Follow our guide to the best places to take your guests
It’s peak tourist season here in Dubai: with the weather still pleasant, there’s a good chance many residents will be welcoming more relatives now than at any other time of year. Hotel occupancy was at a high this time last year, with 77.4 per cent of Dubai’s hotels at maximum capacity (a rise of 8.4 per cent on 2009). Passenger traffic at Dubai’s airport was also at its peak last April, with a 13.9 per cent rise in people coming through*.
But don’t be daunted by the thought of keeping your visitors happy. There are plenty of activities to entertain them, and it’s also an excuse for those of us who live here to get reacquainted by our city. From camping trips and paintball sessions to great-value dinners and adrenaline-fuelled adventures, here’s our guide to satisfying even the most awkward visitors.
Your long-distance partner
What could be more romantic than spending the evening in the desert with your partner, surrounded by nothing but the elements, a tent and an incredible sunset? You can pull up and pitch your tent pretty much anywhere, depending on how adventurous you are, although if you’re travelling without a 4x4 we recommend camping near Madam Village. Head out of Dubai on the E44, stop before the Hatta border and wander onto the sand as far as you like. Alternatively, if you’d prefer an organised trip that includes other activities, such as climbing, kayaking and snorkelling, camp overnight in a date plantation in Dibba with Arabia Outdoors (055 955 6209) – the company will set up a fire and cook a barbecue dinner for about Dhs600 per person.
If you’re more of a romantic type, you might want to steer clear of the active stuff. We’d recommend a trip to the world’s highest restaurant, At.mosphere in the Burj Khalifa (04 888 3828). Just going through the security checkpoints makes you feel important, before you board a lift which zooms up to the 122nd floor. You’re then free to tuck into a meaty grill at your leisure, while marvelling at the incredible views across the city. Note that there’s a minimum spend of Dhs200 per person in the lounge area.
Your business colleague
(from the international office)
As an afternoon activity, why not go paintballing? There’s nothing
quite like shedding those work frustrations by running around pretending to be GI Joe (or Jane), and feeling the adrenaline pumping around your body as you try to dodge the bullets. Local centre Paintball Dubai in Garhoud (050 651 4583) can organise team games for as little as Dhs85 each, or private games where you’ll be set a variety of challenges and scenarios (capture the flag, for example).
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, try the bizarre but hugely entertaining dinner in the sky (www.dinnerinthesky.com). While seated at your table in a ‘skybox’, you’re hoisted 15m into the air by crane over the Marina to enjoy an elevated dinner with fantastic views of Dubai’s skyline. The skybox houses 22 diners (room for some extra colleagues), and returns to the ground after each course so guests can answer the call of nature. A three-course dinner is Dhs1,000 per person; afternoon tea is Dhs250 each.
For a cultural experience, take your guest to
Al Quoz’s art galleries, where they can snap up Arab
art for a song (as any businessperson knows right now,
art makes a great investment). Try Ayyam Gallery
(www.ayyamgallery.com), The Shelter (www.shelter.ae) or thejamjar (www.thejamjardubai.com), which all exhibit and sell work from budding artists.
The friend of a friend you don’t know too well
If you’re worried about running out of conversation, try a Wonder Bus tour (04 359 5656). This novel trip is sure to spark plenty of chat: half coach, half boat, the unusual buses can travel on land and in the water, enabling you to see Dubai’s sights from several perspectives (right). The tour costs Dhs140 per person and starts from BurJuman mall, spending 30 minutes on the
road followed by an hour in the water along Dubai Creek.
If you still don’t know them by now and the conversation has died, Dubai has just the thing: take them for a platinum cinema experience. Reel Cinemas at Dubai Marina Mall and The Dubai Mall (04 449 1988, www.reelcinemas.ae) has luxurious movie suites featuring huge reclining chairs and personal butler service throughout the movie, giving you the chance to order food and drinks without leaving your seat. Tickets are Dhs120 per person.
Still peckish? Go for a traditional Middle Eastern meal.
The Afghan Khorasan Kebab House (04 234 0999) is a local haunt that is hard to find – it sits in an alley next to Naif Mosque, near the Naif market off Deira Street – but makes for an authentic experience and is usually full of locals in traditional dress. The interior is kitsch, with a stone water feature and fake crystal chandeliers. For a few fils you can enjoy a sizeable meal of kebabs, soup, houmous and salad. They also sell Afghan curries, such as chicken kadi or fish shari, and Afghani pullao.
Your ex’s parents
(who you still keep in touch with, for some reason)
There’s something about seeing an ex’s parents that makes you try your best to impress them. One way to get off on the right footing
is to take them for a classy Japanese lunch at Zuma in DIFC
(04 425 5660). Chefs will prepare fresh sushi, sahimi and maki
rolls in front of you. Make sure you offer them the soft-shell crab and they’ll be putty in your hands, allowing you to relax in the comfy armchairs with an aperitif. Friday brunch starts from Dhs315.
After lunch, whisk them off to Dubai’s cultural centre to visit
Deira’s spice souk and gold souk. As well as the chance to do some shopping, they’ll experience an array of smells and colours and the hustle and bustle of a traditional Middle Eastern market, as well as seeing huge amounts of gold brazenly displayed in each and every shop window, with what appears to be no security.
If they still have the energy, take them deep-sea fishing. One of the best ways to appreciate Dubai and the Gulf territory is out at sea, and the crystal-clear waters and cool air offer the perfect way to spend an afternoon. There are many companies in Dubai that offer fishing trips: Xclusive Yachts (04 432 7233) will arrange a boat, equipment and bait for Dhs2,400, which will get you enough equipment for six people for four hours, though the boat fits up to 10. Did we mention the opportunity to catch giant tuna and barracuda in Dubai’s waters during the winter months? If you manage to snare a whopper, it’ll make a great addition to a family barbecue at home.
Need to keep younger siblings happy? If they have a driving licence, take them to Dubai Autodrome (04 367 8700), where they can drive a Formula One-style single-seater for Dhs875. After a 20-minute safety briefing, they’ll be able to zip round the circuit in a manual car with 180bhp that can go from 0-100kph in four seconds. Believe us when we say the feeling is electric.
Afterwards, do something tranquil by taking them on a
scuba-diving trip with Al Boom Marine (04 342 2993).
In the sea off Jebel Ali, you’ll investigate the Gulf waters and have the chance to see tropical fish and stingrays, from Dhs350. Or, if they’d prefer something more hair-raising, book them in for a skydive at Skydive Dubai (050 154 2992). For Dhs1,750, you
can send them hurtling towards the world-famous Palm Jumeirah. You’ll never get a view quite like this one.
To round it all off, let them taste fresh, locally caught fish
at a traditional eatery on Umm Suqeim beach, near the
fishing village in Jumeirah. Bu Qtair sells curried fish and prawns depending on the weight and the catch of the day, accompanied by rice and dipping sauce. Don’t expect the
usual fancy Dubai environment – here you sit outside on
red plastic stools, there’s no bathroom and the dishes are wonderfully cheap. After dinner and a hard day of activities, go
for sundowners at Jetty Lounge at the One&Only
Royal Mirage (04 399 9999). Here you can admire the
horizon on a comfy sofa with the sand at your feet and
chill-out music in the background. Bliss.
Your great auntie
Take your loving auntie for a slap-up breakfast at Fibber Magee’s, behind the Crown Plaza hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road (04 332 2400). This place is Irish though and through (well, as Irish as you’ll get in the UAE), and serves one of the best fry-ups in the city – she’ll feel right at home with the real bacon and sausages, black pudding and chunky toast for Dhs46 (especially if she’s Irish).
Next, why not float over the vast calmness of the desert in a
hot air balloon? Balloon Adventures (04 285 4949) will pick you up, drive you to its centre in Al Ain, and will offer refreshments as you glide over the desert for a few hours. Early sunrise or sunset are particularly spectacular, so do try to book during these times, and don’t forget your camera. The trip costs Dhs950 per person.
If your auntie happens to be scared of heights, scrap that idea and take her for a round of golf and a spa treatment at the The Address Montgomerie Dubai (04 390 5600). Covering 123 acres of turf and 49 acres of man-made lakes, the nine-hole course is set in stunning surroundings, with a backdrop of the city’s skyscrapers. Prices start from Dhs425. Alongside the course is a US$24 million clubhouse and the sleek Angsana Spa, where you can treat her to a relaxing full-body massage, followed by a meal at one of the hotel’s restaurants – there are Asian, international, Latino or Middle Eastern options to choose from.
If she has any energy left, we’ve got one idea to make her completely relax. Finish the day off at Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club (06 548 7777), where she’ll be able to pop some caps from a rifle, handgun or shotgun from Dhs90. The sound alone startles you, then the jolt from the gun is exhilarating – we’re guessing it’s something she’s never experienced before.
Brunch is the ultimate Dubai experience, so what better way to let your parents experience the glitz and glamour of the city than to indulge in a mammoth day of eating and drinking? We recommend the Traiteur brunch at the Park Hyatt (04 602 1630), which won the Best Brunch category at the recent Time Out Restaurant Awards. For Dhs550 you’ll get unlimited food and free-flowing bubbly from 12.30pm to 4pm or, to really impress, pay Dhs1,500 per person for a premium brunch experience,
which involves being picked up and dropped off
in a limo, as well as a gift when you leave.
If they want to do a bit of sightseeing, take them to Bastakiya, where traditional Arabic lanes have been reconstructed to resemble typical courtyards and Bedouin camps. There’s also a guesthouse at Heritage Village (04 393 7139) if they want to stay right in the thick of it, plus lots of art galleries, Middle Eastern restaurants, camel rides and, if they fancy some refreshment, the cute Basta Art Café (04 353 5071).
Keep in touch
Keep a spare mobile phone handset handy to give to visitors so you
can contact them on the cheap – Carrefour offers handsets from as little as Dhs119. Grab a pay-as-you-go SIM card for Dhs75 from Etisalat (
www.etisalat.ae) or Dhs55 from Du (www.du.ae); when your visitors leave you can hang on to it for future guests to use.
Get discount dinners Apply for a Time Out City Card before your guests arrive, which
will entitle you to food and drink discounts in more than 100 restaurants around town. See a full list of restaurants on www.timeoutdubai.com/citycard, and sign up
Share your photos
Before your guests leave, grab copies of their holiday snaps
as a memory of the visit. DigiPhoto at The Dubai Mall (04 434 0756)
can burn photos to CD or USB, as well as producing glossy
prints, poster-sized images or reproductions on canvas –
4”x6” prints start from Dhs1.50 per image.
Do you speak English?
Do you speak Arabic?
Ana la atakellem al Arabi
I don't speak Arabic
I speak English
Sabah al khair
Masah al khair
If Allah wishes
Thank you (very much)
Keef haluk? (sometimes shortened to keefak)
How are you?