The insider advice on this page is brought to you by Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Dubai: Lindsey Wallace of Linara Travel.
A place like the U.A.E. can be tough for a traveler to grasp and penetrate—but not if you’ve got Lindsey pulling strings for you. He founded Linara Travel in 2003, after discovering it was nearly impossible to find reliable, up-to-date travel intel about this swath of the world—including the Indian Ocean islands (see his Maldives Insider’s Guide). Lindsey’s now an expert on these destinations and returns six times a year to negotiate preferred rates and access that nobody else gets. He can arrange entry into Dubai’s exclusive clubs, unusual desert adventures and safaris, and unique experiences that enable you to live out your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies without putting too big a dent in your wallet. Lindsey was also included in “Perrin’s People,” Wendy’s award-winning list of top travel specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2000 to 2013.
Where to Stay and Eat
Biggest bang-for-your-buck hotel
The Palace Downtown Dubai has a resort-like feel, but it’s walking distance from the Dubai Mall, Souk Al Baha, and Dubai Fountains. I like the Deluxe Fountain View Rooms. Linara Travel can get clients upgrades during certain times of year.
The Desert Palm Resort is in a residential area, unlike most Dubai hotels. For those wanting to be away from the action, this property set amidst polo fields provides a relaxing escape. Watching a polo match and visiting the horse stables makes for a delightfully varied Dubai experience.
Restaurant the locals love
Bu Qtair serves tasty, freshly caught fish and prawns to diners seated outside on plastic chairs. It’s a rustic, casual, hole-in-the-wall, inexpensive place—a welcome contrast to Dubai’s usual glitz and glamour.
The Beirut Set Dinner at the regal-feeling Al Nafoorah Restaurant, the best Middle Eastern restaurant in Dubai. The menu (served family-style for group of four or more) includes a selection of mezzeh, or appetizers, (with some of the best hummus in the region), a variety of lamb and fish, Lebanese hot bread, and Arabic sweets.
Meal worth the splurge
Atmosphere Grill. It’s on the 122nd floor of Burj Khalifa, 2,717 feet off the ground. The food is very good, and the views….well, it doesn’t get any better than this! Go for lunch and get a window table—though you’ll have to spend at least 500 dirham per person, or about $137.
What to See and Do
Dubai Museum. Located in Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest building in Dubai, the museum provides a quick overview of the emirate’s history and development—for less than $1. It’s a nice stop when visiting sites in the Dubai creek area, such as the traditional Al Bastakiya neighborhood and the gold and spice souks.
Departing from the helipad suspended at the top of the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel, take a luxury helicopter to the private palace of a prominent sheikh. Enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour that shows what life is like for a sheikh in the region. If you want to know more, you’ll just have to visit—the sheikh has sworn us to secrecy!
How to spend a Friday
Most cultural sites are closed on Fridays, so you can do as the expats do (expats make up the overwhelming majority of the population) and enjoy a long, leisurely Champagne brunch; one of the best is at Traiteur Restaurant. Or spend a few hours wandering through the Dubai Mall and Dubai Fountains, then head out to the desert, where you can go “dune bashing” in a 4×4. You can end the day with a private barbecue dinner atop a dune. We arrange the whole thing, complete with carpets and torches. It’s incredibly romantic!
Al Nassma’s camel-milk chocolate, made in Dubai. It’s a great conversation starter with friends back at home. You can visit their farm shop on Al Ain Road for the largest selection, or buy it at the Majlis Dubai—the first camel-milk café—located in the Dubai Mall and at the Jumeirah Mosque.
January through March is cooler—which in this part of the world means temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s. Designers descend upon the city for the Shopping Festival, typically in January, and the Dubai World Cup (the legendary horse race known with the $10-million prize) usually occurs at the end of March.
June to September: It is very hot. The average high temperature is over 100 degrees.
You’ll find a more conservative atmosphere during Ramadan; the dates vary with the Islamic calendar, but it will fall during the late spring and early summer for the next several years.
Not pre-purchasing tickets for At The Top—the observation deck on the 124th floor of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa. If you book ahead (committing to a specific time), tickets cost about $34 per person. The walk-up price for immediate access is just under $110 per person. This view will make you appreciate what a stunning feat of engineering—and a major investment—this entire city is. Twenty years ago, it wasn’t even on the map.
Some restaurants already charge an extra 10 percent for service (it will be listed on the bill in English). If they don’t, then tip 10 percent.
Ignore the hawkers inside the Dubai airport offering you a taxi ride. Head to the taxi line outside; the cream-colored cars here are safe and inexpensive (though do have cash on hand, as they don’t all take credit cards). The black “VIP” taxis cost twice as much, and the pink-topped taxis—driven by women—are an option for female passengers.
Clothing to cover shoulders and knees when entering public areas, including shopping malls.