Dubai is not a city that stands still. New neighborhoods pop up at pace and soon-to-be-iconic landmarks extend the skyline each year. But it’s not just about geography; the emirate’s priorities are evolving, too. Where once Dubai was known for looking outward–international celebrity chefs invited to open restaurants, global brands given gleaming shopfronts–in recent years, there’s been a shift of focus, and support, to the local, the homegrown, the entrepreneur. Dubai now boasts its own slew of chefs worth knowing, local brands, and creative small businesses. Sure, there’s still glitz, but beyond the man-made marvels lies its soul.
Gazing out at Downtown Dubai’s “Blade Runner” skyline feels akin to traveling forward in time–starring the Burj Khalifa and, nearby, the soon-to-open Museum of the Future–while standing in a spot that dates back to the 10th century CE. The Jumeirah Archeological Site was once a caravan stopping point on a trade route connecting India and China to Iraq. What remains are ruins from the Abbasid caliphate era, which only recently opened to the public although excavations began in 1969, unearthing pottery, coins, and other ancient artifacts.
Less an avenue than an industrial compound designed to foster a cultural and creative community, Alserkal Avenue is the place to discover artists of all kinds as well as entrepreneurial small businesses. Art galleries and a vegan cafe rub shoulders with a yoga concept store, craft fragrance lab, and an arthouse cinema, plus about 60 other homespun enterprises and, depending on the time of year, there’s a calendar of events. It’s off the tourist track, but just right for true explorers.
It’s not a complete Dubai visit without a pit stop at The Palm Jumeirah, the man-made island fringed by a fleet of beachy five-star properties and home to the instantly recognizable Atlantis resort, plus plenty of new dining hubs along the waterfront (West Palm Beach, The Pointe). The only trouble is, when you’re on the Palm you miss out on its show-stopping shape—until now. In April, observatory The View opened on the 52nd floor of Palm Tower, hovering 787ft in the air, and offering a panorama that captures the “tree” in all its glory. This is sunset done right.
Dubai’s fine-dining scene can be fickle, with patrons on the lookout for the next splashy thing, but there’s a handful of restaurants that have never faltered in either popularity or consistent excellence. La Petite Maison is near the head of that pack, with its art-bedecked interiors, clean Mediterranean menu and beautiful people propping up the bar after work. Nibble on oysters and burrata between sips of fizzy cocktails, before moving on to mushroom risotto, and grilled rib-eye steak with a side of ultra-creamy potato dauphinoise. The food is top-notch, but what makes LPM is its atmosphere: a heaping serving of je ne sais quoi.
The food hall in Time Out Market Dubai is a new kid on the block, having opened in 2021, but it’s already become a go-to thanks to the following many of its homegrown outlets already enjoy. Locally celebrated chefs Reif Othman and Alex Stumpf have concepts here, and it’s also where you’ll find the first dine-in location of cult smokehouse Mattar Farm, known for its luscious, fall-off-the-bone 18-hour smoked meat. Seventeen food and drink concepts—ranging from fusion Indian to Lebanese street food and artisan pizza—occupy a cavernous space in Souk Al Bahar, which looks out over another emirate must-do: the sound-and-light spectacle that is the Dubai Fountains.
The past few years have seen the rise of supper clubs in Dubai, hosted at elegantly appointed dining tables in cozy homes. And perhaps no table was more challenging to get a spot at than Neha Mishra’s, whose ramen became the stuff of legend. Case in point: a month’s worth of bookings would sell out in less than 30 seconds whenever she posted dates to her Instagram stories. Fortunately for diners she now runs a restaurant, Kinoya, which steers clear of the flash of many other Japanese spots in the city, and focuses instead on delivering an authentic foodie experience. Ramen is a star menu item, but you can’t go wrong with the miso butter eggplant, perfectly fried karaage, slivers of bluefin tuna sashimi, and onsen egg served over rice with dashi.
A desert experience is de rigueur in this part of the world, but it’s worth upping the Instagram ante and trading in run-of-the-mill dune-bashing and dinner plans for an early morning bird’s eye view instead. The Platinum Heritage and Balloon Adventures Dubai experience starts pre-dawn in order to catch a magical sunrise while floating up, up and away over the rolling landscape in a hot-air balloon; then get whisked across the dunes in a vintage Land Rover—keeping an eye out for leaping gazelles—to a regal camp laid out with a gourmet breakfast.
Expat residents spend their weekends at the beach, and public beaches are clean and largely well-equipped. Kite Beach is fun for the whole family with a mini waterpark, children’s play areas, and numerous dining options—not to mention a flattering profile view of the Burj Al Arab. Or splurge on lounge-chair service at a private club, which run the gamut from Riviera elegance at Drift Beach at the One&Only Royal Mirage to party vibes at the rose lounge at Cove Beach at Caesars Palace Bluewaters.
The XLine Dubai Marina—the world’s longest urban zipline, says Guinness World Records—checks two items off a list of quintessential Dubai experiences. One, visiting the chic Marina with its gleaming white yachts and iconic skyline and two, getting a taste of the high-octane adventure the emirate, and its Crown Prince, are well known for. You’ll fly across the length of a mile at an eye-watering 50mph from a height of 558ft, whizzing past the twisted Cayan Tower along the way, before landing, rather conveniently, by a mall. Make that three Dubai experiences in one.
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