It’s mystifying to think that Dubai as we know it today—a glistening metropolis defined by daring architectural mega-projects, world-renowned restaurants, and, of course, a flashy reputation—emerged from the desert in just the last five decades. In spite of the city’s modern era growth spurt, there’s still a part of Dubai that holds tight to its humble origins as a desert town.
Chances are high that you’ve seen aerial images of Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah, a man-made peninsula and island archipelago shaped like its namesake tree. On the ground, it’s one of the few pockets of Dubai that offers true island-style seclusion, especially when you’re waking up at One&Only The Palm, which boasts 64 deliciously opulent rooms, 27 large suites, and four beachfront villas inspired by Moorish-Andalusian architecture.
Surrounded by the galleries and cafés of the historic Al Fahidi district, XVA Art Hotel is owner Mona Hauser’s thoughtful ode to both Dubai’s heritage makers and its up-and-coming creative class. The 14-key boutique features the works of local artists and artisans throughout, from the patterned textiles and upholstery in the shaded courtyard to the expressive paintings in the individually-styled rooms.
Canadian-Lebanese restaurateur Joey Ghazal channeled his vivid nostalgia for adolescent summer trips to coastal Maine into creating one of Dubai’s most iconic culinary hotspots. Come to this elegant New England brasserie to sample the largest (and freshest, by far) oyster selection in the UAE, as well as excellent fish tacos, and naturally, Maine lobster. The OG waterfront flagship, tucked inside a hotel garage in JBR, has also spawned two other popular Maine-branded outposts in the city, as well as a glitzy nightlife emporium in London’s Mayfair district.
In a city rife with Lebanese restaurants, this outstanding Sheikh Zayed Road bistro is among the most recommended by locals. In addition to the expected mezze—hummus, falafel, all whipped up to exquisite perfection—and grilled meats, don’t sleep on other flavor-packed specialties like the chicken livers in pomegranate molasses and shish barak (meat dumplings in a tart yogurt sauce).
Dubai’s only Balkan “soul food” eatery is a celebratory hit list of the peninsula’s most cherished dishes. The Big Balkan Breakfast is a must if you’re snagging a table in the AM. For lunch and dinner, opt for a series of small plates like zucchini fritters and filo pie before diving into ultra-satisfying mains like cevapi wagyu beef kebabs and sarma beef-stuffed cabbage rolls.
This breezy newcomer from the team behind The Maine introduces a dose of Southern California cool into Jumeirah Lakes Towers with laidback Malibu-inflected design (think earth tones and rattan furnishings) and coastal fare, from tangy ceviches to hearty grain bowls. The rooftop bar’s cocktail list goes big on tropical vibes with over a dozen heady signature cocktails, which you can balance with a round of “feel good tonics” crafted with hangover-curing ingredients like green juice and ginger.
Perched atop the Waldorf Dubai Financial Centre, this swanky rooftop lounge delivers French Riviera glam alongside sweeping skyline views. St. Trop tends to attract off-the-clock professionals to its buzzy happy hours, which are accompanied by live entertainment that lingers well after sundown. Even if you’re popping by straight from the beach instead of the office, you won’t feel out of place.
Decked out in electric neon signs, kitschy Pop Art murals, and lots of graffiti, Dubai’s first Korean gastrobar looks like a carbon copy of a speakeasy you’d stumble upon in Seoul. Known for having what might be the crunchiest-on-the-outside, juiciest-on-the-inside fried chicken in the Emirates, you won’t want to pass up a piping hot basket. Just be sure to wash it down with one of their inventive soju cocktails or an expertly made classic.
Befitting Dubai’s knack for superlatives, Burj Khalifa is the emirate’s sky-piercing answer to the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tour: an architectural landmark every visitor should visit once (well, except maybe those with a paralyzing fear of heights). You can book tickets in advance online for visits to the At The Top observation deck on floor 154, a lofty position that qualifies the lounge as the world’s highest spot to enjoy a glass of bubbly.
To witness what Dubai was like before the advent of its futuristic skyline in Al Fahidi, a historic district of twisting streets and 19th-century architecture, including 50 preserved houses and old wind towers constructed of sandstone, teak, gypsum, palm wood, and sandalwood. Today, the neighborhood is brimming with trendy galleries and cafés, but to dive into Al Fahidi’s past, start your visit at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding.
Did you know the world’s largest mall attracts more visitors each year (62 million) than New York City and Los Angeles? Not only is this colossal retail center home to more than 200 luxury fashion brands, but also 200 restaurants (including cult-favorites Din Tai Fung and Eataly) and the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. Combine your visit to the Dubai Mall with a dizzying tour of the Burj Khalifa since they’re part of the same complex.