit museums, explore colourful hidden alleyways, and round it all off with a huge meal – or three – and a visit to one of the gems of the nightlife scene on this side of town. It’s worth the taxi fare.
Eating out Al Mallah Shawarmas are a dime a dozen across the city, but this old streetside Satwa haunt serves some of the juiciest. The mixed grills are just as impressive, too. Combine with fattoush, hummus and a fresh juice, and you’ve got yourself a winning meal. Open daily 6am-2.30am. 2nd December Street, Satwa (04 398 4723).
Al Ustad Special Kebab
Formerly Special Ostadi, this quirky, long-standing kebab joint is furnished with photos of bodybuilding champions. Though the menu doesn’t stretch far beyond meat, it’s all succulent, expertly marinated and generously portioned. A must try. Sat-Thu noon-4pm, 6.30pm-1am; Fri 6.30pm-1am. Al Mankhool Road, Bur Dubai (04 397 1933).
Aseelah It stands to reason that the winner of best Middle Eastern & North African at the recent Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards would be, first of all, Emirati, and second of all, located in the area that Dubai grew from. Aseelah puts local cuisine at the heart of its menu, with a selection of dishes that is on one hand traditional and on the other modern and contemporary, such as beetroot carpaccio with tahini laban and almond and parsnip soup. Open daily 12.30pm-4pm, 6.30pm-11pm. Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek (04 205 7033).
You’ll be hard pressed to find better Keralan cuisine in the city. Seafood is its speciality, with fragrant curries taking centre stage. Order appams (pancakes made from fermented rice and coconut milk) to soak up the sauce, roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. Open daily 7am-12.30am. Mattar Al Tayer Building, Karama (04 335 8700).
Creekside Café Sit right on the edge of the water at this cute little café – the views are beautiful. Breakfast is particularly good, and the menu covers modern Emirati dishes as well as the usual European and American café fare. Open daily 9am-9pm. Al Suq Al Khabeer, next to Ruler’s Court, Bur Dubai (04 359 9220).
Dampa Seafood Grill There tend to be big queues, which doesn’t surprise us in the least. Tables are spread with plastic sheets for your seafood of choice to be dumped on top of. Choose your catch and your sauce (try the spicy, garlicky Cajun), and dig in with your hands. They’ll even give you plastic gloves to help minimise the mess, and the bill for two will come in at under Dhs100. Open daily noon-11pm. Tower B, Centurion Tower, Al Ittihad Street, opposite Deira City Centre (04 299 0884).
Elia Still one of few restaurants in the city offering Greek cuisine, Elia serves up peaceful respite from the city, and the Greek classics – cheese saganaki, tzatziki, pita bread, moussaka – are all made very well. Perfect for long, lazy afternoons. Open daily 7pm-11.30pm. Majestic Hotel Tower, Bur Dubai (04 359 8888).
JW’s Steakhouse Cosy, warm and inviting, JW’s is decorated in heavy woods and dark greens with high-backed chairs and silver bull horns on the place mats. The quality of meat is virtually unmatched, while there’s plenty of seafood on the menu, too. A special place to dine. Open daily 5pm-midnight. JW Marriott Hotel Dubai, Deira (04 607 7977).
Kiku From huge bowls of steaming ramen (an absolute must-try) to crispy tempura and, of course, fresh sushi and sashimi, the food here is excellent. The venue is bustling and cosy, but authentically Japanese in style with its minimalist furniture and neutral décor. Open daily 12.30pm-2.30pm, 6.30pm-11pm. Le Méridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre, Garhoud (04 217 0000).
One of Dubai’s oldest sushi restaurants – 27 years old to be exact – Miyako recently underwent a much-needed revamp. It’s now a contemporary, vibrant Japanese kitchen serving all the classics from teppanyaki set menus to bento boxes and hot pots. Paper parasols, rustic stones, a cosy bar area and beautiful wood furniture have made this spot one of Dubai’s Japanese dining destinations. Open Sat-Wed 12.30pm-11.30pm; Thu-Fri 12.30pm-midnight. Hyatt Regency Dubai, Deira (04 209 6914).
MannaLand One of the first Korean restaurants in the city, this remains one of the best. Tender, moreish bulgogi and the fiery (free) kimchi are just two highlights of the menu, though the spicy stews are also worth trying. The setting isn’t anything special, but the food makes up for that. Open daily 11am-11pm. Mina Road, Satwa (04 345 1300).
Noodle Bowl Unassuming and affordable, but with an excellent reputation, take a seat on a pavement table to people-watch with a selection of their fantastic dumplings, a few fried prawns with wasabi mayo and a huge plate of noodles. Open daily 9am-midnight. Dunes Centre, 2nd December Street, Satwa (04 345 3382).
Rangoli Grab a seat upstairs for an excellent vegetarian thali experience, or sit downstairs and tuck into the second-to-none Indian snacks. Our favourites are the sev puri and dahi puri, but they also whip up a supremely fluffy dhokla (a Gujarati savoury cake made from fermented rice and split chickpea batter). Open daily 8.30am-11.30am. Meena Bazaar, Bur Dubai (04 351 5873).
Ravi’s Needing little, if any, introduction, Ravi’s has always been a stalwart of the city’s dining scene. It’s worth visiting at least once, to tick this enduring Pakistani institution off your Dubai food bucket list. Open daily 5am-2am. Al Satwa Road, near Satwa Roundabout (04 331 5353).
Qwaider Al Nabulsi This Palestinian restaurant has been around for years, and its mezze is nothing short of sublime. Try the hummus piled with green pepper, garlic and lemon sauce, and the chicken pies packed with sumac and olive oil. You can also pick up filling plates of Jordanian mansaf and moreish salty-sweet kunafa. Open daily 9am-2am. Al Muraqqabat Street, next to Kings Park Hotel, Deira (04 227 7760).
Tawasol This is a casual spot to try authentic Emirati fare, and you’re bound to find something on the menu here that you haven’t tried before. The machboos – one of the more familiar dishes – is cooked in a fragrant blend of spices and served with rice and preserved limes, while the tahtah malleh (salted fish) is also worth a try. Open daily 11am-1am. Near Clocktower, Deira (04 295 9797).
The Thai Kitchen
An al fresco spot with Creek views, surrounded by the lush gardens of Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, this is a relaxing, sophisticated and picturesque spot. It’s all about sharing-style dining with sharing dishes packed with authentic Thai flavours. Open daily 7pm-4pm. Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira (04 602 1814).
St Tropez Bistro
After 14 years of having the same kitsch ’70s-style décor, St Tropez Bistro’s original Garhoud branch finally underwent a renovation in 2014. Thankfully, the place kept its character (the walls are still full to bursting with black and white images of film stars) and its charm (dine outside at night and you’ll be surrounded by pretty fairy lights and the slightly retro neon signs of Century Village). The food here is also very good. It’s refined and well presented, and prices are very reasonable. Open Wed, Thu and Fri 11am-2am; Sat 11am-1am. Century Village, Garhoud (04 282 5377).
More of a snack spot, everything on the little menu of Nepalese dumplings here is brilliant. Fillings include cottage cheese, mutton, shrimp, spinach and vegetables (and various combinations of all of the above), all coming in at less than Dhs20 for six. Simple and delicious. 4b Street, behind Park Regis Kris Kin, Karama (04 385 2233).
Nightspots Biggles Pub Traditionally British, but also unique in the city thanks to its World War Two aviation décor (model planes, pilot uniforms, and other themed kick-knacks). It has a weekly rotation of live bands, karaoke (Fridays) and quiz nights (Tuesdays). For the best night out, these are the best times to visit. Open daily noon-2am. Millennium Airport Hotel, Garhoud (04 702 8888).
Boracay Live acts at this sprawling nightclub include the not-to-be-missed singer Rubi and her energetic backing dancers. The massive stage is set up with a huge light show, and the whole thing is quite something to see. Sit back and simply enjoy the music. Open daily 7pm-3am. Asiana Hotel, Deira (04 608 2056).
This is one of the oldest pubs in the city. It opened back in 1978, and it’s hardly changed an inch since. Pull up a stool and settle in to chat to the friendly bartenders. Admittedly it is a little bit characterless since its revamp a couple of years ago, but is nonetheless part of Dubai’s nightlife history. Open daily noon-2am. Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers, Baniyas Road, Deira (04 207 1721).
Cheesy fun is the order of the day at this retro, neon-tinged venue. The enthusiastic crowd – who aren’t afraid of throwing some pretty epic moves on the dancefloor – goes a long way towards making this an excellent spot for a lively night out. Open daily 7.30pm-3am. Park Regis Kris Kin, Bur Dubai (04 377 1210).
George & Dragon As the city’s oldest pub, the G&D needs little introduction. It’s a decent bar sporting screens for football matches, a pool table and a dart board. There’s a jukebox, too, and proper pub grub. What more do you need? Open daily noon-3am. Ambassador Hotel, Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai (04 393 9444).
Hibiki Karaoke Lounge One of Dubai’s oldest karaoke lounges, Hibiki has remained ever-popular, especially at weekends. Join the pack cheering on the awesome resident singer Pocholo or hire a private booth to belt out power ballads. Open Mon-Sat 7.30pm-3am. First Floor (The Galleria Mall), Hyatt Regency Dubai, Deira (04 209 6914).
Las Vegas Night club The location of Deep Crates Cartel and also ultra-alternative new night Satwa 3000, this is a futuristic, funky club with mirrors, glowing hexagonal lights, super-shiny seats and a spaceship vibe. This might not be the kind of place you’d catch Kim Kardashian, but it will win you over with its hip-hop, R&B and dancehall soundtrack, and the offer of 25 percent off at Ravi’s on a Friday night. Open daily 6pm-3am. Chelsea Plaza Hotel, Satwa (04 398 3687).
Maharlika Café The cover bands who play here are second to none, as are the venue’s authentic, crispy Pinoy snacks (there are some pretty adventurous items on this menu). Expect Filipino pop-rock, classic American rock tunes and plenty of tracks to sing along to. Open daily 6.30pm-3am. President Hotel, Trade Centre Road, Karama (04 334 6565).
QD’s This bar is a must-visit, especially if you have guests in town. Peaceful and with stunning Creek views, the venue needs little else. Relax on the terrace as the sun is setting. Whether you’re down the old end of town or not, this is worth going out of the way for. Open Sun-Wed 5pm-2am; Thu-Sat 5pm-3am. Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, Deira (04 295 6000).
Rock bottom Café A night out at the original Rock Bottom needs to be had at least once. Both this and its newer Barsha Heights venue have earned themselves reputations for raucous nights out with live bands, blue-green mixed beverages and eclectic crowds. Need we say more? Open daily 7pm-3am. Regent Palace Hotel, Karama (04 396 3888).
Sherlock Holmes Detective and ’50s-themed props contribute to this bar’s obvious theme, but heading here is less about novelty and more about the friendly atmosphere. That hasn’t changed in years, and we hope it doesn’t any time soon. Open daily noon-3am. Arabian Courtyard Hotel & Spa, Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai (04 351 9111).
The Dubliner’s The Dubliner’s is tiny and dimly lit inside, with a massive outdoor area. Packed and lively when there’s a match on, it can be fairly quiet otherwise, but it feels every inch like a local bar. Open daily noon-midnight. Le Méridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre, Garhoud (04 702 2455).
The Irish Village Friendly and unpretentious, The Irish Village is pretty much the definition of a real Irish pub, and, in our opinion, its garden is one of the best in the city. The perfect place to round off a day in Old Dubai. Open Sat-Wed 11am-1am; Thu-Fri 11am-2am. Garhoud (04 282 4750).
The Music Room
With a constant line-up of talented and diverse live bands, The Music Room offers without a doubt one of Dubai’s best nights out. Whatever genre you’re into, there’s bound to be a live act for you coming up soon (head to its Facebook page for the latest announcements). There’s a dancefloor, but plenty of seats, too, if you prefer to sit back and enjoy the music. Lively, just a bit edgy and genuinely cool. Open daily 6pm-3am. Majestic Hotel Tower, Bur Dubai (050 248 4045).
The Viceroy When it comes to setting and décor, this is one of the best pubs Old Dubai has to offer. It doesn’t have a garden, but inside it’s cosy, wood-panelled and leather-chaired, with old gramophones and grape racks on the walls. Happy hour is also an entire seven hours long (noon to 7pm), which doesn’t hurt. Open daily noon-2am. Four Points by Sheraton, Bur Dubai (04 397 7444).
Ready, steady, shop Al Ghurair Centre Al Ghurair Centre was built back in 1981, but it has remained up to date with big-brand stores including Levi’s, French Connection, Marks & Spencer and iconic, in among a mishmash of boutiques selling rugs, books, jewellery and lots more. Open Sun-Wed 10am-10pm; Thu-Sat 10am-midnight. Al Rigga Street, Deira (04 250 0004).
Burjuman This higher-end mall (though there are shops such as Daiso and Forever 21, too), seems to have an unending cycle of promotions including cash and voucher prizes, free photo booths and Magic Planet cards with free rides for kids. There’s a good number of cafés as well. Open Sat-Wed 10am-11pm; Thu-Fri 10am-midnight. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Street, Bur Dubai (04 352 0222). Edo Department Store Most comparable to well-known Japanese import Daiso, you can find most basic, everyday essentials here, and everything is between Dhs1 and Dhs10. There’s a good range of useful bits and pieces from flip-flops and kitchen utensils to kids’ toys. Open daily 9am-midnight. Al Mussalla Road, Bur Dubai (04 325 7080).
Lamcy Plaza One of Dubai’s quirkier malls, Lamcy Plaza is filled with plenty of budget shops and multi-brand department stores for bargain-hunters. It’s small, but impulse-buying will generally be easy on the wallet, and there are plenty of cafés and fast food chains. Open Sat-Wed 10am-midnight; Thu-Fri 10am-12.30am. Sheikh Rashid Road, Oud Metha (04 335 9999).
Naif Souk Back in the old days, this souk was a bustling camel market. Especially at night, the myriad stores hawk everything from textiles and clothing to leather goods, electronics, souvenirs and more. Bring your haggling skills. Open daily 8.30am-11.30pm. Off Deira Street, Naif (no number).
Red Mountain Supermarket A one-stop shop for your favourite snacks from dried fruits to flavoured nuts, crunchy corn kernels and dates. Not to mention masses of sweets, such as nougat with pistachio. The more you buy, the cheaper it gets. Open daily 10.30am-9pm. Al Khor Street, near Gold Souk, Deira (04 226 9206). Shindagha Market Navigating your way through this massive market of fresh fish, fruit and veg can be daunting for first-timers. Especially if haggling isn’t your strong suit. But it’s worth your time, not least for the excellent-value produce. It’s an atmospheric experience that you won’t find down the aisles of a supermarket. Open daily 7.30am-11am. Between Shindagha Tunnel and Gold Souk, Deira (no number).
Wafi There are good deals to be found here. Imported department stores such as Marks & Spencer and Matalan sit alongside others including Salam Stores, which is packed full of designer wear. There’s also an odd assortment of high-end shops and one-off boutiques. You can pick up clothes you might not be able to in the high street stores of other malls, but you might have to sift through a lot of over-priced European imports to do so. Open Sat-Wed 10am-10pm; Thu-Fri 10am-midnight. Sheikh Rashid Road, Oud Metha (04 324 4555).
Yousif AbdulAziz Thyme & Herbs Pungent scents of Omani Frankincense drift out of this tiny little store where you can browse cardamom, saffron, dried thyme, rose water, dried figs and more, and walk away with them for very reasonable prices, too. Open daily 8am-11pm. Opposite Al Satwa Bus Station, Satwa (04 331 3964).
Culture trails Dubai Museum This small museum still ends up rammed on weekends. It documents the rise of Dubai from pearl diving village to sprawling metropolis. Wander through underwater scenes and replicas of old houses. It won’t take you very long to see the whole thing, and some of the exhibits look a little dated, but that’s all part of the charm. Dhs3. Open Sat-Thu 8.30am-8.30pm; Fri 2.30pm-8.30pm. Al Fahidi Fort, Bur Dubai (04 353 1862).
Hindi Lane Sitting snugly between Meena Bazaar and the Creek, Hindi Lane is a vibrant maze of shops hung with beautiful wreaths of fresh flowers, posters, knick-knacks and tiny hole-in-the-wall cafés serving Indian snacks. Visit around Diwali when the store fronts are strewn with all manner of flashing, multicoloured fairy lights and are lit with candles. It’s a photographer’s dream. Behind Dubai Grand Mosque, opposite Dubai Museum, Bur Dubai (no number).
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding Known for its breakfast and lunch Q&A sessions with its Emirati hosts, the centre has recently expanded its programmes to include dinners, too, as well as Fuala – the Emirati custom of welcoming guests with tea and pastries. Try traditional Emirati cuisine, coffee and snacks and ask your hosts anything and everything you ever wanted to know about the UAE and its culture. Combine lunch with a heritage tour around the area to learn about Dubai’s history from someone whose family lived through it. Dhs65 (heritage tour). Dhs80 (breakfast), Dhs85 (Fuala), Dhs90 (lunch), Dhs100 (dinner or brunch). Mon and Wed 10am (breakfast); Sat 10.30am (brunch); Sun-Thu 1pm (lunch); Sun, Tue and Thu 7pm (Fuala and dinner). House 26, Al Mussallah Road, Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Bur Dubai (04 353 6666).
Women’s museum Hidden down a narrow Deira side street, the Women’s Museum (also called Bait Al Banat, which translates to “Girl’s House”) is a fascinating tribute to the Emirati women who shaped the country’s history. Exhibits are dedicated to celebrating Emirati female artists, along with renowned poet Ousha Bint Khalifa. It also highlights the prominent role that the wives and daughters of the UAE’s rulers have played, the responsibilities they assumed in times of crisis, and those who give valued input and advice into the country’s internal and foreign affairs. Dhs20. Open Sat-Thu 10am-10pm. Sikka 28, Gold Souk, Deira, near the Fish Market (04 234 2342).
XVA Gallery One of the most enchanting things about this gallery is its location. The traditional buildings, the pretty courtyard café (which serves an excellent mint lemonade) and open-air exhibits are a joy to wander through – often juxtaposed with the contemporary art on show within it. Free. Open daily 10am-6pm. Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Bur Dubai (04 353 5383).
Three top tailors Coventry Tailoring Trustworthy and cheap are the words that best describe Coventry. Its reputation has been built over the past 28 years, and it remains as reliable and accurate as it ever has. Turnover is high, and not all the tailors speak fluent English, so you should take a photo of what you want made with you, to help explain. 16b Street, Satwa (050 575 4719).
Lobo Tailors Satwa has long been known for its tailoring expertise, and Lobo is one of the oldest in the city, having opened back in 1978. The go-to tailor for Emirates airline staff uniforms, it has exceptionally high standards at incredibly affordable prices. The team will finish everything in around one week – a quicker turnaround time than most – so it’s ideal for visiting relatives looking for a sharp suit, as well as last-minute alterations. 41st Street, Meena Bazaar (04 352 3760).
Whistle and Flute Gentleman’s Bespoke Tailor Nestled near the Iranian Hospital, this is a favourite spot for many in the city, not least for its huge array of fabrics. The expert tailors are eager to help you choose, well-versed in all aspects of men’s tailoring and will create a sharp suit from scratch in about ten days, or one week for a shirt. They’ll even whip up a pair of bespoke boxers for you. Behind Iranian Hospital, off Al Hudaiba Road, near Red Rooster (04 342 9229).
Four spots for a day out Pharaohs’ Club You’ll find a fantastic spa, gym and health club here, but the best thing about Pharaohs’ Club is the lazy river-style pool. Take a dip under the shade of palm trees, or relax on a sun lounger snacking on mezze, sipping a beverage and watching the world float by. Dhs160 (day pass). Sat-Thu 9am-10pm; Fri 9am-9pm. Pyramids at Wafi, Oud Metha (04 324 0000).
Al Nasr Leisureland It might be a bit rough around the edges these days, but when the bowling alley is licensed it’s hard to care. If you’re down this end of town, be it for brunch or otherwise, this complex is an emporium of entertainment, from go-karting to ice skating, arcade games and Filipino live music venue Odd Spot. From Dhs20 (bowling, per person, per game), Dhs30 (ice skating, two hours), Dhs25 (go-karting, five minutes). Oud Metha, behind American Hospital (04 337 1234).
Dubai Creek Park Often overlooked by New Dubai folk in favour of Zabeel and Barsha Parks, this lush Creekside oasis has plenty to offer. Cable Cars offer picturesque views, there’s a go-karting track and Children’s City will endlessly entertain kids (and, probably, their parents) with its interactive science experiments. Otherwise, stroll through the botanical gardens or relax on the rolling lawns with a picnic. Dhs5. Open Sun-Wed 8am-10pm; Thu-Sat 8am-11pm. Umm Hurair 2, parking and entrance near Garhoud Bridge, behind Dubai Healthcare City (04 336 7633).
Al Boom Tourist Village Al Boom Tourist Village had a huge facelift two years ago, turning from tired old tourist attraction to curated arts space and hub of Emirati culture. The land belongs to the Bin Harib family (you might know Mohammed Seed Harib as the creator of popular cartoon show Freej) and it’s spread across 15 peaceful acres along the shores of the Creek. It includes an Arabian art café on the deck of a traditional wooden dhow, an art gallery filled with Emirati works, a restaurant serving Emirati cuisine and cosy little waterside seating nooks modelled on the traditional fishing cages. Perfect for visitors, or for just whiling away a few hours immersed in culture, away from the hustle and bustle of surrounding areas. Free. Open daily 9am-11.30pm. Near Garhoud Bridge, Sheikh Rashid Road, Umm Hurair 2 (04 324 3000).
Five places for phenomenal street snacks Al Abra Cafeteria Make a pit stop here for a cooling, fresh coconut, which you can enjoy for under Dhs10. Deep-fried chillies are also on the menu if you fancy a snack (and can handle the heat). Opposite Al Sabkha Water Taxi Station, Deira (no number).
Al Samadi Sweets Try the spiced date bars and traditional baklava, or sample some pistachio cookies, and wash it all down with a cup of cardamom-infused coffee. We recommend buying a few bags to take away with you, too. Al Muraqqabat Street, Deira (04 269 7717).
Flavours ice cream Don’t be put off by the green chilli flavour, which is sharp and has a pleasant, tingly kick, but is also refreshing and surprisingly sweet with a creamy pistachio edge. It’s the winner for us, as is the rose ice cream filled with chewy pieces of petal and cashew nuts. 4a Street, Karama (04 397 8784).
Pan de Manila Purchase fluffy bread buns such as pandesal, empanadas filled with juicy meat and veg, or, for cheese-lovers, ensaymada – bread covered with soft cheese, butter and sugar. Off Al Satwa Road, Satwa (no number).
Saleh Mohd Bakery A real hole-in-the-wall sort of place, this streetside gem churns out sublime discs of khuboos (fluffy Iranian roti) for just a few dirhams. Opposite Satwa Mosque, off Al Satwa Road (no number).
Camp like a Jedi Dramatic landscapes and adventure opportunities don’t come much more striking than the setting for the planet Jakku in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The scenes were filmed in the Abu Dhabi desert and it’s a great place for overnight sleeping under the stars. Moreeb dune is considered by many to be the world’s tallest and is a good target for off-roading campers. It’s around 300 metres high and rests at an angle of around 50 degrees, making it great for dune-bashing adventures before an overnight campfire and stargazing.
Playlist: A Sky Full Of Stars by Coldplay Head out beyond Liwa and set GPS for 22.975008, 53.785380.
Cruise the dunes on desert safari Pulling off-road in your own vehicle and furiously driving over the dunes is only recommended if you're an experienced desert driver and know what you're doing. A more suitable option is probably an organised desert safari. Platinum Heritage offers upscale tours, which highlight Emirati culture and heritage, with additional add-ons such as camel rides, astronomy, falconry and Bedouin breakfasts.
Playlist: Road To Nowhere by Talking Heads Dhs545 (Heritage Desert Safari). Daily 8am-6pm. Platinum Heritage, www.platinum-heritage.com (04 388 4044).
Dirt bike in the dessert Love the feel and experience of dune bashing or quad bike rides in the desert? Take that to the next level with motocross, also known as dirt-biking, which will see you ride high-performance bikes across the rugged terrain. European and Arab Championship winners provide training and race season activities at the Motocross Academy in Jebel Ali.
Playlist: Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf Bike rental Dhs200 to Dhs1,750 (depending on bike power and duration between 30 minutes and three hours). Daily 8am-8pm. MX Academy, Jebel Ali, www.mx-academy.com (050 951 1151).
Fat bike in Liwa Custom-built bikes with extra-wide wheels make cycling on the sand easier to manage. Powering your way up a dune out on the fringes of the Empty Quarter still requires a lot of leg power, but freewheeling down the other side makes it all worthwhile. Follow a guided tour organised by Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort By Anantara, or go off-piste and on your own to explore the dunes.
Playlist: Bicycle Race by Queen Dhs180. Daily, times and duration depend on fitness levels, call for details. Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort By Anantara, Empty Quarter, Abu Dhabi, www.qasralsarab.anantara.com (02 656 1399).
Hike the mountains and wadis of the UAE The wadis and mountains of the UAE have plenty of opportunity for an adventure. While you can set out on your own (always let people know where you’re going and take necessary safety precautions), the best thing to do is join fellow enthusiasts and perhaps make new friends. Various groups on Meetup.com arrange thousands of outdoor gatherings in a bewildering variety of places. Search for UAE Trekkers and join a countrywide community that frequently hits local mountains for a good explore.
Race quad bikes or dune buggies Progress from a desert safari in the back of a 4x4 to conquering the dunes yourself. Numerous companies in various points of the Arabian Desert have quad bike and dune buggy rentals. The rugged and surprisingly agile vehicles can reach high speeds and are excellent climbers. You can go solo and charge up and down the dunes or follow a guided tour of the steeper slopes and well-worn routes over the sands. Equipment and basic training is provided.
Playlist: The Fool on The Hill by The Beatles From Dhs225 (half-day desert safari package including 65 minutes quad biking). Daily, call for times. Big Red Quad Bike Rental, Hatta Road, Nazwa, www.quadbikeindubai.com (052 730 4513).
Ride horses on Sir Bani Yas Island Any trip to Sir Bani Yas Island feels like an adventure. Perhaps it is something to do with the cheetahs and giraffes that call the desert island home. Take the spirit of outdoor pursuits to the next level by riding a trusty steed through the Arabian Wildlife Park. Experienced riders can trot from the Bani Yas Stables out across exotic landscapes and amid the free roaming animals from sunrise to sunset.
Playlist: Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones Dhs300-600 (depending on experience). Daily, sunrise and sunset rides recommended. Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, www.sirbaniyasisland.com (800 8342).
Slide down the sand on a board It’s like snowboarding, but on sand. Why wouldn’t you sandboard? Book the morning safari with sandboarding offered by Dream Explorer and as well as exploring the desert from a Hummer, you also get some time to board down the dunes.
Get into white water rafting in Al Ain We’re not blessed with white water rapids on rivers in these parts, but, this being the UAE, somebody just went out and built some. The artificial river for rafting and kayaking is just one of the marvels at Al Ain outdoor sports complex, Wadi Adventure. Three levels of difficulty are offered, ranging from casual group paddles all the way to World Championship (the finals were held on these waters) level of adventure.
Playlist: Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival (especially for the “rolling on the river” chorus) Dhs100 (one hour). Sat-Thu 11am-7pm; Fri 10am-7pm. Wadi Adventure, Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain, www.wadiadventure.ae (03 781 8422).
Kayak the mangroves This expedition on the water offers both a strong workout and an opportunity to see the breadth of Abu Dhabi’s vast and varied environment. Paddle the lush greenery of the mangroves to see turtles, snakes, fish, flamingos and varied birdlife in general. Guides lead the self-paddle tours and explain ecological facts, while night tours in LED-light-bottomed boats offer a more ethereal experience.
Playlist: Duelling Banjos by Eric Weissberg Dhs160 (adults, for 90-minute guided mangrove tour). Daily, times on request. Noukhada Adventure Company, Sultan bin Zayed the First Street, Abu Dhabi, www.noukhada.ae (02 558 1889).
Ride in a robot shark “What did you do at the weekend Dave?” colleagues might ask. “Oh, nothing much. Just went for a ride through the Arabian Gulf in a robotic underwater shark”. To indulge your James Bond fantasies and win weekend thrill-seeking competitions forever, book yourself in for the Water Shark Adventure. Even if your name isn’t Dave.
Playlist: Under the Sea by Sebastian C Dhs500 per hour, per person. Times vary. Water Adventure Dubai, various locations including Rixos The Palm Dubai, Palm Jumeirah, www.wateradventure.ae (04 453 7544).
Surf the Arabian Gulf Fact – the waters of the UAE do not compare to Mexico, Bali, Australia or California when it comes to big waves. But surfing in Dubai is super-fun. It has a brilliant community spirit and it’s the ideal place to learn the basics or indulge a passion. As well as selling clothing and equipment, running yoga sessions and monitoring and reporting on the day’s surfing conditions, the crew at Surf House Dubai are an authority on all wave-related matters in the region. Oh, they also offer frequent surfari excursions to international locations, too. Swell.
Playlist: Surfin' USA by The Beach Boys From Dhs75 (one-hour surf board rental). Daily 7am-6.30pm. Villa 110, Al Soon Street, Umm Suqeim, Jumeirah Beach Road, www.surfingdubai.com (050 504 3020).
Swim with sharks Keep telling yourself they’re harmless and accept that the sharks off the East Coast could have you for breakfast if they wanted. They don’t want to. The silent majesty of seeing sharks in their natural habitat is one of the planet’s finest and most accessible animal encounters. Snorkellers off Snoopy Rock in Fujairah frequently report seeing blacktip reef sharks and you can enhance your chances by taking a scuba tour with a company such as Al Boom Diving.
Playlist: Theme from Jaws by John Williams Dive lessons in a pool start from Dhs150, snorkelling is free. Daily, 24 hours. Al Boom Diving, Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort, Dibba Road, Fujairah, www.alboomdiving.com (09 204 4925).
Try canyoning through wadis Canyoning opportunities in the UAE are limited, but with a tour provider such as Adventurati, you can sample the sport at an accessible pace. Climb and scramble through a wadi, hike the countryside and wade through water on an entry-level canyoning course in Wadi Shawka. Playlist: Jump by Van Halen Dhs200 (for introduction to canyoning package and guided tour). Adventure timings on request. Adventurati, Arenco Offices, Dubai Investment Park, www.adventurati-outdoor.com (050 280 3662).
Air Head for heights? Head onwards and upwards
Go paragliding over Dhaid This beautiful sports sits somewhere between a skydive and a desert safari on the adventure scale and is perhaps best described as "the kiteboarding of the desert". Like a parachute, but launched from the ground rather than a plane, a paragliding flight allows you to soar over the desert sands and see the dune ridges, Arabian sunset and glory of the vast open lands from the sky. Training for solo flights or tandem jumps are available and there is every possibility that after one flight you will catch the paragliding bug and want more.
Playlist: Come Fly With Me by Frank Sinatra Dhs6,500 (12-session training course for solo flights). One-time tandem jump (prices available on request). Times depend on weather. Mughamarat Adventures, Mleiha Base Camp, Sharjah, www.mughamarat.com (056 545 2588).
Have an aerial adventure at Aventura Invoke your inner Tarzan on this 35,000 square metre adventure playground. The aerial assault course has around 80 activities, most of which involve dangling, balancing and swinging at swoon-inducing heights. Zip-lines, rope walks and high-rise swings are all featured with varying degrees of difficulty.
Playlist: The Climb by Miley Cyrus Dhs150 (general access), Dhs125 (children under 1.35 metres). Daily 9.30am-6pm. Mushrif Park, Mirdif, www.aventuraparks.com (056 887 1687).
Jump out of a plane over the Palm Jumeirah Skydive selfies over the Atlantis The Palm are one of the ultimate Dubai accessories. Tandem jumps with qualified, experienced Skydive Dubai jumpers take a bit of courage, but if you dare to air there is no thrill quite like it.
Playlist: I Believe I Can Fly by R. Kelly Dhs1,999. Mon-Sat 10am-6pm. Skydive Dubai, Dubai Marina, www.skydivedubai.ae (04 377 8888).
Watch the sun rise over the desert The early morning start could be a bit of a struggle if you’re usually a light riser, but the clear desert skies between September and May are best viewed by the very first light of dawn. From the calm of your hot air balloon you can watch light appear over the horizon and see the true beauty of the vast desert below. But what’s best of all is that you can then gently drop another hundred feet and see it all over again as the sun rises.
Playlist: Up Up and Away by The Fifth Dimension Dhs1,100 (adults). Until May 31. Early morning, call for exact times. Oasis Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.ballooning.ae (04 388 4044).
Tackle the Via Ferrata in Ras Al Khaimah This adventurous mountain climb featuring a 300-metre-long zip-line at the end is a must-try for thrill-seekers. It’s a spectacular way to experience the UAE’s highest mountain, Jebel Jais, and the zip-line comes in varying degrees of difficulty (if you’re not ready for the big leap yet, a 50-metre wire is available to initiate you.
Playlist: Free Fallin' by Tom Petty Dhs400. Wed-Sun 9am-1pm, 1pm-5pm. Jebel Jais, Ras Al Khaimah, www.jebeljais.ae (04 392 6463).
Take a gyrocopter flight around the JBR coast Sometimes you need only to sit still to have the greatest adventures. That's the theory behind Skydive Dubai's gyrocopter flights anyway. The motorised two-seater craft buzzes around the Burj Al Arab, Palm Jumeirah and the picture postcard Dubai coast giving you views the likes of which you have never seen before. Playlist: Rocket Man by Elton John Dhs999 for a 20minute flight.Mon-Sat 10am-6pm. Skydive Dubai, Al Seyahi Street, Mina Seyahi, www.skydivedubai.ae (04 377 8888).
Outdoors indoors Snow sports at Ski Dubai We know – it is not exactly an outdoor adventure, but when you’re melting outdoors, this indoor ski slope is about as al fresco as you could hope to be. The indoor resort’s 3,000 square metres of real snow offer up plenty of extreme fun. Don’t just peer through the Mall of the Emirates window at the snowball fights or penguin-watch at the foot of the slope. Get in and try your hand at the surprisingly authentic skiing and snowboarding runs.
Playlist: Do You Wanna Build A Snowman? by Kristen Bell Dhs210 (adults), Dhs180 (kids). Sun-Wed 10am-11pm; Thu 10am-midnight; Fri 9am-midnght, Sat 9am-11pm. Ski Dubai, Mall of the Emirates, www.skidxb.com (800 386).