The Dubai Dossier
In the middle eastern megalopolis of Dubai, bigger is definitely better.
The Middle East may not be the most obvious getaway choice these days, but Dubai isn’t really the Middle East. It’s a fascinating world all its own: a cosmopolitan paradise of sun, sand, beautiful people, stunning architecture, and high-end luxury that boasts the planet’s tallest building (burjkhalifa), biggest shopping center (the Dubai mall), and five of the world’s tallest hotels. There’s also the mall of the emirates, which features a massive indoor ski slope, complete with snow (and penguins!), in what’s basically a broiling desert with concrete poured over it. Why? Dubai’s answer: Why not? Here’s the lowdown on the best that this gleefully over-the-top Arabian oasis has to offer.
When it comes to food, Dubai follows its blueprint for pretty much everything else and imports the very best—acclaimed chefs NobuMatsuhisa (Nobu), Pierre Gagnaire(Reflets), and Richard Sandoval (Toro Toro and Maya) all have restaurants here. And like Dubai’s inhabitants, the cuisine comes from all around the globe. In the old districts of the city, you can sample dishes from India, Thailand, the Philippines, Lebanon, the Caribbean, China, and Japan within a few blocks. For a late breakfast of poached eggs with spinach and truffles—and a hit of bracing Milanese espresso—head to Emporio ArmaniCaffe in the Dubai Mall. Just behind the mall, you get an unmatched, close-up view of the BurjKhalifa. For a good, cheap lunch in Bur Dubai, try local institution Automatic Cafe’s grilled lamb with tomatoes, onions, and rice doused in pine nuts and a rich tomato sauce. If you’d rather go upmarket, award-winning Japanese eatery Zuma offers standout sushi in a hip, relaxed setting. Come dinnertime, nearly all Dubai’s five-star hotels have at least one great restaurant. Acclaimed Argentine steakhouse Asado in the shadow of the Dubai Fountain, is renowned for its tender cabrito (baby goat cooked over hot coals). Pierchic, located out in the ocean at the end of its own pier, offers top-rated seafood (try the yellowfin tuna) in a stunning location that’s perfect for date night.
The iconic “seven-star” Burj Al Arab Jumeirah provides exceptional service and serious bragging rights as not only the finest hotel in town but perhaps the most luxurious on the planet. The roof of the 202-room landmark—nearly 700 feet above the Arabian Gulf—has hosted both a tennis match between Andre Agassi and Roger Federerand a Tiger Woods tee shot. For some, the Burj’s Midas-touch decor—there are flashes of gold leaf wherever you turn in the 590-foot-tall atrium, decorated with dancing fountains and a massive seawater aquarium—can be too much of a good thing. But if you’re seeking amenities like a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce or private helicopter, next-level laundry service, and the privilege of bypassing Customs at the airport, you’ve come to the right place. For a slightly more understated vibe, try the nearby Madinat Jumeirah—where serene canals flow past waterfront villas, each attended by a dedicated butler. There are boutique options, too, like the old-school Arabian accommodations—situated around three courtyards, with traditional wind towers cooling the building—at the 13-room XVA Art Hotel, in the heart of the old city.
The main alternative to strolling Dubai’s luxury malls is soaking up the sun—and the sights—on pristine beaches. You can also go on a desert safari, complete with a few hours of “dune bashing” (attacking large, almost vertical mounds of sand in a 4×4, at adrenaline-pumping speeds), before an authentic Arabian meal complete with belly dancers and a glorious sunset. Unlike the rest of the Middle East, most Dubai hotels have bars and nightclubs where you can indulge in booze, babes, and bumping beats till sunrise without fear of being branded an infidel. Dubai is all about decadence, and most clubs are bustling on weekends, filled with gorgeous women who embody the city’s obsession with looking good and flaunting it. The beachsideBarasti Baris a popular choice for sundowners, while clubs such as People by Crystal and 360˚(both of which offer jaw-dropping views, in terms of both landscape and eye candy), Mahiki, and Armani/Prive, plus celeb-watching hot spots VIP Room and Cavalli Club, prove Dubai’s got bling to burn and the pull to attract superstar DJs. Head to rooftop barLevel 43 to revel in the awe-inspiring skyscraper orgy that lines the city’s main thoroughfare. Like Dubai itself, it’s a spectacle that says “too much is never enough.”