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Well Oiled

Well Oiled

By wand10
Trip Plan Tags: 
dubai affords one discriminating r and r. choices to suit every taste.
Destinations: 
Africa + Middle East,
Dubai,
United Arab Emirates

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Souks, United Arab Emirates

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The open-air markets lining the creek near the dhow port are a living museum of Dubai's trading history, and it's possible to hit all of them in a few hours. Souks are usually open between 9 am and 1 pm and 4 and 10 pm, and are most atmospheric in the evening. Start off at the Bur Dubai Souk, also known as the textile souk, near the Dubai Museum. Among bolts of shiny synthetic and sequined fabric and tailors who run up long house dresses for local women, you'll find pashminas of varying quality starting at about $10, plain and brightly patterned premade caftans, and intricately embroidered Indian-style sandals—a pair will set you back about $8. Then jump on an abra, or water taxi, across the creek to the small spice souk next to the Old Baniyas Road abra station. Here look for saffron from Iran, ostrich-oil rheumatism tonic from Saudi Arabia, Bahreini "555" rose hair oil, honey and lemon hair-removal paste, and other natural ingredients (often hilariously and suggestively misspelled) for personal grooming. Venture farther into the wood-covered gold souk, where Indian merchants offer massive 22-carat wedding sets from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the subcontinent, as well as 18-carat Western pieces; prices are negotiable according to the amount of craftsmanship but never fall below the day's international gold rate. Damas is one of the most reputable stores, although its prices are a bit higher. After bargaining, ask for a further discount if you pay in cash.—Updated by Susan Hack

Souk Madinat Jumeirah

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Malls, United Arab Emirates

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The major malls have many of the same stores; the distinguishing factor for locals is proximity. You can easily spend a whole day at the Dubai Mall, one of the world's biggest, with more than 165 outlets. Located at the foot of the Burj Khalifa, it serves as a town square for the entire UAE and region. Families drive here all the way from Muscat and Oman to see the world's largest single-glass-paned aquarium, shop for designer abayas and thobes, and stroll down Dubai's toniest indoor "fashion avenue," represented by brands such as Tom Ford and Alice Temperley. The café boardwalk terrace with outlets—try the Italian deli fare at Carluccio's—is a great place to watch people and the world's largest dancing fountain, whose water jets spurt in time to Arab pop and Michael Jackson's Thriller. For local brands, check out S*uce, a fashion emporium with internationally sourced diffusion lines and one-off creations by regionally based designers such as Essa, Bil Arabi, and Sugar Vintage. Many tourists go to the Mall of the Emirates, another city-size complex, and the only mall with an indoor ski slope bang in the center of it. All the expensive designer stores are positioned around a faux Rodeo Drive-style section. BurJuman is a local favorite (although the gridlocked traffic in the area tends to deter tourists) where Arabs flock to splash the cash at high-end stores such as Chanel, Hermès, Christian Dior, and traditional perfumer Ajmal, and to browse in the only Saks Fifth Avenue in Dubai. Named after a famed 14th-century Arabian seafarer, Ibn Battuta Mall is divided into themed areas of the world that he visited. It's a bit out of the way and the Mall of the Emirates has taken the wind out of its sails, but it's still a less-frantic alternative, even if the stores are of a slightly lower quality than the others mentioned here. For those looking to wander somewhere upmarket but compact, The Boulevard at Jumeirah Emirates Towers has everything the discerning shopper would look for on Fifth Avenue. You'll find around 50 outlets, including Boutique 1, the Middle East's answer to Bloomingdale's. The faux-Italian splendor (and we use the word loosely) of Mercato Mall belongs more in Epcot Center than Jumeirah. Adore or abhor it, it houses the Lebanese chocolatier Patchi, Syed Junaid Alam's traditional Arabic fragrances, and Pride of Kashmir (selling handcrafted carpets, shawls, furniture, and furnishings) alongside mundane Western chain stores, but it works well as a gift pit stop.—Updated by Susan Hack

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Gold and Diamond Park, United Arab Emirates

Sheikh Zayed Road, Interchange 4
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tel: 971 4347 7788
Website: www.goldanddiamondpark.com

Crammed with jewelry shops, this mall is similar to the gold souk concept but is its 21st-century incarnation; an altogether more genteel, air-conditioned experience, without the mayhem of the city. It's your best bet if you want to find precious or semiprecious stones, more minimalist, Western settings, or if you want anything expertly copied (a picture of the original will do). Don't be afraid to bargain here; cut the asking price by 50 percent and then work (not too far) up to a compromise. Be prepared to shop around, and always ask for the weight of the gold and the carat of the stones to make comparisons easier.

See + Do

Desert adventures

Desert safaris are cheesy and contrived but still great fun. Even the most jaded locals grudgingly admit that a dune-bashing safari is not to be missed. A 4WD vehicle picks you up from your hotel at around 3 pm and takes you in a convoy to the desert about an hour and a half away. The SUV then veers off the highway, the driver deflates the tires, and the vehicle climbs up then slides down the sand dunes (called dune, or wadi bashing). The experience is a bit like a roller-coaster ride, so we suggest you have some motion sickness medication on hand (or a paper bag). Afterward you'll be taken to a faux-Bedouin tented camp where you can eat, take camel rides, and indulge in a spot of shisha smoking.

The desert, fortunately, is more varied than a canned "Bedouin" experience. If you have a full day, book a four-by-four trip to Hatta, an oasis village at the foot of the Hajjar Mountains where a few date farms are watered by traditional communal channels called aflaj. Your car will have to crawl through wadis and between dramatic volcanic peaks to reach a series of clear-water pools where tiny fish will nibble your toes as you swim. Arabian Adventures can arrange day trips in SUVs to Hatta Oasis.

Just 90 minutes by car from Dubai, Oman's Musandam Peninsula, a rock finger overlooking the straight of Hormuz, is another world of seemingly remote fjords, small uninhabited islands, and wild beaches. Dubai operators drive you to the Omani town of Khasab, the center of dhow-based dolphin-watching and snorkeling expeditions. Khasab Tours can organize trips out of Dubai lasting one day as well as cruises of up to a week out of Khasab, with transfers from Dubai hotels.

See + Do

Burj Khalifa, United Arab Emirates

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The world's tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa (formerly known as the Burj Dubai) officially opened at the beginning of 2010. At 2,625 feet high, the building towers nearly a thousand feet above its closest rival, Taiwan's Taipei 101. The $1.5 billion Burj Khalifa comprises both residential and commercial areas, including the first Armani Hotel. For those with a head for heights, the building also features the world's highest observation deck (on the 124th floor) and 57 superfast elevators, which take only two minutes to reach the top (more than 160 floors up).

Eating

Tagine, United Arab Emirates

One&Only Royal Mirage, Jumeirah Beach Road
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tel: 971 4399 9999
Website: www.oneandonlyresorts.com

You'll have to duck to enter the tiny doorway cut out of enormous wooden gates that lead to Tagine, a slice of Marrakech transported to Dubai's One&Only Royal Mirage hotel. The furnishings, ingredients, and wine—even the fez-clad waiters who flamboyantly whisk away silver lids off earthen dishes—are all imported from Morocco. We recommend the Couscous Royal, topped with tender lamb, chicken, and merguez sausage, which comes with a side of vegetables in a tasty clear broth. The portions are massive, so choose your meze wisely: Fresh, crunchy mixed salads, garlic-laden zucchini, and sweet tomato jam are highlights. Desserts are a little too sweet, but the smoothie-like Simply Arabic, a concoction of blended honey, milk, and dates, is a good alternative.

Closed Mondays; dinner only, 7 p.m.–11.30 p.m.

Eating

Buddha Bar, United Arab Emirates

Grosvenor House, West Marina Beach
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tel: 971 4399 8888
Website: www.grosvenorhouse-dubai.com/en/eat-and-drink/buddha-bar.html

Adored by Dubai's society set, the Buddha Bar is done up in sumptuous burgundy and gold velvets, dark woods, and rich red chandeliers, giving an illusion of intimacy despite the sheer scale of the place (it's one of the Grosvenor House hotel's many eating options). The extensive Asian-inspired menu includes crab salad with crunchy pomegranate, Thai green chicken curry, or spiced lamb chops, but admittedly it's more about the scene than the cuisine. At night the restaurant—complete with gargantuan Buddha—has fantastic views onto the twinkling marina. Choose your table carefully, though: You'll feel cut off if you're sitting in one of the lounge areas, while the buzzy bar can get a bit noisy late in the evening, especially when they crank up the Arabian fusion house music. Still, it's an experience watching Dubai's beautiful people pose and play. Advance reservations essential.

Dinner only, 8 p.m.–2 a.m.

$400 or more
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Hotel

Ritz-Carlton, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

West Dubai Marina
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tel: 971 4399 4000
Email: rcdubai@emirates.net.ae
Website: www.ritzcarlton.com/en/properties/dubai

One of the smallest five-star hotels in town, the 138-room Ritz-Carlton may have excellent service, but apart from the Bedouin-inspired Amaseena restaurant, in tents on the beach, you could be in a Mediterranean mansion—there isn't an Arabian lantern or buff-colored wind tower in sight. Built in 1998, this low-rise resort sits on 8.6 acres of green landscaped gardens leading directly to a broad sandy beach. While the Dubai Marina's huge yellow skyscrapers now dwarf this hotel, it still manages to feel like a calm, private retreat. Culinary highlights include the hotel's signature Italian restaurant, the low-lit Splendido (Wagyu beef ravioli with morel mushrooms and pine nut sauce, and goat-cheese-crusted lamb chops with eggplant caviar), which houses one of Dubai's best-stocked (but pricey) wine cellars, the Amaseena (serving a traditional Arabic buffet), and French La Baie; make sure you don't miss the excellent afternoon tea. Prime rooms include those on the ground floor that lead out to the pools and have roomy patios.

$400 or more
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Hotel

Park Hyatt Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tel: 971 4602 1234, Fax: 971 4 602 1235
Email: dubai.park@hyattintl.com
Website: www.dubai.park.hyatt.com

The Moorish-style Park Hyatt's soothing cream, beige, and ocher interiors offer a welcome respite from the brash decor of most hotels in Dubai; even the staff is clad in spotless white. All 225 rooms—each with a balcony or terrace—in this low-rise (for here) five-floor hotel face the Creek and are a comfortable minimum 560 square feet. Ask for one of the 1130-square-foot Terrace Suites, which include two large balconies; their prime positioning at the corner of the hotel gives unparalleled views of the Creek and the Marina. The Park Hyatt's open-plan bathrooms are exceptional, with huge freestanding pod baths and rain showers. The Amara spa and pool area is a secluded oasis lined with tall palm trees, while the Levantine Café Arabesque serves an excellent traditional Arabic cold meze buffet for only $16 per person. The location, on the Deira side of the Creek, adjacent to the Dubai Creek Golf and the glitzy Yacht Club, is a good spot if you are interested in the older part of the city (or golf) but not so convenient for most of the city's nightlife, restaurants, and shops.

$400 or more
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Hotel

One&Only The Palm, United Arab Emirates

West Crescent, Palm Jumeirah
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tel: 971 4440 1010
Email: info@oneandonlythepalm.com
Website: thepalm.oneandonlyresorts.com

$400 or more
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Hotel

Madinat Jumeirah, United Arab Emirates

Jumeirah Beach Road
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tel: 971 4366 8888
Email: MJinfo@jumeirah.com
Website: www.madinatjumeirah.com

Dubai's answer to Vegas's Venetian Hotel, complete with 2.3 miles of meandering waterways navigated by electricity-powered abras (traditional water taxis), sounds tacky but is in fact utterly enchanting. This huge Arabian-themed resort is the site for two hotels: the flagship 292-room Al Qasr (The Palace) and the 292-room Mina A' Salam (Harbor of Peace). Mina A' Salam's rooms, restaurants, and bars are grouped around a harbor with uninterrupted views of the sea and the Burj Al Arab. Al Qasr was loosely modeled after the palace of the current ruler's grandfather. The impressive entrance, flanked by sculptures of gold Arabian stallions, is in keeping with the glittering interior, with its sparkling chandelier and massive floral displays. Despite the two hotels' being of similar size, Al Qasr feels far more exclusive and luxurious; expats consider the Koubba Bar Terrace one of the town's intimate spots for drinks. Interiors generally follow traditional gold, maroon, and dusky ocher color schemes, with dark carved wooden furniture. There are also 29 ultraluxurious villas (with ten rooms in each that can be booked separately). The Gulf villas have the prime beach sites, while the Arabian villas are dotted around the resort with three villas sharing their own pool and private butler. This resort also has a sprawling Arabian-themed shopping area called the Madinat Souk.

$400 or more
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Hotel

Jumeirah Beach Hotel, United Arab Emirates

Jumeirah Beach Road
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tel: 971 4348 0000
Email: JBHinfo@jumeirah.com
Website: www.jumeirahbeachhotel.com

Arguably as iconic as the Burj Al Arab, the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, with its mirrored wave-shaped exterior, was the first of Jumeirah's beachfront resorts, opening in 1997. Admittedly the clashing primary-colored interior looks a little dated now, but it remains the perfect family beach resort, with 598 huge rooms, 20 restaurants and bars, and a multitude of water-related options, including five swimming pools, unlimited access to the adjacent Wild Wadi water park, the Pavilion Marina & Sports Club, yacht charters, a dive center, and free shuttle service to many malls. The Sinbad Club keeps kids occupied, while the low-key Uptown Bar, Ibiza-style 360°, and the Polynesian-themed, Kate Moss–patronized Mahiki provide entertainment for grown-ups. Seventy rooms in the north wing have been enlarged for families, but for spacious luxury, book one of the 19 Beit Al Bahar (House by the Sea) villas tucked on the beach, away from the main hotel. Each villa has its own terrace, outdoor dining area, large sunken baths, and plunge pool; there are also dedicated butlers and concierges. The villas' decor is in an Arabic style (high ceilings, wooden beams, and warm maroons) far removed from the slightly garish interiors of the main hotel.—Updated by Susan Hack

$400 or more
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Hotel

Atlantis, The Palm, United Arab Emirates

The Palm Jumeirah
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tel: 971 4 426 2000

$400 or more
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Armani Hotel Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Burj Khalifa
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tel: 971 4 888 3888, Fax: 971 4 888 3777
Website: dubai.armanihotels.com/

The Armani Hotel Dubai, Giorgio Armani's debut hotel, occupies the first eight floors plus levels 38 and 39 of the Burj Khalifa, currently the world's tallest skyscraper and the epicenter of Dubai's fashionable Downtown district. Orientalist gold-leaf flash being so last year, the 160 rooms are soberly luxurious, decorated with obscure marble and the signature brown, gray, and taupe palette of the Armani Casa textile collection; even pencil sharpeners and sugar cubes carry the Armani logo. In all guest rooms, there are floor-to-ceiling windows and curving walls, whose handle-less sliding panels reveal secret walk-in closets, flat-screen TVs, and refreshment stations. In place of butlers, Armani-clad "lifestyle managers," summoned by phone or free Wi-Fi computer click, solve guest dilemmas such as where to hem a designer Abaya. The Armani/Spa offers bespoke massages according to your needs, from enhancing vitality to releasing pain. Eight hotel restaurants and the Armani Privé nightclub attract well-dressed locals on weekends.—Susan Hack

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.