Dubai visitors’ guide

What to do, where to stay and when to go to Dubai


Picture it now: you, at Dubai Airport, waiting to greet yet more family and friends. With Dubai expected to experience 40 per cent more tourists in the next three years*, you’re not alone. A crowd of other imminent hosts stand around you, looking a little glazed. You’re tired. Worn down, even. This is the fifth batch you’ve welcomed since September, and you’re running low on inspiration, information and dining ideas. That’s where this handy guide comes into play. Whoever you may be expecting, whatever their needs or attitude, we’ve figured out some plans for them. We’ve even sorted your dinner-table chat and all the red-tape details.

The ADD sufferer
You know the type: one minute they’re yabbering on about all the restaurants they want to try, the next they want to go out clubbing until 3am, then they’re up at 7am heading out for a 10km run. These people are terrifying. What to do with them? Wear. Them. Down. First, send them on a tour of Dubai’s main malls: Deira City Centre (04 295 4486), The Dubai Mall (04 362 7500), Mall of the Emirates (04 409 9000), Ibn Battuta (04 362 1900) and Dubai Outlet Mall (04 4234 666). You just need to meet them at intervals for coffee – try Social House at The Dubai Mall (04 339 8640) – and maybe a cheeky slice of cake: we love Lime Tree Café at Ibn Battuta (04 3498 498). Next, send them to a couple of the city’s entertainment centres, starting at the mammoth and deafening Stargate in Za’abeel Park (04 325 9988), rounded off with the arcades in Safa Park (near Gate 1). Bounce them off the trampolines there, before bouncing them on to the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo at The Dubai Mall (04 448 5200), where they can direct their interest at 33,000 aquatic animals in the tank alone. And goodnight!

The one who hates the heat
Beating the heat in Dubai isn’t that difficult, thanks in large to the city’s wealth of air-conditioned mini-cities, better known as malls. The most obvious mall destination for your sun-shy companion has to be Mall of the Emirates, which, as we all know, is home to Ski Dubai – it’ll cost you Dhs180 for a two-hour pass (04 409 4000). See if they complain about the heat when they’re tumbling down a snowy slope in a Zorb ball. Alternatively, treat them to a drink at nearby Après (04 341 2575), an atmospherically chilly restaurant-bar that boasts great views of the on-piste action. Then head over to the Platinum Class section at Reel Cinemas Dubai Mall (04 449 1988) where you can bask in sub-zero air conditioning – surely a tourist attraction peculiar to Dubai? – and the glow of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Afterwards, amble over to Morelli’s Gelato (04 339 8313), also in The Dubai Mall, where you can gorge on the generously proportioned Mocha Sundae (Dhs29), which comprises top-quality gelato, great sauce and sprinkles. And it’s really cold.

The one who’s a liability
You know the one – you probably wouldn’t be friends if you’d met them now, but you grew up with them, so didn’t really have a choice in the matter. And now, after years of getting you into trouble at school and in bars back home, they’re coming to visit you in Dubai. What to do? We suggest heading to places where silly behaviour is actively encouraged. First stop: Double Decker’s Dhs159 brunch (04 321 1111), where your friend can romp around the outdoor terrace to the sound of the live band and the encouragement of some equally nefarious individuals. Then head to Rock Bottom at Bur Dubai’s Regent Palace Hotel (04 396 3888), which features pool, karaoke and enough unbridled revelry to make any mischief maker feel right at home. If, however, a night on the town would only lead to more trouble than it’s worth, wear out the social hand grenade at Atlantis’s Aquaventure waterpark (04 426 0000). A day of slides and splashes should have them in a child-like slumber before they can cause chaos. If all else fails, persuade them to try their hand at paddleboarding ( Surf School’s Carl de Villiers doesn’t take any nonsense and, more to the point, your mischievous mate will be stranded out at sea for a good hour and a half.

The friend with whom you’re hoping for something more
If you looking to convert camaraderie to kisses and cuddles, we wouldn’t recommend overblown romantic gestures – remember, you’re friends and he or she will probably just laugh if you whip out a bouquet of roses. Instead, try a relaxed stroll along the Bur Dubai side of the creek. Here you can lose yourself in the textile souk (and thus charm them with your ‘culturally curious nature’), and have lunch at Bait Al Wakeel, next to the abra station (04 353 0530). Afterwards, wind up your wanderings with an abra ride over to the Deira side of the creek where you can visit The Terrace at the Park Hyatt (04 701 1111) to watch the sun set over the creek and have a few drinks to help loosen inhibitions. Keeping with views – although this time in a very different part of town – treat your beau-/belle-to-be to a few casual drinks overlooking the water at 360° at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel (04 406 8744). If the sunset-fruity drink combo doesn’t have the effect you’d like, head to dinner at Bussola at The Westin (04 399 4141) – a casual open-air dining venue in a picture-perfect setting.

The adolescent
They’re notoriously hard to please, whether they’re on holiday or stretched out on the sofa at home – but if you know where to look, there are plenty of things in the city to keep them entertained. Techie teens and theme park lovers alike will go wild for Sega Republic at The Dubai Mall (04 448 8484), which has nine main attractions, including the immensely fun Halfpipe Canyon snowboard simulator, plus arcade games to boot. If you’ve got a sporty type with endless energy on your hands, they’ll be itching to take advantage of the coastal location, so why not try a spot of wakeboarding? Club Mina (04 399 3333) at Le Méridien Mina Seyahi offers 20-minute sessions for Dhs220 per person – if that doesn’t wear them out, nothing will. After an action-packed afternoon, they’ll no doubt be in need of a good feed. Fun Japanese eatery Manga (04 342 8300), at Beach Park Plaza Centre in Jumeirah, looks like it’s been ripped from the pages of a manga comic book. While it’s not exactly Nobu, the food isn’t half bad.

The one who’s seen it all before
Take your world-weary friend on a whirlwind tour of the many things that didn’t exist in Dubai last summer: they really can’t have seen these before. Set off to Mall of the Emirates’ new Fashion Dome wing and browse Y-3 (04 395 1700), the minimalist brand from Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto. Then stop at Tribes for dinner, an atmospheric, African restaurant with a distinctly unmall-like feel (04 395 0663). Once digested, get over to the new Reel Cinemas at Marina Mall (04 449 1988), complete with Gold Class chairs and waiter service. Make your way back to their hotel, CityMax in Barsha (04 409 8000): a hip, reasonably priced spot that has only been open a couple of months, via some of the metro stations set to open in October, at Business Bay, First Gulf Bank, Sharaf DG, Nakheel and Jumeirah Lakes Towers ( For lunch, take them to Tehran, a fantastic Iranian eatery in Umm Suqeim 2 that we discovered a couple of weeks ago (04 348 2814). If they’re still sneering, send them to the new Ice Land Water Park in Ras Al Khaimah (07 244 7547,, which boasts the world’s largest man-made waterfall and the largest rain dance pool in the world. Take that!

The one who already hates Dubai
You know the one: the visitor who’s ‘only here to see you’ and would sooner slam their fingers in a car door than admit they’ve actually enjoyed themselves. Establish why they hate it. Too expensive? Take them to Karama souk to haggle over a few leather goodies and bargains – they won’t be moaning when they get home and everyone’s complimenting them on their new TAG Heuer watch. Too new? Head to the creek and impress them with our heritage. There are plenty of great, nowhere-near-new places to grab a bite to eat and divert their attention from the fact they’re in Dubai. For a spot of London-style pub grub, head across the road to Sherlock Holmes at the Arabian Courtyard Hotel & Spa (04 351 9111). As for those who whine about it being ‘too manic’, whether its driving, crowds or endless tooting of horns, drive them into the desert – and leave them there. Kidding! Try taking them to Pai Thai at the Al Qasr hotel (04 366 6730): as well as serving top-notch Asian fare, this is one of the most serene places to have dinner in the city. They might even forget they’re in the UAE altogether.

The one who’s here while you’re at work
You’ve run out of annual leave (or are saving your days off for your own break) and they’re not savvy enough to navigate the city on their own. Dubai’s Big Bus Tour ( is always our favourite babysitter-on-wheels: a Dhs220 adult ticket allows passengers to hop on and hop off the double-decker, take a dhow cruise, go to Dubai Museum and Sheikh Maktoum’s House and get discounts in Wafi and Mercato Mall. Alternatively, set them up with Dubai Tour Operator’s city tour (04 337 6462,, which takes groups round Jumeirah Mosque, Dubai Creek, Bastakiya and the Al Fahidi
Fort, or Sunflower Tours’ Desert Safari for dune bashing, belly dancers and an Arabic feast from Dhs290 (04 334 5554, Long-standing dive centre Al Boom (04 342 2993) offers PADI courses from Dhs2,350 or day trips to Fujairah for snorkelling from Dhs400 including transport, which should keep them occupied for a couple of days. If they’re still here after that – they’re trying to move in! – advise them to hop on a bus to Abu Dhabi for Dhs20 (business class), and pick up a copy of Time Out Abu Dhabi (now weekly) once they get there. See for bus stops.

The one on a tight budget
The key with this visitor is never to do anything too expensive – they’ll only sit their half-listening to your conversation while working out budget cuts in their head. If they arrive in the evening, start with a cheap and cheerful Lebanese meal: we like Al Hallab at The Dubai Mall (04 330 8828), or Mir Amin opposite Beach Park on Jumeirah Beach Road (04 344 9921). The following day, take them to the beach – if it’s a Friday, when public beaches are packed, pay to enter Jumeirah Beach Park on Beach Road (04 349 2555) or Al Mamzar beach park (04 296 6201). In the afternoon, wander the peaceful lanes of Bastakiya –check with The Majlis Gallery (04 353 5383) to see if there’s a market on – and finish off the night with a meal at beachside fish shack Bu Qtair (it doesn’t have a phone number, but to get there take the first right after McDonalds on Beach Road in Umm Suqeim, then take the third left).

The young family
This part of the world is an amusement park for little tykes, and there are plenty of activities to keep them (and, most importantly, you) entertained. Go head to head with your offspring in a kart race at Dubai Autodrome, off Emirates Road (04 367 8700), watch dolphins flip around at Dolphin Bay at Atlantis (04 426 1030), or ride a four-person bike on the gloriously grassy areas of Creekside Park. The park also offers great views from its cable cars, which travel between Maktoum and Garhoud bridges (04 3367633). Believe it or not, you can see the whole world here in one city (well, at model-scale, anyway) at Global Village, Dubailand (04 3624114; –don’t miss its world dance troupes and human cannonball show. For water babies, the tiny waves off Dubai shores offer ample conditions for kids’ surf lessons. Try Surf Dubai’s school on Umm Suqeim beach (050 5043020; By this time they should be worn out, so relax over a drink while the kids jump out their remaining energy at Sezzam’s bouncy castle, Mall of the Emirates (04 341 3600;

Hostess with the mostess

Tricky questions they’ll want to know.
Where can I buy a SIM card for my phone?
You can buy SIM cards from Dubai Duty Free: Etisalat cards costs Dhs75, including Dhs10 credit; Du cards are Dhs45, also with Dhs10 pre-loaded (it’s then pay as you go from there). Both are six-month SIM cards – these are the shortest contracts available at the airport.

Where can I get a map of the city?
Time Out maps are available at all decent supermarkets, bookshops and Dubai airport.

Where can I go on a day trip?
Check out the 2011 version of the Time Out Short Breaks guide, full of itineraries, tour groups, attraction details and hotel listings for Dubai and the surrounding emirates. It’s out this week in all good book shops.

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