Where to eat, shop and stay in Dubai, UAE

In a city growing higher, bolder and cooler, Jennifer Byrne detects a hint of nostalgia at some of its newest hotspots.

By Jennifer Byrne
W Dubai Al Habtoor City

Where to stay

W Dubai Al Habtoor City
Bolts of zigzag colour in the W's look-at-me lobby and curvaceous white guestrooms, like pods in an elegant spaceship, neatly reflect the restless energy and futuristic ambitions of the city. This new precinct on 12-lane Sheikh Zayed Road has several hotels but the W has cornered the young, cool-conscious market with its bold design and "whatever, whenever" approach. Guests check in on the 30th floor, with views of the Gulf and Dubai's new canal, and relax in an adjacent bar with resident DJs. There's a fine-diner and a casual eatery, and a state-of-theart gym. Al Habtoor City, Sheikh Zayed Rd.

What to see

A city that has made its reputation looking up is starting to look back. Take a guided or DIY walking tour through the Bastakia quarter in Bur Dubai to glimpse pre-oil Dubai, when it was a humble fishing and pearling state. An atmospheric maze of cobbled lanes, courtyards and traditional wind towers, now houses museums and boutique hotels, including XVA Art Hotel and Café (Al Fahidi St) in which each room is a mini art show and the lobby a walk-through sculpture garden.
For just one dirham (30 cents), join locals on a traditional wooden abra to traverse Dubai Creek, a wide, busy channel lined with painted wooden dhows. Not just the cheapest trip in town but a reminder this was, and remains, one of the world's great trading centres.
No matter how many times you visit Dubai, the view from the top of the Burj Khalifa (1 Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Blvd), still the world's tallest building, reveals something new. Swift elevators rise past panels charting stages of construction, past the Armani hotel, to the top deck at 555 metres. From here the story of Dubai is illustrated: a thrusting city of glass and steel sprung from an empty desert.

Where to shop

The Dubai Mall is said to be the world's largest by area - and who'd argue? Spanning the equivalent of 200 soccer pitches, it's the city's undisputed shopping mecca, with 1,200 stores.
By contrast, to the east across the Creek is the old, pre-oil neighbourhood of Deira, with its spice market rich with the scent of cinnamon, frankincense and rosebuds. And the nearby gold souk is dazzling - gold being both the traditional sign of love and marker of wealth in the city. Check out the shop displaying the world's largest gold ring, as certified by Guinness World Records: 63 kilograms of 21-carat gold. Eye-popping.
In a desert city obsessed with water, Aquarium and Underwater Zoo in Dubai Mall holds special fascination, with a walk-through tunnel, a glass-bottomed boat tour and the chance to strap on an oxygen tank and swim with sharks and stingrays.
W Dubai Al Habtoor City

Where to eat

The W Dubai's fine-diner on the 31st floor has arresting views but all eyes are on four central cooking stations, labelled Steam, Grill, Ice and Fire. Chefs work a greatest hits of Japanese and Korean dishes, from bibimbap to a seafood gyoza dressed with a dainty frill of egg lace. Al Habtoor City, Sheikh Zayed Rd.
This new outpost of the global beach-club chain was an instant hit among thirtysomething expats, drawn by its hedonistic vibe and buzzy restaurant. French chef Sylvain Noel serves share plates such as sushi and ceviche boats, sizzling garlic prawns and scallops, and a standout key lime pie. Pearl Jumeira.
Nikki Beach Dubai
Gordon Ramsay's eatery in Atlantis, The Palm, serves dressed-up Brit pub grub - the likes of beef Wellington, shepherd's pie, fish and chips. We were distracted by the cocktails mixed with focus and theatrics (witness the eggwhite whipping). The list, as the boss might say, is bloody brilliant. Atlantis, The Palm, Crescent Rd.
One-time Geelong chef Tom Arnel and Spanish business partner Segio Lopez have brought Melbourne's coffee culture to Dubai at their cult café-bakery-roastery Tom & Serg (15A St, Al-Joud Centre) and the larger The Sum of Us (Burj al Salam, 6th St).
  • undefined: Jennifer Byrne