Brilliant Dubai spots for outdoor eats to see you through the picnic season
The breeze is back and temperatures have returned to the glorious sub-40s, which means we’re getting on the group chat and sending a series of food-related emojis to announce, in somewhat convoluted fashion, one of our favourite times of the year. Yes, it’s picnic season. Unfurl the blanket, hose down the hamper and bulk-buy the bread rolls before selecting the spot for your first al fresco escapade of the year. Whether you prefer park, beach or outdoor eatery, we’ve got you covered.
Parks and beaches Al Barsha Pond Park This small green space near Al Barsha Mall often has a busier feel than some of the city’s larger parks. Set around a large lake and surrounded by a bicycle path, it’s a popular weekend spot for picnicking families. For those clad permanently in activewear, there’s a jogging track, basketball and tennis courts, playgrounds and fitness equipment. And if you get sick of your soggy sandwiches and fancy something fresh, wander over to the Ripe Market, which pops up at the park every Saturday from 10am to 8pm. Free. Open Sat-Wed 8am-11pm; Thu-Fri 8am-11.30pm. Al Barsha.
Al Mamzar Beach Park Hummus or moutabel? Cola or lemonade? Chocolate or carrot cake? Picnics are a minefield of choices before you even leave your house. So if the beach or park argument shows no sign of abating, head to this best of both worlds near the Sharjah border. This beautiful spot boasts four beaches, a large lawn and barbecue facilities. If the heat gets too much, rent a beach cabin for Dhs150 or use the swimming pool for a small charge. That’s settled then – all that’s left is to decide whether to take the car or grab a cab. Dhs5 (Dhs30 per car). Open Sun-Wed 8am-10pm; Thu-Sat 8am-11pm; Mon and Wed reserved for ladies, girls and boys aged up to six. Al Mamzar (04 296 6201).
Creek Park This lush, green oasis with stunning horticultural spaces and beautiful botanical gardens is the ideal outdoor lunch spot for those whose green fingers are not a result of overdoing it on the avocado dip. The sprawling space on the banks of Dubai Creek, in the centre of old Dubai, is one of the oldest parks in the emirate. It features children’s play areas, food stands and changing facilities, plus the popular Dubai Dolphinarium, the Children’s City educational attraction, bicycle hire and a cable car ride for Dhs25. Dhs3. Open Sun-Wed 8am-10pm; Thu-Sat 8am-11pm. Umm Hurair 2 (04 336 7633).
JLT Park A long, odd-shaped patch of grass that was originally one of the bodies of water that put the “lakes” in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, this park between Clusters O and P is lunched upon daily by residents and workers from JLT’s many eateries and small shops. Picnickers should know that weekends can be busy, as parents propel pushchairs toward the small playpark, cyclists speed past pedestrians on the winding pavements and groups collect for all manner of activities, including American football and outdoor yoga. Just don’t allow the numerous personal training sessions orchestrated at the park every weekend stop you from scoffing that second pecan pastry. Free. Open daily 24 hours. Between Clusters O and P, JLT.
Kite Beach After a huge revamp two years ago, the kitesurfers who gave this spot its name have been moved down the coastline, to be replaced by a jogging track, changing facilities and a medley of cafés and food trucks. The beach, just off Street 5a, behind Jumeirah Beach Road in Umm Suqeim, can get crowded at weekends, as sunbathers jockey for preferable patches of sand, so consider packing the picnic hamper with a late lunch or early dinner and hang around to witness one of Dubai’s best sunsets. Parking can be difficult, so jumping in a taxi could be the less stressful bet. Free. Open daily 24 hours, Umm Suqeim.
Safa Park Not the sprawling giant it was before the construction of the Dubai Canal, this remains the go-to green spot for Dubai’s periodic picnickers. Even after a huge section of the park was dug up to make way for the city’s latest mega-project, there are still more than enough open green spaces, tree-covered spots and waterside scenes to provide a different backdrop for numerous picnic peregrinations. Pitch up at a table or pick a prime spot under a palm tree as verdant landscape stretches almost as far as the eye can see, allowing you to forget your concrete surroundings. Barbecue spots are dotted around the park, while bike and boat rental, plus areas for basketball, football and volleyball, provide something to do to work off the sandwiches. Dhs3. Open Sun-Wed 8am-10pm; Thu-Sat 8am-11pm. Sheikh Zayed Road (800 900).
Sunset Mall Beach Quieter than some of its more popular neighbours, this beach is nevertheless kept busy by kitesurfers dragging their kit up and down the sand. The lack of cover makes it a bit more windswept, too, creating a challenge for those who like to lay out a lunchtime spread that would make Gary Rhodes proud. But for those attempting to avoid both a horde of families and an entry fee, this is a good option. Free. Open daily 24 hours. Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah 3 (04 330 7333).
The Irish Village You may need the luck of the Irish to secure a table on the pub’s ever-popular terrace on a Friday or Saturday afternoon, but its large lawn is an excellent alternative to the city’s parks and public gardens on which to snack on sandwiches – especially if you can’t be bothered to make your own. And if the idea of jumping in a cab bound for Sheikh Zayed Road with a stomach full of toasties makes you feel queasy, waddle over to the popular pub’s outdoor bar, ask for your favourite beverage and get comfortable for the evening. Open Sun-Thu 11am-1am; Fri-Sat 11am-2am. Garhoud (04 239 5000).
Zabeel Park If you want to keep the little (or big) ones quiet with an iPad while you tuck into tabbouleh or munch on manakish, head for “the Gulf’s first technology-themed park”, where a “smart palm” provides free wi-fi and mobile charging points. When the food runs out, visit three themed zones featuring educational and interactive displays. If tech is not your thing, leave the gadgets in the car and get back in touch with nature amid the hundreds of trees or listen to the lapping water of the large, mirror-like lake. Dhs5. Open Sun-Wed 8am-10pm; Thu-Sat 8am-11pm, Zabeel area, Dubai (04 398 6888).
Picnic brunches 3in1 at Vida Downtown Want to be transported to the busy streets of London and through the English capital’s Tube stations without leaving Dubai? Good, because as it happens, that’s just what Vida Downtown is promising, as the popular “Best of Brits” edition of its Urban Picnic Brunch is extended until the end of the year. How very spiffing. Dhs295 (including unlimited soft drinks), Dhs345 (including selected beverages), Dhs100 per guest for a cabana by the pool. Fri 1pm-5pm. Until Dec 31. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai (04 888 3444).
Crowne Plaza Dubai – Festival City Billed as Dubai’s ultimate family brunch, The Picnic Pantry is returning this winter to the lawns of the Crowne Plaza. It’s an ideal option to pitch up to with the kids, since under-12s eat for free and pool access is included in the brunch package. The menu includes prawns and lamb chops from the barbecue, plus lighter fare such as smoked salmon bagels and gourmet salad jars. The usual crafts and face-painting will keep the children busy while you enjoy the skyline and live music. Dhs245 (including soft drinks), Dhs345 (including house beverages). Fri 12.30pm-4pm. Level 5, Crowne Plaza Dubai – Festival City (04 701 2222).
Sofitel Dubai the Palm resort & spa Make a note of this one if you’re still making up for failed Valentine’s Day plans last year. At Sofitel’s Picnic Under The Stars, couples can spread out a blanket on the beach and enjoy a well-stocked picnic basket accompanied by grills from the barbecue and desserts, with only the stars for company and the unfailingly well-lit Dubai skyline in the background. The Sofitel can also put on a barbecue cookout for groups on request. Dhs480 (three courses including soft drinks for two people), Dhs590 (three courses including soft drinks and a bottle of grape for two people). Daily 7pm-11pm. Palm Jumeirah (04 455 5656).
The St. Regis Dubai, Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club Too fancy to make your own sandwiches? Too posh to roll out your own blanket on the grass? When a common garden picnic feels just too uncivilised, surround yourself with the sport of kings at The St. Regis Dubai, Al Habtoor Polo Resort’s polo brunch, perfect for a picnic-like day without the food prep. Combine verdant polo fields with Spanish-influenced cuisine and Argentinian grills from the hotel’s Andalucia restaurant for a swankier al fresco feast. Dhs295 (including soft drinks), Dhs395 (including house beverages), Dhs495 (including bubbly). Fri 12.30pm-4pm. Dubai Land (056 545 8391).
Casual outdoor eats Breeze Beach Grill The relatively new kid on the beach bar block, Breeze is already a regular on many a post-work rotation for those willing to tackle the Palm’s trunk at rush hour. A menu of sharing plates, seafood and burgers fits the casual vibe, while bottles of grape served in sandcastle buckets are a nice touch. A lovely spot for Friday afternoon hangouts, but this is another that implores you to hang around for sunset, when fire pits light up the beach. Open Sun-Thu 11am-midnight; Fri-Sat 9am-midnight. Club Vista Mare, Palm Jumeirah (04 568 3000).
Café Artois A casual al fresco spot offering stunning Canal-side views, with picnic tables (and comfortable lounge chairs) to sit at while the delicious smells of barbecued food waft by. The impressive menu includes a pulled brisket sub, the signature Boss Burger and slow-braised beef brisket nuggets, as well as a large selection of hops, while select Saturday afternoons feature live music. Open Sun-Thu 4pm-2am; Fri-Sat noon-2am. Bridgewater Tavern, JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, Business Bay (04 414 0000).
Fish Beach Taverna This beautiful beachfront eatery will transport you to the shores of the Mediterranean as clean white surrounds and deep blue patterned furnishings contrast with brilliant green grass and the aqua waters of the Arabian Gulf. Pick at crusty bread with olive oil, herbs and tomatoes delivered to your table on arrival before ordering fresh seafood and crisp salads while soaking up the Aegean ambience. Saturday, sorted. Open Sun-Thu noon-3pm, 6.30pm-11pm; Fri-Sat noon-3pm, 6.30pm-11.30pm. The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, Al Sufouh (04 511 7139).
Hello Fruits Al Seef, Dubai Creek’s stunning new cultural district, boasts a range of enticing eateries, most with outdoor seating along the stylish promenade, as well as a range of shops and tourist attractions. Head to health-conscious café Hello Fruits to enjoy a relaxing bite in the open air. The Al Seef development will eventually include a number of floating restaurants, a marina for private yachts, a floating market, plus links to the Dubai Water Taxi network, too. Open daily 10am-10pm. Al Seef, Dubai Creek (04302 0806).
Reform Social & Grill One of our favourite spots for spending a lazy Saturday afternoon in the sun. The British-style gastropub’s outdoor area, with a lawn and picnic table section, does an excellent impression of a garden you might find at a hostelry in the English countryside. The menu is more pub classics such as fish and chips and shepherd’s pie than snacky fare, though there is an afternoon tea for those looking for a lighter bite. Open daily 8am-midnight. The Lakes, Emirates Living (04 454 2638).