Dubai hotels: an expat's guide

by kmccormack

Whether you are heading to Dubai for the beaches, the bars or the shopping malls, there are plenty of hotels to stay at – but it can be confusing. As an expat living in the Gulf, I can help you choose

As an expat living in Saudi Arabia, I visit Dubai regularly for "sanity" breaks. This effectively means I want to experience the kind of service to which Westerners are accustomed in surroundings that are superior, luxurious and, of course, comfortable.

Dubai is a city of hotels and malls. For both business trips and holiday breaks, there is a vast array of accommodation to choose from. Be warned: there are two very different types of hotel resort in Dubai – American/Western chain hotels, and those that are Arabian in character. Then, within the Western-style hotels, there are various different sub-categories. Here is my expat's guide:

Western hotels

These have contemporary interior design, modern spas and a selection of restaurants and bars in which to dine and socialise. They attract resident expats to their bars and restaurants, so booking may be necessary on weekend nights (Thursday and Friday in the UAE).

Arabian hotels

As you might expect, these have traditional Arabian/ North African interior design and a smaller selection of restaurants, with perhaps no bar but a lounge or foyer where you can be served drinks. You may see many Arab couples or families staying at these hotels – and for the most part, ladies continue to wear their abayas and veils. While such hotels are luxurious, they offer fewer amenities and their atmospehere is more one of privacy and segregation than play and socialising. 

Shopping hotels

If you want to be near the best malls, stay in Dubai Creek at the Intercontinental or the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Dubai Festival City Mall has a lovely calm atmosphere compared to the hectic, crowded Emirates Mall (the one with the indoor ski slope). The Address ( is the latest "in vogue" hotel with amazing views of the Burj Dubai (the world's tallest building, which is still being built) and within walking distance of the Dubai Mall – said to be the largest in Asia. The spa here has a great reputation and the mall across the road has a huge selection of restaurants.

Beach hotels

For a beach holiday at a luxury resort hotel, within driving distance of the malls and other hotels, stay somewhere at the Jumeirah Beach end of Dubai. For Arabian opulence, a quiet and romantic getaway is the One&Only Royal Mirage ( Stay at The Palace, the accommodation wing that is more geared-up to Westerners. The Arabian Court is equally beautiful but does not offer as many amenities and is a little boring. However, its Eauzone restaurant is serene and romantic  – though the food can be hit-and-miss.

The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi, next door to the One&Only, is currently my favorite. This hotel offers Starwood Preferred Guests (SPGs) upgrades and access to the executive lounge, among other things. It boasts a number of restaurants, including the best pizzeria in Dubai. The suites are contemporay and enormous, with stunning views of the pool, beach and The Palm, Jumeriah.

This is the sister hotel to Le Meridien Mina Seyahi which is pretty dated by now but, being in the same complex as the Westin, shares the same amenities. The Baristi Bar at Le Meridien is probably the most popular expat bar in Dubai – just a three-minute walk down the path from the Westin. It is one of the few bars in Dubai where you don't have to wear your Jimmy Choos or don your Boss suit. Shorts and flipflops are practically mandatory at this beachside venue, which stretches over three floors.

Of course, there are many other types of hotel experience. Friday brunch has become Dubai's alternative to Sunday lunch. For the best adult brunch, go to the Park Hyatt where they will offer you plenty of good-quality Champagne and scrumptious mojitos for the afternoon (included in the price).

Helicopter tours, yacht cruises and desert safaris can all be arranged by your hotel concierge. The souks are unremarkable – but if you are looking for gold, you will get a good deal… so it's probably worth going.

Finally, for an up-to-date list of restaurants, buy a copy of Time Out Dubai – an indispensable weekly publication.