What happens in the city when you are tucked up in bed?
When the sun sets in Dubai, you’re unlikely to find people rushing home to heat up their microwave dinner in time for Desperate Housewives. Instead, this work-hard, play-hard city erupts into activity, with residents gathering to make the most of their free time.
Last year, Time Out stayed up from dusk ’til dawn to see what we could discover at night. We came across secret shisha cafés, pavements lined with workers, and rowers that get up at silly o’clock to practise. Since then, Dubai’s population has increased by seven per cent, so we’ve taken to the night-time streets again to see if Dubai’s nocturnal happenings have evolved too. Here are the activities, routines and cool new hangouts we found during our graveyard shift…
Dubai’s beaches come alive at night. Dozens of residents have the right idea and head to the beach in Umm Suqeim in the early evening – this is the ideal spot to relax after work (especially at this time of year) and enjoy the gentle breeze and an incredible sunset by the Burj Al Arab. We find families cooking barbecues, playing beach games and paddling in the sea.
Every weeknight at 6pm (9pm at weekends), the dolphin show starts at the Dolphinarium in Creek Park. We take our seats for a sparkling spandex acrobatic show, a seal choir and impressive jumping dolphins that nudge balls across the pool. Having been in the office an hour ago, it’s a surreal experience; we join in as the audience claps along with the atmospheric music and bursts into applause at the fiery special effects around the water’s edge. A must-see experience. www.dubaidolphinarium.ae (04 336 9773).
We hear a rumour that Firestorm, a fire-dancing poi group, practise regularly on the secret beach between JBR and the Burj Al Arab. We look for the small pathway off Jumeirah Beach Road, between the two palaces, then drive right on to the beach and park next to two or three cars. We meet South African Jason Renaud and his family, plus two other fire dancers: Rafielle Valencia from the Philippines, and Charlene Lubbe from South Africa. Reggae and house beats play on the car stereo as they demonstrate their fire-twirling art. The group regularly performs at venues around Dubai, such as Barasti and Jumeirah Beach Hotel. www.wearefirestorm.com.
Over at Mall of the Emirates, you can catch a late-night session at Ski Dubai until 11pm on weekdays, and midnight at the weekends. We go for a quick run on the slopes, which are surprisingly busy, then head to Magic Planet, where kids get their fix of arcade games until 11pm – we swallow our nerves and climb aboard the giant Robocoaster ride for some high-speed thrills. Cosmic Bowling and the pool tables are also open until 11pm. www.skidxb.com (04 123 5674); www.magicplanet.ae (04 341 4000).
Travelling towards Deira on Jumeirah Beach Road, we spot Al Boom’s night divers coming back from their evening outing. Night dives in Dubai offer an entirely different experience: switch on your flashlight underwater and you’ll see fish scattering in different directions (you’ll be unaware they were swimming next to you in the dark).
Al Boom offers night dives for Dhs150, leaving at different times during the week. Call for the schedule. www.alboomdiving.com (04 342 2993).
We arrive back at Creek Park near Garhoud Bridge (entrance fee Dhs5), where we hire a tandem bike for Dhs30 an hour and cycle along the water’s edge. We spot joggers and Arab families enjoying a night-time picnic in the gardens and playground, and park keepers clean up the little debris from the day’s visitors. To really appreciate the night view, jump in a cable car and cruise over the 2.5km length of Creek Park from
30 metres up. A 30-minute ride costs Dhs25 per person; the cable car is open until 11pm during winter. www.dubaitourism.ae (04 336 7633).
Arabic food should be eaten the Arabic way – late and at a leisurely pace. We head to Reem Al Bawadi on Beach Road, a local hangout that’s open until 2.30am. The interior decor is hypnotic: gold and silver stars dangle from artificial green shrubbery, and TVs tuned in to Arabic channels are positioned in view of every table. Middle Eastern patterns beautify the tables, which clash with the multicoloured warren of rooms and arches. But, strangely, it all works, and makes for a homely, grotto-like feel. We tuck into a hearty seafood platter with houmous and fattoush, as the different scents of shisha waft through the air. Arab men dine together in typical attire, play backgammon and converse passionately while passing the pipe. www.reemalbawadi.com (04 394 7444).
The next stop is Sanctuary at Atlantis, for a taste of Persian-infused house beats at new club night PMC Royale. An affluent young Middle Eastern crowd dances into the small hours. Bongo drums take pride of place in the centre of the room and are used in the live performance, fused with electronic beats. www.sanctuarydubai.com (04 426 0561).
We venture into the desert, a ghostly place at night, to join the Dubai Astronomy Club for one of its regular overnight stargazing camps. Hasan Ahmed Al Hariri, who helps to run the non-profit group, explains that the desert is the perfect place for stargazing thanks to its lack of light pollution. He teaches us how astronomy has played a huge part in Arab history: locals have added techniques to those discovered by the Romans and Greeks, later used with navigational techniques to aid Middle Eastern trading. At different times of the night, there are different views of the galaxy on offer. Hassan flicks off the lights, and our eyes eventually adjust to the pitch-black around us. Peering through the 12-inch telescopes, we see star clusters and cloud bands of Jupiter. www.dubaiastronomy.com (050 624 6172).
Back in Deira, a team of construction workers clock on for the late shift. These unsung heroes build the city around us late into the night, while most of us sleep.
Deira’s JoyBean Café, which opened last month, serves traditional Asian rice porridge (aka ‘congee’) until 4am. JoyBean has a selection of midnight khaw tom from Dhs40, and the boiled jasmine-rice soup comes with side dishes to mix into the bowl. We choose Asian vegetables, garlic, ginger, beansprouts and chicken, accompanied by ‘century eggs’: this Chinese speciality is an acquired taste, made from preserved duck, chicken and, yes, 100-year-old quail eggs, mixed with lime, salt, clay and ash. We wash it down with a super-sweet loganberry juice – great for an energy boost.
Dusit Princess Hotel, www.dusit.com (04 209 5000).
A bicycle delivery man takes a break in Deira and smokes a well-earned cigarette after dropping off his final package of the night.
Shift workers camp on the street near Jumeirah Mosque. More workers arrive by bus and head into a boarded-up building they are constructing.
Half a dozen men pray outside this small mosque in Satwa as the melodic call to prayer resonates through the air. Garbage men clean the streets in the distance as hardy joggers run past on their early-morning round.
We finish our night with a visit to Yalumba at Le Méridien Dubai in Garhoud, which serves an all-you-can-eat Aussie breakfast. It’s one of the first breakfasts of the day available in Dubai, and the buffet is buzzing with early birds and holidaymakers pumped for a day of sightseeing. The impressive stations boast hot and cold English breakfast dishes, pastries, Indian curry and an huge cereal selection, with toppings including dried fruits, pistachios, walnuts and a slab of honeycomb waiting to be drizzled into the bowl. A table of sprightly pensioners sit opposite us as we slump in our chairs, ready for a hard-earned sleep.
Le Méridien Dubai, Garhoud (04 217 0000).