So, come Christmas, you think: freezing temperatures, terrible reindeer jumpers and, hopefully, snow. Or, if you’re from the other half of the world, barbecues, beach and uncomfortable sweating. But here in Dubai? Well, you’ll find perfect temperatures, tinsel-covered malls, gingerbread houses and giant Christmas trees – there has even been a crystal-bedecked fir at Festival City in the past. About 10 per cent of the UAE’s foreign population is Christian, and many from different religious backgrounds get involved with their expat friends’ festivities too.
Some expats celebrate Christ’s birthday at different times: Greek and Syrian Christians, for example, celebrate on January 6. But for most, Christmas Day falls on December 25, a Saturday this year, with the majority of companies allowing Boxing Day as a holiday. Now that you know you’re in the right place, here are 101 cracking ways to celebrate.
Dubai’s 25 best Christmas dinners
Time Out Food editor Oliver Robinson reveals the best places for frivolity on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Under Dhs100 1 Martini Lounge Christmas Day barbecue cook-out: This Deira destination offers a great (and cheap) Christmas alternative – al-fresco fun by the barbie, plus live music. Dhs85 (food only), Dhs160 (selected house beverages), Dhs300 (per couple; selected house beverages). City Centre Hotel & Residence, Deira (04 603 8080).
2 Bridges Boxing Day bangers and mash: A cheap and cheerful way to wind down from the previous day’s festivities – feast on bangers, mash and a pint. Dhs95. 8pm-2am. Fairmont Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 311 8316).
Dhs100-199 3 Sails turkey dinner: Enjoy a turkey feast with all the trimmings. If you’re too lazy to go there in person, order turkey dinner to go. Dhs169 (includes one house beverage; groups of two or more get a bottle of grape-based beverage). Renaissance Dubai Hotel, Deira (04 262 5555).
4 The Address Christmas Eve barbecue: Celebrate the night before Christmas with succulent treats from an international barbecue, prepared at live cooking stations. Dhs175 (includes a welcome drink). 6pm-10.30pm. Bunkers, The Address Montgomerie Dubai, Emirates Hills (04 390 5600).
5 Mövenpick’s Christmas Chic: Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach brings a sprinkling of Miami to JBR, with poolside sundowners before a traditional feast. Dhs180 (food only), half price for kids aged seven to 12, free for under sevens. 6.30pm-10.30pm. The Talk, Mövenpick, Jumeirah Beach Residence (04 449 8888).
6 The Market Café Christmas Eve brunch: This international venue will dish up a smattering of festive treats and sumptuous desserts. Santa will be on hand to distract children with toys and treats. Dhs190 (including soft drinks), Dhs95 for kids aged six to 12. 2.30pm-4pm. Grand Hyatt Dubai, Oud Metha (04 317 2222).
Dhs200-299 7Al Mansour Dhow Christmas Eve voyage: Try an alternative Christmas Eve aboard a dhow. Food ranges from Arabic classics to festive treats. Dhs219. Board at 8pm. Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek (04 205 7333).
8 Mazina Christmas Eve White brunch: The closest thing you’ll get to a white Christmas in Dubai – wear white to be entered into a festive raffle. And then gorge yourself. Dhs220 (soft drinks), Dhs325 (selected house beverages). 12.30pm-3.30pm. The Address Dubai Marina (04 436 7777).
9 The Cellar Christmas lunch: Try a four-course menu on Christmas day. There’s also a kids’ buffet, and Father Christmas is touted to make an appearance. Dhs250, Dhs125 for children under 12. Aviation Club, Garhoud (04 282 9333).
10 Pai Thai festive brunch: Pai Thai is serving a buffet brunch with a Thai twist on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Dhs250 (Christmas Eve), Dhs380 (Christmas Day). Noon-4pm. Souk Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730). 11 Friday festive fun at The Med: After brunch, indulge in festive poolside merriment. Table packages available for Dhs2,000. Dhs288 (selected house beverages and access to M-Dek pool terrace). Noon-4pm (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), 7pm-10.30pm (Christmas Day). Media One Hotel, Dubai Media City (04 427 1000).
12 Elia Christmas Eve: Go Greek this Christmas and smash plates between 8pm and 3am. Oh, and don’t forget the traditional Christmas fare. Dhs290 (soft drinks). 8pm. Majestic Hotel, Mankhool Road, Bur Dubai (050 168 8389).
13 Spectrum on One Christmas brunch: Unlike many venues, Spectrum on One isn’t hiking its prices, meaning you can have your fill without emptying your wallet. Dhs295 (soft drinks), Dhs395 (selected house beverages), Dhs550 (bubbly). Noon-3pm. Fairmont Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 311 8316).
14 Méridien Village Terrace Christmas: Enjoy an al-fresco Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas Day brunch and dinner – a lavish seasonal buffet with live cooking stations. Dhs299 (selected beverages), Dhs190 (children aged six to 12). 12.30pm-3.30pm (Christmas lunch), 8pm-11.45pm (buffet on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). Le Méridien Dubai, Garhoud (04 217 0000).
Dhs300-399 15 Ronda Locatelli’s festive set menus: Expect offerings such as braised beef with potato purée and caramelised vegetables. Dhs325 (Christmas Eve set menu); Dhs295 (Christmas lunch set menu). Noon-3pm (lunch), 6pm-10.30pm (dinner). Atlantis, The Palm Jumeirah (04 426 0000).
16 Seafire: Indulge in roast turkey with confit leg or the flame-grilled striploin – the meatier, the merrier. Dhs325 (Christmas Eve set dinner menu); Dhs295 (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day set lunch menu). Noon-4pm (lunch); 6pm-12.30am (dinner). Atlantis, The Palm Jumeirah (04 426 0000).
17 Beachcombers Christmas Day buffet: For those who like to spend Christmas on a beach, eating south-east Asian food, look no further than this popular venue. Dhs325 (food only). 12.30pm-4.30pm (lunch), 7pm (dinner). Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Al Sufouh Road (04 406 8999).
Dhs400-499 18 Café Chic’s Christmas Eve dinner: Embark on a gastronomic journey in true French style, with a tantalising festive set menu to celebrate Noël. Dhs420 (food only), Dhs190 (children aged six to 12). 7.30pm-11.45pm. Le Méridien Dubai, Garhoud (04 217 0000).
19 The Observatory:Start off with a glass of mulled beverage, follow with plenty of turkey and finish with a tasty array of festive desserts. Dhs450 (soft drinks), Dhs600 (selected house beverages), Dhs300 (children aged six to 12). Noon-4pm. Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel and Suites, Dubai Marina (04 319 4000).
20 Verre by Gordon Ramsay: Try Ramsay’s signature sage, apple and chestnut stuffing, and, of course, plenty of traditional Christmas turkey. Dhs495 (four-course Christmas lunch); Dhs595 (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day six-course dinner). Noon-3pm (lunch); 7pm-11.30pm (dinner). Hilton Dubai Creek, Deira (04 318 2111).
Dhs500-599 21 West 14th Christmas Day buffet: Try buffet brunch, New York-style, at West 14th Grill and Bar – gorge on steaks while enjoying the view. Dhs500 (selected house beverages). 12.30pm-4.30pm. Palm Jumeirah (04 447 7601).
22 The Wharf festive lunch: On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, enjoy a festive buffet and free-flowing drinks. Dhs565 (selected house beverages). 1pm-4pm. Souk Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730).
23 Yalumba Christmas brunch: Expect top-range bubbly and a lavish buffet. Happy hour at 4pm. Dhs599 (selected house beverages). 1pm-4pm. Le Méridien Dubai, Garhoud (04 217 0000).
Dhs600+ 24 Pierchic festive lunch and dinner: Head here for a three-course set menu and great views. Lunch: Dhs650 (selected beverages) Dinner: Dhs550 (food only). 1pm-3pm (lunch), 7.30pm (dinner). Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730).
Where to go for a seasonal aperitif and digestif, as selected by Time Out Music & Nightlife editor Holly Sands.
For xmas eve warm-ups 26 Hed Kandi at Nasimi: Hit the beach for Nasimi’s annual Hed Kandi Christmas Eve show with Kandi resident DJ Stephanie Jay. Pull up a bean bag and sample the bar snacks. Ladies free and men Dhs50 until 8pm, Dhs100 for all thereafter. Open 5pm-2am. Nasimi, Atlantis The Palm (055 200 4321).
27 Warped at Trilogy: The club hosts Warped featuring techno stalwarts Adam and Dan P for a five-hour set. Not for those watching the fils. Dhs100, VIP Dhs130, ladies and Face card holders free until 11pm. Open 10pm-3am. Trilogy, Madinat Jumeirah (050 725 8277).
28 Audio Tonic: Vas Floyd, Raxon and JC hit the decks for this festive party, filling your audio stockings with some big house sounds. Free. Open 4pm-2am. 360°, Jumeirah Beach Hotel (050 107 6405).
29 Christmas Eve at Zinc: Dubai’s DJ Brooklyn takes to the decks to count down to Christmas with a night of R&B, hip hop, reggae and funky house. Dhs100, Ladies and Face card holders free all night. Open 10pm-3am. Crowne Plaza Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 331 1111).
30 Support UNICEF: From midday, Barasti will be charging Dhs1 for entry to the beach to raise money for UNICEF African Schools, with an international headliner to make sure the party rocks. Dhs1. Noon ’til late. Le Méridien Mina Seyahi (04 399 3333).
For the best festive vibe 31 Après: This bar has plenty of Christmas trees, a view of Ski Dubai and a chef that cooks a mean steaming pot of mussels. Open 10am-1am. Mall of the Emirates (04 341 2575).
32 Long’s Bar: These fancy dress-fanatics will no doubt welcome hordes of Santas and elves with open arms. Head here if you find yourself impersonating the ruddy-faced one – with an eight-hour happy hour, you’ll probably leave looking like him. Open noon-3am. Towers Rotana, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 312 2202).
33 Fibber Magee’s: There’s a full dinner going on here, which is likely to turn into a huge party. Sway to Christmas tunes, scoff mince pies and enjoy happy hour from 4pm to 7pm. Open 8am-2am. Off Sheikh Zayed Road, between The Fairmont and the Crowne Plaza (04 332 2400).
34 Bidi Bondi:Homesick Aussies can listen to festive tunes, sip an ice- cold jar and shoot a game of pool under the sun on the patio. Open 10am-1am. Palm Jumeirah (04 427 0515).
35 The Irish Village: There’s always plenty of merrymaking at this Gaelic spot, not to mention a gigantic tree and waiter service for those too full to waddle to the bar from a garden bench – and they don’t object to impromptu singsongs. Open 11am-2am. The Aviation Club, Garhoud (04 282 4750).
36 MustHaveSoul: DJ Tom Chubb hits the decks on Christmas Day for this party – and where better to work off the turkey sweats than at a bar set in the middle of the Gulf? The icing on this Christmas cake is that drinks are half price from 4pm to 7pm. Doors open 4pm. 360°, Jumeirah Beach Hotel (04 406 8744). For very merry groups 37 Krasivo Christmas party: Join Dubai’s Russian community for a mega Christmas Day shindig. The last three events drew crowds of more than 1,500 people and, with a surprise guest, this looks to be even bigger. Open 9pm-3am. Sanctuary, Atlantis The Palm (04 426 0561).
38 Barasti: Grab a perch by the pool or on the beach and enjoy a drink from one of three bars. This place is never one to shy away from cheesy celebrations, plus it opens nice and early on December 25 for a pre-lunch beverage. Open 11am-1am. Le Méridien Mina Seyahi (04 399 3333).
39 Rock Bottom Café: If you’re feeling brave (and think you can keep that pudding down), join the post ‘Snow White’ lunch party for one of this basement bar’s infamously strong drinks. Open noon-3am. Regent Palace Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 396 3888).
40 Blends: Enjoy a ‘bottle fiesta’ and high spirits at this lively Marina nightspot, with three different rooms to choose from and non-stop party music from the resident DJ. Open 7pm ’til late. The Address Dubai Marina (04 436 7777). For a low-key rendezvous 41 M-Dek: Need to unwind after stuffing your face? DJ Anas will spin laid-back beats from 4pm, making this the perfect place to lounge around with a drink. Open 4pm-10pm. Media One Hotel, Media City (04 427 1000).
42 Cappuccino’s: Don’t fancy a blowout at the pub after a big feed? Instead, listen to the Christmas choir and watch the kids get presents from Santa – parents can swipe a free glass of mulled grape. 6pm-7pm. Crowne Plaza Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 331 1111).
43 Belgian Beer Café: Head here for a more grown-up vibe. There’s a rooftop barbecue from noon, but guests are welcome to just have drinks and enjoy the festive tunes. Open noon-1am. Grand Millennium Dubai (04 423 4111).
44 Harvesters Pub: Bypass the buffet and dive straight into this friendly pub’s happy hour, which runs from 5pm-8pm on this merry occasion. Open noon-2am. Crowne Plaza Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 331 1111).
For avoiding xmas crowds 46 The Jetty Lounge: It’s business as usual for this sophisticated new beach bar, with excellent waiter service and tiny (but tasty) snacks. It should be quiet, but you may see some festive overspill from the hotel’s restaurants later in the afternoon. Open 2pm-1am. One&Only Royal Mirage (04 399 9999).
47 Nelson’s: Sprawl in one of the booths to avoid overly gregarious/merry types and enjoy a relaxed chat at this English-themed pub. Open noon-3am. Media Rotana, TECOM (04 345 0000).
48 Bahri Bar: If you can’t face the Christmas crowd, head to this posh spot, where the drinks are almost as flamboyant as the decor. Open 6pm-3am. Mina A’Salam, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730).
49Karma Kafé:No parties are being thrown on this occasion, so there’s no danger of walking head-first into a Christmas hoedown here. It may be a bit pricey, but the food is stunning, the DJs are good (it’s Buddha Bar’s sister) and the mixed drinks worth getting the plastic out for. Open noon-2am. Souk Al Bahar (04 423 0909).
50 RED Lounge Terrace: It’s not cheap to take in the view from the top of a pyramid, but if you fancy nothing more than a quiet drink with chilled music and not so much as the pop of a cracker being pulled, this place will do the trick. Open 7pm-2am. Raffles Dubai, Oud Metha (04 314 9770).
Last-minute gift rescue!
Stuck on what to buy? Here are some gift ideas for him and her, chosen by Shopping & Style editor Nyree Barrett.
For ladies 51 Apple sculpture: From Dhs500, available at iwannagohome, The Dubai Mall (04 339 8952).
Dubai’s malls love a good celebration. Here are our top three festive happenings.
74 Dubai Marina Mall: This mall is taking festive to a whole new level – make sure to check out the four-metre gingerbread replica of the mall. Kids can visit the merry man in red between 6pm and 9pm on December 16-24, as well as ride the carouse, for free, in the afternoons and evenings. FInally, don’t miss the 7.5-metre-high water tree. (04 436 1000).
75 Wafi: It’s famous for getting into the spirit, so Wafi’s synchronised light and sound extravaganza is guaranteed to be grand. There are four shows a night, taking place on the hour from 6.30pm to 9.30pm. Also, little ones will love Santa’s toy-making grotto and the epic 40ft tree. (Oud Metha, 04 324 4100).
76Mirdif City Centre: Not only is Mirdif’s newest mall giving away Dhs100,000 in gift vouchers every week and offering free breakdancing lessons from December 19-22, it’s also serving a special turkey meal in its Gold Class cinema from December 23-26. (800 6422).
What to do with visitors
It seems we’re not the only ones who’ve cottoned on to the fact that Dubai has the world’s best temperatures in late December. Community editor Jade Bremner reveals how to keep your charges happy.
77 Tour Jumeirah mosque: After a Christmas breakfast, get a taste of local culture by paying a visit to Jumeirah’s impressive mosque. Tours start at 10am every Saturday and offer a chance to see Islamic architecture at its best. Dhs10, donations welcome. Jumeirah Beach Road, www.cultures.ae (04 353 6666).
78 Head into the desert: Opt for a different Christmas Day experience by trying a desert safari on December 25, complete with henna painting, a desert dinner, camel riding and dune bashing, from 3.30pm until 9.30pm. Dhs220 per person. www.desertsafaridubai.com (050 276 8111).
79 Hire a yacht: Have a Christmas to remember by renting a 48ft yacht (for 12 people) including a captain and traditional dinner. A sizeable yacht will cost Dhs1,200 an hour plus catering (about Dhs300 per person, depending on the menu). www.xclusiveyachts.com (04 432 7233).
80 Go skiing: It’s an obvious choice, but what better way to get in the festive spirit than by tumbling around in the snow, then getting cosy afterwards at home? Ski Dubai is open 10am-11pm for Christmas Day ski excursions. Dhs150 per person for an Experience pass. Mall of the Emirates, www.skidxb.com (04 409 4000).
81 Try a festive brunch: Gorge yourself on festive cuisine and bubbly and soak up the Marina atmosphere with a Christmas dinner overlooking the boats at Aquara. Dhs290 (soft drinks), Dhs350 (selected beverages). 12.30pm-3.30pm. Dubai Marina Yacht Club, www.dubaimarinayachtclub.com (04 362 7900).
82 Swim with dolphins: An incredible Christmas present to yourself or your family, swim with these clever mammals of the sea at Aquaventure’s Dolphin Bay. The experience includes hugs and kisses with the flippered mammals, a belly ride, being pushed along on a boogie board and swimming with a dolphin while holding the fin. Dhs975 for 90 minutes (non-Atlantis guests), includes waterpark entry. Aquaventure, Atlantis, www.atlantisthepalm.com (04 426 1030).
83 Visit the revolving restaurant: Don’t fret, this won’t make them sick. Al Dawaar in the Hyatt Regency is Dubai’s only revolving restaurant – strange in a city full of gimmicks. Enjoy views of the Gulf, followed by Sharjah and Sheikh Zayed Road, along with buffet fare with everything from sushi to DIY ouzi. Hyatt Regency, Al Khaleej Road, Deira (04 317 2222).
84 Grab an abra: Once you’ve browsed the creek’s souks, hop aboard a traditional abra: a half-hour tour of the waters should cost around Dhs15 for four from the Bur Dubai or Deira stations.
85 Skydive over The Palm: Dubai hosts some of the world’s top instructors at Skydive Dubai. Just keep reminding yourself of that as you prepare to tackle the 13,000ft drop. Dhs1,700 for a tandem dive. Near Habtoor Hotel, JBR, www.skydivedubai.ae (050 153 3222).
86 See the sights in a seaplane: If they haven’t got the spine for skydiving proper, see the sights from a gentle seaplane, now with a new 40-minute Burj experience, Dhs1,225 per person. www.seawings.ae (04 883 2999).
87 Hang out at Kitesurfing Beach: Take visitors to the beaches on the right of the Burj Al Arab as you’re facing out to sea and watch surfers in the morning (there are more than you’d think). Kitesurfers take over in the afternoon – stay the whole day and eat at fisherman’s shack Bu Qtair later, where you can grab a hefty fish supper for around Dhs40. Take the first right after the McDonalds on Beach Road, then third left onto the beach.
88 Visit the new One&Only Palm Jumeirah: This hotel could be the best in the city. A mix of the One&OnlyRoyal Mirage (the irony!) and the Park Hyatt, it boasts a water-borne club, Marina views and fantastic poolside cabanas that can be rented by the day. Palm Jumeirah, www.oneandonlyresorts.com (04 440 1010).
89 Go to the IMAX: Check out our film listings on page 110 to find out what’s screening this week. Here’s hoping for Tron: Legacy. Grand Megaplex, Ibn Battuta (04 366 9898).
90 Take them Uptown: We’ve checked out pretty much every bar that offers ‘mesmeric views’ as its USP, but Uptown Bar really lives up to its highfalutin name. Looking out over the Burj Al Arab, 360° and Umm Suqeim, it’s hard to beat. Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Beach Road (04 406 8999).
91 Head to the Gold and Diamond Park: So you took them to the creekside gold souk last year? This time, head to the park beside Mall of the Emirates and order a silver or gold necklace that spells out their name in Arabic. Not quite as touristy as a stuffed camel. Sheikh Zayed Road (04 347 7788). Five charities to help if you’re on your own at Christmas Don’t dwell and get lonely: instead give to a Christmas charity. There are organisations all over Dubai that’ll be donating to underprivileged members of the community so that they too can enjoy the festive season. 92 Get involved in the soup kitchen in Karama, which gives food and medical aid to more than 120 people a day (www.volunteerindubai.com).
94 Try giving blood on Christmas Day. There wil be a mobile blood bank at Ibn Battuta Mall from 4pm until 9pm.
95 The Mövenpick hotel in Bur Dubai (04 336 6000) is looking for people to donate Christmas presents to put in its giant 4.5m stocking. All of the presents collected will go to those less fortunate.
96 Donate to Médicins Sans Frontières, which provides assistance around the world to people living in war zones, those suffering from starvation, who lack healthcare or are caught in natural disasters. Follow the easy steps at www.msf-me.org.
Five cracking Christmas day movies 97 The Day The Earth Stood Still: This mega sci-fi blockbuster set in New York will keep the whole family entertained. The plot is in the title. Stars Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly. 1pm, Super Movies.
98 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: See Brad Pitt grow young gracefully. This drama won an Oscar for its make-up. 2pm, Cinema City.
99 Solaris: Jump into the world of distant space with George Clooney in this eerie sci-fi epic. 4pm, OSN Movies HD.
100 Chocolat: In a quaint French town, Juliette Binoche causes a stir by selling her decadent delicacies. 6.45pm, Cinema City.
101 Snake Eyes: Nicolas Cage unravels a conspiracy in this tense thriller, starting with a government official being murdered at a boxing match. 11.15pm, OSN Movies HD.