Dubai is a place of two personas—on one hand, the city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a rich history, and on the other hand, it’s a true Middle Eastern modern marvel, with tourism being a huge boon (and major industry) for it. When I landed, it felt like I had been transported into the scene of a postmodern film, or a sci-fi novel. Huge skyscrapers seemed to be everywhere, in various states of completion, while the Persian Gulf and sky gave the shiny towers their glint of color. It’s a world of its own. So how do you explore it? Below, some first-timer tips for spending a weekend in the iconic city.
Where to Stay:
Dubai is full of amazing hotels, but for one of the best stays, try the W Dubai – The Palm. The fun and lively getaway features 350 rooms, all set on the iconic Palm Islands area of Dubai, where an amazing city skyline and beach awaits. Book a treatment at the AWAY spa (I highly recommend the facials!), hang out on the WET deck by the pools, or head straight for the beach—it’s your call. At night, grab a drink at the SoBe rooftop. (Bonus: There are pinball machines.)
As part of the Marriott Bonvoy program, staying at the W Dubai is full of rewards. You can earn points by eating out, renting a car, and more—on top of stays at Marriott Bonvoy hotels, of course. You can redeem your points for free nights, shopping and flight deals, and access to experiences. Plus, members get trip-changing perks, like free Wi-Fi, room upgrades, and free breakfast. Did we mention you are also guaranteed the lowest rate? Yeah, it’s worth signing up.
Where to Eat:
Speaking of breakfast, if you’re staying at the W Dubai – The Palm, you absolutely have to check out the breakfast. The buffet is like none other, with so many different cuisines and goodies to make your head (and tongue) spin. Plus, it has a donut wall. Any questions?
Make sure to also check out the chef destination restaurants, like Torno Subito and Akira Back if staying at W Dubai – The Palm, or not. (Make sure to make a reservation.) Head into Old Dubai and go straight to the Arabian Tea House, in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood. It opened in 1997, and has become a mainstay of Dubai with locals and tourists alike. (Plus, it’s just so damn charming.) For a romantic dinner, head to the Grosvenor House in Dubai, where you can order cocktails based on gemstones and dine outside at the Siddharta Lounge, all while admiring the amazing skyline. Head to Buddha Bar after (located just below Siddharta Lounge) to grab even more inventive cocktails and have some more fun.
What to Do:
There’s a ton to do in Dubai, but you have to hit up some go-to spots if it’s your first time. Head to the Dubai Frame, which is designed to represent a bridging of the old and new Dubai—it’s the largest frame in the world. For an entry fee, guests can ride an elevator (with crazy views) to the top of the 500-foot-tall grame and then walk around on a clear glass walkway.
Dubai Garden Glow is a crazy installation area of, you guessed, it, glowing installations which make up different “theme parks.” There’s also live music regularly. The Dubai Mall is a must visit, at least for a bit. You’ll also end up seeing the Dubai Fountain, which has multiple fountain shows scheduled a day and is the world’s tallest fountain. You can also grab a photo of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 2,717 feet. (Are you sensing a “world’s greatest” theme here?)
Finally, make sure you hit the spice market or souk, which is probably the best way to immerse yourself immediately in the city. (Plus, you can get your hands on some amazing spices.)