With its soaring architecture, conspicuous wealth and high-octane energy, Dubai is an inspiring place. To make the most of it, follow my advice on where to shop, eat, drink and go clubbing
Dubai has been dubbed the fastest-developing city in the world. Mighty skyscrapers, soaring towers, imposing malls and super-parks have sprung up all over the place during the past few years, making Dubai a force to be reckoned with. Here is a guide to what’s hot right now in this booming holiday destination.
Whether you are looking for bargain jewellery, saris or electronics, bartering is the name of the game – so never settle for their “best price”, but haggle. If you can’t find a specific piece of jewellery, get it made. You can choose the style, the design, the stones and the metal and collect the finished item in just 24 hours.
Keep your eyes open for tailors, too. They make fantastic suits and shirts at very low prices. Just give them an idea of what you want, choose a fabric and you will have what you like within a day or two. If you have a favourite jacket or shirt, take it with you and ask them to match the fit and design.
Mall of the Emirates
This is a vast mall with everything you need from designer-label clothing to cut-price silver. If you see a bargain carpet or a must-have piece of furniture, don’t worry. Most of the stores will ship your items back to the UK. There is a massive supermarket, too – and if you have children, MagicPlanet on the top floor has games and activities galore as well as fun places to eat (such as Johnny Rocket and TGI Friday's). See www.malloftheemirates.com.
Gold Souk, Deira
As well as the gold souk, there are some fantastic backstreets with small jewellery shops where you can pick up great bargains. If you have any old gold or silver jewellery that you don’t wear anymore, most of these shops will trade it in for something new and improved.
The evening is when the place really comes alive. Be warned, however, that there is a really bad traffic problem on the road from Bur Dubai to Deira. Do not attempt to head here between 4pm and 7pm or 8am and 10am. If you do, what should take you 30 minutes could take three hours. A huge metro system and additional roads (due for completion later in 2009) will hopefully alleviate the congestion.
Situated on Al Awir Road, in Nakheel's International City development, this is a must if you want to pick up a bargain. DragonMart is a quirky mix between a marketplace and an industrial wholesale store.
Choice buys from DragonMart include bedspreads and cushion covers (you can get a luxury embroidered bedspread with pillow and cushion covers for £15), men’s suits (which can be picked up for about £22), shoes (for about £6 per pair) and real pearl jewellery (starting at £5).
Cheap and cheerful is the best way to describe Lamcy Plaza. Open until 10pm, it stocks a wealth of discounted goods, particularly clothes. You can pick up men’s work shirts for about 42 dirhams (£6). There is also an Indian cinema at the plaza, if you fancy a touch of Bollywood glamour. See www.lamcyplaza.com.
Souk Madinat Jumeirah
This is a lovely old-style souk connected to the Madinat Jumeirah Resort (Al Qasr, Mina A’Salam and Dar Al Masyaf). You will find some beautiful items for your home, gifts, jewellery and clothes.
Have a good wander around; as with all souks in Dubai, the Madinat is open until late and there are some great places to eat. See www.madinatjumeirah.com.
BEST RESTAURANTS, BARS AND CLUBS
Buddha Bar at the Grosvenor House Hotel
With its enormous Buddha and giant, regal drapes dressing the ceiling-high windows, the Buddha Bar is one of the best spots in Dubai and the place to celebrity-spot. It’s more a restaurant than a bar or club, but locals flock here just to drink. The food, which is heavily influenced by Japanese cuisine, is delicious and not ridiculously over-priced. Definitely try the sushi, which is amazing.
We found there was no real need to book: the place is so big, they can always find you somewhere to sit. You don’t need to eat in order to get a table either – though ordering a bottle of Champagne helped! See www.grosvenorhouse-dubai.com.
Chandelier at the Marina Walk
Stumbling across the Marina Walk is like finding yourself near the river of an old, established part of a European city (a little like Prague). It felt a million miles away from the hustle, bustle and traffic of Bur Dubai.
Chandelier is a Lebanese restaurant with lots of style and great food. It's good value for money and the service is excellent. One big draw is the fantastic salad bar, to cool you down on hot summer days. To find the restaurant, just hop in a taxi and ask for "the Marina Walk". All cabbies know where it is.
Trilogy at Madinat Jumeirah
With a great crowd, chic décor and friendly door security, Trilogy nightclub is an all-round good night out. Music is mostly house, but you will enjoy yourself even if that is not your taste. See www.madinatjumeirah.com.
Lotus One at the Convention Centre
This is a stylish restaurant and bar located inside the convention centre. On first entering, it seemed a little pretentious, with large plasma screens playing clips from Fashion TV – but in fact it wasn't. The food had a strong Thai influence, the service was good and the overall ambience perfect.
After dining, we all went to the room next door (which housed the bar and DJ) for a few more drinks and a boogie. A good night out all-round. See www.lotus1.com.
Chi at The Lodge
The biggest, most impressive club we have ever seen, Chi appears at first like any other top-end venue in London. Continue to walk, however, and you enter into a massive open-air space filled with amazing décor and a buzz so electric it almost makes you stand back, staring open-mouthed at it all.
The VIP lounge was exactly that – a lounge, with day beds running through the centre of the room, plus drapes, tactile fabrics, stunning chandeliers and a clientele of chic, feel-good clubbers. It's essential to bring some form of ID with you, since the door security people are very strict on age. A passport or driver's licence will suffice. See www.lodgedubai.com.
The Apartment at The Jumeirah Beach Hotel
A smaller, cosier club, The Apartment was reminiscent of some old-school London clubs back in the 90s – unpretentious and all about the music. We were given a table in the VIP area, which was spacious with great table service and fantastic music. On Saturday night, when we went, it was predominately R&B and Hip-Hop, with guest DJs playing amazing sets of old garage classics. See www.jumeirahbeachhotel.com.
Lemongrass at Lamcy Plaza
Lemongrass is a Thai restaurant located just outside Lamcy Plaza. The food is amazing – and with one of the best yellow curries we have tasted on the menu, we will certainly be going back. Some very more-ish smoothies and juices are on offer, and the ambience is great. We would advise booking in advance, since this is one of the best Thai restaurants in town. Telephone +971 4 334 2325.