Lucky us for living in a city where entertaining experiences can be found at every turn. But with so much to see and do in Dubai, actually formulating a plan for our free time can be a mind-boggling experience. But don’t despair. We’ve done the groundwork for you, with ten top itineraries for ten amazing days out. Notepads at the ready…
Being beside the Arabian Gulf makes Dubai the ideal place for a spot of marine marauding. The team over at Watercooled have got it covered when it comes to high-octane sea-based stunts and we suggest taking out a Zapcat with your buddies. These powerful four-metre-long vessels can hit a top speed of 80 kilometres an hour. Hold on tight.
Six people max. Daily 8am-6pm. JA Jebel Ali Golf Resort, Jebel Ali.
A real Time Out favourite, Pierchic lives up to its name by offering elegant dining perched over the sea. A multiple winner of our Best Romantic restaurant category, make sure you scrub up after the morning mayhem. For a light lunch give the lobster bisque a try.
Open daily lunch noon-3pm. Al Qasr at Madinat Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim.
Once you’ve had your fill of seafood it’s your turn to be on the menu as you head to the Dubai Aquarium and become shark bait for the afternoon. Well, that’s not entirely true, but you can get nose-to-nose with those beautiful beasts by taking a ride on the new Shark Scooter. All together now: “We all swim on a mini submarine”.
Daily 5pm, 6pm, 7pm. Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, The Dubai Mall.
Dubai is full of creative hubs and Alserkal Avenue is perhaps the biggest. This former industrial park is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and it contains an array of galleries, including the eclectic Ayamm Gallery, and creative businesses across a multitude of disciplines. Its packed events programme means you’ll find something that catches the eye when you take a stroll.
Times vary. Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz 1.
If all that walking and marvelling at art has meant you’ve completed your daily step count and worked up quite an appetite, it’s time to leave the palettes and satisfy your palate. Alserkal Avenue’s very own Wild & The Moon serves up healthy dishes as well as some great detox juices and smoothies. Oh, how wonderfully Bohemian.
Open daily 8am-7pm. Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz 1.
Another top creative hub is DIFC – perhaps it’s the financiers’ love of status symbol wall-hangings that has brought the scene here. The stand-out space must be The Farjam Foundation, an East-meets-West art concept that promotes local talent while also housing works from the likes of Picasso, Miro, Matisse, Renoir, Hirst and Braque.
Open Sun-Thu 10am-8pm. Gate Village 4, DIFC.
A slice of Heritage
The nation’s traditions, your starting point should be a Heritage Tour with the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Be guided around the Al Fahidi Historical neighbourhood, visit a mosque and then let your inquisitive side take over with a Q&A with your Emirati host.
Sun, Tue, Thu 10.30am-noon; Sat 9am-10.30am. Al Fahidi Historical District.
There are several quality Emirati restaurants dotted around the city, but if you like lunch with sea views, head to Seven Sands. If you are a complete glutton, you could order the whole ouzi (serves dozens, by the looks of it) but we’re big fans of the Aishu Laham – a very generous portion of tender lamb and rice. It’s just fantastic.
Open Sun-Wed noon-1am, Thu noon-2am, Fri 9am-2am, Sat 9am-1am. The Beach, JBR.
One of the best ways to witness the juxtaposition of Old and New Dubai is on a Big Bus tour that lets you hop on and off at 40 spots around town. Your ticket includes a one-hour dhow cruise along the Creek, and you’ll also get free entry to more than ten museums. The Marina tour will show you the best of Dubai Marina, New Dubai and The Palm Jumeirah, plus there’s the Beach Tour and City Tour, which focuses on Old Dubai.
Daily, times vary (tickets valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours). Various locations, www.bigbustours.com/en/dubai.
If you’re hoping to feed your inner culture vulture’s insatiable appetite, one of the best places to start is the Etihad Museum. This shiny new facility chronicles the birth of the UAE and gives you the chance to see artefacts donated by royals from several Emirates. Architecture buffs will delight in the fact the building itself is shaped like a manuscript, which in anyone’s book has to be cool.
Open daily 10am-8pm. Jumeirah Beach Road.
Satisfy your literary appetite with a trip to BookMunch Café, where great grub and tremendous tomes go hand in hand. The menu reads like an encyclopaedia of healthy and hearty dishes, but we’re big fans of the jerk chicken here. Maybe tuck in while feasting on some Marlon James – he did win the 2015 Booker Prize after all.
Open daily 9am-10pm. Bay Square, Business Bay.
There was a wave of excitement stronger than the glass-shattering notes a soprano can reach when Dubai Opera raised its curtain for the first time. Despite its name, this stunning venue doesn’t only have opera buffs in mind, with a bulging programme of musicals, ballets, jazz gigs and even film screenings backed by a live orchestra. Enough for everyone to get their culture fix.
Dubai Opera, Downtown Dubai.
City dwellers love escaping to the country, which, in Dubai’s case means hitting the desert. Bashing the dunes in a 4×4 is tons of fun, but we prefer going off-road in a dune buggy. You will have a quick lesson and then let you loose in a powerful Polaris XP 1000. Don’t forget your seatbelt!
Times and locations vary.
After all those adrenaline rushes, you might want to get your pulse back to normal. Head over to Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa where you can grab a three-course lunch on the terrace overlooking the dunes before taking a leisurely stroll around the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
There’s no need to return to the city just yet. In fact you don’t even need to leave the Conservation Reserve as you can spend the night glamping under the stars with 1001 Events. A spot of wildlife watching begins in the evening, before a barbecue dinner followed by drinks around the bonfire. Then you can retire to your spacious tent.
Musical Mystery Tour
If you’ve woken up after dreaming you were a rock star then the guys over at Musicart will set you on your way to the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame with an electric guitar lesson. Granted you might need a lot more practise to become a Hendrix or Clapton, but even they had to start somewhere. We’re not sure if they have a “No Stairway” policy, though.
Times and locations vary. Musicart, G3, Cluster H, JLT.
With your first riffs now in your repertoire you’ll probably want to show them off. But first, check out some pros in action over a fun-filled Friday brunch. Listen to live music while tucking into salads, pizzas and pastas served alongside a selection of drinks, including Italian bubbles. If you manage to talk up your act while you’re there, who knows, you might even end up on the venue’s nightly music bill…
Friday brunch (soft drinks, selected beverages), served noon-4pm. Open Sat-Wed noon-1am; Thu-Fri noon-3am. Cluster A, JLT.
Perhaps you’ve tried to run before you could walk in your bid for superstardom. Do some research into how the pros do it by heading over to Stereo Arcade. The venue has five live bands playing each week, including Dubai’s favourite rockers, The Boxtones. Maybe they can give you some hints on getting a record deal. If not, beat the info out of them during a game of Mortal Kombat in the arcade.
Open daily 6pm-3am. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Dubai – Jumeirah Beach, The Walk, JBR.
Ponder the past
Okay, so we’re sending you out to the desert again, but if you want to delve into the UAE’s past, there’s no avoiding it. After Platinum Heritage takes you for some wildlife spotting in a 1950s Land Rover (a pivotal vehicle in those days), you’ll sit down in a royal retreat and be regaled with traditional stories by a Bedouin before being served an Arabian breakfast of rgaag with egg, balaleet and chbaab.
The phrase “Dubai institution” is one bandied about constantly, but if ever a restaurant was to live up to such a tag, it’s Ravi in Satwa. Born in 1978, this Pakistani eatery has reached legendary status by serving up good, honest food at extremely reasonably prices. Among our favourite dishes is the Mutton Peshawari – one bite in and you’ll realise why food fans flock here each day.
Open daily 5am-2.30am. Near Satwa Roundabout, Satwa.
Like with any major city, Dubai’s waterways have had a huge part to play in its history and development. At the heart of Creek life are the magnificent dhows, which you can see being built at the Jaddaf boatbuilding yard over the water from Dubai Festival City. After seeing the craftsmanship that goes into these iconic vessels, have dinner on one, courtesy of the many floating restaurant companies that line the Creek.
To experience what shopping in our label-loving city was like before the malls arrived, take a trip to Old Dubai, where the souks are as popular as the haggling. While the gold and spice versions are often the busiest, the latter being a great place to visit, even if you’re only browsing with your noses, don’t forget about the textile or perfume souks – they too are perfect for sniffing out a bargain.
Deira and Bur Dubai.
Some people find it a little odd that a restaurant can be found near the changing rooms of a Harvey Nichols, but few would argue about Almaz by Momo being top drawer. Having browsed the latest offerings in the department store, order a hearty lamb tagine and feel like you’ve been transported to the markets of Marrakech.
Open daily 10am-1am. Level 3, Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha.
Once you’ve dragged yourself away from the comfy seating at Almaz, you might want to walk off that tagine. Obviously you could just trawl the shops of one the world’s biggest shopping malls, but why follow the herd, right? Head to The Outlet Village instead, a vast out-of-town retail destination that sells designer goods at knock-down prices. A trip here is worth the effort if only to marvel at the Tuscan-inspired architecture.
Open Sun-Wed 10am-10pm; Thu-Sat 10am-midnight. Jebel Ali.
Footgolf is undoubtedly one of our favourite sporting portmanteaus and is livening up courses across the world. The sport is growing here, too, giving those who love a kickabout a different platform on which to show off their skills. Toe-punt, hack and chip your away at The Address Montgomerie Dubai and you’ll wonder why you ever shelled out for that set of Wilson clubs (apart from for the name, of course).
Daily (subject to availability). Emirates Hills.
After signing your scorecards and taking the buggy back to the clubhouse it’s time for some post-round grub. Brunswick Sports Club welcomes sporty types with open arms, and even if you’re not into Aussie Rules, you’ll still appreciate the tucker on offer. Burgers are king here, but try veggie The Hercules Pita. It’s so good even the most carnivorous of us are big fans.
Open daily noon-2am. Level 2, Sheraton Hotel, Mall of the Emirates.
The next time you watch an F1 race, it might be worth reflecting that each of those track stars began their career behind the wheel of a go-kart. Yes, you might be driven by dreams of hitting top speeds in a supercar but karting is arguably even more fun. All you have to do is decide whether you want to race indoors or out – and perhaps choose a suitable nickname to emblazon across your helmet.
Times vary. Dubai Kartdrome, Dubai Motor City.
Take to the Skies
If you love flying and love birds, there’s one excursion you really can’t miss out on. The canny crew at Balloon Adventures have trained some fantastically fast falcons to take flight from a hot air balloon so you can witness them in all their splendour from 1,000 metres up. Oh, and a breakfast including caviar and smoked salmon is part of the deal, too.
Daily at dawn (hotel pick-up). Balloon Adventures Dubai.
Once you’ve returned to terra firma, we’re sure the high-flyer in you will be itching to be up, up and away once more. Thankfully, At.mosphere on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa gives diners the sensation of eating in the clouds, without relying on iffy airline food. In fact, dishes here are exquisite. Savour a two- or three-course meal, made with some truly inventive ingredients, while looking down on everyone else.
Open for lunch 12.30pm-3pm. 122nd floor, Burj Khalifa.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep your feet on the ground when in such a salubrious city as Dubai. But why bother? Take the aerial route, we say, with a helidubai helicopter tour that takes in some of our best-loved landmarks, including Dubai Creek, the Jumeirah coastline and the Burj Khalifa, and imagine you’re playing a game of Sim City (you’ll know what we mean once you’re up there).
Times and locations vary.
Showstopping dinner destinations
Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara
Not only does Mr Outlaw have one of the coolest names in the culinary world, he also has two Michelin stars under his belt. Burj Al Arab bosses have reeled the British chef in to provide a stunning seafood experience, a task at which he excels. The wall-to-ceiling aquarium provides the perfect backdrop to Outlaw’s stunning creations.
Open daily 12.30pm-3.30pm, 7pm-11.30pm. Burj Al Arab, Umm Suqeim.
While most fine dining is a delight for the senses, what happens when one of those is taken away? Noire is an experience unlike any other on the Dubai scene, plunging its diners into complete darkness as they’re served up a surprise three-course menu with paired beverages. In fact, you can only feast
your eyes on the food during the post-dinner debrief.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm-9pm. Fairmont Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road.
With a name like that you’d expect this new restaurant to be next to a body of water and lo and behold it is – overlooking The Dubai Fountain, in fact. A concept born in Melbourne, Australia, this Souk Al Bahar newcomer isn’t just about the views of said water feature and the Burj Khalifa though, the food is hugely impressive, too, especially the Scottish scallops.
Open Sun-Thu 4pm-1am, Fri-Sat noon-1am. Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai.
The Experience by Reif Othman
One of Dubai’s most intriguing gastronomic concepts, the chef behind PLAY Restaurant & Lounge brings you an exclusive and intimate experience in which you and 11 other guests are treated to a specially crafted, once-in-a-lifetime menu. In his own words, The Experience is an “ultra-luxury” version of a chef’s table. It’s also an experience that no foodie in their right mind would dare to pass up.
Times vary. 37th Floor, The H Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road.