1. Swim with dolphins
The incredible magnetism of these intelligent creatures makes swimming with dolphins one of my absolute favourite Dubai experiences to date. Many people dream of close encounters, and Dubai can make this bucket-list desire a reality. There are 2 venues that offer this experience, and I’ve done them both. Yes really, it is that good.
Atlantis the Palm offers several different types of packages, from shorter meet and greet sessions with the dolphins to Royal Swim packages that sees you getting in the water with them, propelled around and posing for kisses. Although pricey (between 795 dhs – 1495 dhs), it is money well spent.
The Dubai Dolphinarium at the Creek Park also offers you the chance to swim with dolphins, and at 600 dhs it’s much more affordable. That said, the facility is much smaller, the pool is indoors and the 20 minute experience doesn’t feel quite as spectacular as the Atlantis experience.
2. Dune Bashing
For the adrenaline junkies amongst you, don’t miss out on the dune bashing on offer just outside the city limits. It’s hard to believe that less than an hour away from the shiny high-rise buildings are rolling, unspoilt hills and valleys, all shades from gold to red. Read about our experience here with Arabian Adventures.
3. Hot Air Balloon
If the idea of racing over sand dunes in a 4×4 fills you with dread, opt instead for a peaceful flight in a hot air balloon. The day starts early; we were at the meeting point by 5am but the effort is definitely rewarded. As you climb gracefully into the sky, the first rays of sunlight peek over the horizon, before flooding the desert with its beautiful hues, and you couldn’t wish for a more breath-taking start to the day. As we were gliding over the dunes, we saw sprawling olive plantations, natural oasis in the desert, and even wild Oryx scampering over the dunes. The flight lasted just over an hour, and afterwards we were treated to a light breakfast before being driven back into the city. We booked through Balloon Adventures Emirates and it set us back 950 dhs per person.
No trip to Dubai is complete unless you have taken part in a Dubai Brunch. It’s not like anything else you’ve experienced before, so first let me explain what it is, exactly. Think all you can eat and all you can drink social event. It happens traditionally on a Friday from 12-4pm, although there are an increasing number of Saturday and evening brunches taking place. Yes really, there is such a thing as an evening brunch!
Here are a few of our favourites:
•Saffron at Atlantis: The Party Brunch
•Al Qasr at Madinat: The Fancy Family Brunch
•Marina Social at Intercontinental Marina: The Newest Foodie Brunch
•Spice Island at Crowne Plaza Deira: The Bargain Brunch
•Double Decker at Murooj Rotana: The Pub Brunch
•Le Serre at Vida Hotel Downtown: The Alternative to Brunch
5. Shop ‘til You Drop
Whether you’re looking for gold, designer goods, high-street brands or traditional wares, there are dozens of places you can go to fill your suitcase (and buy new ones). Head to the old town area of Deira to explore the meandering alleyways of the gold and spice souks, where prices are negotiable and sights and smells dazzle the senses.
For your designer buys, head to the world’s largest shopping mall, the Dubai Mall, and wander the exclusive Fashion Boulevard with its thick, plush carpets and exclusive boutique stores.
For a good mix of high street stores and a meet and greet with Dubai’s resident penguins, head to Mall of the Emirates. This is also where you’ll find the world’s largest indoor ski slope, with varying gradients to challenge every level of skier, as well as a ski park where you can practice your tricks.
For a desert city, Dubai has a staggering amount of world-class golf courses which are sure to test even the greatest players. Due to the extreme weather, early (6am) tee-off times are usually the first ones booked, but night golf is also widely available. Prepare yourself for golf on a whole new level; not only are the greens flawless, but you have your own caddy and your golf cart comes with a built-in chiller so your drinks stay refreshingly cold in the hot weather.
Here are some of Dubai’s best greens:
Meydan: Also the venue of the world’s richest horse race
Emirates Golf Club: Play the world-class Faldo Course
Jumeirah Golf Estate: Home of the famous Earth Course
Ernie Els Course: Designed by South African golf champion Ernie Els
You might be somewhat surprised to find out that Dubai has one of the best and most interesting nightlife scenes I have found. Whether you enjoy exclusivity and opulence, something weird and wonderful or whether you’re just looking for a sports bar to escape to for the evening, there is something for everyone.
Bars and pubs are scattered all over the city, although in order to obtain an alcohol license, they must be associated with a hotel, so don’t be alarmed if the taxi drops you off outside a hotel. We love Mcgettigans and the Belgian Beer Café.
Clubs in Dubai are a little European, in the sense that they don’t really get busy until around 1am. Those arriving early (between 11pm and 1am) may benefit from discounted drinks or happy hours, as well as cheaper (or free) entry. Yes, sadly, many clubs charge for entry, especially if you’re male. Add to that the requirement for formal attire and many visitors to the city are disappointed because they are turned away at the door. It might be 40 degrees outside but you’re still expected to wear proper shoes, trousers and a shirt gentlemen!
That said, once inside, the vibe is incredible, the music is pumping, drinks are free-poured and everywhere you look the city’s young and beautiful are just looking for a good time. It’s also quite amazing that the environment is so safe, I often leave my bag on a table or on the bar while I dance night away, and then when I return to buy my next drink, there it is, still where I left it. Careless, you say? Maybe. But I like that I can still trust strangers.
Here are our top spots:
•Cirque Le Soir at Fairmont: The crazy club (pictured)
•Society at Byblos Marina: The home of 80’s music
•Crystal at Raffles Wafi: The flashy who’s who club
•Armani Prive at Burj Khalifa: The trendy, intimate club
•Music Hall at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray: The cool dinner-club
8. Spa Day
Indulge in a little spa session as the cherry on top of a relaxing holiday. If you’re really looking to splash out, there are experiences that can’t be had anywhere else in the world. I’m talking 24 carat gold facials and caviar body wraps. If that’s too weird for you (it’s definitely too weird for me) then go with the calming oasis of the Chi Spa at the Shangri La. A massage there includes entry to the bubble tub, sauna and aromatherapy steam room.
Even the budget option is award-winning, Dreamworks has many locations around Dubai and there are often special offers such as buy one get one free on massages.
If that’s not your thing, how about just popping in for a peeper-pamper? Tips and Toes offers luxury mani/pedis from 150dhs.
*All photos in this article are our own.