- Cityscape Souks, skyscrapers, sand, sea
- City life Bling and buy
A city of thrilling innovation and luxurious excesses, Dubai rises like a mirage from the desert, flanked by the Arabian Gulf coast and cleaved by a glittering creek.
Famously gilded with a seven-star hotel – the iconic Burj al Arab – this rags-to-riches boom town is said by some to have ‘no culture’: not so. This ancient landmark on the spice-trading route may have grown from tiny port and pitstop for desert-roaming tribes to cosmopolitan city with all mod cons, but Dubai hasn't forgotten its heritage. Camel-racing, falconry and horsemanship are still passionately enjoyed in the Emirates; traditional wind towers still stand in the Bastakiya quarter; and working dhows still cruise the creek. There aren't many places on earth where you can snorkel, ski, sunbathe and shop at the world's biggest mall in one day – but hey, this is Dubai…
Do go/Don’t go
Dubai is sunny and warm year-round, with very occasional rainy days in mid-winter. Christmas and Easter are peak times, with March bringing some of the city’s most popular events. High summer can be unbearably hot and humid, with temperatures reaching 50°C – July/August is definitely best avoided.
Planes Dubai airport is a major international hub and a popular stopover en route to Australasia and Indian Ocean destinations such as the Maldives. From the UK, travel with Emirates Airlines, BA or Virgin, or fly into quieter Abu Dhabi airport (www.abudhabiairport.ae); it’s an hour away and, if you fly with Etihad (www.etihadairways.com), transfers to Dubai are free. Emirates also has regular flights from New York, Houston, Sydney and São Paolo.
Boats Traditional wooden abras will ferry you across (or along) Dubai Creek for just AED1; there are abra stations by the souks on both sides. A private abra will cost from AED100 an hour. There’s also a waterbus that runs between Al Sabkha and Bur Dubai every 30 minutes from 6am–10.30pm.
Trains Public transport is almost non-existent, but there is a four-line Metro system similar to Bangkok’s Skytrain (www.dubaimetro.eu). Metred taxis are pretty plentiful, and reasonably priced.
Automobiles Dubai’s congested roads and high-speed highways are notoriously dangerous (largely due to residents’ pathological determination to ignore speed limits or road etiquette) so we don’t recommend renting a car unless you’ve the patience of a saint and the reactions of Lewis Hamilton. However, it’s worth hiring some wheels if you want to explore the Hajar Mountains and east coast.
- Taxis Sandy-coloured Dubai Taxis are clean, new and metered. Flag one down on the street or at a rank, or call one out to collect you (+971 4 208 0808). When the traffic’s bad or at the peak of rush hour (7–9am; 12.30–2.30pm; 5–7pm), drivers may refuse to take you, and there can be a long wait even for pre-booked taxis. You can also call private chauffeured cars, which are not expensive and a good option if you have several stops to make. Try Al Falasi Luxury Transport (+971 4 396 6552).