Dubai is all skyscrapers and shopping malls, right? Wrong. Here’s how to experience a more authentic side of the city…
1. Experience a local market
Amongst the skyscrapers and buzzing energy of Downtown Dubai, there are actually some amazing outdoor spaces. A low-key afternoon away from the bustle could be spent checking out a local food market.
If you’re looking for some inspiration, just outside the city centre you’ll find Zabeel Park which is home to The Ripe Outdoor Market every Friday lunchtime during the cooler months. Here you can mooch around picking up some fresh organic fruits and veggies, as well as crafts, clothes and souvenirs.
2. Get a ticket for La Perle
Seriously, it’s amazing. Dubai’s reputation for doing everything on an epic scale really shows itself in the city’s first ever resident live show, La Perle.
La Perle – the hottest ticket in town
This aquatic entertainment extravaganza is hosted in its very own 1,300-seat purpose-built venue – although it feels unexpectedly intimate. Without giving too much away, the 90-minute display features a huge on-stage swimming pool, an incredible indoor waterfall and some terrifying acrobatic stunts. Tickets from £82.
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3. Cruise in style
4. Dine with the locals
Away from Dubai’s five-star restaurants, there are hundreds of atmospheric and authentic eateries to explore – particularly in the vibrant distict of Deira.
From tiny Falafel shops where you can create your own spicy wraps, to bakeries selling baklava by the tray-load, Frying Pan Adventures gives a real snapshot of traditional Middle Eastern cuisine on its foodie walking tours.
Indian sweets and samosas in Deira
And with the four-hour tour spiced up with snippets of history, what better way to get to know the ‘real’ Dubai? But wherever you dine, be sure to try Palestinian dessert kanafeh made with stringy cheese and sweet noodles (MUCH more delicious than it sounds!).
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5. Try a brunch
Friday is brunch day in Dubai, but forget avocado on toast and blueberry pancakes – because these wine-soaked afternoon marathons are like no midday meal you’ve ever experienced. Wherever you choose to stay, you’ll find a brunch in pretty much every hotel in the city.
Pop a few bottles at brunch
Address Boulevard puts on a particularly extravagant experience with their Riviera Chic Brunch, which is packed full of Mediterranean-inspired dishes including seafood risotto and delicate scallops. And as if it couldn’t get any better, dessert consists of a selection of 35 sweets such as tiny pastries (the salted caramel finger is to die for) as well as tarte au citron and more chocolate than you can imagine.
6. Browse the Gold Souk
Before Dubai Mall (the world’s largest shopping mall) was built, the city’s traditional souks were its shopping hotspots. Located in the eastern part of the city, Al Dhagaya, is the Gold Souk which features the city’s most extravagant (and expensive) jewellery – including the biggest ring in the world.
So. Much. Bling.
Just a few blocks away down the winding streets, you’ll find the Spice Souk where huge bags and bins of colourful and fragrant spices overflow into pavements – everything from frankincense to saffron.
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7. Check out the art scene
An art boom is sweeping through Dubai and everywhere you turn there’s something interesting to look at – whether it be funky street art or some of the most incredible architecture in the world.
Gallery in Alserkal Avenue
But hidden away in Al Quoz is a hub for Dubai’s art scene: Alserkal Avenue – which is probably the polar opposite to what most people imagine a typical Dubai tourist destination to be. Maybe more at home in London’s hip borough of Shoreditch, the industrial warehouses are made up of galleries, factories and cafes scattered along dusty streets.
8. Soak up the culture
It’s easy to forget there is such a rich culture behind this cosmopolitan hotspot, but for a snapshot of the history of the United Arab Emirates, The Etihad Museum holds the story of how the UAE was founded. With interactive displays and short films, this is a contemporary way to learn about local culture.
Dubai’s more authentic side
You’ll find a particularly engaging glimpse into Islam at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, where no questions are off-limits. Want to know more about the Muslim faith? Here’s the place to go and learn – and even tuck into a huge traditional Emirati banquet.