Four Hours in Dubai originally appeared in Business Traveller. It’s quick round up of things to do on a short layover.
1. Jumeirah Mosque
Dubai is growing at an astonishing rate. From its original home at the mouth of the creek, a seemingly endless supply of skyscrapers, hotel resorts, malls and identikit suburbs have exploded across previously people-free deserts and offshore to a series of ambitious man-made islands. With limited public transport, eight lane highways and adventurous driving standards, taxis or chauffeured cars are by far the most convenient way to experience the beginnings of this brave new Dubai.
For a quick reminder of where you are in the world, head straight to the Jumeirah Mosque on Beach Road, one of the largest and arguably most beautiful Mosques in the city. Built in the medieval Fatimid tradition, the detailed stone working of its two minarets are a fine example of modern Islamic architecture. Non-Muslims aren’t usually allowed inside Dubai’s mosques but thanks to an ‘open doors, open minds’ policy, each Sunday and Thursday at 10am visitors can take an organised tour to explore the mosque and ask questions about Islam. Conservative dress covering arms and legs is expected, women should also cover their hair.
2. Souk Madinat Jumeirah
During the short cab ride to the impressive Souk Madinat, look out over the rooftops of the wealthy Jumeirah suburb to witness Dubai’s ever changing skyline as the towering edifices of the new business district shoot upwards at the rate of a floor a week.
Part of an expansive hotel complex, the Madinat Jumeirah provides a refreshingly relaxed setting for an inspired recreation of an old world souk. The aroma of oud (wood perfume) lingers throughout its winding traditional covered alleyways, which contain every kind of Persian rug, delicate fabric, ceremonial dagger, traditional art, craft and decor that you could desire. Slightly pricier than the downtown street version but easier to reach and to navigate, it’s an excellent place to pick up tasteful souvenirs and trinkets for those back home. Souk Madinat’s shops and stalls also open early and close late, as shoppers slowly give way to the laid back theatre and restaurant crowd and then to the nocturnal fashionistas of the dance floors.
At any time of day if you tire of shopping you can stop for one of the regions energy boosting staples such as sweet, cinnamon flavoured Arabic coffee or a mouth-watering lemon and mint juice in one of the many restaurants, cafes and wine bars that line the restaurant promenade’s man made creek.
3. Madinat Jumeirah Beach
As you sip your drink you will inevitably succumb to the temptation to take a trip aboard a faux abra on the faux creek. It’s then just a short walk through peaceful villas to reach the palm laden beach, Burj Al Arab in the background. Reserved for paying guests, the way to gain access to the abras and beach is to make a reservation at one of the Madinat’s excellent seafront restaurants. For a truly Arabian experience try a fruit flavoured shisha reclining in the open-air Majlis at Shimmers Restaurant, or take a relaxed barefoot stroll along the wooden boardwalk to Pier Chic for one of the best cocktails in Dubai. Once you have had your fill of the beach hop on a passing golf cart and ask your driver to take you all the way to the Burj Al Arab.
4. The Burj Al Arab
The building’s sail-like exterior is probably Dubai’s most familiar postcard image but its lesser known vulviform entrance leaves an equally memorable picture lingering in the mind’s eye.
On its opening in 1999 this building put Dubai on tourism wish lists the world over and is still its most iconic structure to date. Happily, it thoroughly lives up to its over the top seven-star billing, from the mood-lit fountains and rolling fog in the cathedral like foyer, the wall of fish in the undersea themed restaurant with ‘submarine’ access, the 22 carat gold leaf on virtually everything and the 202 butler serviced, duplex suites.
Again unless you are a paying guest the only way to gain access to the Burj Al Arab is to have an advance reservation at one of its restaurants or bars. This can also be used to gain access from the Madinat promenade.
Once you’ve got your breath back after taking in the foyer, a panoramic glass elevator will whisk you 200 metres up to the Sky View and Al Muntaha restaurants. Suspended over the Arabian Gulf you can enjoy afternoon tea for around 220AED (£32) with a view out over The Palms, The World or Dubai. According to one regular British tea drinker it is simply “one of the best views in the world” and worth every penny.
5. Mall of the Emirates
Although it is within sight of the Burj don’t walk to Mall of the Emirates, if the heat doesn’t get you the drivers certainly will.
The newest addition to Dubai’s mall portfolio even has its own five-star Kempinski hotel and is more shopping resort than mall. It is an ideal place to soak up some multicultural flavours and watch the assertively attired hunt for the latest trends among three stories of department stores, designer boutiques and salons such as Harvey Nichols, Dolce & Gabbana, Franck Provost, Vacheron Constantin and Louis Vuitton.
Dubai’s apparent mall obsession is however more than just Middle Eastern extravagance writ large; there are compelling reasons for their popularity. With summer temperatures exceeding 500C it is often too hot and humid to stroll about outside. The cool air conditioned malls are also where locals go to flirt, see and be seen. Bluetooth dating now enables young men and women to say hello, even from behind the veil.
6. Ski Dubai
Mall of the Emirates is also home to the largest indoor snow park in the world. For a thoroughly counter intuitive experience, jam your feet into skis or snowboard and hit one of five slopes in this 25 story mountain resort alongside Arabian men in flowing white dishdashas. It’s an unexpected change of pace and after running around in the desert heat après ski in a themed alpine lodge is a unique way to chill out.
7. Sheikh Zayed Road
Dubai’s earliest developments centred on the Trade Centre and are the ostentatious and aspirational benchmark for many of the city’s new developments. Coming full circle the perfect way to experience Sheikh Z’s neck-aching architecture is back in the comfort of an air conditioned car. Highlights include the clasped palms of the Thai inspired Dusit Dubai, the razor sharp lines of Emirates Towers and at night the Fairmont’s subtle exterior light show.
Taxis are metered, air conditioned, plentiful and inexpensive. This trip shouldn’t cost more than around £30. Chauffeured car with phone, cold towels, snacks and drinks start at 600 dirhams for four hours (roughly £90) from www.primelimousine.com.by