Doing Dubai in a weekend

by Dan.Hipgrave

If you're looking for a quick fix of luxury lifestyle and reliable sunshine, Dubai can definitely deliver the goods

It had been four years since my first visit to Dubai, and I’d heard that in that time a vast amount of development had taken place and tourism had also increased. No surprises there – with a relatively short flight from the UK and all-year-round good weather, Dubai does have many appealing qualities. So I decided to go back for a weekend break - and it turned out to be extremely satisfying. 
My driver, Medhat, whisked me through passport control and into a white limousine with incredible ease and speed. Already Dubai was living up to its reputation as a leading luxury holiday destination and, with time very much of the essence on such a short break, things were looking good. We set off down the heavily congested motorways towards my hotel. I counted 32 skyscrapers in construction, one of which is destined to be the tallest in the world on completion. Dubai has over 50 five-star hotels, five golf courses and the largest indoor ski ramp in the world. Not bad for a city with just over one million population. It was as if I’d come back to a different place - the sun was still burning hot, but structurally things looked very different.
As I pulled up at the Jumeriah Beach Hotel, its streamlined, wave-shaped exterior looked mightily impressive. The Jumeirah Hotel group is a dominant force in Dubai’s growing tourism industry, boasting the architecturally iconic seven-star Burj Al Arab Hotel as well as four five-star hotels. Currently being added to its already impressive portfolio are two revolutionary island complexes, the Palm and the World. With a growing amount of A-listers snapping up properties on these exclusive islands, it further endorses Dubai’s glittery reputation. After using the priority check-in service, I dumped my bag in my room and was on the beach within minutes.
The sugar-fine white sand and clear turquoise water was stunning. It was a glorious 85 degrees, and the extremely attentive and polite staff ensured I had a sun lounger and iced water immediately. There is a definite air of luxury in Dubai that other short-haul destinations don’t offer. Apart from the mass building construction of the two islands, the sight before me was beautiful. It was hard to believe I’d been in rainy London only hours previously.
My concerns of over-development were growing though – on completion, these islands will obscure any view of the horizon. It seems Dubai isn’t concerned with such trivia; it has an agenda to be the best destination in the world. From where I was lying, it didn’t seem far off. 
Early evening, sun-kissed and fully relaxed, I headed to the commanding Burj Hotel for sunset cocktails. This being Dubai, of course, this wasn’t an ordinary cocktail - it was a bespoke drink made by a ‘mixologist.’ Aptly named, ‘The Hipgrave’, my vodka-based cinnamon and coriander concoction was delicious and hit the spot. Later I decided on a trip downtown away from the coast and headed for the Emirates Towers. The last time I saw these vertiginous towers they stood alone with an air of authority. Now they have company. The view from the sophisticated, low-lit Vu bar on the tower’s 51st floor was impressive and its clientele reflects Dubai’s affluent reputation.
Alcohol is forbidden outside hotel complexes, which is a shame as they can leave me cold. I certainly hadn’t yet experienced the Arabic-ness I so wanted, so decided to revisit the old souq markets that had been a highlight four years ago.
On arrival at the souq district I instantly felt a sense of place – it was as if I’d finally arrived in the real Dubai. The deafeningly eerie prayer calls sounded from the numerous mosques. There was no air con to hide from the high humidity, it was hectic and a little smelly, but I loved it. Heavy development has sadly had a detrimental effect on these special souq markets, with tourists preferring the new malls. But if, like me, you want to smell the spices, touch the textiles and feel the warmth of the locals, this is where to come. The different souqs are located either side of the Dubai creek and using the cheap abras (water taxis) they’re easily reachable.
Next morning, I headed for Wild Wadi water park, where I spent three hours being thrown around on various intrepid water slides, only retiring from the fun due to the accumulation of bruising on my backside! This would have had serious appeal to my young daughter; Dubai caters well for young kids. My short trip was nearing its end so I decided on a shopping extravaganza. Enormous US-style malls are popping up all over Dubai, with everything from Debenhams to Dior on offer. Prices aren’t too much different from the UK but the air con offers a comfortable break from the humidity.
My final night out was spent at the Medinat, a mock souq market, which hosts 39 waterfront restaurants and bars. The fake Venetian setting was tacky but strangely romantic and the food and nightlife was second to none. The trendy crowd spilled out of the numerous fashionable bars and clubs, creating a true holiday atmosphere.
The changes in Dubai were overwhelming and with the exception of Las Vegas, never have I seen such fast development. There is no doubt Dubai is an extremely forward-thinking city. At times it feels a little like a building site but it has unbeatable qualities in the weather, the short six-hour flight, the minimal time difference and the friendly locals. A weekend break is very much do-able; I came home relaxed, tanned and raring to go. 


Dan Hipgrave made his name as the guitarist in rock band Toploader. He now travels the world as a journalist, writing regularly for publications such as The Independent, The Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday. He also presents a regular travel item on BBC2's Market Kitchen. Dan believes the best way to truly discover a place is to immerse into local cultures and hang out with locals - they always know best! Favourite places: Andalucia Fes / Marrakech and anywhere in South East Asia