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Experience the finer things in life in Dubai

Go behind the scenes in Dubai, from private tours and gourmet dinners to sandboarding in the desert. | By Paul Oswell | November 5, 2021

Dubai exudes opulence and glamour, and hotspots such as Jumeirah Beach and the Dubai Mall attract affluent visitors from all over the world. Beyond the surface, though, you can have elite experiences that can make your vacation in Dubai even more special. Treat yourself to private tours, exclusive gourmet dining and activities over and above the usual fare.

Here are our recommendations for an unforgettable vacation in Dubai:

  • Get the picture: Take a tour of Dubai’s cutting-edge contemporary art scene or the delights of the Opera District

  • On the menu: Dubai’s independent restaurant scene is eclectic and authentic

  • Adventure outdoors: Sandboard on a desert safari, windsurf off the Arabian Gulf or play a round on a world-class golf course

Cultural arts

Dubai’s thriving art scene has found innovative spaces and appreciative audiences. The Third Line is a trendy warehouse space that would look at home in downtown Manhattan, and you’ll find a strong focus on emerging Middle Eastern talent. Ayyam Gallery has two showrooms here that also push for regional representation. Lawrie Shabibi is one of the most respected galleries in town, and a prominent venue for Art Dubai. Art Dubai is the Middle East’s leading international art fair, taking place annually each March. VIP tickets and tours are available if you’re a collector or just an art aficionado.

If opera is more to your taste, downtown Dubai has an entire Opera District. The flagship Dubai Opera enjoys a diverse program of theater, opera, ballet and touring musical performances. You can see international stars in a spectacularly designed building resembling a dhow (a traditional sailing vessel). If you’re a fan of architecture or the performing arts, then the venue offers an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour.

If you’re pressed for time, you can also appreciate esoteric art collections without leaving your hotel. The public spaces at Habtoor Palace Dubai, LXR Hotels & Resorts, display a carefully curated selection of African photography, Asian street art and classical paintings from the Emirates, reflecting memorabilia from the personal collection of the Al Habtoor family. Rare and striking pieces also embellish the hotel’s incredible custom-designed suites -- the Sir Winston Churchill Suite and The Bentley Suite, which both have butler service and dining rooms for entertaining groups.

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Gourmet dining

If you’re a foodie, then you must explore Dubai’s independent restaurant scene. Set and keep high expectations; you'll be delighted by the creative and diverse options.

You can transport yourself to a Japanese izakaya at Zuma, where bold flavors and unparalleled levels of customer service welcome you. Or, you can delight in Incan influences at COYA, the Dubai outpost of the Michelin-starred London restaurant, and pair pisco sours with its famous lobster with chimichurri sauce dish. London’s exclusive Member’s Bar is also replicated here.

Asian influences are given a nuanced blend with local flavors at 3Fils, a cosmopolitan spot where you can dine overlooking the tranquil waters of Jumeirah’s fishing harbor. Regulars love the Karak ice cream dessert, a deconstructed take on the local spiced sweet tea.

You can have an elevated dining experience at the world’s highest restaurant, At.Mosphere, which sits in the Burj Khalifa. You’ll dine on European cuisine, which arrives against a backdrop of audacious architecture and dramatic city skyline views. If you’re looking more for time-honored classics, it can be found among the Persian decor and dishes of Shabestan. This legendary spot has hosted royalty and gourmands with its impeccable menu since 1984.

Although Michelin does not publish a guide to Dubai, renowned chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants located elsewhere in the world bring their prodigious talents here. If you have a favorite world-famous chef, they likely have an outpost in Dubai. Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah, for instance, boasts Social by Heinz Beck, a stylish, contemporary Italian restaurant. The eponymous Chef Beck has three restaurants in Italy and one in Portugal that are Michelin-approved, including La Pergola in Rome, which has the highest three-star rating. The 10-course blind tasting menu at Social is a culinary journey that you won’t soon forget.

Adventurous pursuits

When in Dubai, you must head to the desert. Choose the popular option of a ride in the back of a four-wheel-drive car trailblazing over sand dunes to an outdoor evening banquet. If you’re more of an active morning person, kick-start those endorphins with a morning desert safari that includes sandboarding, quad biking and a camel ride.

There are plenty of options if you want to get out onto the water in Dubai. You can book private sailing, rowing, windsurfing and kite-surfing sessions, all along the striking Arabian Peninsula.

The biggest names in golf have designed courses here, so you should find time to hit the links. If you want to make a day of it, you can book two rounds at the Emirates and Dubai Creek golf clubs (one in the morning, one in the afternoon). You'll have lunch and dinner on a luxury yacht that will ferry you and your clubs between the courses.

Of course, you’ll need to decompress and relax before your return journey. Consider an afternoon at the spa at Conrad Dubai, where the authentic rituals of the Hammam Suite will quickly soothe any aches. You can add volcanic stones or a Thai massage to ensure that you’re in great shape for your flight. Or find relaxation in a rooftop oasis in the heart of the city at St. Trop at Waldorf Astoria Dubai International Financial Centre. The stylish rooftop will be the perfect end to your journey with breathtaking views of the vibrant Dubai skyline.

Make your Dubai memory

Dubai has made its name as a glamorous shopping destination, and there’s even more for you to enjoy beyond the boutiques. With a thriving arts and cultural scene, exhilarating activities and an array of authentic, independent restaurants, Dubai rewards you with a vacation that will always bring back happy memories. And, your hotel is always happy to help book any of these amazing experiences for you on your next trip.

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Paul Oswell is an award-winning travel writer, and has been reporting from all seven continents for over twenty years. He is based in New Orleans and is the author of “The Bucket List North America: 1,000 Adventures Big and Small.”

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