Dubai's 50 best secrets

We reveal Dubai's lesser known wonders.

It was very, very difficult – but, after many Chinese burns and repeatedly switching off the A/C, we managed to force everyone at Time Out to pass on their best-kept Dubai secrets. What follows are the insider tips other magazines normally keep to themselves. Just don’t share them too liberally…

Food

Indian ice cream
Across the street from Al Madina supermarket in Karama is Flavours, an Indian ice cream shop whose offerings extend well beyond the standard kulfi. The shopkeeper prepares everything from scratch each morning, including the cones, and employs fresh – and often distinctly Indian – ingredients. For a taste of something different, ask for a scoop of mirth magic – green chilli ice cream – or yumyum, which is made with saffron and pistachios.
Across the street from Al Madina Supermarket near Royal Garden Rest., Karama 04 397 8784

Dubai’s very best hot chocolate
Only accessible to the bold and the cold, The Avalanche Café is situated half-way up Dubai’s famed indoor ski slope. If you get there (going down is harder), order a steaming hot chocolate topped with whipped cream, marshmallows and chocolate sprinkles. One of the best hidden pleasures in Dubai.
Ski Dubai, 04 409 4000

Bakewell mini pizzas
Is it a pizza, is it a pie, is it a tiny, topped pancake? Who knows, and who cares – this is the kind of tomato, cheese and pastry combo that 3am dreams are made of. They also do a fine line in cakes.
Rolla Road, Bur Dubai, 04 351 9222

Nightlife

Be there, not square
No big name DJs, no glamorous VIP rooms and absolutely no posing. But if you want to party with an up-for-it cosmopolitan crowd in some of the city’s more ‘interesting’ bars jump in a cab and ask for Nasr Square. Experience some after dark streetlife with the bustling crowds.

The Secret parties in Abu Dhabi
Perhaps the worst-kept secret in the UAE, The Secret parties are currently being held every few weeks on a mysterious island off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Over 400 people signed up for the first all-day do in July – without knowing exactly where it was. Instead, event organiser Molly Malone (a ghost name, natch) reveals only where to catch the speedboat to the destination. But while the details may be under wraps, visitors can expect funky house music, complimentary food and drink, and beach-side entertainment. The Secret takes place on August 29 from noon-8pm. For tickets, see www.timeouttickets.com, under the Abu Dhabi section, or look for the group ‘Get Qurious About The Secret’ on Facebook.

African disco
After a refurb’ job, the best place to hear African pop and dance music is back in business. Leave inhibitions at the door – this is one of the most raucous, grindin’ and generally friendly nights out in Dubai. It’s near impossible to stop doing that bouncy shoulder dance in the cab home.
Disco, Rush Inn Hotel, Bank Street, Bur Dubai, 04 352 2235

Art

Historic Dubai
Ancient structures dating back to the 9th century have been quietly unearthed in the heart of Jumeirah for the past 40 years. Don’t be fooled by the imposing green fence: hop over the barrier and you’re free to scrabble about this impressive (and intact) archaeological site at will.
Jumeirah Archaeological Site Street 16, first left after Al Atthar Street from Safa Park, 04 349 6874

Miscellany

Out of this world meditation
With the Lightspeed Dubai group you can travel to the 136th dimension of light from the comfort of a Satwa villa. Using advanced yoga and meditation techniques, expat spiritualist Karin Meyer-Reuman promises to reveal the secrets of the universe and beyond to those open-minded enough to listen. Biscuits are provided.
Call Seema Shetty on 050 850 0951 or you can visit www.lightspeed-dubai.com for more information

Al fresco wrestling
Anybody who has ventured behind the Deira fish market at sunset on a Friday (if not, why not?) has probably stumbled into a fine sporting spectacle. Thousands gather each week to watch mass wrestling matches. Lovers of Indo-Pak wrestling styles engage in friendly combat and welcome challengers.

Boating in Za’abeel Park
The vast Za’abeel Park is home to a tiny boating lake where many a seafaring wannabe has fancied themselves the captain of the ship on the small craft that populate it. The electric boats have a simple joystick for steering and a half hour gives you the opportunity to go round the lake about 15 times. Don’t expect to see much other than one or two other vessels and a central fountain. Glorious.
Karama, 04 324 3332

Garhoud plant souk
Majestic new bridges have been built, cultural centres and new business zones are rising from the sands, but none of them have managed to put an end to the Garhoud plant souk. An abundant selection of plants, trees and flowers are available to buy at knock down prices and the best bit is you’re nowhere near a shopping mall. We love it.
Directions: Behind Emarat petrol station in Jadaf near Arabian Park Hotel

Softball fields
One of the last good-quality playing fields in the city, this gem of a space is still used for softball (contact www.dubaisoftballleague.com) and now also soccer, rugby and ultimate frisbee (see www.duplays.com for details). Or for a more sedate sport, try the Snooker Club just next door.

A hidden pedestrian tunnel
Tired of the bun fight crossing Maktoum Bridge? Looking for a creek-crossing option even cheaper than an abra? Look no further. Just before Shindaga tunnel, and past the diving village in Bur Dubai, is a pedestrian tunnel that pops up opposite Deira bus station. The walk takes two minutes and views from either side at sunset have a surprising industrial beauty.

An indoor rainforest
Perhaps well-known to many, but those who haven’t yet made it to Garhoud’s Grand Hyatt hotel may well be flabbergasted to find an indoor rainforest in its lobby, complete with four-tonne dhows hung overhead – just to keep it realistic. Who says there’s not enough greenery in Dubai?
Oud Metha Road, 04 317 1234, www.dubai.grand.hyatt.com

Jumeirah’s Little China
Lay down your fork at Lime Tree Café, walk towards Diyafah Street for a couple of streets and suddenly, among the myriad white-washed villas and apartments, you’ll see this architectural black sheep. Or not – from behind its high gates you can see an interesting, crumbling dolphin fountain, as well as a bright blue London cab parked outside. And we thought we were cosmopolitan.

A friendly bed & breakfast
Tucked away in the back streets of Jumeirah lies La Maison d’Hôtes, a small bed and breakfast-style hotel with a mere 22 rooms (you’ll need our map). The hotel houses a gift shop, café and a French bistro, which serves up classic French fare and attracts the city’s Gailllic expats. A pleasant change to faceless five-star bling.
La Maison d’Hôtes, Jumeirah, 04 344 1838

Ras al Khor wildlife sanctuary
What could be more secret than a hide? Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is the only urban protected area in Dubai and one of only a handful in the UAE. Its three hides afford twitchers spectacular views of up to 1,500 flamingos set against the backdrop of the Dubai skyline – as well as over 15,000 other birds. The place is almost always deserted, and the chance to see some actual wildlife, makes it a haven of calm. Opposite the Emarat garage on the E66 Highway (aka Oud Metha Road). Free, but groups of more than 10 may need to contact the Environment Department at Dubai Municipality.
Call 04 206 4240 to arrange permits.

Culture

Antique museum
If you only visit one place on this list make it the Antique Museum. The only criticism of the place we have is that it isn’t a museum – and it doesn’t just sell antiques. The 65,000sq ft unit in the heart of Al Quoz is a maze of shoulder-wide passageways with goods imported from around the world balancing precariously overhead. Crystal glass shisha pipes vie for space with Pakistani swords, row upon row of luxurious pashminas and wood-carved ornaments brought in from Southeast Asia. Be sure to ask to see the ‘secret’ antiques corner, which contains yet more goodies.
(04 347 9935) Al Quoz Industrial Estate (take the first right before Kanoo building and first right again, Antique Museum is on your right). Open 9.30am-8.30pm Sun-Thu; 9am-11.30am; 3.30pm-8.30pm Friday.

House of Prose
House of Prose has one policy: buy any book at a very reasonable price, read it, then either keep it or return it to get 50 per cent of your money back. The second-hand store is a fantastic resource – you save money, and you get to see what the other bookworms in Dubai are reading – which, by the way, ranges from crime novels to military strategy via ornithology. A shop run by book lovers for book lovers. And for that, we salute them.
Jumeirah Plaza, Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah (04 344 9021). Ibn Battuta Mall (04 368 5526) this is the one that’s most hidden – round the back Sat-Thu 9am-8pm; Fri 5.30pm-8pm. No credit cards

Deepak’s bargain bin
‘Most of my up-and-coming designers use Deepak’s for their materials,’ says Kiran Sawlani, owner of Kraze at The Dubai Outlet Mall. But it’s not just the reams of Dhs100 threads that pull in the punters. Stationed at the entrance of this popular textiles haunt is a humble ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ bargain bucket that boasts cast-off materials for less than Dhs5. ‘Designers just love rummaging around in there!’ Kiran exclaims.
Deepak’s (04 344 3536), Satwa

Best blow dries
Pretty Lady beauty salon on Mankhool Road has already built up a fairly formidable reputation as a budget nail bar, but who knew blow-dries were so life-changing? Any one of the three miracle workers on duty can transform the largest of hair-dos into a sleek sheet of loveliness within half an hour and with only the most humble of tools to accompany their turbo-charged hairdryers. Just make sure you don’t get caught out by the humidity afterwards.
Mankhool Road, near Satwa Roundabout. Call 04 398 5255

iSell
There’s a troupe of fashion mavens in Dubai who have been pleading with Time Out to keep vintage store iSell under wraps. Everything from floral granny frocks to knackered Converse trainers are scattered about its rickety rails and that’s even before you come across the Humphrey Bogart-inspired trilbies. In non-fashion speak, it’s a ‘damn good find’.
Sultan Business Centre, Karama. Call 04 334 2494

Pink Pepper
Anywhere that boasts an unlimited jar of chocolate M&Ms gets our vote (they will actually refill as you munch – we tested). And once you’re past the haze of candy, owners Soni Sajnani and Janis D’souza’s couture offerings aren’t too shabby either. The design duo have lined up a raft of tantalising trinkets, including chandelier-inspired earrings and fuchsia pink mules, that’ll sate further cravings.
Oud Mehta Road, behind Aroma Garden Café, Oud Metha. Call 04 334 9709

Ozi Trading
On entering this humble store – it takes minimalist to a whole new level – you’ll find Dhs250 Lorenzo art-deco chairs stacked against each other. On further delving there’s Welsh designer Ross Lovegrove’s quirkier-than-thou pews selling for Dhs120 (they normally retail at Dhs310) and all manner of furniture that doesn’t look like it’s graced the IKEA catalogue.
Behind Regent Palace Hotel, opposite The Iranian School, Bur Dubai. Call 04 397 7335

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